Talk Is Not Cheap

I have a tendency to drift into depression. Last week I started thinking maybe it’s time for some psychotherapy.

Therapy is good for some things. But it’s not good just anything. I’ve availed myself of several therapists over the years, so I’m qualified to do a little armchair theorizing.

Costs continue to go up. I chatted on the phone with one woman who charges $165 per hour. This is obscene. It’s in P. T. Barnum territory. (“There’s a sucker born every minute.”) The going rate seems to be about $120 per hour, and I could afford that, though I’d have to grit my teeth. More to the point, for $120 per hour I’d want a guarantee of results. And of course, no such guarantees are to be had. If a therapist guarantees results, you should walk quickly in the other direction, because you’ve run into a quack.

How can you select a therapist who has the best possible set of qualifications for producing the results you’re hoping for? You can’t. It’s a crap shoot. And indeed, therapy will be very ineffective at producing certain kinds of results — including, if my past experience with therapy is a reliable indicator, the results I need.

Here’s a hypothetical example, unrelated to my own situation but illustrative of the limitations of therapy. Let’s say a man has lost his job and is out looking for work. He has been looking for several months, and for whatever reason — maybe he’s in a dying industry, maybe the colleges have been pumping out grads in his field who will work for peanuts, maybe there’s only one employer in town and he has offended that employer with his outspoken political opinions — he has been unable to find a suitable job. He has a wife and a young child, perhaps also a second child on the way. The man is now quite depressed because he can’t find a job, and feels guilty because he’s not able to support his family. His wife is feeling anxiety over the lack of money, so there is considerable stress in the home.

At this point, we will suppose, the man might turn to therapy. He’s feeling like shit, his marriage his falling apart — isn’t this the kind of thing therapy is supposed to help with? Now, it’s true that the therapist may help relieve his depression — temporarily, at least. That might help him look good in his next job interview, so it might help him land a job. Or it might not. The therapist might also be able to help relieve the stress in the marriage. Or the man’s guilt and his wife’s anxiety might be so deep-seated that years of therapy would be needed to root them out.

Here’s the thing, though: In working with the man on his depression and family stress, the therapist is treating the wrong problem. What the therapist actually needs to do, in order to solve the problem, is to get up off her chubby little ass and help the poor guy find a job.

But therapists don’t do that. (There is actually a Japanese school of therapy called Morita therapy in which the therapist does do that. I once gave a therapist a copy of the book on Morita therapy. A couple of years later, when I was back with her doing some more therapy, I happened to mention the book. She told me she hadn’t read it.) Therapists simply don’t see it as part of their calling to provide practical help, even when their failure to be helpful exacerbates serious emotional problems.

I’m sure you’ve heard this old joke, but I’m going to tell it anyway. A man comes out of a bar one night and sees a drunk walking around very slowly under a streetlight, staring down at the pool of light on the sidewalk. The drunk explains that he’s searching for his car keys, and the man offers to help. After a few minutes, the man says, “I don’t see the keys anywhere. Are you sure this is where you dropped them?” The drunk replies, “No, I dropped them over there in the alley. But it’s too dark over there to see anything. This is where the light is.”

This is what happens if someone goes to a therapist with a real-world problem that has an emotional component. The therapist says, “I’ll shine this 165-watt light, and we can look for the solution here under the light.” But the solution may not be in the area where the light is shining. It may be somewhere else. The solution may be readily accessible, but off in an alley where the therapist is not qualified to go or simply refuses to go.

I’ve gotten a lot out of therapy over the years. It has certainly made me a better person. It has not, however, addressed my basic need (which happens to be for close companionship) — not in any way, shape, or form. At this point in my life, paying $165 or even $120 per hour to a therapist in the hope that the outcome will be better than last time would be no different from Charlie Brown thinking surely this time Lucy won’t jerk the football away.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any better ideas on how to tackle the problem.

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1 Response to Talk Is Not Cheap

  1. georgek says:

    If you know the joke about the drunk, you’ve probably heard the one about teaching a man to fish?

    I think many times there is no immediate solution to a practical problem — maybe the average time to find that job is just 4-6 months — but there can be effective mental and emotional strategies to use in the interim. If that hypothetical guy doesn’t have those in his toolbox he can get stuck on the pain point and not go anywhere, not see alternatives, etcetera.

    What I do think is a real problem is the lack of this kind of training at an early age. Sure, you have random private schools that might deal with it, but it’s not really addressed in a mainstream way with early education. So it becomes this exclusive thing with all the rarefied trappings that don’t really help anyone (without a lot of cash to burn).

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