Good Morning, Monster (2020) chronicles some of the heroic patients therapist Catherine Gildiner worked with over the course of her practice. The patients experienced varied traumatic events and used different techniques in their work with Gildiner. Their stories exemplify the resiliency of the human mind and spirit.
Introduction: Learn how therapy and resiliency of mind and spirit helped one therapist’s patients overcome immense obstacles.
Have you or a loved one ever participated in therapy? If you have, you know it can be extremely challenging! Confronting your unsavory characteristics, wading through a mess of pain, suffering, and trauma from childhood, or even working through problems with loved ones with the support of a neutral third party – these are not easy tasks.
But for those who stick with it, brave the storm, and ride through to the end, the results can be life-changing. For five of therapist Catherine Gildiner’s patients, therapy was precisely that.
In this Blink, we’ll cover three of these five patients’ stories. These men and women all experienced enormous hardship in their childhoods, which followed them into their adult lives. You’ll learn about a music prodigy left alone for most of his childhood, a Cree man who was abducted from his family by the Canadian government as a child and put in a residential school, and a highly successful antique dealer whose company began to crumble when her anxiety spiked.
A note before we begin: Although we won’t detail the most intense experiences these patients lived through, please be aware their stories include difficult topics such as uncomfortable emotions, physical, mental, and sexual abuse, and cultural genocide. Take care of yourself as you consume this Blink.
Have you ever started unwrapping a present, expecting one layer of wrapping paper, but found a mischievous relative added layer after layer for you to dig through to find the present? Even if you haven’t, imagine the surprise you might feel at encountering more layers than you’d expected!
For Gildiner, the idea that situations can have many layers is central to therapy. She often had patients seek her assistance for one reason, only to discover later that the root of the problem was much different.
One such patient was a pianist, Peter. Initially, the musician was working with a urologist because of erectile dysfunction. However, the urologist could find no reason why Peter – who could masturbate to completion and had no physical impediments – couldn’t achieve an erection during sex. Peter was attracted to women and wanted a sexual relationship, but even the strongest, most reliable drug the urologist had didn’t help.
The urologist recommended Gildiner because Peter’s problem seemed purely psychological. Indeed, Gildiner would come to find it was exactly so.
The root of Peter’s impotence emerged during their very first session – Gildiner learned Peter had been locked in an attic for most of his childhood. His mother, a Chinese immigrant, had largely run their family restaurant on her own, and had locked him away when he couldn’t sit still as a toddler. When Peter started therapy, he hadn’t questioned his mother’s behavior – it was the only reality he’d known, after all. He only wondered why other Chinese children from similar families didn’t seem to have the same problems he did.
Eventually, Gildiner encouraged Peter to talk with his mother about her actions during his childhood. He discovered his mother had also been traumatized when she was young. She had been forced to work in a brothel, with customers routinely burning her with cigarettes for various grievances. Peter’s mother was just trying to protect him by locking him away from their restaurant’s customers when he couldn’t sit still and stay out of the way on his own – very normal behavior for a young child, of course.
One of Peter’s biggest realizations throughout his work with Gildiner was that although his mother did what she thought was best for their family – and indeed, did better than her relatives had done for her when she was young – she had still abused and neglected him.
Peter dissociated as a child, disconnecting from his emotional and physical pain to survive. The coping mechanism followed him into adulthood, becoming a barrier to living a full, satisfying life. Peter’s dedication to reconnecting with himself, to facing the reality of his childhood and his mother’s actions, was extremely courageous. Over years of work with Gildiner, he faced many uncomfortable and even downright excruciating feelings and truths. But his hard work and indomitable spirit paid off.
By the end of his time with Gildiner, Peter had successfully entered an emotional and sexual relationship with a woman. Twenty-five years after his therapy, he was far from the shy man he’d been when they first met. He made consistent, confident eye contact and smiled freely. He was in a successful relationship heading toward marriage and had flourished professionally, giving piano masterclasses to people around the world.
Peter was one of Gildiner’s most heroic patients. She also learned important lessons herself in her work with him, especially related to how layered therapy ends up being sometimes.
And the lesson was especially pertinent to her work with another heroic patient, one who had built strong emotional barriers within himself to survive. We’ll discover his story in the next section!
Do you enjoy learning, or do you prefer to stick with what you know? There can be delight in learning new things, but also sometimes struggle or uncertainty as we adapt to new realities.
When Gildiner first agreed to see Danny – a Cree man with an intensely traumatic history with white people – she realized she was very much in need of learning. Gildiner herself was a white woman with little knowledge of Indigenous cultures in Canada. She knew she had a lot to learn if she were to help Danny.
Gildiner sought advice from Native healers and researched the histories and cultures of the Indigenous peoples of Canada – and of the Cree in particular. Still, she and Danny faced many issues in their work together because of their differences.
For example, it took many sessions of simply sitting in silence for Gildiner to begin making any headway in the therapy. Danny was naturally reticent, a result – as Gildiner would find out – of the trauma from his childhood, but also from his world views. She learned from Dr. Clare Brant, a Harvard-educated Indigenous psychiatrist, that many Indigenous cultures held firm views on not interfering with one another.
To survive in some of the extreme environments of Canada, and in small, close-knit communities, members developed strong boundaries. Asking questions or prying into what another was doing or feeling were deemed interfering – and seen as extremely rude. Gildiner had to carefully explain to Danny that he would need to talk with her if their therapy was to work.
Slowly, Danny’s story unfolded. His boss had referred him to Gildiner because he worried about how unemotional Danny seemed after the loss of his wife and daughter in a car accident.
As with Peter’s case, the issues affecting Danny came from his childhood. He was taken from his family by the Canadian government when he was around five and forced to attend a residential school. If you’re not familiar with the history of residential schools within North America, they were government schools to indoctrinate Indigenous children and destroy Indigenous cultures and languages. Danny was beaten if he spoke his native Cree language and was the victim of horrible and persistent sexual abuse at the hands of the many white men who ran the school.
This stemmed from another issue between Gildiner and Danny. Gildiner tried to help him rationalize why he, in particular, had been subjected to so much sexual abuse. She said he was handsome, that it was likely why so many of the men had targeted him.
At that, Danny got up and left the appointment.
Gildiner didn’t hear from him for several weeks. Then he returned, acting as if nothing had happened. Finally, Gildiner learned that when she’d complimented his physical appearance, he’d been triggered – the white men at school had always complimented and then abused him. Gildiner apologized and explained she’d meant to say that the abuse hadn’t ever been his fault – that he had no choice in his looks, but it made sense that someone committing such horrible acts as the men had would more often choose someone attractive.
Gildiner and Danny’s work together was full of stumbling blocks as the two tried to bridge their differences. Their work helped Gildiner realize Western therapy isn’t always helpful for patients on its own, especially for Indigenous peoples. As Gildiner learned, traditional Indigenous healing includes a spiritual aspect and focuses on harmonizing with nature. Traditional, Western psychotherapy takes more of a man-against-nature stance. Gildiner encouraged Danny to see native healers alongside their work together. Eventually, he did, adding an important element to his healing.
Danny’s case involved depersonalization – he shut down his emotions to survive the immense pain, humiliation, and abuse he had been subjected to. Unsurprisingly, once Danny started opening up and feeling his emotions, he fell into depression. He couldn’t get out of bed, didn’t call in sick, and missed appointments with Gildiner. She called his general practitioner, recommending he receive antidepressants, which helped.
At this point, many people might have turned to drug abuse, returned to walling off their emotions, or tried a more permanent, devastating method to prevent themselves from feeling. This is an extremely difficult phase in healing after intense depersonalization. But Danny stubbornly and heroically forged ahead, and with Gildiner’s and other healers’ help, he transformed his life.
By the end of Danny’s time with Gildiner, he started relearning the Cree language. He was in a relationship with an Indigenous woman, with whom he was working on being emotionally open and vulnerable – something he’d never done with his late wife. When Gildiner tried to reach out to Danny almost thirty years after they first met, she found he had died of throat cancer in his early fifties, almost two decades earlier. But in the years he lived after they worked together, Danny became engaged and invested in his community, providing mentoring for others on a spiritual journey. Though he died too young, his story perfectly exemplifies the resilience of the human mind and spirit.
Have you ever retired or quit a job, only to be pulled back for one final project?
Madeline was Gildiner’s last patient, and their work together occurred after Gildiner had officially retired from psychotherapy. Madeline’s father convinced Gildiner to work with her, and Gildiner accepted due to various reasons from her own past, including a similar father figure of her own.
Madeline had an excellent eye for antiques and had built and run a global antique-dealing business. However, her anxiety had grown so unmanageable that it affected the entire business.
It took time for Gildiner and Madeline to uncover the reasons for Madeline’s intense anxiety. Perhaps it’s not surprising by now, but they discovered Madeline’s troubles stemmed from her childhood.
As Madeline and Gildiner talked, Madeline’s childhood experiences came to light. Back then, Madeline’s mother greeted her every morning with the phrase, “Good morning, monster.” Her mother was volatile and abusive – she had Madeline’s beloved dog put down as a punishment, left Madeline home alone for six weeks when she was around eleven years old, had sex with Madeline’s boyfriend when Madeline was sixteen and her mother was in her forties, called Madeline a monster, controlled her diet, and humiliated her in front of others. She also went on rampages throughout the house, shouting and breaking things. Madeline’s father never stood up to her mother – when she went on rampages, father and daughter hid together in the basement.
One of the biggest realizations Madeline had throughout her work with Gildiner was that she had internalized the way her mother treated and talked to her. Madeline, deep down, thought of herself as a monster who didn’t deserve success or even love. She was terrified that people would find out who she was – or who she thought she was – and everything would come crashing down around her.
So she kept at arm’s distance a man she liked and was good friends with, who had told her he cared deeply for her. She couldn’t bring herself to trust that she deserved the relationship. She firmly believed that her company didn’t deserve success, so she refused to allow anyone from the company to fly, as she was convinced the plane would inevitably crash with them on board.
It took working with Gildiner over four years to unravel these dark effects of living with, as Gildiner puts it in her book, a disturbed mother and an inconsistent father. Madeline had to recognize she’d been wrong in her belief that it was her fault her mother had never loved her. She wasn’t a monster, incapable of being loved. She had just been a little girl with a mother incapable of loving.
Through their time together, Madeline faced countless hard truths about her past, her mother, and the insidious beliefs her mother had instilled in her. She still had difficult battles to face, but she was finally healthily equipped to do so. When Gildiner talked with her fourteen years later, Madeline was in a healthy relationship with the very man she’d been pushing away during therapy. She’d grown closer with her father, and her business ventures were thriving.
A common theme across Gildiner’s experiences as a therapist was the necessity of flexibility on the therapist’s part. As she writes, every patient is unique. The methods and techniques that are helpful vary from situation to situation, and a therapist must use their discretion when working with patients. The other essential factor for therapy to be a success is the patient themselves – all of those described in Gildiner’s work are examples of truly courageous people dedicated to growing and figuring out how to thrive despite, or even because of, their childhood traumas. On their own, a therapist or a patient might not be very effective. But together, they can truly change lives.
About the author
CATHERINE GILDINER was a clinical psychologist in private practice for twenty-five years. Her best-selling memoir Too Close to The Falls was published to international acclaim. She lives in Toronto.
Psychology, Motivation, Inspiration, Nonfiction, Mental Health, Self Help, Memoir, Adult, Biography, Health, Biography Memoir, Psychotherapy, Clinical Psychology, Autobiography
Table of Contents
Author’s Note 1 (2)
Laura 3 (74)
Peter 77 (54)
Danny 131 (70)
Alana 201 (76)
Madeline 277 (78)
Epilogue 355 (4)
In this fascinating narrative, therapist Catherine Gildiner’s presents five of what she calls her most heroic and memorable patients. Among them: a successful, first generation Chinese immigrant musician suffering sexual dysfunction; a young woman whose father abandoned her at age nine with her younger siblings in an isolated cottage in the depth of winter; and a glamorous workaholic whose narcissistic, negligent mother greeted her each morning of her childhood with Good morning, Monster.
Each patient presents a mystery, one that will only be unpacked over years. They seek Gildiner’s help to overcome an immediate challenge in their lives, but discover that the source of their suffering has been long buried.
As in such recent classics as The Glass Castle and Educated, each patient embodies self-reflection, stoicism, perseverance, and forgiveness as they work unflinchingly to face the truth. Gildiner’s account of her journeys with them is moving, insightful, and sometimes very funny. Good Morning Monster offers an almost novelistic, behind-the-scenes look into the therapist’s office, illustrating how the process can heal even the most unimaginable wounds.
As seen on Good Morning America’s SEPTEMBER 2020 READING LIST and FAVORITE BOOKS OF 2020!
“We need to read stories about folks who have been through hell and kept going… Fascinating.” —Glennon Doyle, A Favorite Book of 2020 on Good Morning America
“Gildiner is nothing short of masterful—as both a therapist and writer. In these pages, she has gorgeously captured both the privilege of being given access to the inner chambers of people’s lives, and the meaning that comes from watching them grow into the selves they were meant to be.” —Lori Gottlieb, New York Times bestselling author of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone
ONE OF Newsweek’s 30 THOUGHTFUL BOOKS TO GIFT
“Both wrenching and hopeful.” ―Newsweek
“For fans of Lori Gottlieb… a therapist recounts five of her most fascinating patients, with a focus on how heroic they are for overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles.” ―Business Insider
“Affecting… Insightful psychological lessons of special interest to readers on therapeutic journeys of their own.” ―Kirkus
“Heart-wrenching stories… [that] inspire awe for the ways people who suffered horrific abuse were able to find a measure of recovery.” ―Publisher’s Weekly
“A fascinating memoir…heartwarming, heartbreaking, and inspirational.” ―Midwest Book Review
“Although this book centers on the healing of Gildiner’s patients, it is also about her own gifts and growth as a therapist… Hats off to Gildiner for doing a heroic therapeutic job and for writing about it so eloquently.” ―New York Journal
“Gildiner’s subject is heroism―writ large and with poignant specificity in five unforgettable patients’ lives. Good Morning, Monster will bolster your faith in human endurance, and make you root more fiercely for us all.“ ―Paula McLain, author of Love and Ruin and The Paris Wife
“These stories show how the process of therapy can heal even the deepest wound and most traumatic of experiences.” ―Lee Woodruff
“Allows one the privilege of seeing the therapist-patient relationship as an essentially human interaction.” ―JM Coetzee, Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature
“Enthusiastic and insightful” ―Toronto Star
“As anyone who has sat through a Zoom therapy session knows, there’s really no substitute for the real thing. But, the book world is giving it a shot… Good Morning, Monster by Catherine Gildiner is a psychologist’s retelling of five of her most memorable (and harrowing) cases.” ―Entertainment Weekly
“Brilliant piece of work, both heart-rending and chilling. I was moved to tears… a great book for any time. I had promised myself that I would read one episode for each of five days. Instead I read right through from beginning to end.” ―Valery Hemingway, author of Running With the Bulls
“Like Oliver Sacks, Catherine Gildiner loves her patients… Gildiner is a master of shoot-from-the-hip nonfiction―funny, direct and honest about what she sees in others and what she sees in herself. Highly readable!” ―Susan Swan, author of The Wives of Bath
“Gildiner is astute, active, pragmatic, and hopeful. She is also very funny. Her wit and her wisdom are gifts shared with these five people―and now with all of us readers.” ―David S. Goldbloom, co-author of How Can I Help?: A week in My Life as a Psychiatrist
“These stories are almost mythic in their power… I couldn’t put this book down.” ―Antanas Sileika, author of Provisionally Yours
“Compelling, heart-in-throat stories prove no one is ‘damaged goods.’ I’m in awe of the five patients and of Gildiner’s exceptional creativity as she guides each one toward emotional freedom.” ―Rona Maynard, author of My Mother’s Daughter