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5 Popular Therascapist Practices You May Already Be Enjoying

Therascapism is therapeutic escapism.

Key points

  • Anxiety-reducing habits are a common unconscious motive for our behaviors, some of which are escapist role-play.
  • Because humans are an anxious species we need little confidence-replenishing pit stops in escapism.
  • Such "therascapist" (therapeutic escapism) practices afford us a chance to play roles we don't get enough of in our real lives.
  • Therascapist practices are healthy so long as they don't go to our heads, feeling realer than reality.
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We humans are exceptionally anxiety-prone because, through language, we can worry in ways no other creatures can. We can fret about real and imaginary threats and missed opportunities. We can ruminate about past losses and future dreads in ways that are simply beyond all other critters.

Through language, we can also idealize with escapist, utopian fantasies, and imagine ourselves to be far safer than we really feel.

To accommodate our anxiety-prone natures, we have developed many kinds of formal and informal therapeutic practices. Some of the informal ones allow us to escape into confidence-bolstering role-play. I'll call these therascapist (therapeutic escapism) and here will name five of them.

Snob therapy: This one is an extension of shopping therapy. Shopping therapy allows us to imagine ourselves like emperors, entitled to give a thumb up or down to the many offerings served to us as tribute to our greatness. We become buyers in a buyer’s market. Extended to snob therapy, it’s voicing strong opinions about anything and everything, even things about which we have little knowledge or influence. Snob therapy is especially easy when opining about nonobjective topics, for example, music or wine or the true nature of God. A wine connoisseur may not get drunk when wine tasting but they can get drunk on their subjective opinions. Playing political pundit railing against those who don’t realize the One Right Path Forward is a form of connoisseur therapy.

Scorn therapy: Related to connoisseur therapy, this one’s the confidence-bolstering sense that we must be right because others are so wrong. Whenever we’re feeling uncertain about our own choices, we can self-soothe by pointing scornfully at people we think are far more foolish than we could ever be. Collective scorn therapy is bonding with like-minded others, sharing gossip about the idiots out there. Popular culture, especially on social media, offers lots of “scornography” by which we can self-pleasure at the folly of whole swaths of other people. In politics, scorn therapy explains a lot of our political divisiveness.

Recipe therapy: This is another way to take a vacation from our doubts and self-doubts. With recipe therapy we follow simple, reliable instructions to make something that feels substantial. You follow a recipe for a Lego model, Ikea furniture, knitting, other crafts or making a Hello Fresh meal. We thereby enjoy a break from wondering whether we’ve got what it takes to do what’s called for in our lives. We enjoy maximum flow with minimal effort and come away feeling confident and productive.

Ritual therapy: Similar to recipe therapy, this one has us doing or making the same thing again and again, punctuating our lives with a reliable repeat experience. It feels purifying and disciplined, leaving us feeling like we just washed off the grime of everyday anxiety. Some people rely on such rituals as their evidence that they’re good people. So long as they continue to do this one ritual thing, they’re good—so long as they exercise every day they’re OK; so long as they pray, they’re bound for heaven. Though the rituals are often linked to some belief system, it’s useful to recognize that the beliefs may not be essential. Few people treat regular exercise as a sign of their devotion to a higher power but plenty treat political rituals like watching partisan news every night and religious rituals like confession as signs of true devotion to true dogmas. That can get dangerous. Many of the most dangerous movements today are driven by runaway rituals, for example people chanting political slogans or fundamentalist prayers and assuming that they’re superior and deserve to dominate because of it.

Mindlessness therapy: Recipe and ritual therapy may be examples of what could be called mindlessness therapy, the joy of entering an almost robotic no-mind state wherein we’re least at risk of getting self-conscious. The terms mindful and mindless are confusing. Unresolved uncertainties are what “spring to mind.” Once we can resolve them they get offloaded onto to mindless habits. The mind is not a machine, but it is a producer of virtual machines, algorithmic habits that free our minds.

We humans are, by nature, mindful in that, through language, our minds are flooded with possibilities. What’s called mindfulness therapy might best be though of as an opportunity to experience how full of doubts our minds are with the stream-of-consciousness flood of unresolved uncertainties. Some Buddhists refer to this as monkey mind, which is ironic since, lacking language, a monkey's mind would be less full than ours. The goal of Buddhist meditation is to achieve no-mind, beginner’s mind, or peace of mind, a mind freed from deliberative chatter, the cessation of the normal turmoil of a doubting mind. Taken literally that’s closer to mindless than mindful.

Watching TV can be mindless therapy too. One loses one’s sense of self, fully absorbed in the moment, not worrying about the past or present. And again this can be a very healthy form of escapism, even watching antiheroes who act like they’re the king of the world, a great escape into fantasies of God-like omnipotence after an oppressive day.

With all of these escapists therapies, the trick is to not let them go to our heads. It’s not how far out you escape to but whether you remember to come back. Take your flights of fancy—but always with a return ticket to reality secure in your heart pocket.