Scattergood Foundation

Advancing Innovative Strategies for Change in Behavioral Health


Name of Innovative Program: 
Professional Psychotherapy Training & Public Awareness Programs
Sponsoring Organization
Name of Innovative Program Lead: 
Phyliss Shanken
E-mail Address of Innovative Program Lead:
Project Description: 
The proposed project is based on the ever-increasing interest in and distribution of: CONVERSATIONS WITH PERFECT STRANGERS: Memoirs of a Psychologist (Tate Publishing, 2013). The mission: (1) promote public awareness and reduce fear of psychotherapy; (2) provide training for novice and experienced therapists; (3) encourage personal growth for everyday people as well as for professionals. Due to confidentiality considerations and the author, Phyliss Shanken’s discomfort in using “disguised” real-life cases, she intertwined her skills as a fiction writer and psychologist: The patients in the book are imaginary characters but Shanken’s reactions are true to her personal and professional experience. She is currently developing a program and another book whereby more fictitious storylines are presented to veteran therapists who will express their own reactions and reveal their theoretical perspectives as they “meet” these imaginary clients. In a back-and-forth manner, therapists possessing differing viewpoints will encounter identical patients and Shanken, the creator of the people and their dilemmas, will respond as the make-believe patient would to that intervention. Comparison of reactions from the same patient with different therapists can be made. Also, after publication, therapists-in-training may practice their own skills while their supervisors assume the role of the developed characters.
Creativity and Innovation: 
The most salient creative element to this project is the imaginative writing that goes into the stories, which demonstrate the inner-workings of people who seek treatment. The easy-read training text is a resource to be incorporated into comprehensive curricula for professionals of every discipline. CONVERSATIONS WITH PERFECT STRANGERS and the second volume currently in production, provides both therapists and lay persons a refreshing look into the therapist’s deliberations before making an intervention. And – how many training texts peek into the therapist’s emotions or inner conflicts that might obstruct his clear thinking for him to be a healer rather than a hindrance to his client? Readers get to be a fly on the wall of a psychologist’s and her patients’ inner sanctum. They ultimately learn more about themselves – this last notion being a safe way to spread the word and lighten anxiety about engaging in psychotherapy for personal growth.
Dialogue among professionals has been steadily increasing. Before publication, the author read excerpts at the Cape Cod Conference in August 2012. The audience broke into thunderous enthusiasm, saying, “Yes, yes. This is what we need!” The author, Phyliss Shanken, has experience spanning over forty years as co-director of INTROSPECT, a private psychological/psychiatric facility in Colmar, PA, a supervisor to new and veteran therapists, sole practitioner, author of professional articles and five books, and a public speaker. Conversations with Perfect Strangers is a fictionalized journey through Phyliss Shanken’s practice and into the hearts and minds of the “perfect” strangers who, by sharing their secrets, enriched and informed her life. She will visit universities, mental health centers and other educational facilities along with some of her colleagues. The author will work with staff on writing stories for their programs, thereby possessing an unending supply of data to be used by their students.
Since this project is new, programs are being developed. An education consultant on says: “Start reading Conversations With Perfect Strangers and get ready to hold on, as a whirlwind of characters are presented with rapidly moving interwoven stories. This is “zero to sixty” right from the beginning. Every line leads to insights and adages harvested from the years of experience and passionate dedication for the wellbeing of her clients. Phyliss shares both a persistent sense of humor and a profound compassion for those who are suffering, making this a must read for all current and future psychologists, counselors, and human service workers. Indeed, these memoirs come alive as the author conveys the personal struggles, common challenges and essential bridge building processes or techniques for getting to a better place of personal being. What a smile this book brings to the reader and the value it adds to the profession!”
Since it’s a published work, it is duplicated and distributed. Phyliss Shanken narrates Conversations with Perfect Strangers in an audible version on A review from an organization consultant: “…Through this alliance, the patient is free to imagine, evaluate and experiment with new approaches and alternative ways of dealing with his or her personal difficulties. As the reader, you vicariously experience the therapeutic journey of this selected group of patients, whose situations and identities, though fictitious, are factually based and real. Some readers may find it somewhat off-putting to see so deeply inside the mind and heart of the therapist, as one does in Conversations. We tend to objectify our health professionals and not think of them as ordinary, fully human, emotional, and, perhaps, even troubled. You have that opportunity in this book–to laugh, cry and commiserate with the reality of the therapist. It is a rare opportunity, indeed.”
Therapists will rate the extent of their knowledge before the program and then again afterward. Items to be pursued in the surveys: confidentiality & ethical considerations, first encounters, ingredients of the helping process, grief, termination of therapy, how a therapist’s own issues may impact therapeutic thinking and interventions, the change process itself. Trainees will be asked to provide new insights gleaned from the training, concepts they had never considered before, and new slants on old concepts. Which fictitious patients impacted him the most and why? The particular area of concentration quite often missed in other trainings: how the therapist makes best use of his or her own talents, interests and knowledge; how the therapist shares himself – or not – with his patient; personal ethical concerns that weren’t present before the training; and how to use himself as a tool to enhance his client’s personal journey.