You only have to say ‘Pammy’ to a counsellor and they will know exactly who you are talking about. It’s why I pounced on Living with ‘The Gloria Films’ by Pamela J Burry.
At some point in every counsellor’s training, they will be shown ‘The Gloria Films’. In the films, newly-divorced mother, Gloria, has three psychotherapy sessions with celebrated therapists – Carl Rogers, Albert Ellis and Fritz Perls – and each gives their response to what was most troubling Gloria at that time – dating and fielding questions about her sex life from her then nine-year-old daughter, Pammy.
I have watched the films a dozen times (particularly the Carl Rogers section, because he is considered the founder of person-centred therapy) and spent a fair amount of academic time analysing the therapists’ micro-skills. But in doing so, I always wondered what the experience was like for the subject, Gloria (pause and consider the irony given we’re talking person-centred therapy). Because the enduring quality of the films has less to do with the therapists and more to do with Gloria, who reveals her vulnerabilities, insecurities and anger in a way that is striking.
Burry acknowledges that her audience for the book is a ‘select and meagre group’, likely made up of clinicians, Gestaltists, Rogerians, and ‘…slightly voyeuristic, ageing therapists who saw the films in training and wouldn’t mind a bit more of the story…’. Burry delivers. There are anecdotes about each therapist (notably Perls using Gloria’s cupped hands as an ashtray!); excerpts from correspondence between Rogers and Gloria (their friendship extended until Gloria’s death from cancer, aged 46); insights into Gloria as a person – warm, generous of spirit and with her time, good fun, determined; and glimpses of the early days of the Esalen Institute.
You know when you watch reality TV and think ‘what kind of person volunteers for this?’. Could the same be said for The Gloria Films? No. They were intended to be used for training only, and then suddenly were being shown in cinemas (because people were curious about therapy). Burry notes that Gloria had gained something by participating in the films but also endured a lot, including criticism of her parenting, attacks on her character, and loss of privacy.
Burry herself is no stranger to the intricacies of therapy and therefore understands the delicacy of the relationship –
What would have happened if Carl Rogers had received Gloria’s affectionate attention in the negative: if he had overlooked her entreaties, or shamed her, or reduced her feelings to the need to enlighten her to an understanding of her ‘neurosis’? At the least, she and Rogers would not have had an extended relationship. At the extreme, Gloria may have curtailed, or postponed, her personal development. Such development for my mother, I believe, began at the filming: under the hot lights, facing three psychologists..
As Burry said, the readership here is narrow but if you have seen any of The Gloria Films, find a copy of this book, not because it’s the ultimate ‘Where are they now?’ follow-up piece, but because Burry fleshes out this woman who was trying with all her might, was loving, suffered great losses, and never stopped striving for happiness.
…Gloria alternated between a desire to change and a desire to simply accept and understand who she was…
3.5/5 Some fascinating insights.
Pammy eats handfuls of granola. I am obsessed with this granola recipe (minus the dried fruit).