I was recently asked to write a blog post about Deborah Serani’s new book The Ninth session, I was also given the opportunity to interview Deborah and ask her some questions about her and the book, these can be seen at the end of this post.
About the Author
Deborah Seraniis an award-winning author and psychologist who has been in practice for thirty years. She is also a professor at Adelphi University and is a go-to media expert for psychological issues. Her interviews can be found in Newsday, Psychology Today, The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, The Associated Press, and affiliate radio programs at CBS and NPR, among others. Dr. Serani has also been a technical advisor for the NBC television show, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. The recurring character, Judge D. Serani, was named after her.
★WEBSITE & SOCIAL LINKS★
About the Book:
Title: THE NINTH SESSION: A PSYCHOLOGICAL SUSPENSE NOVEL
Author: Deborah Serani
Publisher: TouchPoint Press
Genre: Psychological Suspense/Thriller
Dr. Alicia Reese, a recent widow and a CODA – a child of Deaf Adults, takes on a new patient. Lucas Ferro reveals the reason for his consultation is that he wasn’t really open with his previous therapist. After gaining Reese’s trust, he shares aspects of his life that are clearly disturbing – experiences that create anxiety and panic, but also reveal horrifying psychopathology. Instead of referring Ferro elsewhere, Reese chooses to continue working with him, feeling reinvigorated by the challenge of his case.
As sessions progress, and Ferro’s disclosures become more menacing, Reese finds herself wedged between the cold hard frame of professional ethics and the integrity of personal truth – and learns just how far she’s willing to go, willing to risk and willing to lose to do the right thing.
★★★★★ORDER YOUR COPY★★★★★
Amazon → https://tinyurl.com/y6qz2sto
Monday, June 5
The light slowly filtered in from the other room as I opened the door. This was the last moment of the unknown, where two strangers meet and a life story begins.
Most times, I’ve no idea which seat in the waiting room a new patient will choose. Sometimes, though, I can make a good guess from the initial phone call. Usually, the depressed patient, feeling weak with fatigue, sits in the first seat available, whereas the anxious person, eager to feel relief, selects the seat closest to the consultation room.
Not that it really matters. There are only six chairs in my waiting room.
“Mr. Ferro?” I rolled my neck around the waiting room. Then checked my watch. Eight o’clock on the dot. Seeing no one, I pressed my lips together. Did I make the appointment for eight or eight fifteen?
I left the door ajar, walked to my desk, and re-checked my schedule. I slid my finger down the Monday, June 5th grid in my appointment book to the eight o’clock hour, and there was his name: Lucas Ferro. He’d be my last appointment of the night.
Okay, it’s for eight o’clock.
Maybe he’s running late.
While I waited, I reviewed my notes from my telephone conversation with Ferro. I opened the crisp manila file and heard a shuffling, then a sputtering hiss of air in the waiting room. I turned toward the sound, unsure of what it was. A magazine falling on the floor? The air conditioning shutting off? I listened for another moment or two and, hearing nothing more, went back to my desk. My office suite was a beautiful setting and one I didn’t mind spending so many hours in. The waiting room, a spacious rectangle, was lined with several Ficus trees and exotic plants, paintings from local artists, and burled wood furniture contemporary in design. The thickly upholstered leather chairs were caramel in color, and the teal-flecked carpet stretched from wall to wall. The vaulted ceiling housed three skylights, flooding the room with an abundance of natural light. My consultation office was just as large, and there was ample room for my desk, two chairs, and the proverbial psychoanalyst’s couch–and of course, an etched nameplate on the door: Alicia Reese, Ph.D. Psychologist. Across from the built-in bookcase was a long picture window overlooking Oyster Bay. At this time of night, the evening sunset gleamed across the water, layering the inlet with a silvery orange hue. I turned my attention back to the Ferro file, and I heard it again.
Hissing sounds of air.
“What is that?” I asked aloud with growing curiosity.
I’d been working in this building fifteen years and knew all its creaks, thuds, and mechanical whirrs. But I couldn’t decipher these sounds. They weren’t familiar.
I tapped my pocket, confirming the presence of my panic remote. In all the years I’d been in practice, I never found a need to use it.
I got up from my desk and moved toward the door that led to the waiting room. An emerging sense of uneasiness took hold. I heard a hollow voice say something I couldn’t catch and then trail off.
I jolted forward, took out the panic alarm, and held my thumb on the button, ready to send the signal. I entered the waiting room but saw no one.
Again it happened.
The bang of something hitting the ground.
Then a rush of air.
I focused my vision on the sounds, turning my gaze toward the far right corner of the reception room.
The darkened bathroom.
I walked in willed steps toward the nearly closed door. Drawing in a deep breath, I opened it all the way with a poke of my index finger.
There, standing against the corner wall, was the shadow of Lucas Ferro having a panic attack.
“The tile…it’s cool,” Ferro said, breathing raggedly like a drowning swimmer.
Hissing sounds of air.
“It’s okay, Mr. Ferro.” I followed his frenzied movements with my eyes. “I’m gonna step away and give you some room.”
I flicked on the bathroom light as I moved away. As the room brightened, I saw Ferro’s face. It was sweaty and chalk white. His black hair flopped in wet patches across his forehead, and his eyes were narrow slits of blue. His body moved in spasms, halting and then starting again.
Ferro tugged at his shirt collar as he drew in rapid breaths. Watching him, I felt the anxiety leave my body and the return of my clinical posture. This was a crisis, and I went into crisis mode.
“I want you to listen to my voice as you take in a deep, slow breath.”
Ferro lifted his shoulders, straightening himself from the stooped position against the wall. His knees bent several times as if unable to bear his own weight. Then, all at once, his body buckled toward the sink, but he anchored his two hands on the porcelain base to steady himself. As he drew in a series of deep breaths and huffed them coarsely through his mouth, his feet wobbled and slapped the tiled floor.
“You’re doing great,” I said. “You’re gonna be just fine.”
Soon, color began to return to his face.
“I want you to slow your breathing even more. Like this.” I modeled the technique for him.
Ferro followed my instructions and formed a slower breathing pattern, ending the hyperventilation that gripped him. Bit by bit, he raised himself to a solid standing posture. A self-conscious impulse took over as he saw his reflection in the mirror. Ferro slicked back his hair with his fingers, smoothed his clothing, and blotted the sweat from his face with a swipe of his arm. Then he smiled at me weakly.
The crisis was over.
As he found his way back from this acute attack, I realized there was no longer a need for me to be holding the panic alarm. I tucked it back into my pocket. I waited for what I thought was a good moment to ask my very first question.
“Can you move out of the bathroom?”
Ferro nodded his head and walked toward the reception area. Upon moving into the waiting room, his eyes sought my approval to sit down.
“Yes, of course,” I said.
He slumped into the chair and tilted his head back against the wall. I moved a few seats away and waited for him to find a sense of balance.
In the long stretch of silence that followed, I studied him in sidelong glances, trying not to be obvious. He was young, probably mid-to-late twenties, and his dark blue eyes glowed with intensity. He was dressed in a green and white Abercrombie & Fitch shirt. There was a moose logo on the left chest pocket. His slacks were washed in a dark tan hue, and he wore no socks with his deck shoes. On his wrist, a flash of gold—a watch with chunky links. He was vulnerable right now, but as the panic faded, I noticed he was muscular in build. And tall. Six feet or more.
We remained quiet in the room for a while. I was always good with silence. It was a comfortable experience.
“I’m worried you won’t be able to help me,” Ferro said finally. His voice was dry, cracking slightly.
“What makes you say that?”
He was silent as he regarded me. I wasn’t sure if he was trying to find the right words or still seized by panic. The silence stretched as he continued looking at the ceiling, occasionally rubbing his hands over his eyes and face. He cleared his throat several times, fighting the dryness.
“Let me get you some water,” I said, getting up. I filled a paper cup with cold tap water in the bathroom.
Ferro drank it down in one large gulp. He crumpled the cup and rolled the shapeless form between his hand and fingers.
“Been in therapy before. Nothing’s helped,” he spoke again.
“But you’re here tonight. Something made you feel hopeful.”
Ferro said nothing but shifted restlessly in his seat. I gave him a few moments before leaning forward to talk again. Just then, he stopped moving altogether and turned his gaze toward me. It was a searching look, and at that instant, it was as if he was seeing me for the first time.
“I guess… I’m hoping you can help me.”
“How about we move into my office?”
A beat later, Ferro nodded.
Wanting him to find a level of comfort, I avoided unnecessary words or actions as he made his way into the consultation room. He walked and sat in a nearby chair. He drew in a few deep breaths trying to get comfortable, but it felt like he could take flight at any moment—leaving the session altogether. “I’m not exactly sure where to begin.” “Why don’t you tell me how long you’ve had these attacks?” It seemed a good starting point.
“About two years.”
My eyes widened. “A long time.”
“Yeah,” Ferro replied.
“Any idea why they happen?”
“It’s –uh—it’s complicated.”
“Complications are my specialty.”
Ferro laughed and sat back a little further in his chair.
“Tell me about your work with Dr. Karne,” I asked, giving him another place to start. Dr. Paula Karne was a well-regarded psychologist who practiced cognitive behavior therapy in Great Neck.
“Saw her for a few months, y’know, trying to stop the anxiety.”
“What kinds of things did you work on?”
“Changing how I think, replacing bad habits with better ones. Stuff like that.”
Cognitive behavior therapy focuses on in-the-moment issues and how to change them to find greater well-being. Though I worked differently than Dr. Karne, my goal would be the same: to help the patient feel better.
Ferro cleared his throat and spoke again. “I wasn’t always totally honest with her, though.”
“How do you mean?”
“Didn’t exactly tell her what was really bothering me. Thought I’d just go there and learn how to control things. That’s all I really wanted anyway.”
“To control the panic on your own,” I said, reframing his thoughts.
“Yeah. But I know I gotta be more open. That’s why I decided to try again.”
“Being honest is important in therapy.”
Silence came down like a curtain, and we lingered in its folds for a while.
“Why do you think it was hard to be more open with Dr. Karne?” I asked him.
“Well, she doesn’t really work like that.”
“True,” I eased back in my seat. “She works just with the behaviors you have. She doesn’t get into the nitty gritty things like emotions, memories.”
Ferro nodded in agreement.
“Well, what’s honesty mean to you?” I asked when it was clear he wasn’t going to speak again.
“Showing all the cards, I guess. Talking about things I don’t wanna share.”
“And feeling things.”
Ferro nodded. “Makes me feel weak.”
“I really don’t like needing other people.”
“Dependency makes you feel weak?”
“Have there been times in the past where needing others wasn’t easy?” This was a gentle probe to move him deeper into his thoughts. Ferro said nothing, shutting down by looking away. Sensing I might be moving too quickly, I shifted my approach. “We can talk about those kinds of things at a later time.” “It’s hard to just open up to someone you meet.”
“I get that.”
Keeping track of time, I checked the clock on the end table where Ferro sat. The session was nearing its end. So much occurred and yet so little was done to obtain a formal clinical interview.
“We have just a few more minutes. How about scheduling another appointment?”
“Uh, okay,” he said, handing me the shapeless cup.
I took it from him, wondering why he hadn’t placed it in the trashcan himself.
“How about seeing me on Wednesday?”
“Twice a week?”
“Actually, I was thinking three times a week.”
Ferro glanced out the window and then raised his eyes to mine. As he did this, he shrugged his shoulders. “All right.” “We’ll look at why you’re feeling anxiety, explore your early childhood, your connections to others.” Ferro nodded. “Do you know much about Psychoanalysis?” “A little. Dr. Karne talked about it.” “We’re going to explore your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, but in a deeper way.” “The unconscious.” “Yes,” I said, pleased he was familiar with the term. “These techniques will help us kick your anxiety to the curb.” “I’d like that.” “How does seven o’clock work for you?” Ferro nodded. I picked up a pen and filled in the Wednesday, June 7th slot. Taking an appointment card from the holder on my desk, I completed his name, the time, and the date. His eyes seemed glued to my every movement. “Here you go,” I said as I held out the card. “We have to stop.” “That’s it, then?” “For now.” The arc of the session went from one extreme to the other. Lucas Ferro walked into my office at his worst and left seemingly in control. “See you Wednesday, Dr. Reese.” Ferro paused, looked at me, and extended his hand. Many classical analysts hold back from any form of touch in sessions. I was a modern analyst, and incidental touch wasn’t something taboo to me. “See you Wednesday,” I said and met his hand with my own. His grip was firm and tight.
Where did your inspiration come from for the book?
“The Ninth Session” was inspired by the Duty to Warn ethics that mental health professionals must abide by.
How do you think of ideas for books ?
I’m attracted to situations where doing the right thing isn’t always easy. I guess those kinds of conflicts bring out the best or worst in people, and I find that fascinating. That being said, my stories come from things I’ve experienced in the past. Or stories I see on the news or read about that tug at my heart.
Did you always want to be an author?
I know I always wanted to write, and did so from an early age.
Do you have a favorite author ?
I just love Nelson DeMille. But I read many books from many different authors and genres.
Are you anything like any of the characters in the book?
I think a little bit of me is in every character in the book.
How do you balance being a psychologist and a author?
I work part time in my practice, teach part time as a professor and write part time as an author. Finding time for all is somewhat easy for me. I know I’m lucky in that regard.
How long did the book take you to write ?
It took about 6 years for me to write this novel. And about 2 years to find a publishing house.