A Stiff Upper Lip Won't Cure a Shattered Mind ; What Critics Actually Detest Isn't Therapy Itself but Its Bastard Offspring, Therapy Culture
Lewis, Jemima, The Independent (London, England)
With what a cry of triumph will the Colonel Blimps have read the story this week that, in the words of one headline: "Stiff upper lip beats stress counselling". According to this report, psychologists have concluded that the victims of a severe trauma cope best when they refuse to dwell on it. Encouraging them to "relive" it through counselling only makes them more miserable, and stops them moving on.
If those muttering "I always knew it" would like to hear more in this vein, they should visit the Royal Geographical Society tomorrow night, where a panel of experts will debate the motion: "Anyone who goes to a psychotherapist needs their head examined." In America, you'd never get away with a title so loaded with scorn. But in Britain, more than a century after Freud lured his first patient onto the couch, many people still regard therapy as the worst sort of quackery: an affront to common sense, an excuse for lazy, new- age thinking and a symptom of the deplorable emasculation of Western civilisation.
And up to a point, they are right. What critics of therapy actually detest isn't therapy itself - most of them would never dream of having it, so how would they know? - but its bastard offspring, therapy culture. What began in Austria as a serious scientific experiment in curing mental illness through the examination of the subconscious has turned into the cornerstone of modern popular culture. We are besieged by sub-Freudian gobbledygook, in the form of self-help books, talk shows, glossy magazines, soap operas and Hollywood schmaltz.
Like modern art, therapy is thought to be an intellectually-lazy confidence trick that any fool could pull off. This is partly because proper psychoanalytic therapy, which requires years of training, is constantly being confused with lesser disciplines. Only 450 hours of training are needed to become a counsellor, for example, which might explain why we now have about 300,000 of them in Britain - more than we have soldiers. It might also explain why this army of well-meaning do-gooders doesn't often do much good.
Proper therapy, on the other hand, does work. It is impossible to produce any statistics to prove it - the incorporation of the subconscious into the conscious mind being a tricky business to quantify - so anecdotal evidence will have to suffice. I had it, and it did me a power of good. I know dozens of others who've had it - including several from the sceptical camp - and all of them claim to have benefited from it. …