Therapy Culture; Why All This Modern Searching for Personal Fulfilment Is Now Turning Us into the Most Selfish Generation in History

Article excerpt


AS WE all know, it's good to talk. It's even better to get in touch with our feelings.

Good relationships are based on honest communication. So make those connections.

Share those thoughts. The future is American. You deserve all the happiness you can get.

Ten, even five, years ago, those words would have passed for parody.

The British have taken a very long time to get used to the idea of therapy. Even today, many think of it as a form of weakness, something you do when you have lost the capacity to stand on your own two feet.

But not for much longer, I suspect.

Therapy is becoming not just a norm, but a requirement.

This week there was a tremor in our national stiff upper lip when the most emotionally buttoned-up male character in TV's Cold Feet took himself off to therapy to save his marriage.

He's not alone. You only have to listen to the emotional outpourings of any number of celebrities to know they've all been at it, too.

Even in our daily lives, therapy is everywhere. What would you say if a friend told you she was getting a divorce, but not bothering to go to Relate first? What would you advise a colleague who couldn't get over a death in the family? You'd probably suggest he sees a grief counsellor.

This, increasingly, is the advice we give to our friends and relatives when they are bereaved, when they find themselves gravely ill, when they are having difficulties with their children, when they lose their job or sink into depression.

A therapist is the person you go to when you have a problem that is bigger than you are, or too big for your family and friends to handle. It's our stock response to tragedy. When was the last time you heard about a disaster on the evening news and didn't hear that the victims were being offered onsite counselling?

In my home town of Bath, I'm sure there are more therapists per capita than most cities in Britain - there must be ten on some streets. I can't think of a single doctor's surgery in this city where there isn't at least one therapist on tap for short-term counselling. And it's hard to think that there's a city of any size which cannot boast a branch of Relate. It's a growth industry. It's respectable.

SUDDENLY, the language of therapy is everywhere, too.

It's what sells Nikes ('Just do it') and BT ('The more connections we make, the more possibilities we have') and Braun kettles ('Designed to make a difference').

Even Haagen-Dazs, the company that made ice cream erotic, has ditched sex in favour of touchy-feely introspection. In its current [pound]6.5million 'Path to Joy' campaign, smouldering couples are replaced by a California-style New Age retreat where the residents talk about how ice cream helps them to find deep inner peace and happiness.

Beyond doubt, it's good for business. But is it good for you and me? Is it, in fact, good to talk? Is it perhaps not a little dangerous to suggest to people that talking is the best or only option?

Sometimes, it's not honesty your friends and family need from you, it's silent, steadfast, emotional support.

Even Americans have a term for this: it's 'being there' for people. It's giving people space instead of bombarding them with every thought that happens to cross your mind.

This is not to say that honesty isn't a mainstay of relationships. After living through one failed marriage, and watching other marriages go the same way, I really do believe that bad communication can destroy the strongest love.

But perfect communication is not the be all and end all. Some marriages fail because one person holds too much power over the children, or won't share the financial decisions, or drinks too much, or keeps having affairs.

Flipping to the other side of the coin, some marriages, in which the communication is far from perfect, can be very happy in their own way. …