The New Observer Psychotherapy The ultimate betrayal

The ultimate betrayal

At some point in most peoples’ lives they realise that there is a kind of gloss or propaganda about virtue and ethics but, underneath the skin, most of what goes on – at least in official or commercial pronouncements – is governed by manipulation and exploitation,┬áby expediency and cynicism in one form or another. We breathe a sigh and progress with our lives.

Nonetheless when personal relationships are tainted by cynicism and abuse we may end up feeling hurt. At this point we are susceptible to the sales pitch of psychotherapy. Psychotherapy, implicitly or explicitly, assures us that it is above cynicism and abuse. (Even if this claim is not made explicitly it is absolutely implicit in the claim to be able to stand above relationships and ‘adjudicate’; the claim to be the one in whom the hurt can safely confide). The hurt and abused turn, in their gullibility, to this apparent beacon of humanism. Here, they believe, is someone, who is not one of the abusers – a helper. Someone who really embodies the ideals of truth and integrity and selflessness.

But it turns out that psychotherapy is no less cynical, and probably much more so than most industries who rely heavily on advertising to sell their wares, persuading people that their unnecessary products have some wonderful beneficial qualities. As Jeffrey Masson points out, it is simply not possible that therapists can believe their own claims about psychotherapy. They must know that the whole show is kept alive by constantly ignoring or pushing to the backs of their minds all the evidence that there is no special ‘healing’ taking place in the consulting room, that their theories are a disorganised hotchpotch of contradictory folk tales, that they have no special knowledge or abilities and that therefore their claim to some special role as a healer is fraudulent. (Furthermore, most therapists will on a day to day basis find that they have to avoid, for example, analysing their own “slips” or “counter-transference” too much – in case they find, again, that the validity of their claim to be occupying a professional role falls apart).

This is the ultimate betrayal. A betrayal at a whole level above the ordinary manipulations and cynicism of the advertising industry. Therapists tell their customers – who come to them because they have been hurt by cynicism and abuse – that they are pure as the driven snow. They tell their clients something like: “I know you have been abused before by all these cynical abusers but I am different. I am a therapist. I am trustworthy. I never act in an adroit or less than honest way for my own benefit. I really do have your best interests at heart”. And it is a marketing spin no less dishonest than anything a supermarket retailer can dream up. And worse for being set at the level of humanity. A supermarket retail negates truth as it relates to (say) claims of (apparently competing) brands of washing powder. A therapist negates truth at the level of human relationships.