The New Observer Psychotherapy Therapy Aphorisms 3 [Psychotherapy]

Therapy Aphorisms 3 [Psychotherapy]

0 Comment 12:36 pm

This text forms part of my series on psychotherapy. For the personal context (e.g. my dealings with Leon Redler, a sidekick of discredited sixties psychiatrist R. D. Laing, please see my therapy page). Some of the points relate specifically to my experiences with Redler – others are more general.

1. They steal your life.

Therapists steal the lives of their victims.

Common to all therapists is the belief that they can run your life better than you. It may thus come as something of a surprise when one learns about the messed up lives that one’s therapist leads. In my case; a broken marriage. Based on the propaganda and the claim that they can help you run your life perfectly one would expect that their lives would be shining examples of virtue, fulfilment and success. But in general they aren’t.  One story I’ve heard is that a therapist was apparently beaten up by her son and conducted a therapy session with two black eyes! This, of course, is why it is so important for therapists not to talk about their private lives. The illusion of being a superior being to the client mustn’t come under any threat. 

So, these inadequate people “help” their clients by getting their clients to tell them their problems. The client pours out their problems. (Naturally enough; they really do have problems and need someone to advise them). But then the twist happens. The client is led to believe that the source of the problems in the world lies deep in their past and in their ‘unconscious’. And that resolution to these problems doesn’t happen in the world, by engaging with the world, but by this private discourse (in fact not discourse; it is entirely one-way) between therapist and patient. The patient gives emotionally while the therapist sits there with their paid-for “listening service” – and gives nothing of themselves in return. And while this goes on the patient is ever increasingly drawn away from engagement in the real world – where they belong and where their problems actually need to be solved. 

The therapist steals their emotional energy and their money. A cunning trick. They do this either, in the better cases, for purely mercenary motives. Or, in the worst cases, out of personal inadequacy. An inadequacy which they are trying to compensate for by lording it over the client. 

2. The natural process

Therapy, all forms of therapy, tell you that “self-development” is a natural process. You have to let it happen. The idea is that there is some kind of natural inner process. You have to stop blocking it – you have to “release” the blocks.  “The answer lies within”. Your therapist can help stimulate this natural process.

This is fundamentally not true. There is no inner natural process of development. Self-development; if it means a stronger mind, “knowing yourself”, better ethics – or any other criteria which philosophers have put forwards throughout history as criteria for self-development means effort. Anything meaningful requires effort. It doesn’t happen by itself.

The “self-development” which therapists talk about started in California in the sixties. It is a hedonistic ideal of emotional self-indulgence. It requires no self-discipline. Its highest virtue is “losing your inhibitions”.

“Radical psychotherapy” e.g. that practised by Laing and his sidekick Redler is an especially egregious form of this culture of emotional indulgence and hedonism posing as spirituality.

3. Not Buddhism

All moderns forms of therapy and counselling are derived from Freud and psychoanalysis. They’ve dropped the parts which are inconvenient from a marketing point of view and rewritten the cover story a bit (“insight” has taken over from “transference”). But it’s basically the same product.

And the key here is that Freud based his theories on “hysterical” patients in a hospital. The root idea is that the doctor cures the patient. The patient is… the patient. Passive, ignorant of science, the patient should passively receive the cure dispensed by the all-knowing and wise (usually male) doctor. The patient is required to take no initiative, take no responsibility for their own situation, understand nothing, simply “align their behaviours with the course of treatment”. And all will be well.

Which is, fundamentally, not how things work. The very opposite is true. To resolve her problems the patient needs to take the initiative, needs to take responsibility for her own mind and develop understanding. In Buddhism this is made clear; purifying your mind is a personal matter. No one can do it for you. It is particularly sad to see so-called “radical” therapists trying to link therapy to Buddhism. Buddhism is concerned with developing the mind. Therapy is about encouraging he client to wallow in emotional indulgence and passing this process off as something useful. (Again; the only concrete outcome is that money and prestige accrue to the therapist).

Mental development simply doesn’t come from telling someone stories about childhood emotional disappointments for £40.00 an hour.  This way leads to dependency, fragility and a weak mind. To change your life you need to take individual effort and concrete steps to develop your mind and take actual steps in the real world.

4. Skills v. treatment

Getting better at your life is a question of developing a certain skill in handling situations. Therapy, with its model of illness and treatment, does not help in the slightest with this task.

Therapy will tell you that you need to lance a boil and then your life will be better. The model is a medical one; your problems in life have a cause (the boil) and if you remove this then things will go better. But the reality is that for things to go better in your life you have to learn new behavioural skills. It is an active process, led by reason and the conscious mind. removing a supposed boil (in fact it doesn’t exist) may make you appear better in the eyes of the therapist. The therapist is fixing the patient as an object – (removing the boil which ’causes’ his problems). But you are a subject and being fixed as an object will bring no benefit. On the contrary; in as much as you accept this objectified view of yourself you will be diminished and will be in a worse position than if you had no contact with therapy at all.

5. You’re the sick one

The ideology of R. D. Laing was that everyone was sick or “off-track”. This of course meant that normal healthy people should be treated as if they were very seriously ill.

The motivation to do this is of course to do with the size of the market. Laing made his name by promoting the idea that ‘schizophrenics’ were more intelligible than generally believed and that it was possible to talk with them; if you listened to them rather than put them into a clinical pigeon-hole then what they said made sense. Based on this he developed a form of therapy which involved listening carefully to the schizophrenic rather than prescribing treatment (lobotomy, drugs etc.). The problem is that there aren’t all that many diagnosed schizophrenics around. Worse; once you are operating in the private sector, as Laing was when he left his NHS post, you don’t have access to any. Thus the need to develop a ‘theory’ that would explain why everyone needs this treatment. This was the sociological theory that society is “off-course”, that everyone in it is therefore ‘off-course’ (or has lost their way in Redler’s rendition), and that schizophrenics are the beacons showing the way back. (Analysing ideologies in terms of their actual driving forces is an established part of sociological methodology. Laing didn’t have a sociological awareness and so could not critique his own ideology).

From a clinical point of view this means that anyone who comes to see the therapist is automatically seized upon as someone who suffers from this predefined societal condition. They are “off-course” or “out-of-touch with themselves”. This means that everyone gets the same treatment, regardless of their unique and individual circumstances. And, thus we have come full circle. A standardized treatment being blindly and insensitively being provided without any real attempt to get to know the patient as an individual.

Laing’s theory fails precisely because it lacked any real social critique or sociological analysis. It just reproduced the patterns (paradigms) of this society such as top-down hierarchical delivery of services and disciplinary mechanisms of power, in a new form.

6. How they screw you over

Everyone needs confirmation. An infant develops precisely by receiving confirmation from his or her mother. But this need for confirmation doesn’t stop when you grow you. Most people, even the most ‘normal’ or healthy retain some need for confirmation. People who are vulnerable because they are going through a difficult time may ‘regress’ somewhat and need more confirmation. These are the people who are targeted by therapy advertising. Those who have been bereaved, who have lost their job, ended a relationship or just are “confused about life direction”.

When they go to see their therapist will they get confirmation? No. The chief ‘method’ of the therapist is precisely to deny them this confirmation. There is some psychoanalytic theory here – this (apparently) breaks down (undermines) unhealthy patterns – and in this breakdown new adaptations will develop. (Laing’s ‘treatment’ of schizophrenics being a case in point). In fact what this will do is just make the patient lose what confidence they had. They will become dependent and vulnerable. “One day this important person (with all these ‘medical’ credentials) will answer me, will confirm what I say, will offer me confirmation”. The patient lives on in hope. In fact the therapist will never offer confirmation. The patient’s already low self-confidence just ebbs away. Ideal from the point of view of the therapist who continues to collect the fat fee as long as this goes on.

The theory is that if no confirmation is offered the old maladaptive patterns are broken and the patient will create new and “autonomous” ones – will become an adult. But in reality the “therapeutic relationship” with its “asymmetry of power” provides no context in which the patient – defined as “sick” by the very nature of being a “patient” – can develop these supposed adult patterns. Therapy simply goes round and round, undermining the old patterns (including the useful ones), while never providing the social context (an actual close relationship or straightforward advice) in which new patterns could develop.

7. It is always your fault

The simple (and obvious) fact is that if people are messed up someone messed them up. Human beings are amazingly resilient. Children can grow and develop in the harshest of environments. The norm is for self-development. Apart from cases of actual physical disability (and therapy is completely silent on those) if people are messed up it is because someone screwed them up. But therapy cannot accept this because it would mean that the focus of the work should really be on applying justice to those who did the messing up (sexual and serious emotional abuse) not on ‘treating’ those who experienced it. And there would therefore be no ‘therapy’ and no fees. The analogy for this in terms of disciplinary systems is how these days (this is a social myth but grounded in real experience of course) if you report a crime to the police you will be offered victim support counselling but there is no chance of them actually trying to catch the criminals.

I remember when I told Leon Redler about my experiences of child sexual abuse at a prep-school in Oxford. (The ‘Dragon’ school). I told him that I had spoken to the police about some of the abusers and I had given them a set of letters from my friends supporting my claims. I had approached the police not because I seriously wanted them to prosecute the abusers, ( I thought it unlikely that they would), but because I felt it important to clarify that what had happened; much of which had been passed off as ‘normal school discipline’, had in fact been abuse. Redler immediately misunderstood and assumed that I was after a criminal prosecution. He then proceeded to mock my (supposed, not in fact actual) desire for vengeance. To impute that there was something wrong with me for wanting this legal revenge. The police did not launch a case because, they said, the offences (touching, groping, indecent assault) were below their bar for historical cases. This was in the 1990s. I suspect that they were also afraid of tackling the prep-school which was well established in the local power structures; the headmaster at the time of my contact with the police even sat on an important local Social Services committee. Nonetheless the fact that the police ‘believed’ me and agreed with me that there were concerns made some small difference and ‘cleared the air’ a little for me.

From the point of view of therapy though all this is ‘external’. It needs police officers, detectives, lawyers, and courts, not therapists – and thus provides no income stream for them. So they ignore it or, as in the case above, to refocus the matter on the feelings of the ‘patient’ – and to make a problem of these. Redler invented a catchy little phrase for his therapy business “Just Listening” but there was no concern at all for justice here. Justice is a social concept and therapy turns away from the social; it is conducted as a private matter between an isolated individual and surveilling consciousness (the therapist) which takes place in a private consulting room (or living room). When Redler responded to my account of being abused and of having reported it to the police by mocking my supposed feeling of vengeance he was, urgently, getting away from the external world where the abuse took place and where, in fact, the resolution needed to take place. This internalisation of the problem (your feelings of vengeance are the problem here) in the patient aligns with the old-fashioned view which makes the one who experienced abuse the sick one, “you dirty boy with your dirty mind, how could you let the teacher stick his hand down your pyjamas” – which was the view that was prevalent in the onlookers and enablers of the abuse at my 1970s prep-school. Jeffrey Masson has charted how Freud initially believed that his clients really had suffered sexual abuse but changed the focus to blame their supposed internal phantasy mechanisms. Masson argues that this was done by Freud in order to allow the development of his treatment model. The internalisation of abuse as something chiefly a matter of the patient’s feelings and phantasy life is a way of making money out of actual sexual abuse. It goes without saying that there can be no resolution of the problem here and that this false framing will hinder not help people who have experienced abuse.

My main motive in approaching the police in this matter was to receive clarification that what had happened was wrong. The whole motif of the abuse from one of the main perpetrators at this school had been precisely to blur boundaries between the normal world (right and wrong, school rules, normal punishment) and a weird and sexually deviant world of his own. The police can only offer (it is true) justice and ‘revenge’. This can help a little bit; people who receive this kind of justice will certainly feel listened to and, if the case is successfully prosecuted, a clarification that what happened was wrong. But the helpful part is the clarification; not the punishment of the criminal. I would agree with Redler that simply exercising revenge is not helpful. (Though, as I mention above, this was not my primary motive and was something which Redler imputed to me). On the other hand, surprisingly, therapy cannot provide the simple clarification “I hear you, I believe you and what happened was wrong” that people who have been abused may benefit from. This is because therapy is a commercial operation. If the therapist really thought child sexual abuse was wrong he would join with his client in solidarity in denouncing it. And this solidarity would necessarily mean giving up charging fees. That would be the end of therapy. Neither therapy nor the courts can help someone who has been sexually abused. But the courts can offer something tangible – a social clarification of what is right and wrong. Therapy cannot even offer this.

8. No response

I’ve been reading a book by Phoebe Caldwell Finding You Finding Me. The book contains a moving description of how Caldwell connects to people with autism by entering into their world. For example; if a young man is obsessively playing with a piece of string she doesn’t dimiss this as a negative behaviour. Rather, she gets involved – joins in, tries to find the game. Caldwell talks about how important it is to give people a meaningful response. This raises their self-esteem and establishes the basis for a meaningful relationship. Caldwell discusses how once a meaningful response is given the person can move on to the next step, and so, a relationship can develop. If someone never receives a meaningful response they can’t move on to the next step; they remain stuck in their inner world. This is why in her work with autistic people Caldwell makes such an effort to give people a meaningful response.

Psychotherapy of course strives to do exactly the opposite. The one consistent practice is not to give the client a response. In the case of this writer Leon Redler simply sat there hiding behind a clipboard “taking notes”. (For all I know he could have been working out his next shopping list). This really is the central method/trick of psychoanalytically derived psychotherapy. The therapist does not give the client a meaningful response. And so the client cannot ‘move on’. And so they sit there, stuck and frustrated, unable to go forwards, their self-esteem and confidence slowly ebbing away. An ideal situation from the point of view of the therapist interested primarily in their fee.

Ricard Webster makes just this point about the trick of psychoanlysis in his book Why Freud was Wrong – Sin, Science and Psychoanalysis. [2] It is by letting the client tell the therapist their secrets but by withholding any response that the therapist makes it hard for the client to leave.

9. Two types of psychotherapist

There are two types of therapists. The first believe in it. This type think of themselves as lordly helpers. They are weak individuals who compensate for their weakness by “helping” others. These ones are the most harmful.

The second type are in it for the money. Being a therapist is an easy way of earning £25.00 – £60.00 ph with no serious qualifications. They often work from home and have no overheads. If they weren’t therapists many of these people would struggle to get employment as a shop-assistant. These people cause much less harm because occasionally, despite the greed, they are able to relate to people normally. (Which is, after all, what the vast majority of people “in therapy” need).

10. Laingianism

  1. I am so wonderful and such a developed human being that people are healed just by sitting in my presence.
  2. Everyone needs this kind of healing.
  3. My accountant handles the fees.

11. Redler’s method

It is difficult to know. He never told me – (I didn’t ask; as discussed elsewhere I fell into the role of passive and trusting patient pretty easily at the first push). It may not even be a method; rather a series of tactics. But I think I note the following; 1) a very earnest attempt to focus the patient’s attention internally. If I discussed the external world he would want to refocus my attention on my interior world as quickly as possible. 2) An attempt to discourage me from thinking about my problems. 3) An attempt to sabotage my attempts at independence and to foster anything which would lead to increased dependency – on him, on my family, on social structures, 4) an attempt to prioritise the emotional aspect of any situation.

In fact this is Laing’s regression technique which he used with people severely ill with schizophrenia. (And which, as Foucault has shown, is based in 19th century asylums).

Whether or not it is helpful for people in such a state I don’t know. Maybe it is.

What I am clear about is that it was entirely inappropriate to use with a young man in full possession of all his faculties whose actual existential problem (I use the word existential deliberately) was in fact “what should I do with my life” – that is essentially a problem of careers guidance.

I was very clear with Redler that this was my problem; – I didn’t know what to do with my life. It was obvious I was not severely mentally ill. What was he doing applying a technique evolved (by a single maverick practitioner) to deal with severe cases of schizophrenia?

12. You are just shuffling paperclips

One of Redler’s tactics was to undermine my self-confidence. I’m afraid I think this was quite deliberate. For example; when I was about 22 I had a job in London for a national level charity. I had two roles; one was to manage the membership database – handle enquiries about membership etc., and the other was to edit and do the layout of the charity’s newsletter. The former was something of a clerical role, the latter quite creative. It could easily have been the starting point for a meaningful career in PR in the charity sector. I can’t remember the exact context but at one point when I was discussing this job with Redler he disparagingly said something like “all you are doing there is shuffling paperclips”. Obviously this undermined my confidence and ‘damaged my self-esteem’. It wasn’t even accurate. I would guess that the context for this remark was that Redler himself does not appear, based on his online CV, to have ever held a ‘real’ job. He seems to have moved from being a student via a highly dubious “apprenticeship” with a struck-off drug-using psychiatrist to his bizarre private practice as an “independent mental health expert” (or some phrase like that). Of course he had to disparage his relatively speaking normal client who in normal terms had already achieved more than him.

Another occasion; I had, after some struggle, left the ‘Therapeutic Community’ which Redler had referred me to. I came into the first therapy session following this with (I recall) considerable bounce in my step. Redler noticed this and made a snide remark about how you are walking confidently (or something along those lines). Of course, drawing attention to an aspect of someone’s behaviour is a sure-fire way of getting them to stop it. Instead of ‘validating’ my decision and resultant increase in self-confidence Redler was attacking it. Of course; the next step after getting rid of the weight of this ‘Therapeutic Community’ would have been to kick him out. He was sabotaging this possibility. Like a cult leader he was always engaged in making me dependent on him. Possibly like a cult leader he somehow believed that this was in my interests. (Jim Jones believed it was in the interests of his followers to poison themselves rather than be rescued by US authorities).

13. Undermining the client

Key to Redler’s “method” was to consistently undermine the independence of the client. In the above and in my other writings I have given a lot of examples of this. He constantly targeted any signs of independence; any initiative I took that might have taken me out of therapy was especially targeted (my visit to a Buddhist centre was targeted because he understood, correctly that I might have replaced him with Buddhism, my breaking free of his ‘therapy household’ was, rather blatantly, targeted, because, of course, he understood he might have been next, and so on).

Of course in part this was simply because I (a client) represented a valuable income stream. For someone like Redler who outside of the therapy world was simply someone with a (I think 2) Undergraduate University degrees and a rather blank CV, keeping clients glued to him was obviously essential. But also, and rather sadly, this point is possibly to his credit, it that is saves him from simply being a complete charlatan; undermining the independence of the client is actually a valid psychiatric technique. (See Foucault’s Madness and Civilization). Essentially, the idea of 19th century psychiatry was madness was caused by too much wilfulness and independence on the part of the patients. The cure was to reduce them to the status of a minor. This was all that Redler was doing. He was practising 19th century authoritarian psychiatry.

I remember how, early on in the “treatment” I had told him that I had had some sessions of CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) on the NHS in Oxford. I told him I thought psychoanalysis might help me more. Of course he was eager to encourage and fan this view; he waved CBT away. Of course that won’t help you at all. With hindsight; CBT is a modern technique with limited aims which might help some people. It has a specific aim and method; nothing is shrouded in mystique (“transference”, “insight”, “the therapeutic relationship”). The patient can see for themselves if it is working. I’m not particular extolling CBT but it contrasts with psychotherapy (psychoanalytical) in that doesn’t seek to engender long-term dependence on the part of the client. Because it is ‘delivered’, usually, in the publicly free to use NHS it is largely free of the financial imperative which drives private psychotherapy.

14. Causing harm in the name of doing good

I came across this in a book on meditation recently:

The meditator’s intention is to purge her own mind of anger, prejudice, and ill will, and she is actively engaged in the process of getting rid of greed, tension, and insensitivity. Those are the very items that obstruct her compassion for others. Until they are gone, any good works that she does are likely to be just an extension of her own ego, and of no real help in the long run. Harm in the name of help is one of the oldest games. The grand inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition spouted the loftiest of motives. [3]

And, indeed, Redler, his disgraced “mentor” R. D. Laing, and in general all therapists do indeed “spout the loftiest of motives”. (Especially Laing). If you look at therapeutic literature you will find endless claims that therapists are motivated by a disinterested desire to “help” their patients. It is taken as self-evidently true that no therapist could conceivably ever be motivated by their own need for money. In reality – take a step back – this is absurd. Therapists (and “counsellors”) are typically self-employed individuals running in effect small businesses. Like any other individual running a small business they have bills to pay, rent, a mortgage, (family members who demand money with menaces in the case of one of my therapists), alimony, and so on. And given a choice between easing their client into a few more sessions, or lots more sessions, or forgoing the income they always choose what is objectively best for the client in a disinterested way? They never think about their own income? This would make them either very irresponsible individuals or saints, in fact both; some kind of crazy saints. It is transparently delusional and not true. Either they believe it in which case they are delusional and can hardly help you with your sanity, or they are conning you.

15. The patient hoax

Central to psychotherapy is the idea that the “client” is ill/sick. The client is the patient. Someone being treated. Ill.

The vast majority of people “in” psychotherapy are not “ill” in any sense at all. Having problems in life is absolutely normal. It is part of life. If you don’t know what to do with your life, feel adrift after a relationship breakup, or have some bad habits you need to break – you aren’t ill. This is just part of life. Part of the fun of life is solving these problems.

“Ill” is a tactic to i. create the necessary power imbalance ii. disable any criticism from the “patient” of the process (“you think my interpretations are off – but remember, you are the sick one here”) and iii. create a framework in which the paying of fees can seem normal.

Psychotherapy medicalizes ordinary life in just the same way that the pharmaceutical industry does. Psychotherapy is not an alternative to medical psychiatry. It is another wing of the same department; a rather clever act of marketing diversification. (The old manipulation chestnut – offer people a choice of A or B when both choices in fact lead to the manipulative outcome you desire: in this case making money out of people’s emotional problems).

Some writers don’t believe in the concept of “mental illness” at all. At any event anyone who would actually fall into this category, someone with a diagnosis of schizophrenia for example, will never (or highly rarely) be accepted by psychotherapists. In fact they know they are offering snake oil and they are careful not to take on anyone who is actually ill/who has real problems. But what kind of medical help is this where one of the main criterion for acceptance as a patient is that there is in fact nothing wrong with you?

One is tempted to say to people “in” therapy; “take up your bed and walk”. Of course (I understand) this is not easy. From the very first session the therapist works overtime to create a sense of dependency in the client. They get the client to entrust their secrets to them and give nothing of themselves in return. This is the anchor which ties the client to the therapist. The anchor is your secrets which are now held by the therapist, somewhere. (In a notebook? Shared with his wife? Written up in some ‘paper’ somewhere? Shared publicly at a ‘conference’? Maybe all of these and more. You have no idea). He is not going to give the anchor back. Never. That would create a symmetrical relationship; the one thing they are absolutely determined to avoid because it would break the business model. The only way out now is to break the chain. It is hard to break this chain. It causes anxiety. But it is the only way.

16. What is psychotherapy?

Therapy (and counselling) is an elaborate and well-worked racket perpetrated by (usually) lower-middle class people of moderate intellectual ability who are motivated to get revenge on the middle-classes and have an easy life without doing anything resembling real work. Notice how they mimic professional middle-class patterns; fee-paying client-professional relationships, academic supervision, private health, writing academic papers, and so on.

17. You are evil

In one ‘session’ fairly early on in my encounter with Redler he said “You are evil”. I was very taken aback. I can’t remember exactly what the lead-up to it was. (I certainly hadn’t said anything ‘evil’). I don’t think there was much; it was just something he was thinking. I asked him to clarify. It was something about not fulfilling my potential. Well; at least he’d read a book about humanistic self-development and picked something up. It seems the point was I wasn’t (true) fulfilling my potential. I was probably not in a job where I could do that. But let’s take a step back.

I had gone to see this great expert in “self-development” – this “Dr”. My presenting problem was quite specific. “I don’t know what to do with my life”. That is, I was a young man finding it hard to put my abilities and talents to use – I lacked a sense of direction. That is what I was asking (and paying) this ‘expert’ to help me with – this question – how to fulfill my potential. His response – to turn round and say “you are evil” – because I wasn’t achieving my potential! We see here the extent to which Redler was disconnected, the extent to which he was not paying any attention, the extent to which the language about helping people with “self-development” in a “therapeutic relationship” is simply false. Jeffrey Masson is very good on this – he notes how therapists are, despite all the rhetoric about the “caring professions”, usually anything but caring. In fact they generally not very interested in their clients, see them negatively, and are not helping them at all.

This was basically Redler abusing a vulnerable person – and is exactly the nature of therapy which Masson exposes so well.

18. People like talking about themselves!

I don’t suppose I am unique in quite liking filling out questionnaires about myself. Even filling in those feedback forms about a service you have received can be vaguely stimulating. Psychological surveys such as those you might be asked to fill out for a careers interview are even more interesting. In general people like being asked about themselves.

So, it is no surprise that people like the attention they receive in psychotherapy. The therapist may be no more really interested in you as a person than the supermarket who asks your opinion about their new product range, but, even so, there is some kind of addictive feeling involved in completing these questionnaires – and answering the therapist’s questions. It makes you feel important, the centre of attention.

Therapy exploits this to keep the patients coming back. But – inflating your ego, feeding your own narcissism is not, in reality, about “self-development”, “realising your autonomy” or whatever. It is a pointless exercise that essentially goes round in circles.

19. Prince Harry

One can hardly avoid noticing the public circus surrounding the Royal Couple. One of the most recent episodes concerned Harry’s ghostwritten book. I haven’t read it. According to reports it is concerned with his grievances about life in the Royal Family. A lot of media pundits offered explanations for why he might have published this book. I suspect the answer lies in the fact that Prince Harry is (or was) apparently “in therapy”. Therapy encourages you to dwell on every slight and insult you received, even those which happened many years ago, in your childhood. It encourages you to air these, to confront the people responsible, and so on. (I remember being told by a middle-aged woman once how she was used to receiving emails from her grown-up son about episodes from his childhood when he felt hurt; she hadn’t given him a certain toy, or whatever. All these minor episodes being dragged up from the past and hurled at her).

I think this probably the main explanation for Harry’s book. He really believes that this will “clear the air” and help improve his relationship with his family. He believes this because this is the myth of therapy. In fact; this is not the way to improve relations. The actual function of this ideology is a) to give the therapist an elevated position, as a kind of judge and overseer of conflicts and b) to damage human relationships. Therapy is in fact toxic to human relationships.

20. Redler – bursting with confidence

Redler always seemed to be very confident about everything. Even when he made obvious mistakes – such as forgetting an appointment he had promoted to meet with my father and I together, and saying I had talked about my “inner snake” when I had done no such thing, he quickly recovered. This “confidence” increased his power over me; he seemed so sure he was right about everything, I felt maybe he was. (Plus the “Dr” title, based on, as far as I can see, an undergraduate medical degree in the US, and the shelves of books). I have learned since of course, that people from certain parts of the US believe in a policy of “fake it till you make it”. They simply pretend to be confident and sure of themselves – it is an artificial front. Of course, at the time, I had no experience of this game and simply trusted that he was being sincere; he really was massively self-confident.

21. Two types of psychotherapist (2)

There are two types of therapist. One will cling to you for emotional support. The other will cling to you for money. Some, both, of course.

22. You are evil

I’ve covered this one before but it still sticks in my mind and I think it really does provide some insight into how out of touch Redler was. One one occasion he said “you are evil”. The context was I was talking about how unsatisfied I was with my life. He explained that I was evil because I was not fulfilling my potential. The problem with this is that I had gone to see Dr (?) Redler with the specific problem, “I don’t know what to do with my life”. Redler advertised his services as helping with “self-development”. Now, he is turning round and instead of helping with this problem he is telling his young client “you are evil”. This is like going to see a doctor, a real one, for problems with weight-loss and compulsive over-eating and being told “you are an evil fat person who eats too much”. Apart from anything else it shows us that Redler simply had no answers; he was not able to give advice. He had, in fact, no professional skills in this area.

This was part of a pattern of deliberately attacking the self-esteem of his client. I can only guess at the motive but I think twofold. Firstly, it made him feel better. After all, it does not appear that outside of his therapy business, based as it was on an informal “apprenticeship” rather than any actual training or qualifications Redler did not, himself, have a real career. Secondly, by beating down on his client’s self-esteem he made it harder for the client to leave.

Redler apparently regarded (or regards, I neither know nor care) himself as an expert in matters of personal development and mental health. In reality he is a rather un-insightful individual, with little in the way of professional experience, and little to give, who, based more or less entirely on his own self-assessment, has decided that he is a profound human being with great helping capacity.

23. The medical model and the deficit

The basic model of psychotherapy is that there is something wrong with the client. This is already dishonest. The marketing literature for psychotherapy often emphasises the positive of therapy; it is about, for example, “self-development”. Even so, once they’ve got you in the chair, you will find that there is something wrong with you; some deficit. Remember Laing’s insightful remark that when the whole flock is off-course the one who is not flying with the flock may be on track. The key here is that the whole flock is off course. That is you and me. So – either you there is something wrong with you because you have a neurotic illness based on alleged not rescinded childhood phantasises or simply because you are an “intact” and functioning member of society. The one member of the flock who is off course from the flock it turns out they don’t really care about at all. (The radical institution which Laing set up to care for these psychotic visionaries and mystics actually states rather blandly in its Aims statement that it is about helping “schizophrenics”).

The deficit model is how the therapist imposes their weakness on you. A bit like a psychopathic killer does.

24. Their concerns, not yours

The marketing discourse tries to give the impression that they are interested in you and in your problems. In reality, therapists have no more broken out of the trap of self-centredness than anyone else. As I have mentioned before; there are two basic motivations driving therapists (and “counsellors”). The least harmful type are simply motivated by easy money. The other type actually believe they are doing good. This is the more harmful type. Far from helping you they are looking for allies in their scheme of emotionalising (and trivialising) everything. They want to reduce you to the state of being an emotional child; who responds to the world purely at the emotional level. This is called prioritising the emotions. Professor Frank Furedi calls it the cultivation of the “diminished self”. This world, where everything is processed at an emotional level, is an apolitical, pre-adult, world. It is usually linked to sensual indulgence. The chief ethic in this world is: “if it feels good it must be good”. The root of this pathetic and selfish ideology is in America in the 60s when there was a kind of revolt by the younger generation against some of the formality and restrictiveness of their parents. The movement was probably largely driven by TV and drugs. This is all they are concerned about. They do not, in fact, have the slightest interest in your problems. And, in most cases, because of their own lack of serious development could not help you even if they could break out of their selfishness and wanted to.

As an example; consider Leon Redler. His answer to my actual “presenting question”, that is – what I needed help with as a young man, was “get in touch with yourself… man”. We could add: “let it all hang out”, “go with the flow” and so on. But – my main question was existential; what to do with my life. How to develop and apply my abilities and talents in a useful and constructive way. On this Redler had nothing to say. Expressing my emotions more gushingly and openly, even if a worthwhile project, (I don’t think so), wasn’t going to help me decide on a career path.

The false claim is that “getting in touch with your feelings” is some kind of universal panecea for everything. It isn’t. It is just a particular cult, which turns away from life and promotes a kind of selfish little bubble.

25. You need someone to talk to?

Indeed you do. It helps everyone (one assumes) to have someone to talk things through with; life decisions, problems, difficult situations, worries, and so on. Talking things through with a sympathetic friend can help you gain perspective on your problem. As therapists generally acknowledge, people turn to therapy “because they haven’t got any friends”. This is the more honest version; the ‘official’ line from therapy associations is that therapists offer some kind of superior listening which friends cannot provide, as they are not trained specialists. But the first version is more factual; people who have good friends (which could include a relative, lover or friend – just someone they can talk to) do not in general “enter therapy”. In essence then therapy is simply mercantalizing a social need – for someone to talk to. If that was all it was it would perhaps not be so bad. They would be simply exploiting social isolation and selling something which people need and which, if all is going well, they can get ‘for free’ from friends. (Like people selling tap water in tourist hotspots in the summer).

However; the core point is that precisely at the point you put a price on human solidarity it ceases to become solidarity. Therapy is a false substitute. The kind of listening provided by therapy, precisely the opposite of what they claim, will not help you. It won’t help you because it lacks the vital ingredient; solidarity. The liars in the official therapy associations try to cover this fundamental truth by their line that therapy is some kind of superior listening, better than the listening provided by friends. But anyone who has been “in therapy” knows that this is not the case; therapists frequently do all the things which the supposedly inferior social-voluntary listening does; they try to impose their values on the clients, they talk about themselves, they exploit their clients for money and sex.

In fact worse; unlike ordinary social-voluntary listening therapists will try to break informal relations with other people. (Because this is competition and using the SWOT business analysis is a clear threat). They will divert conversations away from sexual abuse – because talking about this makes them uncomfortable. If people are in a mess because they were sexually abused therapy does not want to know – because that calls on them to break out of their business model and respond on a human level – which means the end of their business. Friends generally won’t do this. (Think about this; imagine you were sexually abused as a child. Some teacher interfered with your private parts. You now tell a friend about what happened when you were a child. They express shock and horror. “How awful for you”, they say, with real feeling. Now imagine the therapist’s reaction; he calmly writes a note in his notes and says nothing at all!!! And that is probably the best reaction. In other cases they will actively change the subject. Does anyone, other than therapists, really believe that the second response is more helpful for people? The haha clinical justification for the therapist’s response is that their silence will tease out the client’s ‘real’ feelings, the ‘supressing’ of which is actually the root cause of their problems, – but, the client has just expressed their real feelings! They are not ‘hiding’ their real feelings. So – what they actually experience is coldness and indifference).

Yes; finding someone to talk to is probably a necessity for most people. But therapists are poisoning the well with their false friendship based on nonsense and pseudo-clinical theories. If you don’t have any friends there are several options; join an interest or hobby group and find some, take advantage of a voluntary community initiative to help people in your position, or, at least talk to your GP – because the NHS (UK) is still a public body it is still linked into solidarity.

Notes

  1. Phoebe Caldwell Finding You Finding Me 2005
  2. Ricard Webster Why Freud was Wrong – Sin, Science and Psychoanalysis. Basic Books 1996.
  3. Gunaratana, Henepola. Mindfulness in Plain English (pp. 20-21). Wisdom Publications. Kindle Edition.