I recently finished reading a fiction novel by Torey Hayden called Overheard in a dream. Torey Hayden is well known for her memoirs about teaching special education and one about working in a child psychiatric unit. She’s written another novel that I have not read. People criticize her novels and believe her teaching memoirs are better. However if you look at the book by itself out of the box of her normal writing it’s quite fascinating and multi-layered
James is a child psychiatrist recently relocated from New York to the plaines of South Dakota. While still adjusting to the complete change of pace, he meets Laura Daton and her family. Nine year old Conor is said to be severely autistic. His family doctor reffered him to James and his mom Laura is desperate for answers. Conor has spent a year at a special school for autistic children with no results. He is totally withdrawn. He wears wieres with bits of tin foil stuck on them around his waist and carries a stuffed cat which needs to be on him at all times. He uses the cat as a scanner in his environment. He communicates through mechanical noises meowing and choed words and phraises. Everything envolves patterns for him and he is easily over stimulated can’t sleep and throws terrible tantrums. His mother can’t seem to do anything right she feels.
Rather than prescribe a set course of therapy Jame’s theraputic is a purely client centered one. Though he did spend many years working at a psychoanalytic practice where everything is seen through strict interpretations, he now veers less from that. His favorite phraise is “in here you decide.” He believes that only when the client feels they’re in control of the sessions, what they play, how they reveal issues and how long this takes do real changes happen.
As part of the therapy process James likes to meet with all members of the family individually for a few sessions and then ideally as a whole family. Laura Daton feels a challenge to James. She is a famous author in the area so he would figure her to be very dull and intellectually above others. What he finds is a desperate mother on the one hand, on the other a wounded misunderstood woman bursting with a story she knows that others see as crazy but that she has to tell in order for James to understand her relationship with her son.
Going along with his you decide model, James allows Laura to tell her story. Sotrytelling figures as the basis for how Laura operates in the world. A core belief for her is that there is no one truth that you measure reality against. That reality is flexible that if you precieve something it’s real, just because the other person doesn’t doesn’t make it any less real. This confusing philosophy is at the core of how she relates to others and herself.
Laura discussesher childhood as friendless through no want of seeking out friends. Indeed starting at the age of seven she had great company. A young woman named Torgon. Torgon is from a very archaic society defined by a rigid system of casts, religion and laws something out of the Viking erra I guess. (this was what an online reviewer said. I know nothing about history so yeah!)
In any case, Torgone was chose to be the Holy Bena, basically a type of prestiss the highest person within the religion that communicates with their God Dour. She and the Holy Seer are connected with the great spiritual powers that govorn their society. Torgon was born a worker’s child so at the lowest of the low. The fact that she was chosen for this role is pretty amazing.
Her world is comprised of forest, villages and “the high Holy Place” a series of high clifs and rock formations above the forest. All this seems pretty unheard of for a seven year old to come up with. But it came to her fully formed, the society use of language, forest ETC. And Laura was emediately struck by it all. She wasn’t afraid of it she was drawn into it. All of her passion, all of who she felt she was was wrapped up in this inner world. Though she states many times she knows that she “made up Torgon” there seems always an undercurrent where she may believe that Torgon is real that Torgon came to her.
So much of laura’s early life was about trying to navigate the outer world of deep family issues, absent father, sexual abuse in foster care, reuniting with emotionally absent father new stepmom ETC; with the inticing and comforting inner world of Torgon.
Meanwhile while this story is unfolding James is working with Conor. Over the course of therapy James sees Conor as less and less autistic as he sees beyond the outside behaviors and forms a relationship with him without biases around what is wrong but lets him set the pace and tone of the sessions. He walks along side him as he discovers a sense of self, encounters strong overwhelming emotions, and learns to regulate. Conor is extremely intelligent and emotionally sensitive and James believes more and more that a severe trauma occurred around the time Conor was two that started all this.
With Laura storytelling it’s hard to figure this out as she refuses to talk about her relationship with her husband Alan, or her relationship with Conor unitl she gets this story out and understood by James. Jame’s most reliable source of information is Alan. A down to earth cowboy type who tries to shed light on the situation. What Alan points to first is Laura’s lying. It’s like the truth is anything Laura decides it is and this puts them in really bad situations. More and more James sees this in Laura’s story how she lies so easily and always justifies it with there is no one version of reality. But James doesn’t know how to confront this.
The book progresses interweaving the stories of Conor in therapy, James working with Laura, Torgon’s story as it overlays on Laura’s life, and Jame’s own life and family. I feel the writing is very well done and as it’s all stories within stories it makes sense to the situation at hand.
How things come together in the end really has to do with Jame’s lack of solid boundaries as a therapist and how he and his family get envolved with Conors. Very interesting to discuss from a psychological point of view. So I totally recommend the book. I would love to hear others views on it.
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