A few decades ago, inner fortitude was the approved way of dealing with misfortune; now it is therapy, usually in the form of counselling, which is the fashion. Many people believe that their current unhappiness has its roots in the fact that they were not offered counselling after an unpleasant occurrence in their lives which could be anything from the death of a family pet to a friend’s traumatic operation. All human suffering can be put right by therapy.
It could be argued that therapy is a force for good, that the famous British stiff upper lip has led to repression and pent-up angst, an outlet for which would be beneficial for the patient. But it wasn’t that long ago that if you faced a dilemma or difficult time, you looked to your close friends and relatives for succour and solace. It has to be said that religion probably played a greater part in people’s lives than it does today so maybe some prayed or turned to God or their priest for help. Now though I think there is almost an expectation that one should be happy at all times and if you don’t feel that way or display signs of sadness it can be perceived as weakness, a sense of being a “loser.” There is a fear of being honest to those close to us about these emotions, thus it is now a given that one should be offered counselling by a (paid) third party instead of unburdening problems to friends. As Doctor Theodore Dalrymple puts it, this has led to,”perfectly normal, inescapable human experiences-such as those of loss, conflict, ambivalence and anxiety-are turned into quasi-medical problems to be treated by quasi-medical means.”
In other words our therapy culture could be doing more harm than good. It has certainly been proved that the increase in reality TV programmes and confessional autobiographies along with hundreds of self-help books has left young people. especially, feeling vulnerable. Since 1997, millions of pounds has been spent in schools on “nurture groups,wellbeing classes, mentoring schemes, counsellors and drama groups” with no tangible evidence that they have actually done any good. As the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams put it, ” talk about ‘emotional literacy’ can turn in to a recipe for emotional illiteracy if it refuses to deal with the challenges of managing the reality of others,the inevitability of frustration and the tough edges of choice.”
It is definitely true that our culture is saturated with the language and mindset of therapy. My six year old tells me that I’m “stressing her out.” I am constantly reminded in parenting books about the importance of instilling “high self-esteem” in my children. Any mistakes I unwittingly make now could result in them having years of costly therapy.Therapists naturally like to reinforce beliefs that we are at risk of mental illness if we don’t have a cathartic chat about our traumas to a professional. There is no evidence that this is true; in fact the evidence is strong that most people are resilient and that this is self-reinforcing but if you persuade people they are weak and fragile, this is what they become. Psychiatric assistance can sometimes do more harm than good. A trusted close confidant is surely a better option.