Monday, November 02, 2009
I just heard a 14-year-old Pakistani boy on the radio. His entire family had been killed by a bomb. It made me think of In Treatment. I know people who are addicted to this TV series which consists solely of (fictional) psychotherapy sessions conducted by Dr Paul Weston (Gabriel Byrne). We see successive sessions involving the same patients. Only one of these - the young gymnast - seems to me to be ill by any imaginable definition. The rest are just screwed up within normal parameters. They turn up just to talk. This makes it hard to see what good Weston is doing. How would he/they know they'd been cured? And why expend so much time and intellect on people who seem to be functioning as well as anybody else? I am not addicted to In Treatment, but I keep watching in a state of sick fascination.
That Pakistani boy will probably need therapy but he won't get it. Weston costs $150 an hour. This point is, I know, pretty dodgy. The boy may suffer Sudden Hearing Loss and he probably won't get much help with that either. I am as spoilt as Dr Weston's patients. Except that I was definably ill. To be confused, angry, mildly paranoid, delusional or depressed is not to be ill, it is to be conscious. To treat these states as illness is to believe in some other, ideal mental state in which they vanish. Unconsciousness would seem to be the only such state. This is delusional and absurdly self-indulgent. I suspect this is why I found the perpetually psycho-analysed Woody Allen so objectionable.
I'm not being fair to therapists, of course. In Treatment is just a TV show and, doubtless, my suspicions of the process probably say something nasty about me (Adam Phillips, a brilliant man, once nearly trapped me with that one but I veered swiftly away). Furthermore, the idea of psychotherapy is fascinating. I see it as medicalised Henry James. He, also, would be no help to that boy.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 7:41 am