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Brooklyn Zoo

Cover of Brooklyn Zoo

Brooklyn Zoo

The Education of a Psychotherapist

A compelling memoir of a psychotherapist's clinical and personal education amid chaos and dysfunction that delivers an emotional impact to rival Susan Sheehan's classic Is There No Place on Earth for Me?

Seven years after her college graduation, Darcy Lockman abandoned a career in magazine journalism to become a psychologist. After four years in classrooms, she spent her final training year at the Kings County Hospital, an aging public institution on the outskirts of Brooklyn. When she started, little did she know that the hospital's behavioral health department--the infamous G Building, where the Son of Sam serial killer David Berkowitz and the rapper Ol' Dirty Bastard once resided--was on the cusp of its darkest era yet, one that culminated in the death of a patient in a psychiatric emergency room described by the New York Post as a "Dickensian nightmare."

Brooklyn Zoo unfolds amid the constant drama and disorder of the G Building. Lockman rotates through four departments, each of which presents new challenges and haunting cases. She works with forensic psychologists to evaluate offenders for fitness to stand trial--almost all of them with pathos-filled histories and little hope of rehabilitation. The thorny politics of the psych ER compound her anxiety about working with its volatile patients, but under the wing of a charismatic if brusque mentor she gains a deeper insight into her new profession as well as into her own strengths and limitations.

As she moves to the inpatient ward and then psychiatric consultation liaison, Lockman's overstretched supervisors and the institutional preference for pills over therapy are persistent obstacles. But they eventually present a young clinician with the opportunity to reexamine everything she believes and to come out stronger on the other side.

Lockman's frank portrayal of her fledgling role in a warped system is a professional coming-of-age story that will resonate with anyone who has fought to develop career mastery in a demanding environment. A stark portrait of the struggling public mental-health-care system, Brooklyn Zoo is also an homage to the doctors who remain committed to their patients in spite of institutional failures and to the patients who strive to get better with their help. And it is an inspiring first-hand account by a narrator who triumphs over self-doubt to believe in the rightness and efficacy of her chosen profession.

A compelling memoir of a psychotherapist's clinical and personal education amid chaos and dysfunction that delivers an emotional impact to rival Susan Sheehan's classic Is There No Place on Earth for Me?

Seven years after her college graduation, Darcy Lockman abandoned a career in magazine journalism to become a psychologist. After four years in classrooms, she spent her final training year at the Kings County Hospital, an aging public institution on the outskirts of Brooklyn. When she started, little did she know that the hospital's behavioral health department--the infamous G Building, where the Son of Sam serial killer David Berkowitz and the rapper Ol' Dirty Bastard once resided--was on the cusp of its darkest era yet, one that culminated in the death of a patient in a psychiatric emergency room described by the New York Post as a "Dickensian nightmare."

Brooklyn Zoo unfolds amid the constant drama and disorder of the G Building. Lockman rotates through four departments, each of which presents new challenges and haunting cases. She works with forensic psychologists to evaluate offenders for fitness to stand trial--almost all of them with pathos-filled histories and little hope of rehabilitation. The thorny politics of the psych ER compound her anxiety about working with its volatile patients, but under the wing of a charismatic if brusque mentor she gains a deeper insight into her new profession as well as into her own strengths and limitations.

As she moves to the inpatient ward and then psychiatric consultation liaison, Lockman's overstretched supervisors and the institutional preference for pills over therapy are persistent obstacles. But they eventually present a young clinician with the opportunity to reexamine everything she believes and to come out stronger on the other side.

Lockman's frank portrayal of her fledgling role in a warped system is a professional coming-of-age story that will resonate with anyone who has fought to develop career mastery in a demanding environment. A stark portrait of the struggling public mental-health-care system, Brooklyn Zoo is also an homage to the doctors who remain committed to their patients in spite of institutional failures and to the patients who strive to get better with their help. And it is an inspiring first-hand account by a narrator who triumphs over self-doubt to believe in the rightness and efficacy of her chosen profession.

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Excerpts-
  • Chapter One

    My relationship with psychology began when I was eight. My mother started seeing a therapist she called Sylvia, and soon enough my father began going, too, after--as he would tell me many years later--my mom suggested the problems he was having in their marriage were not solely about her. What my mother meant was that my father was reexperiencing old feelings from his earliest formative relationship in the context of a new and different one. In other words, he felt treated by his wife how he'd felt treated by his mother. No one who knew my grandmother Mina (who openly derided every gift she'd ever gotten and had once shown up at my parents' apartment with just-purchased underwear for her newlywed son) could have imagined my father's old feelings to be benevolent. So my parents embarked on separate journeys of self-understanding, which I inferred allowed them to remain together. It was 1981, and we lived in the western suburbs of Detroit. Ronald Reagan had just become the country's first divorced president, and many of the fathers on our street were moving on. That therapy had facilitated my family's escape from the hovering menace of dissolution was no small thing to me.

    And so I became curious about psychotherapy, but I never asked my parents to describe it. Like all of the adult concerns that evoked pointed interest in me, it seemed illicit. I also wanted badly to discourage all open discussion of their latest pastime, lest they feel comfortable enough to mention it in front of my friends, whose families I vehemently believed had stepped straight off the soundstages of the late-1950s sitcoms I'd seen in reruns. That my parents went to therapy became one more dreary secret that I added to a list, though what I was really most desperate to keep under wraps was how much they disliked me. Were others to know, they could only reject me as well.

    Not long after they started seeing Sylvia, my mother went back to school to become a social worker, a therapist herself. I was in the fourth grade and my sister in kindergarten, and though my mom had once been a teacher, she'd been at home, more or less, since I was born. After her graduation from social work school, she started seeing patients, and like anyone else she would talk about her work. Her stories were more anecdotes than case presentations, but I didn't know enough to distinguish between the two. By the time I got to college, I assumed psych classes could only be superfluous, and I refused to sign up for any, defying all expectations of my gender and ethnicity. But also, as determined as I was at eighteen and twenty and even twenty-five to be sublimely unlike my mother, it never crossed my mind that I would become a therapist. I thought I'd be a lawyer--like my father.

    It did occur to me to become a patient. The first time was my senior year of college after my mom suggested it. She thought I was "too anxious," a pronouncement I felt she might have delivered in any number of gentler ways, but still I considered it. She had colleagues near my campus in Ann Arbor, and she gave me a number. I called and got an answering machine but could not think of a thing to say. The second time was a couple of years later. I had finished undergrad and moved to New York to take an internship at a rock-and-roll magazine, but more to the point to live somewhere exciting. If things were going fine on paper, I often felt rotten. I couldn't make any sense of myself. One lesson I had learned from half-listened-to conversations from my adolescence was that there were a lot of bad therapists out there, and so I got another referral, from a friend of my mother's who knew a psychologist in Manhattan. I made an appointment but...

About the Author-
  • Darcy Lockman, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist in private practice in New York City. She received her Ph.D. at the Derner Institute of Advanced Psychological Studies at Adelphi University. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Psychology Today, and Rolling Stone, among other publications. She lives with her family in Queens.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    April 9, 2012
    Clinical psychologist and journalist Lockman writes about her intern year at Brooklyn’s Kings County Hospital, detailing her rotations in forensic psychology, the psych. emergency room, an inpatient unit, and as a “consultation liaison” with medical staff. She captures the hopeless dreariness of the place—the inpatient unit is “a large stale-smelling place with... cold white concrete floors and rusty-paned windows that did not open.” Above all, Lockman illustrates how difficult it is to engage patients with serious psychiatric illnesses. She asks one patient about her sleep and appetite—possible signs of mental disorder—and the patient responds, “You’re a nosy one, aren’t you?” Lockman is candid about her frustrations (and all too occasional small triumphs) with patients, as well as with absent or burned-out supervisors. She says that psychological insights were often trumped by psychiatry’s biomedical model. Although crisply written, there are too many brief interactions with too many patients, perhaps reflecting the nature of the work. Exemplified by a reference to “my masochistic defenses,” she sometimes alludes to her own psychological dynamics without adequately explaining her personal interactions. Still, this is a useful, sometimes memorable, look at the vagaries of a psychologist’s training and role in an overwhelming institutional setting. Agent: Dan Conaway, Writers House.

  • Joanne Greenberg, author of I Never Promised You a Rose Garden
    "Brooklyn Zoo takes us to places where very, very few of us would ever go--or want to go. This interesting memoir deals with situations which might be considered hopeless with great compassion and clarity. For so many of these people, mental illness is the least of their worries but the most of their handicaps. An insight therapist is at a huge disadvantage, and Lockman feels it deeply. She cares about people in a way that few of us dare."
  • Melissa Maerz, Entertainment Weekly
    "A former journalist, Lockman delivers fascinating revelations.... [A] good story."
  • Dan Berkowitz, Psych Central
    "Darcy Lockman left her journalism career to become a psychotherapist. Clearly a gifted writer, the decision could not have been easy. But she made it and stuck with it.... Brooklyn Zoo, to be released in July 2012, is expertly written: The prose flows, the pacing is even, and the structure is well crafted. As well, the content--the story--is utterly fascinating.... It is...an intelligently written, sobering look at what it takes to be a psychotherapist.... It's the kind of book you don't want to rush through; you want to dwell on each chapter, and meditate on Lockman's experiences to get a fuller sense of what she saw. With a unique voice and a knack for painting verbal portraits, Lockman has delivered a rare gem."
  • Kirkus Before returning to graduate school Lockman worked as a magazine journalist, a skill she puts to good use in this insider's look at the practice of psychiatry in a poorly funded, understaffed public institution."
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