Whimperers Anonymous

Have we become a cultureof self-diagnosers?

By PT Staff, published on July 1, 1992 - last reviewed on January 23, 2015

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.

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.