Which is why—and how—I related to Alicia Berenson. I was one of the lucky ones. Thanks to a successful therapeutic intervention at a young age, I was able to pull back from the brink of psychic darkness. In my mind, however, the other narrative remained forever a possibility: I might have gone crazy—and ended my days locked in an institution, like Alicia. There but for the grace of God …
I couldn’t say any of this to Indira Sharma when she asked why I became a psychotherapist. It was an interview panel, after all—and if nothing else, I knew how to play the game.
“In the end,” I said, “I believe the training makes you into a psychotherapist. Regardless of your initial intentions.”
Indira nodded sagely. “Yes, quite right. Very true.”
The interview went well. My experience of working at Broadmoor gave me an edge, Indira said—demonstrating I could cope with extreme psychological distress. I was offered the job on the spot, and I accepted.
One month later, I was on my way to the Grove.
I ARRIVED AT THE GROVE pursued by an icy January wind. The bare trees stood like skeletons along the road. The sky was white, heavy with snow that had yet to fall.
I stood outside the entrance and reached for my cigarettes in my pocket. I hadn’t smoked in over a week—I’d promised myself that this time I meant it, I’d quit for good. Yet here I was, already giving in. I lit one, feeling annoyed with myself. Psychotherapists tend to view smoking as an unresolved addiction—one that any decent therapist should have worked through and overcome. I didn’t want to walk in reeking of cigarettes, so I popped a couple of mints into my mouth and chewed them while I smoked, hopping from foot to foot.
I was shivering—but if I’m honest, it was more with nerves than cold. I was having doubts. My consultant at Broadmoor had made no bones about saying I was making a mistake. He hinted a promising career was being cut short by my departure, and he was sniffy about the Grove, and Professor Diomedes in particular.
“An unorthodox man. Does a lot of work with group relations—worked with Foulkes for a while. Ran some kind of alternative therapeutic community in the eighties in Hertfordshire. Not economically viable, those models of therapy, especially today…” He hesitated a second, then went on in a lower voice, “I’m not trying to scare you, Theo. But I’ve heard rumblings about that place getting axed. You could find yourself out of a job in six months.… Are you sure you won’t reconsider?”
I hesitated, but only out of politeness. “Quite sure.”
He shook his head. “Seems like career suicide to me. But if you’ve made your decision…”
I didn’t tell him about Alicia Berenson, about my desire to treat her. I could have put it in terms he might understand: working with her might lead to a book or publication of some kind. But I knew there was little point; he’d still say I was making a mistake. Perhaps he was right. I was about to find out.