TALES FROM A TRAVELING COUCH: A Psychotherapist Revisits His Most Memorable Patients by Robert U. Akeret. (Norton: $22; 199 pp.) What a nightmare! Your therapist from 30 years ago calls you from a nearby gas station to tell you he's in the neighborhood and wants to drop by to see how your life has turned out! Do you: a) hang up, b) laugh derisively and call 911, c) invite him over to your prison cell?
When Robert Akeret turned 66, he began tracking down some of his former patients. "Although the general rule of psychotherapy is that the therapist should never intrude uninvited into a patient's life, I decided that enough time had passed to render this rule moot." He visits Naomi Goldberg of the Bronx, sexpot and student at City College in New York in 1957, a woman convinced that she was in fact Isabella Cortez de Seville, a contessa and flamenco dancer. He visits Charles, a circus trainer and patient in 1965 who was obsessively in love with a polar bear named Zero. ("I've fallen in love with someone at work," Charles tells him miserably in their first session.) He visits Seth and Mary and Sacha. In each of these cases, Akeret's technique has been to crawl inside the delusions of his patients with them, and to find solutions from these odd vantage points that would make their lives more livable. In the case of Charles, this involved couples therapy with the polar bear. Yes.