On Crazy Shrinks

There is a secret suspicion that all shrinks are crazy.

Posted Nov 06, 2009

Our patients. Clients. Call them what you will. They suspect us all the time anyway. That we are secretly the crazy ones; they the stolid norm. They come for our help and often we heal, but still that resentful suspicion lingers. They may sit in the patient chair, but always slightly the doctor is devalued as much as he is idealized.

We live our professional and social lives turning the jabs to plowshares. The anxious jokes acquaintances make about whether they are being analyzed. (They are not, not unless they are paying customers. But we cannot help how much they reveal without our making the slightest effort. Quit showing me so much, I often think. I'd really rather not know.)

And they make snide asides about how our children are worse than most (could it be that they are?) or how ironic it is that we actually divorce (because, after all, we are supposed to have the formula). They seek salvation in our offices and then comfort themselves with a catalogue of our warts.

May you be farther along the path and so show me the way hums the inflated wish.  You are secretly less than me, uglier, angrier, more screwed up chants the inner threatened voice.  This is a natural way to equalize an awkward power imbalance.

We psychotherapists comfort ourselves too, with the thought that at least we are not lawyers. It works, most of the time.

But maybe not this time.

Major Nidal Malik Hasan was one crazy, ugly, angry shrink. He will be used to stir the pot of fear and rage and contempt that pushes so many people away from the tools and techniques of psychotherapy —tools that might well bring them relief.  Hasan will be evidence of crazy shrinks and somehow that brings an extra pint of poison to this catastrophic loss.

Should this evil event tap the underground anti-psychotherapy, pull-yourself-up-by-your-boot straps, those-shrinks-are-all-crazier-than-we-are groundswell, I want to argue back. To say that we who practice know that we are therapists only when we sit in that doctor chair, no more or less crazy than the woman who is crying in the chair across. We are that woman too, when our own turn come to sit with our shrinks and cry ourselves.

You have projected that powerful ideal on to us, because you needed to. And then held on to your suspicions, because you needed to. That was OK by us. We understood why you needed it. We need it too, when we are in the other chair.

We do not make ourselves better, saner, more or less adaptive than anyone else —no matter how you might hope and wish we were. True, we are probably more openhearted than the norm, more tolerant, if only because we see and hear way too much to cling to soothing judgements. We are more trained certainly, more experienced at listening and receiving and turning your thinking in a productive direction.

We can make you better problem solvers, better parents, partners, employees or CEOs. We can make you hurt less. And we can do that even when we are hurting ourselves.

But we are not necessarily happier, healthier or closer to inner peace than those of you who seek our help. That does not mean we cannot help you. We can.

Nidal Malik Hasan cannot. Don't confuse us with him.

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