Years ago one of my clients, a therapist herself, described her past experience with an analyst to me. At a regular point in their sessions the analyst would ask if she was "ready," close the curtains, place the couch cushions on the floor, and the two would engage in sexual intercourse.
"Why did you stop your 'work' with this man?" I asked.
"He raised his fees," she replied.
Sound shocking and unusual? It happens too often. Crimes committed like this and crimes brought to public attention, let alone specific persons prosecuted, are not exactly correlated. Calling it taboo just isn't enough.
The motives and desires of therapists, and I use the term broadly here to include social workers, psychiatrists, counselors and psychologists, are a marvel to behold. Credentials and licensing have little to do with guaranteeing the rights and protection of the consumer. Impressive credentials may be used to further the cause of psychological damage. Licensing procedures and restrictions are also designed to guarantee and protect the exclusivity and monopoly of member professionals. Therapists are businesspersons conducting a business to make money, which is too often hidden under the myth of care and concern for public welfare.
In my opinion the quality of therapy offered to the public is quite low. Too often people give therapists too much power. The fact of the matter is that therapists are just like everyone else . . . only more so.
Therapists like to think of themselves as being very important. They frequently like to pretend to be more than human.
Among therapists, Freud is generally regarded as the great father. And Freud subscribed to a high ideal that most human beings he had come across departed from most lamentably. As he states in "Psychoanalysis and Faith": "I have found little that is 'good' about human beings on the whole. In my experience most of them are trash . . ." Freud had a lot of influence.
Founders of specific schools of therapy have always surrounded themselves with ex-clients who have become disciples and colleagues. Sibling rivalry is ferocious.
An eminent psychiatrist spoke honestly this past spring during his keynote address at a conference when he said he wasn't sure whether he was healing souls or soling heels.
There are female therapists who sexually seduce female patients. There are male therapists who sexually seduce male patients. A psychiatrist pledges romantic love to his female patient and tells her that he will leave his wife for her. One patient after another.
There are depths to therapy, from problem-solving to values clarification. There are many well intentioned therapists with bad advice. They can make a bad situation worse and wreck a marriage.
Therapy is at times like marriage. Our unrealistic expectations about what it can provide are a lot like waiting for Godot. And yet, therapy can be so essential, so valuable.
I believe that when good therapy goes well, a person confronts four basic existential issues: death, freedom, isolation and meaning. Perhaps this is what Freud meant when he claimed to cure the miseries of the neurotic only to open him up to the normal misery of life. Therapists are people struggling with these problems too -- all of the time. Some have pathetic means of coping, others heroic.
It is at this point that I believe therapy and philosophy interface. Investigations concerning the origin of the moral imperative necessarily lead us to the "big picture." I think it is important to find out a bit about a therapist's weltanschauung, or world view.
The stigma of therapy comes from the perpetuation of the disease model mentality of its practitioners. This keeps away a lot of people in need. One way of coping with something a therapist doesn't understand is to label and categorize it. This eases the existential anxiety of not knowing. People who act as if they understand when they don't make me feel nervous. Too many therapists don't know that they don't know.
Perhaps therapy needs a warning alongside of its advertised joy, cure, increased self-esteem, integration, etc. Ernest Becker suggested in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book "Denial of Death" that the warning read: "Danger: real probability of the awakening of terror and dread, from which there is no turning back."
The facts are these: therapy can be an exercise in impotence. It can make you more confused, be a tremendous waste of time, energy and money, in addition to creating an opportunity lost. Therapy can be lousy for kids, aggravating to a marriage, abusive, humiliating and masochistic. You can be taken advantage of intellectually, emotionally and physically by completely legitimate therapists. You can be hypnotized, brainwashed and just plain deadened by the experience. All in the name of being for your own good.
Trying to find the right therapist can be like trying to locate the pronoun "I" in the center of your brain . . . There's no place like home. There's no place like home . . .
And a therapist can help a person discover tremendous courage and meaning in life.
The words of the Jewish scholar Heschel remind me of the true task of therapy: to comfort the troubled and trouble the comfortable.
Good therapy for comfortable therapists ought to be troubling them.