Tallis has set himself a daunting task, but this catalogue of needs explains why Perls is handled in an early section to do with talk, while Reich comes on the scene later, with the discussion of sex. It also explains how a single book can contain so much. Among its subjects are inkblot tests, cognitive behavioural therapy, Hans Eysenck’s notorious IQ tests, ECT regimens, the discredited treatments of William Sargant, RD Laing and evolutionary psychology... Psychology and psychotherapy are applied disciplines, the theories of which are most often examined in universities and specialised institutes. Always excepting Freud, the need Tallis identifies in his subtitle – “Surviving Discontent in an Age of Anxiety” – is probably better met by reading fiction, philosophy and poetry than by, say, deciphering the protocols of rapid eye movement therapy.
Tallis has distilled a wide range of psychological writing without oversimplifying the insights or reducing them to self-help platitudes. Jungian theory and behaviourism are among strands that interest him less, but the pace always quickens when he slips in a brief case history of his own. And it is moving to read of the work of Francine Shapiro, who made the astonishing chance discovery that rapid eye movements, coupled with the supervised revisiting of an episode, can help people to recover from post-traumatic stress.
From the beginning the book is mostly about how people have sought to break that silence, an act that the author thinks is more necessary than ever in the 21st century, with its atomising technology and constant change. It is a history of and a manifesto for psychotherapy, the talking cure. “The first duty of a psychotherapist,” Tallis writes, “is to create a safe space, a situation where difficult and sometimes dangerous truths can be articulated and explored without fear of judgment, rejection or condemnation.” Then work can begin.