Sunday, April 15, 2007

oh how I CAN wait to hear the details

I've never really been in analysis or therapy (depressing sidenote: I did go for three visits of short-term therapy to deal with the suicide of my nephew, which was very helpful because I was trying to keep a stiff upper lip around the children). Indeed, I like to say I have the Good Housekeeping Mental Health Seal of Approval, as twice I had the experience of doing couples' counselling with therapists who ended up stating that I did not need any therapy but my significant other did. (This is despite a lifelong off-and-on struggle with severe depression, which my delightful personal physician has diagnosed as genetic in origin and an easily remediable quirk of biochemistry. Viva la Paxil! Schizophrenia and agoraphobia are also in the family, so I'm lucky to have gotten off with just depression. Let us all take a moment to savor whatever genetic luck we have had).

Probably because I haven't experienced it myself, I love therapy memoirs, a quirky subniche of the mental illness autobiography field. Probably the best therapy memoir ever written is "The Day I Went Missing" by Jennifer Miller, which I reread lately. God, I love that book. I would love to know the acerbic and brilliant Jennifer Miller (a Los Angeles writer, maybe the tireless Hughman can track her down for us), survivor of one of the strangest analyses ever.

Even more recently I read "Group: Six People in Search of a Life" by Paul Solotaroff. The concept of group therapy makes so much sense to me: misery always does love company, and it can be highly motivating to get stuff done if you know you'll have to report to a group, all those judgmental eyes looking at you as you stammer out your lame excuses. Solotaroff was a lonely failed writer suffering from panic attacks when he joined a group facilitated by a charismatic Manhattan analyst. He attributes this group therapy with changing his life, giving him the ability to become a successful magazine writer with a happy marriage. Years later, Solotaroff was granted access to a new therapy group to write about what would presumably be a life-changing experience.

As a therapy memoir, this one was okay, gripping at times but irritating or boring at others. Some of the group members did transform their lives, but it's not clear why the group experience was so valuable for them. Others were unchanged and unaffected.

What drove me insane about this book was the philosophy of the therapist. Parents, it would seem, are to blame for just about everything wrong with a person, because we mold our children to meet our approval. It turns out that mothers harm the authentic personality of their children as babies and implant "false story" in them:
False story begins in the first year of life, when we learn that doing 'X" gets Mom's attention. . . . Soon, though, we discover that there're two kinds of attention -- Mom's approval and Mom's disapproval. She likes us when we're quiet and eat all our peach sauce, and allow her to get us changed without a battle. But, oh, she's angry and withdraws her love when we wake her for the fifth night in a row, or hurl that nice, new bowl from Mikasa halfway across the kitchen from our high chair.
A mother who takes a negative tone "when things go wrong" will "pollute" her child's identity. I found this profoundly irritating. So, when a child breaks something or misbehaves spectacularly, if I, the parent, respond with irritation or, god forbid, anger, I am polluting her identity and implanting "false story'(but imagine the authentic monsters I'd produce if I never reacted with disapproval to bad behavior).

But yet the therapist himself, without irony or awareness of his hypocrisy, enlists the group to pressure one of the members to fit into a particular mold. Rex, a wealthy financier with a major bad boy streak, is in therapy as part of a marital treaty after his wife's discovery that he had been supporting a stripper in an apartment and taking her on European vacations. He's torn between being a dutiful husband and church-attending father and his secret life of cocaine and strippers. Lathon, the therapist, enlists the group in pressuring Rex to pick the life of a family man: "Yes, it's true he's been on his best behavior lately, but his language tells a different story. It says that, underneath the piety, he's got a foot in each camp, and is having a hard time making a choice. So over these next months, I want you to press him on it, and don't let up till you've got an answer. Because either way it goes, that answer's going to mean a lot to" Rex's baby daughter. What if Rex's true personality is that of a skeeze? Isn't the therapist polluting Rex's identity?

So, as far as I'm concerned, this therapist is a mother-blaming hypocrite, but it is all fodder for thought. What scares me is that inevitable day in the future when the ever articulate Iris Uber Alles comes after me with her laundry list of ways in which I'll have fucked her up. I have a cousin who, urged by her therapist, wrote her parents a 23 page letter detailing all the wrongs they committed against her. Sadly no one in the family is circulating that gem (my uncle, who told me about receiving this letter, just gazed off into the middle distance and fell silent as he recalled reading it). I'd pay to read that letter... but I'm not looking forward to getting my own.


Silliyak said...

Wait, so you're saying this blog is not a part of a group therapy session? Who's been cashing my checks?

Iris Uber Alles you got a lot a splainin' to do!

hughman said...

LOL. you rock silliyak.

DH, you've reached adulthood in today's america without ANY therapy? i bow to you. i've probably had a total of 20+ years (including therapeutic type courses). of course i'm still fucked up, but none the less I TRIED! :)

for the record, none of my therapists ever blamed my parents. not that my parent (my father left when i was a baby) didn't deserve it but none of my therapists were pointing fingers.

maybe i was lucky but they were all great human beings.

Silliyak said...

H-Thank you Thank you, I'll be here all week, and don't forget to tip DH.

Christian said...

Hi DH, I am not surprised about your therapeutic abstinence, as long as alcohol does the job. BTW who knows what «too much drinking» is? From a health point of view, «too much» is probably not too much as long as you take your weekly liver holiday. Read more ...

the Drunken Housewife said...

Hughman, I just edited to add that I did a few sessions of short-term counseling after my nephew killed himself. I've done couple's counseling three times (twice with Husband 2.0, once with 1.0), which has been overall a very good thing (the second counselor I felt was lousy; I loved the other two, whom I thought were immensely helpful and wise). That's it for me to date.... oh, I did go to two sessions of a post-partum depression support group, but that wasn't really therapy and I didn't fit in. I had no issues about bonding with my baby; mine was sheerly a biochemical problem solved by SSRIs. Those other poor women were hating their babies and just not dealing with the baby.

the Drunken Housewife said...

p.s. to Hughman: I want to throw some blame at your mother! Let me!

the Drunken Housewife said...

Thanks for the link, Mousetrapper. I've done a liver holiday the last couple of years (taken a month off from drinking to rehabilitate the old liver).

Trouble, we're all screwed as parents. If you'd stayed married, that would have been the genesis of a whole new laundry list of parental failings. We'll just have to do our best and steel ourselves if the day comes we receive our own 23 page letter.

Silliyak said...

My best guess is that yours will be SO over the top drama wise that you'll think it's cute and frame it and hang it on the wall. (and publish it on a blog)