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author and Psychologist
Cover art by Felice Sharp
an intriguing tableau of modern psychotherapy."
photo by Margie Pavlovsky Erdoes
Stephen Swift is a 27-year old divorced father who’s terrible in relationships, yet has somehow stumbled into a doctoral program in clinical psychology. But as he starts learning how to plumb the psyches of others, Stephen quickly learns that becoming a healer requires facing his own deepest wounds. In his debut novel, psychologist Gerald Drose offers an intimate view of one man’s journey in psychology graduate school while celebrating the transformative power of art, love, connection…and softball.
"Drose follows Stephen’s painful attempt at soul-searching, a process that’s aided by his clinical studies, which are simultaneously lessons in therapeutic strategy and the power of human empathy...
The author, a practicing psychologist with 30 years of experience, paints an intriguing tableau of modern psychotherapy and highlights 'the artistry involved in deeply understanding the people who seek our help'—an element that some depictions of psychology sadly overlook."
"A young man's journey to becoming a psychologist is only the tip of the iceberg. Every character is on a journey of self-discovery in some way. I guarantee you will recognize someone, maybe yourself, on one of these paths. Stephen is the magnet that draws out and weaves together these rich and personally challenging threads. You'll learn a bit about different approaches to psychotherapy but that's not the point. Take the ride with each character - at times you'll find yourself looking in the mirror."
~Dianne Jewell PT, PhD, CEO, Sheltering Arms Physical Rehabilitation Centers
"Drose brings the inner worlds of his characters to life with all of their complicated contradictions...a lovely read...Beautifully written, insightful and thoughtful."
~Joyce Cartor, PhD, President of the Appalachian Psychoanalytic Society
"This is an uplifting book, perfect for a post-pandemic reminder about the good in everyone. As the protagonist, a graduate student in clinical psychology, learns the craft of psychotherapy, he simultaneously gains insight into his many important personal relationships. The author offers an empathic view of human nature in all its complexity and leaves us sad to say goodbye to an interesting and loving cast of characters."
~Melissa Himelein,PhD, Dean of Social Sciences and Professor of Psychology, University of North Carolina, Asheville
"The narrative unspools carefully, and readers learn that there’s more going on beneath characters’ surfaces than meets the eye...
The author is adept at character development, and ...readers will find themselves rooting for his flawed and utterly human protagonist by book’s end.
Readers going through psychotherapy and those simply interested in human development will find this a revealing glimpse into the making of a psychologist."
"Drose manages to capture the nuance of connection between people who love one another: the love and the frustration, the balance between selfishness and sacrifice. He articulates the struggle to truly grasp the perspective of someone who is fundamentally different from us, and the ability of love to teach us how to be more and less ourselves...Less frightened, less self-absorbed, less rigid. This book...has applications for any of us who seek to understand one another, and who believe in the transformative power of relationships."
~Kelly Harvey, LPC
"The story of a young man's personal and professional journey as told through a series of relationships...transforming and evolving him... we see what's possible in Stephens's life and, in turn, what is possible in anyone's life."
~ Joseph Dennenny, Pulitzer Publishing.
For more than thirty years, psychotherapist Gerald Steven Drose has been helping his clients re-write their personal narratives, recognizing that the stories we tell ourselves limit our ability to love and thrive.
Drose works with individuals and couples, helping them with relationship problems; has published research on sex therapy; wrote a bi-weekly column on sex, love, and marriage; and has extensive couples’ therapy experience. He also enjoys supervising younger therapists, filling in the gaps left after graduate school training, and firmly believes in the artistry needed to deeply understand the people who come for help. His graduate school experience inspired his first novel, Bird Gotta Land.
Born and raised in Charleston, South Carolina, Drose received his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of South Carolina. He lives with his wife Dina in Atlanta, Georgia, where the couple leads a psychotherapy practice with four locations. He has three grown sons and a granddaughter.
About the Book
“Intelligent…An intriguing tableau of modern psychotherapy.”
~ Kirkus Reviews
A young grad student in psychology discovers that in order to heal others, he must first face his deepest wounds.
Stephen Swift is a divorced 27-year old father who has stumbled into a doctoral program in clinical psychology at Georgia University. Which is ironic, because he’s estranged from his cancer-stricken father, barely sees his sister, and is stuck in a false narrative that he’s not good enough to succeed in anything. His romantic relationships also leave little to be desired. In a nutshell, he’s a mess.
But as study begins and Stephen starts learning how to plumb the psyches of others, he quickly finds himself on a parallel path of self-discovery, thanks to a sympathetic professor, his therapist, a psychotic prisoner, intramural softball, and an endearing, free-spirited classmate named Ally who challenges Stephen’s views of love, connection, and what it means to show up.
Debut novelist and veteran psychologist Gerald S. Drose gives a wry, thoughtful, and intimate view of one young man’s journey to heal himself before he can begin to heal others. Ideal for fans of contemporary, character-driven fiction, for readers in their 20s and 30s struggling through a quarter-life crisis, and those who simply want to see how therapists get trained. A must-read for undergraduate psychology students seeking a peek behind the curtain of graduate school and other therapists exploring the transformative art of psychotherapy.
"Tiger got to hunt, bird got to fly.
Man got to sit and wonder 'why, why, why.'
Tiger got to sleep, bird got to land.
Man got to tell himself he understand."
~Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle
Author Q & A
a conversation with Gerald Drose, author Bird Gotta Land
Bird Gotta Land was inspired by your experience in graduate school. What propelled you to write it?
I wanted to tell a real story about how psychologists learn to do therapy. That process is shrouded in mystery. Depictions of psychologists in popular media (e.g., “The Sopranos,” “Good Will Hunting”) show a wise old therapist spouting brilliant, or sometimes not so brilliant, insights. No one has told the story of how young graduate students learn to practice therapy: the academic classes, the research projects, the graduate student's own therapy, the clients who come our clinics and serve as guinea pigs while we are observed behind a one-way mirror, and our challenging community assignments in prisons, psychiatric hospitals and emergency rooms where we get thrown into the deep end of the pool. I wanted to show the drama, the comedy and the general messiness of that process. I wanted to show that professors and mentors are flawed humans, too. I also wanted to tell the origin story of my relationship with my wife.
2. Because the book is based on real life, why did you choose a fictional approach versus memoir?
I fictionalized this story because I wanted to protect confidentiality. It’s pretty risky for a psychotherapist to reveal too much about his personal life so I told a fictional representation of my journey.
3. The main character, Stephen, is a young man in his 20's floundering through life while in graduate school for psychology. What about his experience is universal?
The 20’s are a time when most of us are trying to find direction – when we experiment with different jobs and explore different relationships. Through this process of trial and error, we home in on who we really are. For many of us, like Stephen, the process is messy as we separate from our families while bringing with us the "scripts" and beliefs that defined our childhood. These days especially, there is tremendous pressure from parents for young people to have it all figured out before they have had enough life experience for these answers to emerge.
My 20’s were about experimenting and seeing what felt wrong and what felt right. I stumbled around without much direction at all, trying to land on the right career path and the right relationship. I went to three different colleges and in the middle took a year off and worked in a Harley Davidson shop after my best friend was killed in a motorcycle accident. I impulsively married my girlfriend in college and we had a child a couple of years later. First, I was a Theater major, switched to Political Science focused on the Middle East, and eventually decided to become a psychologist! (All of that would be an entirely different novel.) Bird Gotta Land picks up after all of those adventures.
4. Tell us about the meaning behind the title. What about Kurt Vonnegut’s quote inspired you?
The title comes from Vonnegut’s poem that explores the innate needs of every animal: “Tiger got to hunt, bird got to fly, man got to sit and wonder why, why, why.” At the beginning of Bird Gotta Land, Stephen is lost (why, why, why?), but as he works through his challenges and gets himself in a better place, he learns to be present, trust and manage and express his emotions, and understand what it means to have a beautiful life. That’s when he lands.
5. As a psychotherapist, you help clients “re-write their personal narratives, recognizing that the stories we tell ourselves limit our ability to love and thrive.” How did this impact the writing of your novel?
My clients are represented everywhere in the novel’s characters. We all get stuck in patterns or stories that limit our lives, and for the most part, those stories exist on an unconscious level. That’s, of course, where the work is.
Stephen’s professor, Ed is stuck in a pattern of having short-term relationships with younger women because he tragically lost the love of his life. Consciously, he might say to himself, “I’m trying to get close to vibrant women and have a thriving relationship.” By having relationships with younger women who will eventually leave him, he unconsciously protects himself from the pain of losing another deep relationship to death. The cruel irony is that his avoidance of the deeper pain of loss results in him living through the chronic pain of repeated rejection!
Ironically, much of the pain in our lives is caused by our attempts to avoid imagined pain. We have become very good at numbing ourselves through our addictions to work, booze, food, sex and our phones. Sadly, these means of avoidance generate their own pain, even while they are in service of numbing us to deep fears or imagined worst-case-scenarios. Avoidance and addiction cause us to live smaller and more difficult lives. Good psychotherapy uncovers the pain we are avoiding and the fears we don’t think we can face. We learn to open our eyes and trust our own capacity to handle the ups and downs of our lives without using self-destructive means to numb ourselves and make our lives small.
6. Did your psychotherapy practice guide the way you drew your characters?
Yes. I wanted my novel to address each character the way I would a client:
Understand them in the context of their lives (so I provided that context where appropriate).
Clarify their struggle.
Show love and empathy for them.
Show how they change through their struggle and get to a better place.
7. You hope to reach young students and professors of psychotherapy with your novel. How do you think they’ll benefit from reading Bird Gotta Land?
I hope they will understand that helping people involves more than offering a different way to think and, thus, behave differently. For instance, cognitive-behaviorism tries to change limiting beliefs, which is certainly helpful. But there is an underlying, unconscious holistic story that shapes a person’s way of interpreting his or her experiences and ultimately all of their choices. Ideally, therapy will address the client's story in order to help them transform their life.
8. What do you hope readers (in general) take away from your novel?
I hope readers will appreciate the art of psychotherapy, the work that goes into plumbing the psyche of people in a lasting, meaningful, life-changing way.
9. What books inspired you during the writing of Bird Gotta Land?
Jerome Bruner’s “Two Modes of Thought” has inspired me as a psychologist. He suggests there are two modes of cognitive functioning: one is rational and focused on empirical truth; the other focuses on stories and how we give meaning to our experiences. Academic psychology has directed psychotherapy training toward the former and tends to neglect the latter.
The novel Good Benito by Alan Lightman inspired me as it tells the story of a physics professor as he reflects on his grad school experiences as a young, “lost” student.
I also listened to Leonard Cohen’s music throughout the writing of the book. His soulful storytelling was inspirational.
10. Why does becoming a healer require “facing and addressing our deepest wounds”?
If a therapist has not explored and addressed their own issues and potential blind spots, they may steer a client in the wrong direction. Therapists have our own histories and wounds that will inevitably be “triggered” by the stories and personalities of our clients. While our life experiences can make us more empathetic to our clients' experiences, at the same time we need to guard against projecting our own experiences and feelings onto our clients. We need to be aware if a client reminds us, for example, of a difficult parent or a controlling ex-spouse. We would need to process these feelings outside of the therapy office with our own supervisor or therapist. Otherwise, we can unconsciously enact our own dramas in the therapy office by either checking out, giving bad advice, or changing the subject, rather than being present and available for what the client needs from us in that moment.
11. Your main character, Stephen, is often referred to as having a poet’s heart. Do you yourself have a poet’s heart?
I aspire to have a poet's heart. I love to be present, deeply connected to what I'm doing, and have empathy for all living things. But life occasionally gets in the way. I can sometimes get stuck in my head and miss the beauty and joy in front of me.
12. How have your experiences as a supervisor of young psychologists influenced your novel?
The character of Ed is a combination of my two favorite supervisors in graduate school (Bob Heckel and Herman Salsberg). That character also serves as a model for how I aspire to relate to my supervisees. I focus on two realms of the work: the quality of the relationship with their client and the story the client is telling about their lives. Ed is very gentle in helping Stephen understand his own impact on the therapy process. Like Ed, I try to remain aware that the work young therapists are doing is important and difficult.
Ed also helps Stephen learn that humans are not rational: we make decisions based on emotions, fears and desires that are below the level of conscious awareness and then we create a story that makes it all make sense to us. Ed guides Stephen to listen deeper than the face value of the client’s story and to recognize that when clients appear to be acting “irrationally” that at some level what they are doing makes perfect sense. Part of the therapist’s job is to help solve the mystery: why do we humans act in ways that appear to go against our own self-interest?
For example: while Darnell is always talking about wanting to get out of prison, why does he consistently sabotage his chances for freedom whenever he comes up for parole? While Frank, Stephen’s father, claims to want closeness with his children, why does he avoid this connection? (Why does Stephen/Gerald avoid finishing his dissertation/novel when he claims he wants to graduate/get published?)
Once the unconscious narrative is revealed, it can be re-written.