Anybody free tonight who's not in therapy?

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Have you noticed how difficult it is to get your friends to go to the cinema these days? I used to have some sympathy when a few chums cordoned off the odd evening so they could have a spot of counselling. I imagined they'd get things sorted and soon take their rightful place beside me at the multiplex again. Not so. A few years down the line, events have taken a fearful turn: now everyone I have ever met is not only having counselling, they are also in training to dish it out to others. So we're not just talking the standard hour a week - it's night after night, weekend after weekend and even entire summer holidays.

This isn't just down to me knowing weird and scary people - it's a nationwide trend. In the past five years membership of the British Association for Counselling (BAC) has nearly doubled, and since 1990 the number of organisations listed in their training directory has grown over seven times. And that's just an indication of what's happening in the relative mainstream - beyond the BAC, the wilder shores of celestial voyagers and floral interventionists are also drawing increasing numbers of apprentices. There's some debate about whether "counselling" should extend to include everything from these wackier types through to the tighter forms of psychotherapy. As it all boils down to someone telling someone else their problems, it seems reasonable that it should. Whatever you call it, it still leaves me in the dark, eating popcorn, on my own.

A Gestalt friend of mine says it's because people are generally becoming more aware of their problems, but it seems to me that they are too aware. Instead of dealing with what life throws at them and diving back into the fray, they are going on to make a career out of it.

It's this self-perpetuating nature of counselling that I find alarming. lt doesn't happen with anything else you might do for a couple of months when you feel the need. Take driving. If you want to get your licence, you book 20 lessons, pass the test and forget it. You don't then devote every spare minute learning to become a driving instructor yourself; adopt an esoteric interpretation of the world based solely around the Highway Code; mix only with other driving instructors and have their babies.

But this is what happens with counselling. Two of my friends who booked in for a few sessions during a rough patch in 1992 are now doing intensive training to become re-birthing therapists. One took out a massive bank loan and gave up buying clothes and going on holiday to fund it. Anyone in that much hock, reduced to wearing rags and stuck in a flat year round would need a bit of primal screaming.

And where does all this counselling lead? Are they now all holistically integrated and balanced? I recently found myself at a dinner of such persons. When we were shown to our table I (not unreasonably) sat down. The man on my right wanted to change places: "I'm not happy with my seat," said he. "I'm on the end." "Hard luck," I replied. I didn't want to be on the end either, especially as it would have meant only having him to talk to. I was then astonished to witness him crying, after which he went into a series of loud crisis control techniques with his throat and sulked for the whole evening. I later discovered he was much admired in therapy circles for being so in touch with his feelings. But surely one is better off being out of touch with feelings like that.

Another reason given for the increased popularity of professional counselling is the breakdown of old community and family networks which previously did the job over a cup of tea. Of course what this fails to mention is that one of the main reasons social systems (like, for instance, the local cinema) have collapsed is because everyone is too busy training to be a counsellor to keep them going.

Obviously there are times in people's lives when counselling is necessary, but turning it into a lifestyle throws this out of focus. If you go into trauma because you don't like where you're sitting, how are you going to cope when you lose your job/partner/house/hair?

But the lifestyle approach is very popular. Someone who heads a large counselling agency told me that all childhood is a trauma which we need to spend our adult life "in recovery" from. Given that the BAC fears there will soon be too many counsellors for the work available, this is good news for the newly qualified but terrible for those of us who were rather hoping to have a little engagement with the world around us before we die

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