Monday, July 18, 2011

Book Review: Crazy by Rob Dobrenski (

Rob Dobrenski, PhD. is a psychologist who blogs over on  He's written a book about what it's like to be a psychology graduate student, a psychotherapy patient, and a psychologist.  Oh, we like the folks who go from Shrink blog to Shrink book -- it somehow feels familiar -- and so I agreed to read his book: Crazy: Tales on and Off the Couch.

So bear with me while I tell you that the book rubbed me wrong at the outset.  Dr. Dobrenski begins by saying something to the effect that he describes things that all shrinks feel, and if they say they don't, they aren't being honest.  I really hate it when people tell me what I feel.  It's like saying that Prozac made your depression better and if it didn't, then you just didn't recognize it.  And then the book gets off on a provocative start -- Rob discovers that many people in his life, from a patient, to a colleague, to himself -- are "f***ing crazy." The asterisks are mine. Dr. Dobrenski had no trouble using the word -- I counted 19 times in the 39 pages, including in direct quotes of discussions he has with both a patient and one of his supervisors.  Not in a million years.  I wasn't sure what the point was.  To let people know he knows obscene words?  To be provocative, obviously.

Somewhere around page 50, the author begins to talk about his work with a teenage boy.  He loses some of his bravado, chills on the cool, dirty words, and when he talks about this socially awkward teen who keeps him jumping with his incessant questions, I turned a corner.  It suddenly felt genuine, and I could feel Rob's anxiety as he was in the room with this boy who would have made any therapist uncomfortable.  Oh, plus Rob's back goes in to spasm and he has to deal with this as he finesses conducting the session.  Somehow Rob has either willingly taken on, or been thrust into, the role of being the patient's sex educator.  A little unusual, but I do think many therapists can identify with being cornered into an uncomfortable role in therapy -- if not for many sessions, then at least for a few minutes.  
    "....but seeing a 14-year-old in a blue blazer with a crest on it, speaking like Dr. Ruth, made me feel beads of perspiration form on my forehead.    

   "Why are some people gay and some straight?"     

   I sensed that Jack's questions might be getting progressively more difficult.     

   "That's actually a question that no one truly knows the answer to...."     

   "And you, Robert? What do you think?"     

   Did I murder someone?  Am I on trial here?  Again, the rule: Do. Not. Lie. 

I ended up enjoying the rest of the book and I thought he did a nice job describing his work with sex offenders and their partners.  Worth the read for someone who wants a peek into therapy without actually going, but probably not for the practicing shrink.

Just a few minor details: There's no medication called Xypreza, it's Zyprexa, and Zoloft does not come in 10 mg doses. And finally, the peek is a peek, it's not an in-depth examination, and it is from a single perspective. 

And finally, to the guy who starts his book by saying, "Any shrink who tells you he can't relate to what is written here is incredibly private and guarded..."  I'd like to assert that eating photographs of your ex-girlfriend is really weird and is not a universal phenomena. There are some things you may be better off not announcing to the world. 


Anonymous said...

loved this review. i will say though that i've been reading both yours and his blogs for quite a while, and read both your books in the last 2 months(ish).
His book rubbed me wrong a little in that I felt he was trying too hard to show he was crazy, to make a point that he could relate. News flash: you had a hard time with a relationship. Not the same as severe, recurrent depression.
On the other hand, I did not at all feel "talked down to" while reading his book, which was the primary feeling I had while reading yours. His seemed to work too hard and read a bit as a cross between memoir and psych school, but yours read as not even really putting in the effort to treat me, your reader, as an intelligent and educated human being. His swore a lot (pet peeve of mine, though i've encountered many psychiatrists/ologists (professors too, for that matter) who use foul language, always seemed to me an attempt to show s/he is human but...I don't use language like that), but yours lacked complexity and respect for your readers.
All things told? Neither had particularly high educatation/new knowledge factors, but his was at least interesting, and didn't treat me as a completely unintelligent individual whereas his assumed I was an equal, in intelligence at least.

just saying.

jesse said...

Anon, could you please give some examples of how Dinah's book did not show respect for the readers? I didn't find it that way at all. I thought all three authors handled complicated material in a straightforward and clear way. Of course any of the objects could be examined more fully, but that wasn't the point of the book.

Perhaps Shrink Rap the Book might actually be thought of as the User's Manual for Shrink Rap the Blog!

Anonymous said...

Sad - after reading this review, I was intrigued enough to go try to buy it on my Kindle, but it's hardcover only, so... nope.

(Up to you whether the 'sad' part is that I will only buy a book in kindle form, or that the publisher didn't add that option.)

Anonymous said...

Full disclosure: my first exposure to psychologists was to my college boyfriend's father, mother, and 2 ex-step-mothers. I trained along side them in residency and they seemed like my boyfriend's MANY parents: reserved and slightly prissy so I think it is funny than Dobrenski is so profane. My theory on psychologists is that they want to be called doctor but don't want to ever touch patients. (Icky!) On the West Coast their therapy training is limited due to the focus on research and testing and the therapy training they do get is cognitive-behavioral....
I have read Dinah's posts over time on various blogs and have never read anything on a general MD blog that sounded like "talking down" to them (but there was an awesome very sarcastic post once about how all shrinks were crazy--then it disappeared). The shrink bashing on the general MD blogs gets really tiring....
But I think Dinah can stand up for herself and, being new around here, I would like to place myself in the category of admirer and not sycophant.

Anonymous said...

Sideways Shrink: Your theory of psychologsts is that they want to be called doctor but don't ever want to touch patients? In what way does that distinguish them from psychiatrists who may have had to to touch a patient in their medical training but never will again. How many shrinks even take a blood pressure reading? So let us be fair about that; it is not the touching of patients that sets one apart from the other. Is it that you believe the title of Dr. should be reserved for M.D.s only? I know a lot of physics and philosophy profs who might take issue with that.
Okay,that has nothing to do with the books, true but also true in the context of your comment.
I have not read either book but have read several selected excerpts on Google or Amazon. Neither book is up my alley. It is not that I find Shrink Rap's book to be disrespectful to the reader but it seems to assume zero knowledge and works from there. Perhaps more sophisticated readers find that insulting. That is why the "look inside" feature is valuable. I look inside and if I can see the book is not for me, I don't buy it or check it out of a library. I do find the blog posts far more interesting and think they appeal to a broader range of reader. I think the intentions behind the two were different. The other book, Crazy, I am not interested in.ctome

rob lindeman said...

What, you never ate a boyfriend's photograph?

Dinah said...

Anon: I'm not sure I understand the idea that we talked down to readers-- we did want to explain our profession and it seemed logical to start with the assumption that people don't get what we do and that's why such a book was needed. I was sort of aiming for primary care docs as an audience because they really don't get what we do and they do a lot of prescribing/and first line treatment for psychiatric disorders. It was not our intention to insult anyone.

So far, we've been pleased with the reviews!
Check out some:

Sideways: the post you wanted--
It had a weekend on vacation while the NPR folks trolled our site.

Rob, I've never eaten a photograph. Do they taste good?

Anonymous said...

I am new school: I touch my patients when clinically appropriate. I take blood pressures and temperatures on occassion; I calculate BMI's; I weigh my anorexic patients when the dietician thinks it is best she not good for her to weigh the patient. I have an otoscope and and opthalmoscope. I have done focused physical assessments on patients and sent them to the ER--I think you are thinking of somebody who dozed through their internship year.
But I also primarily do psychotherapy. Really: Free your mind and the rest will follow. (See how now and living roomy I was there in that sentence? I am teachable!)

Anonymous said...


My 9 year old daughter discovered this TV show called "The Cake Boss"--this enmeshed family of Jersey caked artists. I bring this up because they have a printer that will print edible pictures to out on cakes. If we ever meet, I think we should eat a cake like that with a picture of our kids on it. My boyfriend before my husband looked like Doctor Who, so let's not.... But if Rob keeps bringing up the idea--

Anonymous said...

Fair enough, Sideways. You touch your patients. But to be fair to psychologists, they are not supposed to touch their patients and they are as entitled to be addressd as Dr. given that the title was bestowed upon PhDs long before physicians were called Dr.

Sarebear said...

Thanks for reviewing this, Dinah, it sounds like it's not my cup of tea for the things you didn't like because I wouldn't like them either.

On the issue of touch, about 5-6 months in to therapy I discussed the issue with him, as I was feeling a cold distance in some ways from my psychologist, and I felt some sort of small touch would reinforce the humanness of the relationship, would help me connect to his empathy more, since sometimes the benevolent neutrality thing seemed oddly inhuman or unnatural; we talked about what he wasn't comfortable with and boundaries in therapy, and then came up together with something he and I were comfortable with; most sessions, if he doesn't forget, he touches me on the back as I'm leaving his office.

This had the effect that was desired; I began to feel that I was talking to another person (even if they are supposed to be outside themselves and not bring their issues in to therapy or reveal much about themselves) and not to someone cold. I knew that he WASN't cold, I just had been having a hard time connecting in our therapeutic relationship and this helped alot.

There was ONE time he did a sort of sideways hug, with his arm around my shoulder and a light squeeze; this was before I was going in to have what I thought were two knee replacements, a week apart (put the second one off for four months). I think he would have done it for only one, though. I was terrified out of my mind.

During our discussion on touch, he mentioned that on very rare occasions he did something like this, for example when a patient going in for surgery on a brain tumor was going in; he gave the man a hug, because that's an extremely terrifying thing.

So not all psychologists avoid touch, completely. Not to sidetrack the conversation lol.

We did of course also talk about why I was desiring touch, and he decided that my reason was appropriate.

Shh said...

I've been reading and really like Rob's nonconformist, unconventional edginess. But he seems very down to earth too somehow. I think I'll read his book. And thanks for directions to another great blog.

Oh and Roy, in answer to your reply to me on "Sizing up the Shrink", I guess I do see Shrink Rap as the King Pin of shrink blogs. You really are a pdoc aren't you. ;-) BTW,where have you and Clink been these days? It seems like Dinah is holding down the fort here.

snoring solutions said...

I really hate it when people tell me what I feel. It's like saying that Prozac made your depression better and if it didn't, then you just didn't recognize it. And then the book gets off on a provocative start.Thanks for sharing.

ClinkShrink said...

Shh: Roy and I are still here. Dinah is doing a great job holding down the fort and I don't believe in messing with what works. Ebb and flow is the nature of the blog, depending on when inspiration strikes. We've also got podcasts in the works (hopefully soon) so that also takes us off the web for a bit.

Sarebear said...

*waves* at Clink and Roy.

Dinah too!