I was fine until I played Lear

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Today we are lucky enough to have secured the services of Dr Jacob Gestalt, resident psychologist at the National Theatre, who is going to answer all your queries and problems to do with psychology.

Dear Dr Gestalt, I am a 24-year-old man with a painful ingrowing toenail, a mother fixation and an obsessive murderous desire to involve the whole of the present Tory Cabinet in a disastrous mass skiing accident which could never be traced back to me - but enough of my troubles! I really just wanted to ask you what a resident psychologist at a theatre would do.

Dr Gestalt writes: Well, every part in every play involves some sort of psychological preparation, usually outside the actor's experience. So when a production of King Lear is in the offing, I fully expect an actor to come to me and say: "What does it feel like to be an old mad father who is about to reject the only child who really loves him?" If they didn't come to me, I'd be worried. Then, at the end of the run I have to debrief them, and get rid of all the feelings of guilt and inadequacy they have acquired.

Incidentally, I wouldn't worry too much about the mother fixation and the murderous feelings about the government, as this is normal and healthy. I'd get that toenail seen to as soon as possible.

Dear Dr Gestalt, I am told there is a psychological condition in which the sufferer has a perpetual impulse to swear and use foul language, though it is said to be quite rare. Well, I work on a building site and it is extremely common among building workers - I am probably the only one who doesn't use foul language. Do all my fellow workers suffer from this supposedly rare condition? Am I the only healthy one?

Dr Gestalt writes: Different rules apply in different workplaces. In some, foul language is the norm, in the same way that Latin is the norm in botanical circles, and baby language is the norm in the nursery. There is something suspect about the way you do not use foul language on your building site. You may be the only unbalanced one.

Dear Dr Gestalt, What is this condition called "dystopia" that I keep reading about? What are the symptoms and how do I get them?

Dr Gestalt writes: "Dystopia" is one of these trendy words that suddenly acquire tremendous popularity and then just as suddenly go away. But you are right, it is very much the "in" or "buzz" word of the moment, and I have noticed it in frequent use, so much so that I have been meaning to look it up in the dictionary, which iswhat I am doing at the moment, all this chatter is just playing for time, "dystopia", here we are, "the opposite of Utopia, the worst imaginable place" ... Hmmm. Well, not very useful if you ask me. Mark you, words beginning with "dys" are pretty trendy at the moment - "dysfunctional" is another one you get a lot of, especially in Melvyn Bragg's programme on a Monday. I wonder what it means ...

Dear Dr Gestalt, Sorry to interrupt ...

Dr Gestalt writes: Quite all right. I was just wittering away to myself. It's called a displacement activity. Carry on ...

Dear Dr Gestalt, Well, it's about sex, I'm afraid ...

Dr Gestalt writes: Oh, dear. That's not a very good start. If it's about sex, you shouldn't be afraid.

Dear Dr Gestalt, Well, it's about sex, I'm glad to say. I am a normal young person with the normal desires and emotions. The only thing is that I am rather short in stature. Now, I don't know if you have noticed, but whenever you go into a newsagent, the sex magazines are all on the top shelf, and the same is true in video shops of the more explicit videos. Not only are they out of reach of children, they are also out of reach of me, which makes me feel as if my sexual impulses are not being trusted. It's beginning to get me down. What should I do?

Dr Gestalt writes: Buy a stepladder and take it with you.

Dear Dr Gestalt, I know that "shrink" is slang for a psychiatrist. I also know that "rapping" is a kind of black-based improvised verse. But what is "shrink-rapping"?

Dr Gestalt writes: It goes a bit like this ...

Well, you sit down on the settee

And lie right back and talk to me.

Tell me about your mum and dad,

And which it was that treated you bad,

Tell me about your early days

With details of any dysfunctional phase,

Tell me about your favourite sibling,

While I sit here and do my scribbling ...

Dr Gestalt will be back soon.