Whimperers Anonymous

If illness is metaphor, then what is therapy? It's the new lay religion, says a chorus of psychologists and psychiatrists concerned about rampant abuse of the addiction concept.

Now popularly applied to almost any unrewarding behavior, from sex to love to bulimia to alcohol abuse, self-diagnosed "addiction" has a one-size-fits-all ready-made cure--a recovery program modeled on Alcoholics Anonymous. Such a metastasized meaning of dependence came under attack on many fronts at a Family Therapy Networker Symposium held in Washington, D.C.

o On the diagnostic front: It pathologizes all behavior.

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o On the feminist front: It specifically denies female modes of caring, contends Washington psychologist Marianne Walters. "The self-help movement for women essentially says we've overdone our role in helping, loving, and choosing," she reported. "It's a part of the me-first culture."

o On the public front: It keeps people from learning, changing, building character. "All the co-dependency therapeutic movements afoot today are based on avoiding the hard work of real change," claims Atlanta psychiatrist Frank Pittman. He calls them Whimperers Anonymous.

"They basically hold that you don't have to give anything back to someone else. Everyone is a victim of someone else." Mainly, their parents.

o And on the therapeutic front, it has thoroughly subverted the purpose of psychotherapy. Victim mania makes the '90s "an impossible time to be a therapist," Pittman contends. "Therapists are supposed to be agents of change, but now they are busy protecting people from change, people who see themselves as victims of someone else."

Indeed, suggests social critic Barbara Ehrenreich, America's addiction hysteria really is a metaphor, namely for the fear of unbounded indulgence in the consumer culture, displaced onto addictive substances.

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