Book Review: GROUP

This is such is a wild ride of a book. I’ve recommended it to many friends, including one who took the time to write me last week and say she was unsettled by the content she was hearing as she listened to the audio version, which I totally understood: those of us who struggle with mental health will either love or hate this book, but I’m fervently on team LOVE.

I received my copy of GROUP from Emma Powers in Seattle, my most bookish friend from middle school who mailed it to me after posting on social that it was too good to keep for herself. This I also understood as I read, which is why upon finishing the book I promptly handed it to my friend/project manager extraordinaire Steph, who devoured it in three days flat. Now that GROUP is back in my possession I will happily mail it to anyone who wants to read it next, so if you’re reading this and that’s you, drop a comment with your email so I can get in touch!

I am semi-new to counseling and while my time in the chair has been in one-on-one virtual therapy (thanks, global pandemic!), I was fascinated by the premise of this book in which the author, Christie Tate, joins group therapy lead by a most unconventional psychologist who encourages her to bare her soul weekly in a circle of strangers who will become a witness to her life. That is, in fact, the first prescription Dr. Rosen prescribes: “You don’t need a cure. You need a witness.”

Christie’s memoir vividly captures the experience of a woman walking on the edge of everything life has to offer. Her eating disorder, which she finally has “under control”, has precluded her from participating in the normalcy of life with others, stunting her ability to see what she truly wants or even let herself wonder what that could be. A dedication to her career and a string of terrible relationships not unlike the ones so many of my friends and I have endured has barred Christie from the emotional intimacy she is craving, until a woman from her ED support meeting recommends group therapy. Christie meets with Dr. Rosen individually first to help her identify what she needs before he assigns her to a weekly 90-minute group session.

Christie’s world turns upside down as she opens up to the circle of strangers with every detail of her love life (or lack thereof), demanding legal job, and obsessive nightly apple eating. The emotional rollercoaster that follows her vulnerability within the group is what makes this a page turner for me.

I have never responded so viscerally in a therapy setting (or anywhere else) as Christie reacts within her group full of people who are open to listening and sharing their brutally honest perspectives. I’ve never gnashed and snarled or pulled out clumps of my hair when confronted with difficult truths about myself, but I have felt the need for a witness to my life; as such, I was enthralled while reading Christie’s stories of honesty and humanity in the midst of a circle of trust where, actually, nobody but Dr. Rosen is sworn to secrecy.

The bizzare nature of Dr. Rosen’s approach and the wacky prescriptions he doles out have many readers worried about his lack of boundaries, and to be sure Christie has her concerns; but sticking with the program proves to be the very thing that sets her heart free to love, and introduces her to a circle of strangers who will become her closest friends.

My jaw dropped open more than once while reading this book, and I kept saying, I can’t believe this is a true story, but it is, and the author minces no words about her experiences. Squeamish readers may not enjoy the salacious details of Christie’s sex life, and while there certainly are a couple of graphically described encounters, I found her writing to feel very real and the information helpful in presenting the problems in Christie’s life that she seeks group therapy to help to solve. It’s a 4.5/5 star book for me!

Have you read GROUP? Did you like it? Leave me a comment and let me know what you thought!

Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.

Proverbs 15:22 NIV

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