Therapists? They just make me weep

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The Independent Online
IN HER new novel, and in a splendidly impassioned interview last week, Fay Weldon gives her fictional and factual views on therapists. Briefly, she doesn't like 'em.

She goes further - oh, much, much further. She calls them meddling, unqualified, blinkered, inept, ignorant, sometimes malicious and always dangerous. Posing as marriage-menders, they are in truth marriage-wreckers. In support of some preposterous notion of 'emotional correctness', they crash around in the fragile ground-cover of people's relationships, tearing up by the roots their secrets and pretences; their private jokes and most intimate practices. They - the therapists, not their victims (sorry: clients) - emerge unmoved, stone-faced, having exposed the guts of two people's innermost lives.

Like ancient soothsayers reading the entrails of - geese, was it? - they gaze on these guts and pronounce on the relationship. Not long afterwards, the unhappy couple decide that a swift death ('a non-judgemental, mutually negotiated separation') is preferable to lingering suffering ('retrogressive inertia'). Where therapists purport to help, they often destroy.

The first therapist I visited, back in the early Sixties before the Marriage Guidance Council was called Relate, probably did no further harm to a marriage that was already unsustainable, though she certainly accelerated its end.

My second attempt, 10 years later, resulted in the therapist informing my good-looking but deeply troubled partner that, should he choose to leave me, her home was always open to him. Not suprisingly, he became her lodger (I said lodger) in no time at all.

As I read Fay Weldon's words, I knew the relief of hearing a taboo defied, a received truth questioned, the unsayable said. For she had articulated something that has nagged at me for decades. It has been, for too long, a truth universally acknowledged that a problem shared with a therapist is well on the way to being solved.

In the case of the Menendez brothers, their problem was that they had murdered their parents in circumstances of exceptional brutality and then immediately spent their money in an orgy of vulgar acquisition. Guilty as hell, you might think; but the canny therapists devised a scenario whereby the poor boys (these boys were in their twenties) had been viciously sexually abused by their parents since early childhood. With the parents conveniently dead and unable to speak in their own defence, the burden of blame was shifted on to them. The jury (this was, after all, California, home of psycho-babble, in Los Angeles, contemporary tower of Babel) found the argument sufficiently convincing to be deadlocked, and unable to reach a verdict. The 'boys', still in jail, are to have a retrial.

America has caught on in a big way to the therapists' favourite notion that nothing is ever your own fault; it's all the responsibility of your parents. The latest fad is false memory syndrome, whereby you were sexually abused even though you can't remember it. Are you suffering from insecurity, low self-esteem, inability to make or sustain relationships? Do you earn less than you would wish? Do people kick sand in your face? Join the club - come on in - you, too, were abused. You've forgotten, your parents deny it, the whole family denies it, but if therapy 'uncovers' it, then it must be true.

Why do people fall for this nonsense? Why should therapists be thought to have some higher wisdom, especially since few have any professional qualifications? Perhaps because, like the Delphic oracle, their judgements can be interpreted any way you like. With faces as professionally bland as poker players', comments devoid of all adjectival content or moral censure, and inscrutable body language, the therapist claims merely to 'empower discussion'.

Nowadays, if I need to weep, rage or confess, I would far rather talk to people who know and love me than to professionally disinterested strangers. My friends and family start from the assumption that, except in the direst circumstances, a relationship and a home shared is better than the empty triumph of being right all the time.

In return for company and intimacy I can put up with a surprising number of imperfections; and it may be that I myself am not entirely flawless. One must compromise. But nobody tells the therapists that.