Vaughan, Susan C. 1941-

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VAUGHAN, Susan C. 1941-

PERSONAL: Born 1941.

ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Penguin Putnam, 375 Hudson St., New York, NY 10014.

CAREER: Psychiatrist. National Institute of Mental Health, research fellow; New York State Psychiatric Institute, New York, NY, staff member; Columbia Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research, New York, NY, senior candidate.


The Talking Cure: The Science behind Psychotherapy, Putnam (New York, NY), 1997.

Viagra: A Guide to the Phenomenal Potency-Promoting Drug, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1998.

Half Empty, Half Full: Understanding the Psychological Roots of Optimism, Harcourt (New York, NY), 2000.

Contributor to periodicals, including New Yorker, International Journal of Psychoanalysis, and American Journal of Psychiatry.

SIDELIGHTS: Susan C. Vaughan put her expertise as a psychiatrist to work in the book The Talking Cure: The Science behind Psychotherapy. Vaughan, who describes herself as "a microsurgeon of the mind" in her book, attempts to unify two aspects of the psychiatric field: the biological and psychological approaches. In combining the two views, Vaughan explores a territory few of her colleagues have entered, developing a construct which at the time of her writing was not widely accepted.

In The Talking Cure, Vaughan proposes that biological change takes place in the brains of those patients who undergo psychotherapy sessions. Alluding to past research in neurobiology, developmental psychology, and cognitive science, Vaughan presents her theory as scientifically concrete. In her opinion, there is a network of neurons that reside within the cerebral cortex of the brain which operate as a "story synthesizer." These neurons affect the way we feel about our interactions with all things, especially with other people. According to Vaughan, these neurons can be controlled, to a certain extent, through sessions of intensive, psychoanalytical psychotherapy. She believes that such sessions have many benefits over the usual approach of prescribing drugs to combat problems caused when these neurons aren't functioning properly. "For most people," Vaughan writes, "medication changes how they feel, but psychotherapy is what changes what their lives are like."

Each person has unique experiences that separate him or her from everyone else. Because of this, Vaughan thinks there is an important therapeutic value in patients telling their own stories, in that they will gain a better understanding of themselves. Vaughan especially recommends long-term therapy because the non-threatening environment of the extended sessions provide the patient with the time to learn self-analysis. Throughout the book, Vaughan backs up her arguments with a host of detailed descriptions of sessions that she has held with patients at her own practice. She also discusses a great deal of data from studies done on the neurology of sea slugs, the dreaming human brain, monkeys with anxiety, and the neurobiology of infants.

As with many new theories, Vaughan's work met with some criticism. While a Publishers Weekly contributor admitted The Talking Cure was "intriguing" for its "human interest" value, the reviewer claimed Vaughan made an "unconvincing case" for her theory. Vaughan's "neuron argument amounts to speculation," the reviewer wrote. However, several critics who read the book praised it for its well-written descriptions of the psychotherapy field. A Kirkus Reviews contributor observed: "Clear and precise when it needs to be, Vaughan's writing is informal without being chatty." The same reviewer felt Vaughan had a "knack" for being able to "converse directly with the reader." William Beatty also praised The Talking Cure in his Booklist assessment, though believing its subtitle may be a bit misleading. He wrote that The Talking Cure is "thought-provoking and informative, despite the meagerness of the scientific underpinnings."

Vaughan explored the roots and treatments of pessimism and optimism in her book Half Empty, Half Full: Understanding the Psychological Roots of Optimism. Drawing on research in neurology and psychology, she presents a theory of neural circuits formed during early childhood experiences of frustration. Outlook and attitude may be determined by the brain circuitry that is set up during these key experiences. Thus, optimism is not an innate trait. It is instead determined by the ability to work constructively with moods and emotions. Even if it is not really possible to control negative feelings, even an illusion of control can produce an optimistic outlook and a more positive life. The author uses her own patients' stories to illustrate how cultivating an optimistic attitude can improve one's life. "Vaughan writes in a clear, though repetitive, style," commented Lucille M. Boone in her Library Journal recommendation.

A Publishers Weekly writer had some objections to Half Empty, Half Full, finding that Vaughan failed to "explain how 'pessimism' differs from the depression and anger that have traditionally been associated with early experiences of frustration." Furthermore, the writer believed that while written for a general readership, this book "lacks the conceptual clarity necessary for understanding psychological despair." A more enthusiastic opinion was expressed by William Beatty, who commented in Booklist: "With so many recent books on depression, it is refreshing to see one on optimism." Beatty stated that Half Empty, Half Full "should help many readers" with its presentation of the theory and practice of this behavior modification, and he credited Vaughan with making her points "strikingly."



Vaughan, Susan C., The Talking Cure: The Science behind Psychotherapy, Putnam (New York, NY), 1997.


Booklist, March 15, 1997, review of The Talking Cure: The Science Behind Psychotherapy, p. 1214; May 1, 2000, William Beatty, review of Half Empty, Half Full: Understanding the Psychological Roots of Optimism, p. 1629.

Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 1997, p. 211.

Library Journal, April 1, 2000, Lucille M. Boone, review of Half Empty, Half Full, p. 118.

New York Times, July 31, 1997, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of The Talking Cure, p. B6.

New York Times Book Review, June 22, 1997, Richard Restak, review of The Talking Cure, p. 14.

Publishers Weekly, March 31, 1997, p. 57; April 17, 2000, review of Half Empty, Half Full, p. 68.

Washington Post Book World, April 27, 1997, p. 8.*

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