Reviewed by Hailey Drummond
How much can you give the world before you have nothing left?
As the protagonist robbed of a happy ending, Jonathan Epstein becomes the patient he once sought out to help. Author of Therapists Gone Wild, Jeff Schneider, is not new to the literary world with several books already published, which frequently relate to the trials of psychological struggles. In his most recent novel, he skillfully frames the reality of mental health in a world that often lacks compassion through a contemporary fictional narrative. Schneider’s Therapists Gone Wild shares the story of a hopeful, yet naive mental health therapist as he is slowly broken down by the cruel nature of social work and drained by a deeply flawed healthcare system. The bright-eyed protagonist, Jonathan, enters the workforce hoping and planning to give his clients the help they need, but his list of problems only continues to mount. From trying clients and an unsatisfied girlfriend to a supervisor who shares his pessimism more than his advice, psychological realism is embedded in the core of Jonathan’s story.
Given that psychological realism grew in popularity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a famously acknowledged author that introduced and used psychological realism is Henry James. The primary focus of this form of realism is to dive into the psyche of the characters and understand their internal thoughts and emotions that lead to their decisions. James declared: “The only reason for the existence of a novel is that it does attempt to represent life….” In the story, there are multiple representations of life as it begins with Jonathan analyzing his clients’ dysfunctional lives, while the reader simultaneously analyzes what Jonathan is feeling as his own mental stability becomes shaken. The entirety of the narrative addresses the events and emotions in a clinical tone with regular interjections of “progress notes” for his clients, only further emphasizing Jonathan’s primary focus: being a therapist.
This novella subjects the reader to the mindset of a meticulous and anxiety-ridden mental health therapist, who becomes trapped in the cycle of his work. Schneider explores the consequences of passion morphing into an obsession that inevitably takes more than it can give. Jonathan’s desire to constantly help people, even the ones who are not seeking his help, leads to him blurring the boundary line between his professional and personal life. The most enthralling part of Jonathan’s story is just how realistic it is. He spent his time, money, and effort pursuing a degree in a field that he felt he could make a difference, in a field that needed him, but is only greeted with a rude awakening. His dream falls from its pedestal, but still, Jonathan fiercely clings to it with the belief that it is his duty to help those that others have failed. With his vision zeroing in on this one part of his life, he detaches himself from everything else.
A tale as old as time: a well-intentioned character puts more energy into saving everyone else and neglects their own needs. We’ve all experienced this feeling before. The feeling of needing that validation to know that you are good at what you do, and this follows Jonathan throughout his story. He seeks that validation in the form of his work and his co-workers, but at what cost? Can his girlfriend manage a one-track mind boyfriend? Is he capable of handling the stress he puts on himself to repair a healthcare system he didn’t break? Is his empathy accepted in this apathetic world? Does it even matter?
With the narrative being driven by Jonathan’s emotional turmoil, this book will draw you in and make you question the world’s compassion. The raging battle of empathy and apathy finally comes head to head in the conclusion of the story when, at last, Jonathan’s fate unfolds.
“Take my body,
break my body,
break my mind,
break my soul,
you can eat it, eat my flesh,
break my body.”
— Jonathan Epstein