Why therapy gives me that shrinking feeling

'Some reduce the complexity of my inner life to a few devastating fancy terms - denial, transference, narcissistic omnipotence and the like'
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The Independent Online

During the course of a newspaper profile of the therapist Susie Orbach, Will Self let slip a devastating item of information. Not only had he professionally consulted Orbach in the past - he had needed her advice after therapy with another author/shrink, Adam Phillips, failed to work out - but so, he revealed, had his fellow novelists Hanif Kureishi and Tim Lott. It all sounded, he admitted with characteristic delicacy, "like a circle-jerk of the Hampstead middle classes".

During the course of a newspaper profile of the therapist Susie Orbach, Will Self let slip a devastating item of information. Not only had he professionally consulted Orbach in the past - he had needed her advice after therapy with another author/shrink, Adam Phillips, failed to work out - but so, he revealed, had his fellow novelists Hanif Kureishi and Tim Lott. It all sounded, he admitted with characteristic delicacy, "like a circle-jerk of the Hampstead middle classes".

I imagine that I am not the only author who felt a twinge of envy, reading these words. If there's a literary circle-jerk in town, I would like to be part of it. And I have a distant connection with this particular circle: I play football with Lott's brother, the talented midfielder and hairdresser Jack, and I once invited Self to play for the University of East Anglia's Creative Writing XI, to whom he was giving a talk. Crushingly, he replied that writers are not team-players.

Yet here he was, playing in one of today's biggest and most popular games, a part of the therapy team.

Anyone with a bit of money and self-absorption can join in, of course. Most of my friends seem to have been shrunk at some stage and, irritatingly, the process seems to have done them the power of good.

They generally agree that few people are in clearer need of a trip to a friendly Hampstead therapist than I am. "Aha, yes, that's very typical," they say knowingly as a vast, unexplored chasm of psychological dysfunction, the tip of yet another iceberg, is revealed. Some reduce the complexity of my inner life to a few devastating fancy terms - denial, transference, narcissistic omnipotence and the like. One wearily responds with the simple code-word "Hampstead".

So, why not? Frankly, it's not the money that worries me so much as the creative expenditure. What a therapist might see as a condition in urgent need of treatment also happens to be my material. And as yet another issue was resolved, another dark corner illuminated and spring-cleaned, there would surely be less for me to write about.

Some might perhaps argue that Will and Hanif and Tim can hardly be said to have suffered from a lack of material, but it is perhaps significant that their work shares a blurring of fact and fiction, a heavy dependence on the real experience and personal pain, which I am not sure is an entirely positive influence.

Literary historians of the future might well look back to discern the effect of therapy culture on the fiction of these times, noticing a clear divide between those who have been shrink-influenced (Roth? Easton Ellis? Winterson? The later Martin Amis?) and those who have avoided the couch (Updike? Lorrie Moore? Spark? Ishiguro?). I know which side of the great divide I would prefer to be on. On the whole, authors are generally quite self-obsessed enough, without their gut-spilling being legitimised by Hampstead.

There is another, more shaming reason why I shall not joining the circle-jerk. Writing is a competitive business. How could I possibly rival the garish, eventful psycho-histories of my fellow jerkers, with all their much-publicised addictions, their family tragedies, the riotous, ever-changing carnival of dysfunction of their personal lives? What could be more humiliating than to lead Susie Orbach into my own heart of darkness only to find that she is disappointed, maybe even bored? Where she had expected to find Strindbergian tragedy, she beholds Ray Cooney's Theatre of Comedy.

I know what you're thinking - this man needs therapy. But, for the moment, other outlets must suffice for regular outpourings of rage, confession, angst and frustration - which is precisely where you come in. How much do I owe you?

* terblacker@aol.com

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