ALUMNI PROFILE Christie Tate (JD ’03)
Through writing her best-selling memoir, Group, Christie Tate (JD ’03) finds herself—and her calling.
Christie Tate drove around Chicago, wishing for death. It was late June 2001, and that week she’d received the news that she was ranked first in her Loyola law school class—a fact that sent her spiraling into darkness and desperation. That turning point opens her first book, the memoir Group: How One Therapist and a Circle of Strangers Saved My Life, which reached #4 on The New York Times Best Seller List in fall 2020 and was Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club pick for November 2020.
In Group, Tate details her seven-year journey through group therapy under the unorthodox direction of a Chicago psychotherapist she calls “Dr. Rosen.” Dr. Rosen discarded confidentiality,a key pillar of traditional psychotherapy, for full disclosure anything in group members’ lives could be revealed, discussed, and dissected inside and outside the therapy setting in the quest for understanding and healing. The book—raw and sometimes shocking—details Tate’s recovery from loneliness and isolation to find a true and deep connection with others—and herself. Editor-in-Chief Kristi Turnbaugh talked to Tate about the writing process, how to push through pain, and getting over imposter syndrome.
Why did you want to put your group therapy experiences into a book?
When I started writing Group I didn’t think it was going to be a book. I was writing to teach myself how to write. I was going to practice, build some chops, and learn about the craft. A lot of people have said it reads like a novel. That’s because I was trying to teach myself how to write a novel, but I didn’t know how, so I started with the boundaries of the truth of what happened in my life and then it started taking on a life of its own.
It’s so easy now to look back and say I wrote this to help people and spread the word about group therapy. But it’s not true. It’s a selfserving, wonderful revision of history. I really felt called to write. I just loved it, and it fed me in a way that my legal practice didn’t.
You detail your lifelong eating disorder, anxiety and depression, and sex life. How did you find the guts to put those vulnerabilities on the page?
The number-one way was by living in the thought It will never be a book, so who cares? It’s not like my mom’s ever going to read this! When it was just a file on my computer, I could literally develop it with all the vulnerability necessary. … Also, the writing art that I really love does what I did. Memoirs by Roxane Gay, Samantha Irby, or even Myriam Gurba really are startling, and they lift the curtain on what it feels like to be in a body in the world. I felt really drawn to that kind of art. I was inspired by writers who had done that themselves.
Through the process of writing the book, you said that you learned to become more empathetic toward some of your ex-boyfriends. What else did you learn about yourself?
I learned the notion that certain processes take a long time: writing a book, getting well, going to therapy, unwinding bad habits. Those things take a long time but not forever. It didn’t take forever for me to get into a healthy relationship. It didn’t take forever to write a book. Now when I’m in discomfort, when I’m in a situation without a quick fix, the writing process is a pretty tangible reminder that you’ve got to inch forward a little bit, a little bit more, and a little bit more. That feels like a super-helpful life lesson because most of the things I want can’t happen overnight.
I also don’t think we [as a society] give a lot of space to narratives. A lot of progress is a few steps forward, slide back a few steps. I think that’s what my story shows. It wasn’t “Woohoo, I got into therapy” and afterward was all progress, all forward movement—which was heartbreaking to me. I really felt like I was doing therapy wrong, or it wasn’t working as I had pictured. I had a pretty rigid picture of what getting well would look like, and I kept not looking like that. And I do think I took steps backward at times in the service of moving forward, but [society doesn’t] like that part of the story. We don’t like the mess. We like to edit that part out, and I wanted to put that into the world because it’s real.
Since the book’s publication, what have been some of the best rewards?
The tenderhearted, loving messages I get from readers who told me about their eating disorders, their therapists, their singlehood, their law careers. I’m so blown away by these beautiful missives from other people’s hearts thanking me and telling me how they related to the book. … I certainly expected hate mail because people are very sensitive about therapy. I did not know how much love was going to pour out to me through email. It’s been unbelievable.
I’ve even really appreciated the emails that have expressed criticism or reservations about the work, the book itself, or about Dr. Rosen. They’re products of deep engagement. … Something I learned in group is that when a criticism comes at me, I can engage with it. I don’t have to be defensive; that felt really liberating to me.
How has your life changed since publishing your book and being on The New York Times Best Seller List?
The biggest thing that’s changed is I can no longer walk around and ask myself, “Am I a writer now?” Because if I’m not a real writer now, if I won’t claim it now, there is no hope for me. The ways in which I participated in my own imposter syndrome, in my own diminishing of the reality, have been knocked right out from under me, which is a wonderful thing. I am a writer. –Kristi Turnbaugh
Christie Tate is working on her next book, which is about the importance of female friendships.
Christie Tate discusses her favorite books
1. The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch: A stunning memoir about all the ways a body can survive trauma. It changed the way I understood how a story could be written.
2. Heavy by Kiese Laymon: The first book I’ve ever read written by a man that connects disordered eating, sexual trauma, and violence. Stunning on every level: his craft, cultural critique, voice, language, and descriptions of addiction and white supremacy.
3. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry: Every Texan is required to read this book. It’s a beautiful story about flawed Texas men and the fabled Texan spirit that feels true and larger than life on every page.