Denise Evans, Clinical Counsellor

May 1, 2010

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Karen Armstrong’s book, “The Spiral Staircase,” (2004) describes the progress of her life from the time she left the nunnery in 1969. She struggled with the adjustment to the modern world and finding a place to fit. This was complicated by odd, coincidental events, such as having her doctoral dissertation exam be conducted by a man who was known to hate and dismiss her work; by recurrent episodes of perceptual alienation that were misdiagnosed by the psychiatrists she consulted; and by people frequently trying to force her to conform to their ideas of whom she was and is. Throughout she determinedly pursues her own course, with some side paths, but always coming back to a stubborn clinging to her evolving identity. Her honesty and tenacity are worth reading, especially for those who are also struggling to find their place and their voice. Of course, as a therapist myself, I was especially incensed by the lack of perceptiveness and helpfulness of the psychiatrists she consulted. I must remember that it is always important to check for underlying organic problems.

The final chapter in which she relaxes into the space she made for herself is one of joy. Her celebration of her deepening compassion and “the spirituality of empathy” allow us to celebrate with her. A lovely, gentle conclusion to a book about awakening.

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