Stephen Grosz is a practicing psychoanalyst—he has worked with patients for more than twenty-five years. Born in America, educated at the University of California, Berkeley, and at Oxford University, he teaches at the Institute of Psychoanalysis and in the Psychoanalysis Unit at University College London. He lives in London.
His stories have appeared in the Financial Times Weekend Magazine and Granta.
A Sunday Times bestseller, The Examined Life is his first book.
Interview & Podcasts
Karl Ove Knausgaard and Stephen Grosz in conversation, May 2014
BBC Radio 3: Private Passions with Michael Berkeley
In conversation with Michael Berkeley, Stephen Grosz tells his own story: his childhood in Chicago, the son of immigrants who ran a grocery store; student days in radical Berkeley; and now, settled in Britain, how he’s facing the challenges of fatherhood and ageing. Music has played an important part right from the beginning, and Grosz admits that his choice of music is very psychologically revealing.
BBC Radio 4: A Good Read
Stephen and Meera Sayal talk with Harriet Walter about Chekhov, Agatha Christie and Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers. August 2013.
NPR: On Point
Stephen Grosz in Conversation with Jane Clayson in for Tom Ashbrook, July 2013.
This hour, On Point: deep into the mind with The Examined Life.
Literature on the Couch: Stephen talks to Cary Barbor at Book Talk
RTE 1 Today With Pat Kenny
Pat Kenny is joined by Professor Jim Lucey, Medical Director with St Patrick’s psychiatric hospital and Clinical Director of Psychiatry in Trinity College to discuss “The Examined Life” (Monday 8th April)
Radio New Zealand
Stephen discussing his book “The Examined Life” on Radio New Zealand’s Saturday Morning with Kim Hill
Profiles & Interviews
Psychoanalysis as Literature: Stephen Grosz’s ‘The Examined Life’
I’ve always found psychoanalysts slightly awkward interview subjects. This is perhaps unsurprising when it comes to men and women who must be somewhat of a blank slate. Talking about oneself invariably doesn’t come easy to someone whose job is to listen.
As such, I’m momentarily thrown when Stephen Grosz proves himself the perfect interview subject, engaged, engaging, warm, and not averse to sharing his feelings. But then what should I have expected? I’m here precisely because his first book, The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves, defied expectations by achieving the seemingly impossible: a book about psychoanalysis that made the bestseller lists in the United Kingdom, a country where Freud is readily dismissed as a quack. This volume, now out in the U.S., is a distillation of Grosz’s 25 years of practice, from which he amassed over 50,000 hours of conversation, into 31 chapters, each a peek into the human psyche.
One of the chapters begins with the story of Mary. Mary is the 46-year-old married mother of three. One day she and her husband attend a neighbor’s garden party, during the course of which she strikes up a conversation with another guest, Alan, a widowed barrister. The two share stories of grief—his wife’s recent death, her sister’s—and agree to meet for lunch at Alan’s house the following Friday. “When Friday arrived,” Grosz writes, “Mary showed up at his doorstep with a bouquet of peonies, a bottle of Sancerre, and a removal van containing all of her clothes and possessions, including some large pieces of furniture.” Alan refused to let Mary into his home; she broke down in the street, crying and screaming, so Alan called her husband, who in turn contacted the family doctor. What became of Mary, we’re never told. Grosz doesn’t deal in neat resolutions, nor in diagnoses. “It’s not as simple as that,” he says. In the book’s preface he quotes the philosopher Simone Weil’s description of how two prisoners in adjoining cells learn to talk to each other by tapping on the wall. “The wall is the thing which separates them, but it is also their means of communication,” she writes. “Every separation is a link.” Grosz says the book is about the wall. “We tap, we listen,” he writes. (read more)
On Therapy, Literature and Understanding Obama
(interview with Daniel Lefferts from Bookish.com, June, 2013)
Bookish: Your book is a collection of short stories about patients, and storytelling plays role in your therapeutic approach, as well. Describe the relationship between narrative and psychoanalysis.
Stephen Grosz: The people who come to analysis are in great pain, and usually part of the pain is that they can’t articulate it well. They don’t have a way of telling it. Often, the most important stories of our lives are about some of the most difficult things that no one helped us to find the words to describe. [In analysis,] you try to hear [the patient’s] stories and work out what’s going on. All the highfalutin psychoanalytic language—which is not in my book—is, to me, a diversion from the directness of literature—hearing people’s stories, and trying to put that story as clearly and as plainly on the page as possible.
Bookish: Was it your aim, in writing “The Examined Life,” to help people?
SG: The best thing a book can do to help us feel a new thing or think a new thing. One of the reasons I love Andrew Solomon’s book, “Far From the Tree,” [is because] I have not met one person who’s read that book and not changed how they thought. I tried to write things that would change how people think. The issues I chose had a kind of urgency, because they are the things my friends and I talk about, my wife and I talk about, my children and I talk about, my patients want to know about. They are the most pressing problems. I felt I had something to say about them, or that the patients had taught me something that I wanted to show. (read the full article)
A Psychoanalyst’s Tale
After practising as a psychoanalyst for 25 years, Stephen Grosz has written a book – of the stories his patients learnt to tell on the path to recovery
There’s a lot of the literary in Stephen Grosz. You can tell from the chapter titles of his book, with their familiar fireside whiff of Aesop or Kipling: How Lovesickness Keeps Us From Love; How Anger Can Keep Us From Sadness. Often, too, his limpid, pared-down fables conclude with an observation so elegant and so penetrating that it is almost an aphorism: Better to have lost something than be something someone forgot; Closure is the false hope that we can deaden our living grief.
It’s no accident, of course. The story is at the heart of psychoanalysis, the profession Grosz has practised, with distinction, for 25 years. Sigmund Freud saw this, asserting more than once that his case histories read strangely like novellas rather than bearing the “serious stamp of science”. (read more)
A horror of criticising our children leads to an equally harmful practice, a top psychoanalyst explains to Sian Griffiths
Collecting his daughter from nursery one day, Stephen Grosz overheard the assistant tell her: “You’ve drawn the most beautiful tree. Well done.” A few days later he heard her say of another drawing: “Wow, you really are an artist.”
On both occasions, writes Grosz in The Examined Life, his first book, “my heart sank. How could I explain to the nursery assistant that I would prefer it if she didn’t praise my daughter?”
It seems an extraordinary statement. Why would a father — and a psychoanalyst, to boot — not want his daughter to be complimented? Sitting in his consulting rooms in Hampstead, northwest London, Grosz pours me a cup of tea before answering.
“Admiring our children may temporarily lift our sense of self-esteem but it isn’t doing much for a child’s sense of self,” he says. “Empty praise is as bad as thoughtless criticism — it expresses indifference to the child’s feelings and thoughts.” (read more)