I was listening to a clever woman from Marie Stopes on the Today programme yesterday talking about waiting times for abortions. I was making sandwiches for lunch-boxes, toast for breakfast and applying mascara with that second pair of hands that parents develop in the morning, but I was still enjoying listening to the discussion. I was in agreement with pretty much everything she said: first-trimester…blah-de-blah, government guidelines breached blah-de-blah, poorest people hit…as always… etc etc. And then she said “the government is leaving women in distress. They should at least be offered counselling.” Or something similar. And suddenly I felt quite irritated with her. Isn't the government’s job to provide us with a health care system that is fit for purpose? Is it really the government’s job to help us to manage our emotional response to the world?
There was a subtle implication that we have a god-given right to be without distress, an entitlement to have the world meet our emotional needs and a right to ‘counselling’ to ensure that we should never ever have to feel distress. Because emotional distress is intolerable and unbearable, right? It left me pondering the role of the state in our emotional lives. Is the state actually responsible for alleviating distress that we may feel, for example, at finding ourselves with an unwanted pregnancy? Or is the state responsible for ensuring the material conditions which will allow us the security of managing our own happiness? (By providing first class health care free at the point of delivery, for example?)
What irritates me is that ‘therapy culture’ gets the blame for individuals demanding that the world meets their emotional needs, without paying attention to their personal responsibility. I fear that in using the words ‘personal responsibilty’ I may be mistaken for a Daily Mail reader (which would cause me so much distress that I would have to have even more therapy.) But psychotherapy is absolutely about enabling people to manage their own internal world by taking responsibility for it. Psychotherapy doesn’t – or shouldn’t - collude with the notion that emotional dissonance is intolerable, and should be routinely remedied by professional intervention in the way that we would treat a disease. It is a very normal part of being alive and should be seen as such. Psychotherapy is about enabling people to develop the robustness that will allow them to process their internal world and not collapse under the weight of it. Dorothy Rowe says that when she sees a client who asks ‘why me?’, she responds with ‘why not you? These things have to happen to somebody.’ I like that.
I fear this is descending into an incoherent rant. To clarify: I absolutely believe that there are some people who genuinely want and need psychotherapy, and who benefit enormously from it. I believe there is a need for people who can’t afford counselling or therapy to have access to it via the public purse. But I don’t think it’s helpful to shout ‘give ‘em counselling’ every time someone has an unpleasant experience.
Phew. Glad I got that one off my chest.