GROUP SHRINK Writing about family can be a dicey proposition for an author; there’s always a risk that someone will feel exposed or violated. Christie Tate took the revelatory spirit one step further, mining her experiences over nearly two decades in group therapy to tell the story of her own personal growth. Her memoir, “Group,” was No. 6 on last week’s hardcover nonfiction list and is Reese Witherspoon’s latest selection for her book club. (“Have you ever read a book that makes you want to HUG the author?” Witherspoon writes on her website.)
Tate started working on the book in November 2015, after writing two unpublished books she describes as “trunk novels” — “No one will ever see them because they’re terrible,” she explains. Tate was discussing her work in group therapy, going so far as to read aloud a scene where a lawyer has an intimate relationship with a former therapist, when a fellow member said, “Why are you writing a novel? Why don’t you just tell the truth?” She says, “That planted a seed.”
Of course, Tate adds, “There are very important privacy issues that were on the table from the beginning. The group had access to all the drafts. I gave them carte blanche. If you feel you’re not properly disguised, or if I’ve come too close to your issues in therapy, it’s coming out.” The only request came from the wife of one of the men she wrote about, who asked her to change two biographical references about their relationship. She was happy to oblige.
Now that the book is out in the world, Tate says, “Some of the people in my group have some squeamishness about the fact that I might one day write about them, which I can certainly empathize with.” Still, their sessions go on — now via Zoom, which gives participants a different perspective on one another’s lives. “It’s very intimate,” Tate says. “We have a situation where someone has a sick family member who has neurological problems. At one point during a session the family member barged in and we got to see up close what you’re living with when you live with somebody who’s ill.”
What Tate misses most about in-person group therapy is the chance to let loose: “On Zoom, we can’t go loud into conflict and mess. You can’t talk over each other so there’s a sense that the intensity is tamped down. I’m so desperate for the connection, I can’t wait until we can see each other’s bodies and look each other in the eye again.”