"I was talking about it with Walter Reich, M.D., during one of the American Psychiatric [Association] meetings in Dallas, and John Schwartz [M.D.] came up to him and asked if he would want to review a book. Walter said ‘No, but Peter should, since he had just written a novel.' So John asked me to send him the novel, and he'd look at it. He also asked me to review a book by Samuel Shem [pseudonym for Stephen Bergman, M.D.], and I did."
The book review appeared in PT in August of 1985. Schwartz then asked Kramer to review another book, but he had other ideas. He blurted out, "No, I am not going to write a book review; I'm going to write a column for you." The first "Practicing" column, titled "Limits of Power," appeared on the front page of PT in October of 1985. It discussed a patient Kramer knew of who believed that psychotherapy was going to save his life in the face of cancer, but who subsequently died. "I questioned how magical we want psychotherapy to be," Kramer said.
In an act of chutzpah, Kramer then called Schwartz and said that the column should not be on page 1, but rather on page 2 or 3 every month. Schwartz responded that he had a pharmacology column on page 3. Kramer was undeterred: "I said something that I have never again said in my life, and I don't know where the confidence came from. ‘Anybody can have a pharmacology column,' I said. ‘Nobody has what I am going to write for you.' I took over page 3 and was there every month for 10 years."
Kramer served as a senior editor and contributing editor for PT through 1997. His work in community psychiatry, hospital psychiatry, liaison psychiatry and research oversight helped prepare him to write the column.
"I wrote the column from the point of view of someone practicing psychiatry every day, but also someone who was aware of a range of experiences in psychiatry," Kramer said.
"Psychiatrists really read that column," he added. "John did a [readership] study once … and at that moment, it was the most read part of the paper. People would actually come up to me at psychiatric meetings and look at me as if they had seen me somewhere and ask where they had seen me; I would say, probably on your bathroom floor."
The column led directly to Kramer's first published book, Moments of Engagement: Intimate Psychotherapy in a Technological Age (New York: Norton, 1989; Penguin paperback, 1994), which presented case histories and revelatory encounters with patients and discussed the tools--from medicine to empathy--used to help patients change.
Kramer explained that a book editor at Norton who read his "Practicing" column in its first year invited him to write a nonfiction book for her. The irony of the request was obvious to Kramer. "Here I had been walking around with a copy of my novel and not getting anyone to read it," he said, "and I got an offer from a publisher to sit down and write a book."