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September 28th 2000text

The place of psychotherapy and counselling in a healthy European social order: further commentary on Tantam and Van

by Alex Howard

text text
This article originally appeared in: The European Journal of Psychotherapy, Counselling and Health Summer 2000

School of Educational Studies
University of Surrey
Guildford, Surrey.

author text

* Apple pie, thank goodness is already properly supervised and embraced within the professional quality control mechanisms of global agri-business.

Dear Editor,

Any reader of this journal must surely be familiar with the anything-but-satisfactory state of empirical support of the therapist's enterprise. But to engage once again, in a sober analysis of this research is to give more credence to the Van Deurzen/Tantam article than it deserves. It implies that they themselves are making a measured claim that needs to be examined in a similar spirit. Yet they are not. Their hubris and arrogance is outrageous, dangerous. It deserves and requires a passionate and alarmed response if the scale and monstrosity of their proposals are to be appreciated.

Psychotherapy, we are told, is a 'new paradigm for living' and will provide 'the replacement of old religious and spiritual values'. (p 231). This is just stated as though it was obvious, inevitable, effortless and desirable.

We are breezily informed that, 'ordinary people's lives are too cluttered to pay such attention to self and others. (p 231). Nonetheless, you may still be suffering, involuntarily and emotionally perhaps. What can you do? There is no problem. You need not utilise literature, history, art, religion, philosophy, culture, community, society and politics. You can ignore the ill-informed efforts of two millennia to make sense of our lives. You cannot bother friends and family. Friends have enough problems of their own without having to resolve each other's (P 231) Look in the Yellow Pages, with your Gold credit card. Locate 'psychotherapists'. Or, for professional assurance of quality outcomes, psy©hothe®apists.

Like 'A. Doctor', from Private Eye, Van Deurzen and Tantam remind us that tit is rather a complex business to sort out emotional and relational problems, not to mention moral wid spiritual ones They seem quite unaware of the banal and patronising tone of this and so many of their sentences. Artists, struggling prior to the intellectual triumph of psychotherapy, like Shakespeare, Goethe, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Proust, Beethoven and Rembrandt, also sensed that life is 'a complex business'. They contemplated and explored the mysteries and paradoxes of human suffering and folly, but they were without the psycho-technology needed actually to 'sort all this out'. If only poor Hamlet, for example, had been trained in 'life skills' and 'self actualisation' programmes there could have been a happy ending.

People like Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Mill (the list goes on and on) would, of course, have laughed at Van Deurzen and Tantam's absurd presumption that you can sort out' suffering. They would have gaped in horror at most of the contemporary banality and pseudo science that passes for human understanding. But what kind of sorting out' is possible? How is it to be done
'It requires thorough training and sound supervised practice before a professional can do justice to this task. (Tantam 1999) The effort will no doubt be worth it. What would we not all give to be able to 'sort out' our emotional and relational problems; not to say, and not by the way, our moral and spiritual ones? Perhaps we should all be training 'thoroughly' in psychotherapy, assuming, of course, that we can afford it? Surely we all need a 'sound' supervisor?

Sound and thorough therapists have, of course, conquered their own emotional and relational problems and mastered their moral and spiritual concerns. They are to be found everywhere, living lives of integrity and serenity, compassion and co-operation that are the envy of the rest of us. That is why there are no unseemly turf wars among therapists.

They will save and sort us in the new millennium. They will rescue motherhood* from our mothers who are, after all, preoccupied, unskilled and unsupervised:

As women are now absorbed into the work force the function of holding individuals' wellbeing safe needs to be taken care of by professional structures. (p 232) We will be able to say to our children, 'We are busy building our portfolios. Go and be held by your professional structure'.

…there are more changes in our lives and less time to deal with them: mobility and changes in career and marriages are more frequent than they used to be and need to be accommodated by new si4pportive measiwes. (p 233) Father may have lost his job again. Children may need to step to a new father. But all will be accommodated by 'new supportive measures'.

We need not worry that therapist abuse is no less widespread among trained staff. We must not be concerned that residential care for children shows huge shortcomings: We are fortunate indeed that the methods of psychotherapeutic intervention have been developed over the past century in readiness to be applied more widely as the depression, anxiety and other psychological disorders become increasingly important detractors of the public's health. (p 233)

This is the language of the management of humanity rather than one of dialogue within communities. We are to be reassured. (The outcomes of dialogue are, after all, so unpredictable). A New Model Army is riding to our rescue. It will resolve our problems both after, and before, they have occurred: . psychotherapy can do more than just remedy' problems. It has a role to play in preventing these problems too. If you have a problem, you must see your psychotherapist. If you don't have a problem, you must see your psychotherapist, because you are bound to run into one sooner or later.

Saint Peter, supposedly, stood guard at the Pearly Gates of Heaven; but psychotherapists, for sure, must be our guardians on Earth. psychotherapists may need to become the gatekeepers of the quality of life that will become such an important issue in the next decade£
(p 233)

Of course, the entire advertising industry sells us 'quality of life'. It offers whichever 'good life' you, in your market segment, dream about. With the right car, house, cocoa, chocolates, shampoo, and so on, you will achieve zest, peace, attention, serenity, security or whatever. The promise exceeds the reality but D. Tantam and B. Van Deurzen now offer a short cut. Go straight to your nearest local accredited gatekeeper of life quality. You have a right to one, they tell us.

Therapists who sell this message to the Euro consumer will really hit the financial jackpot. Never mind Bill Gates and his billions. People would kill each other in their efforts to secure the attention of a registered psy©hothe®apist who could deliver as much as promised. Euroland's Head of Therapy will replace the Pope himself

Psychotherapists are uniquely qualified and experienced in the understanding of what people need for a satisfying life. They? are the champions and guardians of values that are disappearing from other professions. (p 233)

Thoroughly trained and supervised therapists will lead us, through the World's tempestuous sea. They will guide us, guard us, keep us and feed us. For we will have none else but accredited therapy.

You can imagine, say, a character from Shakespeare or Tolstoy or Sophocles saying 'I am uniquely qualified and experienced in the understanding of what people need for a satisfying lift." The narrative following such hubris would centre on nemesis. Those who claim to be saints are disqualified. Artists with psychological insight do not assert or accredit their knowledge. They demonstrate their insight, and inspire and challenge us accordingly. Only a fool claims to be wise, though fools may be wise, who also know they are fools.

We need to establish firm pathways of training and psychotherapy provision so that the emotional needs of European citizens can be attended to. (p234)

What would one of Shakespeare's fools have said, or done, or gestured, in response to such a nonsensical claim?

Therapists can be better than nothing, but, after all, 'nothing' is not very much. Are they better than lay persons with similar experience and education using folk-wisdom and common-sense? Here the answer is anything but clear. In response to the hubris of the Tantam/Van Deurzen article I want to laugh and weep. These are, I think, more appropriate responses than yet another disinterested analysis of inadequate empirical data.

What a fragmented world this has become. Our humanist, integrationist tradition is in tatters, and our specialists, with their special pleas, fight over the fragments. Now

psychologists suddenly claim to be the gatekeepers of ethics and spirituality. They are more skilled at conducting relationships, and more virtuous than the rest of humanity. Is there even one small shred of evidence for this preposterous proposal?

Workers' Educational Association
51 Grainger Street
Newcastle upon Tyne
th February 2000

Correspondence Address: 8 Winchester Terrace
Newcastle upon Tyne NE4 6EH Tel/Fax 0191 232 5530

Email alexhoward@alexhoward.demon.co.uk
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