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America in Therapy
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Salon handles social issues much better than it does the news, and today it's got an interesting piece by a woman who, after 40 years and gobs of cash, finally decided to rid herself of therapy.

She echoes a lot of my views on psychotherapy and its role in modern American society, so I'll just quote liberally. The author begin by giving a historical rundown on psychotherapists and their detractors, many from within their own ranks:

Dr. Tana Dineen, a Canadian psychologist and the author of "Manufacturing Victims: What the Psychology Industry Is Doing to People," describes her book as an "apology for almost 30 years (as a practicing psychotherapist) of biting my lip about the role psychologists are playing in society." I e-mailed Dineen to ask how she sees that role. "Most psychotherapists are well meaning but naive," she wrote back. "They harbor the illusion that (1) they are fighting injustice when, in fact, they generally operate in a manner which fits the politically acceptable motif of the moment and (2) they are helping people to heal or feel better when they may be debilitating them or turning them into satisfied customers. While psychotherapy can mean virtually anything, it is portrayed as something that will make not only the individual but also society better, healthier, more peaceful, more fulfilled, and more utopian.

Her book is an apology for deluding herself and her patients. Good...she should apologize.

And here's where the author herself finally had a breakthrough (and it wasn't in a therapy session):

I'd been interviewing a convicted rapist who was about to be released from prison; now I was interviewing his court-appointed psychiatrist. Why, I asked him, was this obviously un-rehabilitated predator being set free? What made the psychiatrist think the rapist -- who'd been bragging to me about how attractive his victims found him -- wouldn't rape again? The psychiatrist told me confidently, as if he were actually making sense, "Because he's in therapy."

Where had I heard that argument before? Ah, yes. I'd used it to persuade myself -- and a few friends -- to stay in much too hard relationships with much too incompatible people. I'd used it to persuade basketball coaches and principals not to expel my son. I'd used it to convince my parents that I was working on my relationships with them when I was, in truth, doing no such thing. Could therapy be society's crutch, not just my own -- a non-status-quo-threatening "treatment" for social, cultural and political, as well as personal, ills?

After all, these days therapy is the simple answer to far too many complicated questions. Your marriage sucks? Don't ask why half of American marriages end in divorce -- go to therapy. Your teenager's flunking out, blasting hate rock through his headphones, doing drugs? Don't ask why we're spending more money on juvenile halls than schools, or (perish the thought) become an activist and do something about it -- send him, yourself, the whole family to therapy. No need to punish thieving CEOs, unrepentant rapists, racist cops; no need to wonder how we might change our priorities so America starts producing more healthy citizens and fewer creeps and crooks -- not when we can send 'em all to therapy. Why bother protesting the inequities and injustices that are causing marriages, families -- the whole damn social contract -- to unravel, when we've got therapy to make us feel better about that unraveling?

Exactly right. Therapists are a nasty byproduct of a society with a victim mentality, where none of us is actually responsible for our actions.

Look, I'm a great advocate of introspection and self-improvement, but I've known a lot of people previously or currently in therapy and I don't think there's a very strong correlation between the the latter and the former.

Some people need an objective third party to help them see their own problems more clearly, or to share their thoughts and feelings to help them better decide what to do next. But basically I'm of the opinion that most people know what they need to do...they're just too weak to actually do it. And rarely does therapy give them the needed strength or resolve to change themselves in constructive ways. More often, it becomes a addiction, as the author describes it.

But just as with similar societal institutions (like fad diets and religion), I don't see therapy going away, or even slackening, anytime soon.

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