NYC Therapist talks: Mental Health Memes- Therapy Forever?!
What are Psychotherapy Memes
Memes, in this context, are rampant in psychotherapy and the mental health field among therapists, psychiatrists and the like. A meme is something that comes from a sketchy source, and is self-propagating, and unverifiable, kind of like a computer virus. There is no objective way for a therapist to define mental illness, and even with the psychiatry manual (the DSM), diagnoses are totally subjective. What is terribly traumatic for one person is, for the next, just part of life. There is no blood test or brain scan a therapist can use to check for "depression" or "anxiety". The memes? You have a disease or a chemical imbalance- come to our meetings, come to therapy forever, or take these pills (also forever).
What a therapist might call "mental illness" changes depending on the culture, geographic location, and time in which we live. In any given time and place, there is way that people can express their pain and be understood by others. A hundred years ago, the diagnosis du jour was "hysteria", and the treatment was psychoanalysis, talking to a therapist, then known as an analyst or psychoanalyst several times a week for years at a time. Later, the treatment was shock therapy (ECT) and psychoanalysis. The memes? Ladies are delicate and easily shaken, and if exposed to something harsh, will develop hysteria, cured only by talking several times a week (to a man). The therapist in question could only BECOME a psychoanalyst by himself going through and "completing" psychoanalysis. Another common have her clitoris manually stimulated (by a man) to orgasm. (I bet you didn't see THAT coming, did you?! Look it up!) "But you must only have this done by a trained professional, because if you do it yourself, you might suffer from nymphomania or some other moralistic diagnosis we will invent for you".
Today, there are hundreds of new diagnoses, and pseudo-scientific diagnoses and of course, the memes that follow. The more the "expert" and the therapist talk about these, the more people see these diagnoses or behaviors as ways to express their pain and be understood. Let's look at addiction (sex, food, alcohol, drugs, gambling, World of Warcraft, Shopping, Internet Porn, Regular Porn, Love, etc) and mood disorders (panic, anxiety, depression, "major depression", "clinical depression", "manic depression" (aka bipolar disorder").
The treatment of choice
For addiction, 12 step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), NA (Narcotics Anonymous), Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA) start the brainwashing right in the title. By calling a treatment group "Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous" implies that there is such a thing as "sex addiction" and/or "love addiction". Neither of these are considered diagnoses in the mental health field, at least as far as using the psychiatric manual (DSM). But these anonymous groups want you attending a meeting as much as possible and avoiding your substance or behavior of choice, forever, because "you are an addict, and you suffer from a disease that is somehow related to your higher power (?!) - See you tomorrow for your next 'anonymous' meeting (because you should be ashamed for having problems, so we need to do this anonymously- don't forget to call your sponsor (who is presumably not anonymous?!) so we can keep you coming to meetings. And you need to come to meetings for the rest of your life, otherwise you might relapse, at which point you must start counting your days of sobriety all over again."
For a therapist who claims do to long-term, "deep" therapy like psychoanalysts or a psychodynamic therapist, offer more of the same. "You are too fragile, wounded, and potentially mentally ill to deal with these emotions alone- you need me to feel better. You need long-term therapy, to talk to me about your childhood wounds (the cause of your current 'mood disorder') in order to feel better. If you stop coming to me, we will call this 'resistance', which means you don't want to feel better". (And if you're dealing with addiction, the therapist might also refer you to a 12 step meeting.)
For psychiatrists, treating mood or addition is more like- "You are now my mentally ill patient with a 'brain disorder/disease/illness' that can be treated with these pills- we just don't know the correct dose, or how the pills work exactly. Oh and some of the pills may make you gain weight, lose your sex drive, or maybe even make you want to kill yourself." (yeah- again, look it up). "See you for 15 minutes in three months so we can refill your Prozac and don't forget to call your regular medical doctor if you run out of pills before then- oh, and don't stop taking these pills on your own, because it is dangerous, so you need to be paying me to help you come off of pills that I put you on in the first place"!
In each of these three admittedly glib examples, the individual becomes a label- addict, mental patient, etc, and the dependence on the "expert" or the therapist becomes more and more solidified- you need me to feel better, and don't even think about doing this on your own.
Evidence Based Alternatives
There are psychotherapists who focus on helping you come up with solutions, not adding more labels to your insurance file. A modern therapist will help you become more independent, self-reliant and self-differentiated instead of relying on "meetings", therapy or pills for the rest of your life. Psychotherapy is meant to be the clinical application of psychology, a science. Psychotherapists or groups like SMART Recovery (self management is even in the title!!) use evidence-based interventions, like rational emotive behavior therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy to help you see lasting results. Ask about research that supports the therapist's or the group's interventions.
You can find a therapist who wants you to feel better and get better, that is, make lasting life changes that affect all areas of your life- from your diet to your sex life, from your family to your career. These therapists believe you are the expert of your own life- and want to help you decrease your suffering by helping you help yourself. Your results won't be overnight, especially if you've taken a lifetime to train yourself to behave and feel the way you behave and feel, but it doesn't have to take 10 years, and the therapist won't be relying on outdated memes, either.