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"Peculiar And Not Very Attractive Personalities"

2004-07-26 18:11:48

This morning I read a Theodore Dalrymple review of a book called Therapy Culture, and there were a couple of paragraphs that neatly summed up something I've believed for a long time but never quite managed to express so nicely or concisely:
"In the therapeutic world-view, a person should not be emotionally dependent upon anyone else, but should be self-sufficient. Relationships with others should be distanced and mutually self-realising. When a relationship ceases to be so, it should be ended forthwith.

"Very few people can actually live like this: those that can tend to have peculiar and not very attractive personalities. Yet this is the ideal to which we are encouraged to aspire. We soon find, however, that a radically asocial or solipsistic life is deeply unsatisfying and even threatening. The slightest difficulty causes us major upset, but we have no informal network to turn to because we have pursued our own autonomy for so long."
Especially that part about "peculiar and not very attractive personalities" -- there are exceptions, but in my experience that's generally spot-on. Don't get me wrong: therapy can indeed be helpful -- but I feel there is a point beyond which it stops being helpful and turns into a whine-fest. And ya gotta kind of wonder about a business where your goal is to make your patient healthy enough that he doesn't need to pay you $100 / week anymore.

Many years ago, when I moved to Austin after divorcing my first wife, I was rather down in the dumps and ended up "participating" in group therapy for awhile. It was not the laugh-fest portrayed on teevee shows like Bob Newhart, and generally it seemed a disagreeable waste of time -- but I'd committed to doing 12 sessions. During one session I brought up the fact that I wasn't getting much out of this stuff, and someone responded "I've been coming to group for nine years, and I feel it's helped me a lot". I'm thinking "nine freakin' years?!" It seemed fairly obvious that this person had been "helped" by becoming utterly dependent on group therapy. 'Committment' be damned -- I got outta there before they offered me a tall glass of purple Kool-Aid.

This has been too serious, so let me close with a joke:

Little David was in his 5th grade class in a school in Washington, D.C. when the teacher asked the children what their fathers did for a living. All the typical answers came up -- policeman, lawyer, salesman, and so forth.

David was being uncharacteristically quiet and so the teacher asked him about his father.

"My father's an exotic dancer in a gay cabaret and takes off all his clothes in front of other men. Sometimes, if the offer's really good, he'll make love for money."

The teacher, obviously shaken by this statement, hurriedly set the other children to work on some class work, and took Little David aside to ask him, "Is that really true about your father?" "No," said David, "He works for the Bush administration, but I was too embarrassed to say that in front of the other kids."