I feel an explanation coming on, because I did exactly what Britney asked.
“If you want to understand me, go talk to the people who know me,” she wrote in 2002, long before great misunderstandings took root within a very public meltdown five years later.
And so, I engaged true allies and friends from Louisiana, Orlando, Los Angeles, dance studios, tour buses, management and back-stage to assist a compassionate portrait for ‘Britney: Inside the Dream’. Then, armed with these perspectives, I did something a little different – and took this collection of insights into therapy.
Why? Because in consulting a psychotherapist, it meant a) I wouldn’t become the amateur psychologist biographer and b) I’d hopefully foster an understanding about her most likely inner-workings/issues. I wished to make human the performing doll.
In doing so, I needed to be informed by those who know/knew her best, and then enhance such insight with expert pointers from a therapist specialising in the very anxiety Britney exhibits. Consequently, this book was written, in part, from the shrink’s couch.
This process recently captured the curiosity of LA Times cultural writer Scott Timberg. It’s “innovative”, he remarked when interviewing me two weeks ago. I was, therefore, intrigued to read his take in the finished article (see previous blog-post)
But the article’s thrust wasn’t a review of the book or the insights into Britney. It became a review of the methodology – an analysis of the principle of ‘therapy by proxy’ not the substance of the material. Cut to:
“I don’t think it’s ethical and don’t think it’s useful,” said psychoanalyst Fran Praver. “It’s entirely ridiculous,” added university boffin Robert Thompson. The concept became the tangential debate from the rent-a-quotes. Neither of them had read the book. It made me want to lie down in a darkened room, singing Britney’s ballad ‘Someday (You Will Understand).
There seemed a great misunderstanding of the very understanding I was attempting to broker. These shot-gun purists – blind to what the therapist actually imparted – had overlooked one truth: a bona fide practitioner has sufficient training and experience to break down information about a person’s unique history and behaviours, as observed by the subject’s circle. Psychotherapists don’t necessarily need the person with them to understand the likely dynamics at play. It’s not as effective or precise as a one-on-one evaluation but, in the absence of that possibility, it is the next best option. Indeed, when a therapist is having trouble with a particular case, they have ‘case consultations’ with other therapists who deduce the material vicariously. Perhaps the known rigidity of psychoanalysts doesn’t sit well with the flexibility of the psychotherapy field?
I wasn’t seeking to provide a conclusive diagnosis but was merely attempting to deepen people’s understanding; to bring a new dimension to a saga that had hitherto received only surface-deep analysis.
For example, when Meryl Streep immersed herself in the skin of Julia Childs for the widely-acclaimed movie ‘Julie & Julia’, she crafted an uncanny portrayal that was informed by meticulous research and an intuitive curiosity about her subject’s inner-workings. It wasn’t speculative. It was informed. The end result could never be 100% accurate but was highly probable as far as character analysis goes. This outcome was similarly envisioned in my mind for the true story of Britney Spears.
There are many misunderstandings about the truths of psychotherapy. I guess one needs to have experienced it to truly understand the conscious light it is capable of throwing on unconscious behaviours. In the analysis of the methodology, the serious message is in danger of being missed or ridiculed. Except, perhaps, by those who remain close to Britney and know her very real challenges. The book’s “chilling accuracy” (as one member of her camp put it) is testimony to the meticulous and professional work of the therapist who had the pop star’s best interests in mind. As a consultant to a project, she was beyond ethical and proper.
Scott Timberg may have omitted his view on the portrait of Britney, but he later told me: “I think the jury remains out on your approach”. I couldn’t agree more at the end of the US promotion of the book. The truth is that only one person can know if the book resonates and that’s Britney herself. Maybe one day I’ll find out what she thinks…but I’m confident that its evidence is compelling. As with everything, I guess time will tell. The therapist taught me that…