Book Review published in the
International Journal of Group Psychotherapy
Together We Heal
By Szifra Birke and Kathy Mayer
This book offers a very different approach to the wide variety of self-help books available that deal with the issues of recovery for adult children of alcoholics. The volume takes the reader on an in-depth voyage through 15 meetings of a typical ACOA (adult children of alcoholics) group, and introduces us to several real-life patients of the therapist Szifra Birke. The book is coauthored by a patient in this group, and the perspective alternates between that of patient to therapist. Unlike many self-help books in the addictions field, which offer primarily an educational view of the various roles and dilemmas that ACOAs face, this book allows us to see first-hand those roles played out in a group, and also allows us to see the impact of the group process in altering these roles, which are initially rigid and confining. These roles, such as the scapegoat, the mascot, the family hero and others, are described by the patients themselves as they recall their painful family histories in a benign, somewhat structured environment.
The therapist is quite active in setting guidelines for the group around such contract issues as confidentiality, minimum commitment to the group, and termination, and in addition, is also active in presenting general topic areas of the group to discuss. Major content areas include: Sharing Childhood Experiences, Recognizing Feelings, Rewriting Family Rules, Looking at Each Other, Addictive Behaviors, Having Fun, Sharing Feedback with Each Other, and Living Today.
One concept focused on frequently by the patients is that of the “broken gauge,” or the dilemma that many if not all ACOAs face in attempting to determine what is “normal.” Patients were able to utilize this concept in many areas, such as appropriate commitments to works, play, relationships, and self. Other issues of personal development, such as defensiveness in general and the inability to receive positive feedback in particular, are dealt with in depth.
The conversational tone of the book does not shortchange the educational effort it undertakes, as it moves from such concepts as family roles, to appropriate group boundaries, to the process of undertaking an Intervention (a technique for confronting an active alcoholic). All these areas are covered and explained either by the therapist or by a patient in the group. I t was helpful for the narrative process that one of the patients in the group was himself an alcoholism counselor who could take a professional stance at times.
Although this book is written primarily for the ACOA consumer, and does not purport to be in any way a text, it is full of valuable information for therapists who treat ACOAs. For the therapist wishing to recommend a starting point to a patient beginning to come to terms with family alcoholism, it is an excellent resource.
Carole J. Brown, M.S.W.