You may well know Philippa Perry, with her thick, bright glasses and blunt grey bob, as the author of The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read; from her cameos in Grayson’s Art Club, the Channel 4 series made by her husband, the artist Grayson Perry; or even from appearances with her family on Celebrity Gogglebox. An experienced psychotherapist who has presented TV and radio shows about relationships, mental illness, art and history, Perry is a less reserved, more eccentric character than the stereotypical analyst. Philippa Perry’s Families in Crisis is a series of interviews with people who have experienced mental health or addiction crises in a family unit; exploring how they affect not just the person suffering, but their relatives, too.
The names have been changed, but over each half-hour episode individual personalities emerge with striking clarity. Nick and Sarah, two middle-class doctors, say they felt clueless and overwhelmed, despite their medical expertise, when their youngest daughter suddenly developed severe anorexia, becoming psychotic and suicidal. Sarah speaks anxiously, and at incredible speed, as though desperate to offload the painful – but perhaps, for other families, useful – details of her experience, without leaving anything out. Natalie, from Liverpool, tells Perry how she raised her three sons in an open household – “we laugh easily, we cry easily” – and passionately (and convincingly) defends her rejection of a “tough love” approach to her eldest son’s ketamine addiction, while explaining the fear she felt knowing he was taking such large doses of the drug at home. Tahira and Sadiya – two sisters who cared for their mother from extremely young ages, long before they understood she had obsessive compulsive disorder – are insightful about the impact their disrupted, secretive childhoods have had on their adult lives.
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Perry is at times direct, even blunt; sometimes she makes jokes. But, ever the therapist, she is an attentive, empathetic listener. The title (and mournful violin score) might suggest this is misery porn, but these are nuanced stories of resilience and change, asking how we might support those we love without losing ourselves.
Philippa Perry’s Families in Crisis
This article appears in the 28 Oct 2020 issue of the New Statesman, The Great Reckoning