Wednesday, January 24, 2007

On Therapy Culture...

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.

10 comments:

Reading the Signs said...

Is it also a case of "if the people have no bread, let them have counselling"?

nmj said...

Another great post, Ms M, and I love the Dorothy Rowe quote.

Ms Melancholy said...

RTS - absolutely! We can't give you decent health care, but hey, go and tell someone about how distressed that makes you.

nmj - thanks! It's a hard lesson, and one I didn't learn easily myself, I have to say. But counselling/therapy should be about enabling people to get on with the lives they have... sometimes it just is...

Liz said...

Found you through Moon Topples and glad I stopped by. You raise some good points. We all grow so much by going through the rough patches in our lives, even if it's misery when you're going through it. I just can't imagine what folks where you are would do if they lived here in the US and didn't even have access to the free first class healthcare.

Ms Melancholy said...

Thanks for dropping by, Liz. Good point about the health care - there's a whole lot more counselling needed if you have no health insurance at all.

Anonymous said...

You know who I am. Thanks for the rant.

Adam Field said...

This was sort of my reason (from a mans POV anyway) for starting my website and accompanying blog at www.men-talhealth.info but I agree - great post

Dandelion said...

It looks like a false economy to me. How much is this counselling going to cost? Wouldn't it be better to spend the money on the abortions in the first place? Or is that a dumb remark?

It may not be the government's responsibility to help people manage their emotional response to the world, but wouldn't the world be a better place if it did?

Phantomias said...

Quite right, quite right. The therapy culture is growing a bit out of hand. this might be a crazy idea, but what if therapists actually helped people to just help themselves in the future? great blog, funky reading...

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