Couch Fiction – a graphic novel reviewed

I’ve just read ‘Couch Fiction’ – it’s a graphic novel.  I hate the term ‘graphic novel’, it makes me think of Japanese pornography.  Once upon a time it would just have been called a comic book, but hey, we live in a world of ‘vintage’ and ‘lofts/apartments/duplexes and maisonettes’ where once ‘second-hand’ and ‘flats’ were good enough, so I guess the graphic novel is here to stay.

This one is written by Philippa Perry, with ‘art’ by Junko Graat, and it’s sub-headed ‘a graphic tale of psychotherapy’.  Philippa Perry used to be known as the psychotherapist wife of transvestite potter Grayson Perry.  I remember him referring to her lovingly in the ‘Life in the Day’ column in the Sunday Times Magazine some years ago, and have been mildly intrigued ever since.  It can never really be much fun being primarily known as the spouse of anyone; so good for her for showing us who she is in her own right.

I bought Couch Fiction in much the same vein as I’d previously thought about Perry – with mild intrigue, not really sure what to expect.  I don’t like comic books, never have, and so expected to find the format annoying.  As it turned out I didn’t find it at all annoying, and I agree with Andrew Samuels’ afterword that this format is a fluid  and effective way to express what happens inside and outside people at the same time – ideal to convey the conscious and unconscious exchanges in the therapeutic relationship.  I ripped through it in a few 10 minute bursts over a couple of days – it’s brief, which means there’s no room for padding, which was a relief.  It also made me laugh out loud by page 10 which is always a bonus in a book about therapy.

Couch Fiction is an imaginary case study in pictures, with footnotes that explain the therapist’s interventions theoretically while providing a commentary to illuminate the process even further.  I particularly liked the way this gave Perry the ability to own up to the fictional therapist’s mistakes and make tricky concepts like ‘rupture and repair’ and ‘bracketing’ easily understood.  Her writing is jargon-free and transparent about the process of therapy, and she doesn’t shy away from challenging the inherent power imbalance between therapist and client, which in my mind is all good stuff.

As I read it I thought about how this book would be an ideal gift for my friends who are either therapy-sceptics or don’t have a clue about what happens in therapy.  It also brought to mind at least one of my clients who finds needing therapy deeply shameful.  My hope would be that if someone like that reads Couch Fiction they would, at the very least, come away from it having their own experience normalised.

Jane Edwards is a member and co-founder of LPN

Couch Fiction A graphic Tale of Psychotherapy, story Philippa Perry art Junko Graat, published by Palgrave Macmillan.  RRP £12.99