The Assassin and the Therapist: An Exploration of Truth in Psychotherapy and In Life.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Rock, Justin
Pub Date: 01/01/2012
Publication: Name: Existential Analysis Publisher: Society for Existential Analysis Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Psychology and mental health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2012 Society for Existential Analysis ISSN: 1752-5616
Issue: Date: Jan, 2012 Source Volume: 23 Source Issue: 1
Topic: NamedWork: The Assassin and the Therapist: An Exploration of Truth in Psychotherapy and in Life (Nonfiction work)
Persons: Reviewee: Kottler, Jeffrey
Accession Number: 288874190
Full Text: The Assassin and the Therapist: An Exploration of Truth in Psychotherapy and In Life. Jeffrey Kottler. (2010). London: Routledge

The reader of The Assassin and the Therapist: An Exploration of Truth in Psychotherapy and In Life is experiencing two parallel yet interconnected stories at the same time. Author Jeffrey Kottler, begins the book by detailing the life story of an elderly man, Jacob, who in his youth had been recruited, trained, and operated as an assassin for the independent state of Israel. The story reads fast and has the reader on the edge of their seat as Kottler takes them on a whirlwind of secret and risky missions. Kottler's expertly developed depiction of Jacob's experiences as a young assassin is at times horrifying, yet always captivating. The story is deeply enriched by Kottler's struggle with believing and doubting Jacob. Kottler's willingness to address his own struggles with interpersonal relationships and trust invites the reader to look beyond the entertaining story to also examine his or her own understanding of trust and relationships.

One of the most interesting and engaging aspects of this book is Kottler's choice to begin interweaving both stories from the very beginning, while maintaining clarity and structure. For instance, while Section I (chapters two through 10) makes for a great spy novel and could be easily read on its own, the book's preface (chapter one) and Section Two (chapters 11-17) share the author's struggles with believing and trusting his hero, ultimately advancing the book from an entertaining read to a compelling story.

The book starts off with Kottler recounting his introduction, meeting and building of a relationship with Jacob. Kottler and Jacob were inroducted, both in the knowledge that Kottler was a writer and Jacob had an amazing life story. From the beginning the idea was to write a book that documented Jacob's amazing life. The two meet weekly in a sports bar for a year, where Jacob retells his life story so that Kottler can write the final 400-page manuscript detailing Jacob's experiences as an assassin. As the project draws to completion, Jacob's hesitation to complete the work is the birthplace of Kottler's doubt in Jacob's life story. While Kottler and Jacob's relationship was not that of therapist-client, the process of meeting weekly to work on documenting Jacob's life followed many parallels with a client-therapist relationship; primarily the two building a trusting relationship.

Kottler's transparency about his struggles with trusting Jacob, and the difficulties it creates in their relationship, allows the reader to share Kottler's experiences. The author candidly shares his feelings of being angry and hurt due to Jacob lying to him about his life story. As Kottler wrestles with his doubt and belief that Jacob is telling the truth, I found that I identified with his struggles. I thought about my work with clients and not knowing whether the things clients bring in to share are true or false; a dilemma commonly faced in our line of work. Kottler does a terrific job of elucidating the struggles of trust in relationships that confront therapists everyday.

While Jacob was not one of Kottler's clients, the author uses the latter part of the book to uses his own experience of losing trust in Jacob as springboard to examining how therapists handle trusting clients in a more formal therapist-client relationship. Specifically, he examines how therapists handle being lied to by clients, and whether or not a therapist can know if her client is lying to her or not. Kottler continues to explore the therapist-client relationship and examines ways in which therapist lie to clients under the context of being therapeutic. Kottler is able to clearly address trust and doubt in relationships, allowing the reader context and impetus to reflect on ones own relationships. As such, the book provides a gateway of reflection on what we believe to be true, a lie, or a fact. It is in this way, that this book is engaging. The experience of reading Jacob's story and Kottler's experience working with Jacob are not a detached recounting of events. Rather, Kottler invites you to join him in his lived experience of working with Jacob and sharing in Jacob's life story.

In Chapter 12, Kottler discusses briefly the different types of truths that we operate under. He lays out three types of truths: historical truths are the facts of the original event; narrative truths are the story told and retold about the event; and artistic truths are the re-reconstructed descriptions or depictions by therapists, in our case conceptualisation, case notes or supervision. This leads to the next chapter dealing with what is the importance of truth where Kottler looks at cultural context, why people lie and how dishonesty plays out in society.

The last few chapters of the book are both the best and weakest part of the book. In Chapters 15-17, these rich and complex topics are quickly glanced over leaving me with a feeling of an introduction to the topic rather than addressing the topic in depth. This does a disservice to the book after creating such a deep and rich platform. The book's strength, in contrast, is Kottler's willingness to express and expose his own struggles and personal conflicts confronting the confusion he had over feeling lied to by Jacob. The chapters are engaging to read, but left me with a feeling of oversimplified answers to many of the questions posed. For example, what to do if a therapist believes a client is lying? It helps to have supporting evidence. To be fair to Kottler, this one example leads to the next step of his personal struggle in finding out the truth about Jacob's story, which is helping the client save face. Ultimately, this section was overly mechanistic and simplified in addressing a complex and confusing situation that Kottler skillfully had constructed for the reader.

Overall, I think this book is a great book to spur conversation and discussion among therapists. I would highly recommend it to a peer group or book study group as it has great potential to ignite conversations among professionals. I would also recommend the book for someone who is interested in the experiential struggles of knowing if someone trusted is lying and being able to sit with the uncertainty of ever knowing what the truth is. I couldn't recommend it to someone who is looking for an in-depth analysis of lying, truth, and their impact in therapeutic relationships. The strength of Kottler's work is that it doesn't give any answers, something that I deeply appreciated. He challenges us to embrace uncertainty and the unknown. The Assassin and the Therapist is a great book exposing the limitations of certainty and managed care in the current mental health field, and challenges therapists to confront their own discomfort around embracing uncertainty. What is missing is an explanation, exploration, or handling of what one does with these different truths that he has mentioned. The Assassin and the Therapist has constructed a magnificent ground for exploration among therapists, philosophers, and clients alike; but then seems to shy away from engaging in the conversation itself. In this sense, this books seems best placed for a therapist struggling with issues of trust, deception and certainty, who at the same time has not been exposed to much or any existential thought. So should you read this book? Let's face it, I do not know, and neither do you until you do.
Gale Copyright: Copyright 2012 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.