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DESPAIR TO DELIVERANCE: A True Story of Triumph Over Severe Mental Illness

By Sharon DeVinney, Ph.D. + Robin Personette

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Despite a few stylistic problems, DESPAIR TO DELIVERANCE: A True Story of Triumph Over Severe Mental Illness provides an intimate look at how severe mental illness affects a patient and those around her.

DESPAIR TO DELIVERANCE: A TRUE STORY OF TRIUMPH OVER SEVERE MENTAL ILLNESS explores the shifting relationship between a therapist and her client in an interesting case study of a woman suffering from multiple psychiatric disorders.

Sudden acute mental illness struck Robin Personette out of nowhere, or at least that’s the way it seemed when she became obsessed with suicidal thoughts during most of 2003. Her therapist, Sharon DeVinney, who had treated Personette for ten years, had previously diagnosed her as having Avoidant Personality Disorder, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, and Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder, which explained her compulsive sunbathing for up to five hours a day, binge drinking, and occasional bouts with depression.

Yet Personette’s drastic suicidal “meltdown” (as she refers to it) was unexpected. A mental health worker herself, she observes her own strange behaviors partly as an observer and partly as the client in crisis. DeVinney is shocked when Personette reveals the suicidal thoughts and behaviors are actually nothing new. Throughout the year, more revelations come her way, and the case evolves in terms of their therapist-client relationship, the diagnosis, the prescribed medications, and types of treatment used to treat Personette.

DeVinney writes her account of what happened more than 13 years ago, along with her own feelings about the strange series of events. Personette also writes separate sections about her experiences: what she remembers from that time and her current perspectives on the crisis. The back cover promises “a unique perspective” by combining the stories of the therapist and client, but actually this dual-perspective psychological memoir was also used in Healing from Incest: Intimate Conversations with My Therapist by Geri Henderson and Seanne Emerton and In and Out of Anorexia: The Story of the Client, the Therapist and the Process of Recovery by Ayelet Polster and Tammie Ronen, among other books.

While the book’s strengths are its combined perspective and the story itself, the actual writing needs professional editing to make the book more enjoyable for readers. At 261 pages, there’s quite a bit of repetition, telling readers things they already know and repeating phrases over and over (“Thank God,” “Trust my gut” etc.) Awkward phrasing also detracts from the writing (“The rooms had most of the comforts of home absent”) as does frequent misuse of pronouns (“The meltdown year was a nightmare of epic proportions, for both Robin and I”). Despite its writing flaws, the story, with its unexpected twists, may intrigue students of psychology, therapists, and those suffering from severe mental illness.

~Carol Michaels for IndieReader