The silent patient by alex michaelides

“You think it won’t be?” 

“Who knows? Too few patients, too many staff. We are working in close cooperation with the Trust to see if a more ‘economically viable’ model can be found. Which means we are being endlessly watched, evaluated—spied upon. How can we possibly do therapeutic work under such conditions? you might well ask. As Winnicott said, you can’t practice therapy

in a burning building.” Diomedes shook his head and looked his age suddenly—exhausted and weary. He lowered his voice and spoke in a conspiratorial whisper. “I believe the manager, Stephanie Clarke, is in league with them. The Trust pays her salary, after all. Watch her, and you’ll see what I mean.” 

I thought Diomedes was sounding a little paranoid, but perhaps that was understandable. I didn’t want to say the wrong thing, so I remained diplomatically silent for a moment. And then— 

“I want to ask you something. About Alicia.” 

“Alicia Berenson?” Diomedes gave me a strange look. “What about her?” 

“I’m curious what kind of therapeutic work is being done with her. Is she in individual therapy?” 


“Is there a reason?” 

“It was tried—and abandoned.” 

“Why was that? Who saw her? Indira?” 

“No.” Diomedes shook his head. “I saw Alicia myself, as a matter of fact.” 

“I see. What happened?” 

He shrugged. “She refused to visit me in my office, so I went to see her in her room. During the sessions, she simply sat on her bed and stared out of the window. She refused to speak, of course. She refused to even look at me.” He threw up his hands, exasperated. “I decided the whole thing was a waste of time.” 

I nodded. “I suppose … well, I’m wondering about the transference.…” 

“Yes?” Diomedes peered at me with curiosity. “Go on.”

“It’s possible, isn’t it, that she experienced you as an authoritarian presence … perhaps—potentially punitive? I don’t know what her relationship with her father was like, but…” 

Diomedes listened with a small smile, as if he were being told a joke and anticipating the punch line. “But you think she might find it easier to relate to someone younger? Let me guess.… Someone like you? You think you can help her, Theo? You can rescue Alicia? Make her talk?” 

“I don’t know about rescuing her, but I’d like to help her. I’d like to try.” 

Diomedes smiled, still with the same sense of amusement. “You are not the first. I believed I would succeed. Alicia is a silent siren, my boy, luring us to the rocks, where we dash our therapeutic ambition to pieces.” He smiled again. “She taught me a valuable lesson in failure. Perhaps you need to learn the same lesson.” 

I met his gaze defiantly. “Unless, of course, I succeed.” 

Diomedes’s smile vanished, replaced by something harder to read. He remained silent for a moment, then made a decision. 

“We’ll see, shall we? First, you must meet Alicia. You’ve not been introduced to her yet, have you?” 

“Not yet, no.” 

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