Guardian: Hannah Pool (05 April 07)

Saturday, 02 April 2011 05:35

Interview with Hannah Pool Thursday April 05 2007 The Guardian

Dorothy Rowe is a clinical psychologist and the author of 12 books, including the bestseller Depression: The Way Out of Your Prison. Born in Australia in 1930, she now lives in London.

Your new book is about sibling relationships. It's called My Dearest Enemy, My Dangerous Friend. What do you mean?

Sibling relationships fall into three groups: There are very close relationships and absolutely hostile distant relationships, but the bulk of them fall into a kind of anxious attachment. There is always a tension. One woman said to me, "When I am with my sisters I am serene like a swan but underneath I'm paddling like mad." And that sums up a lot of sibling relationships.

You describe it as a pleasure/pain relationship.

It's a fact that your sibling knows you very well and when we know someone that well, we know just how to please them but also how to destroy them.

I'm in my 30s, I've got a brother who is 19 and a sister who is 14, and when I go home I get wound up about the fact my dad drives them to school and he didn't drive me. Why?

It's simply because it's not fair. Children acquire a sense of fairness very early on in their life and they are struggling to survive. It's only quite recently in terms of history that a child being born into a family can regard itself as being secure, that the family won't dispose of it.

You talk in the book about your own childhood, about your mother having had an abortion three years before you were born, and that making it hard for her and your father to love you.

 My mother never mentioned it - it was my sister and father who told me about my mother's abortion, and my father who said how disappointed he was that I was a girl. My sister said, "Aren't you lucky to be alive? You ought to be very grateful." As for my mother, she was depressed, and when you're depressed you don't feel love.

 How do you think we are doing in the battle against depression?

 Last year, without any publicity at all, the Royal College of Psychiatrists abandoned the notion that chemical imbalance causes depression. It's not what happens to us that leads us to be depressed, but how we interpret what happens to us. Lots of people suffer terrible disaster but they interpret it as a challenge that has to be mastered. They don't say, "Oh, I'm such a wicked person. I deserved it." It's the interpretation that determines whether depression follows or not.

 What do you think of Prozac?

 The whole theoretical basis for drugs like Prozac is that there is a lack of serotonin in the brain and that has never, ever been demonstrated.

 So why do people given Prozac feel better?

 Because with some people - not everybody - it relieves the mental pain, and it eases some symptoms. But it can be a terrible drug for other people. David Healy, the psychiatrist, has been able to show that a small but significant number of people on Prozac very quickly become suicidal. I've often had it said to me, "I've felt better when I took Prozac, so that must show that I had a low serotonin level", to which I say, aspirin cures headaches. Does that mean that headaches are caused by a lack of aspirin? No.

 What is the difference between unhappiness and depression?

 When you are depressed, you feel that there is an invisible barrier between you and the rest of the world and nothing gets through that barrier. It is a prison. When we're unhappy, even if the most terrible things happen to us, we can be comforted. Someone who is depressed will actually move away from a hug because they don't want it. So it's a very distinctive feeling.

 Do you object to the expression "self-help"?

 It's the only help you've got. Even if you find the best therapist in the world, a therapist with whom you can have a great relationship, you've got to do the work. A therapist can help you clarify your thoughts, can help you look at all the alternatives, but you've got to do it. It is self-help, and if you are not prepared to take responsibility for yourself, then you are going to stay in that misery.

 My Dearest Enemy, My Dangerous Friend: Making and Breaking Sibling Bonds, by Dorothy Rowe, is published by Routledge, priced 9.99.

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