Phillip K. Dick’s novel Valis is a wacky and wild ride. I recommend it though it certainly isn’t for everyone. However, this is not a review but rather an appropriation of scenes in the book that illustrate what I consider a point central to doing psychotherapy. It s creatively based upon PKD’s actual experiences.


The book begins thus:

“Horselover Fat’s nervous breakdown began the day he got the phone call from Gloria asking if he had any Nembutals. He asked her why she wanted them and she said that she intended to kill herself”.

Themes of mental illness, suicide and depression are right there at the start.

When Horselover Fat makes his own “spectacular suicide attempt”, he ends up in an inpatient psych unit. His experiences are described in the fourth and beginning of the fifth chapters of Valis. If I had my way, these chapters would be required reading for all mental health practitioners. His descriptions of his experiences on the ward are brilliant, hilarious and ring true (from my perspective as an outsider practitioner who has tried to still listen to the people that end up on the units).

Eventually, Fat has an interview with his psychiatrist, Doctor Stone. Early in the meeting,

“He could see that Dr. Stone was totally crazy, but in a good way. Dr. Stone was the first person at the North Ward, outside the patients, who had talked to him as if he were human”.

Dr. Stone reads him a passage out of the Tao Te Ching. They then begin a mad conversation in which Fat goes into some detail about his esoteric, labyrinthine Gnostic and other theories.

““I am very interested in what you are saying”, Dr. Stone said.
Fat realized that one of two possibilities existed and only two; either Dr. Stone was totally insane – not just insane but totally so – or else in an artful, professional fashion he had gotten Fat to talk; he had drawn Fat out and now knew that Fat was totally insane. Which meant that Fat could look forward to a court appearance and ninety days.

This is a mournful discovery.

1.Those who agree with you are insane.
2.Those who do not agree with you are in power.” (p. 61)

Fat decides to throw caution to the wind and goes all in with Dr. Stone. Their mad conversation continues as a conversation between two human beings. Fat feels validated by this.

Fat does not end up at a court hearing that keeps him on the ward for ninety days. He does not see Dr. Stone again until after thirteen days Dr. Stone tells him he is ready to leave. They have another brief conversation, at the end of which PKD writes:

““So I am right about Nag Hammadi,” he said to Dr. Stone.
“You would know,” Dr. Stone said, and then he said something that no one had ever said to Fat before. “You’re the authority”, Dr. Stone said.” (p. 66)

Fat has an epiphany regarding Dr. Stone at this moment. Last quote:

“Dr. Stone wasn’t insane; Stone was a healer. He held down the right job. Probably he healed many people and in many ways. He adapted his therapy to the individual, not the individual to the therapy.

I’ll be goddamned, Fat thought.

In that simple sentence, “You’re the authority,” Stone had given Fat back his soul.”(p. 67)


The idea that you can decide what someone needs based solely on a diagnosis, apply specific treatment based on manuals, or other ways treatments are recommended/encouraged based upon minimal information happens too often and are ways the individual is fit to the therapy.

I do not know if you will want to go out and read this book. It is strange though quite enjoyable for me. It has a decidedly unreliable and fragmented narrator. I find that appealing. It is definitely a journey through madness and hopelessness to some sort of peace, if decidedly not an end to the journey.

For my work as a psychotherapist, providing treatment that embraces common factors, feedback and trying to work outside of the medical model of psychotherapy, I would like my epitaph to be:

Adapted therapy to the individual, not the individual to the therapy.

Have you read Valis?

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