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Don't feel guilty, therapy will wash it all away

WHAT A skunk he is, I thought, as I listened to Will Carling talking to Fergal Keane about his life, on Radio 4 on Tuesday. But also how stupid. This emotionally illiterate man clearly never considered the possibility that doing this interview was only going to confirm what most of us think of his behaviour towards his lover and their baby son, whom he abandoned for the wife of another rugby player.

No, he had no real regrets, he said, only much greater self-esteem now. It had all been really tough, especially when his baby "came along". No awareness that fornication and ejaculation had anything to do with this arrival, or that his partner had gone through the gruelling business of giving birth. And did we all understand that walking out on your child "is the hardest thing you can ever do"?

Now, we have always had love rats. Some have even achieved wide popularity for having the guts to behave badly with panache. Few people (except old fogies like me) despise Steven Norris and his many willing mistresses, or Alan Clark's covens. The difference is that these days we have to cope with the New Cad, who not only does wrong but then goes all sensitive on himself, finding this reason and that why he should not feel bad, and why he is a much better person for hurting all the people who stood in the way of that first love of his life - himself.

Hanif Kureishi dealt with the cruel abandonment of his twin boys by portraying himself, in his autobiographical novel Intimacy, as a modern, moral warrior unwilling to surrender his needs to the bourgeois demands of others. What Tom Wolfe memorably called the "me euphoria" in the US is now a contagion here. And we too now have our army of counsellors and therapists who can help us all achieve this ultimate love and inner peace. At a price. Sometimes at a very high price.

It is interesting that in the introduction to an illuminating new book, Therapy on the Couch, which aims to debate the usefulness or otherwise of this industry, the editor, Susan Greenberg, says: "Even therapists themselves criticise the `therapy culture' as a popularised travesty".

Well, sure enough, Will Carling has indeed been undergoing therapy, which has given him an air of vapid equanimity by teaching him how not to feel guilty.

How on earth can anyone learn to confront the consequences of their actions if they pay someone to tell them that they have nothing to feel guilty or ashamed of?

Apparently such feelings were not entirely unknown to Carling before he went to his therapist. He admitted during the interview that there was a time when he felt like "the worst person in the country".

He could have allowed himself to suffer these punishing feelings, and perhaps he would have ended up a little more caring and a little more humble. But the rich and famous, it seems, can now buy themselves not only a luxurious life on the outside but a pain-free joyful internal life, too, where conscience has been swept away together with blame, responsibility, self-loathing (which we all need to feel some of the time), and concern for others.

Of course, there are therapists who do not feel that they are there to carry out such spring-cleaning, and who are tough on their clients. I would never argue that all therapy and counselling is a destructive or self-indulgent activity. I have needed help myself and thankfully my psychotherapist was prepared to help me confront my mistakes.

He said something I have never forgotten, and I recommend it to Will Carling: "I'm not here just to make you feel good about yourself. I am not an alcoholic drink. You must understand that even when others hurt you, you are partly responsible. And when you do the hurting, look in the eye of the pain you cause. That is what being grown up is about."