Friday, February 13, 2009

A Therapist Speaks

Maybe it's something in the water. Maybe its the way the planets are aligned. Whatever it is, we now have a third article in less than a week about psychotherapists who are treating the human casualties of the Wall Street meltdown.

For links to the first two, and my critiques of same, scroll down to my posts entitled: "HELP!" and "Reverse Sexism in the Wall Street Journal."

For a different critique, see Dr. Helen Smith's article at Pajamas Media. Link here.

Yesterday's article is from Tina Brown's site: The Daily Beast. Link here.

It was written by a therapist, not a journalist. In it we can hear the therapist's glee at the misfortune that has befallen his patients.

Glibly, he asserts: "while the recession hasn't been good to most of them, it's been good for them. When your world has just imploded this is cold comfort indeed.

Since this therapist is a man of science, he must offer a diagnosis. His financier patients are, surprise: "narcissistic."

How did these narcissists react to the crisis? He tells us: "So when the recession hit their bank balances lots of my patients plunged into depression, coupled with deep feelings of shame...."

Hardly an emotional mix that should be taken lightly. The therapist, who has wisely chosen to write anonymously, cannot control his pent-up resentment, so he adds a snide aside: "There's also the humiliation that they can no longer afford annual vacations to St. Bart's."

If you thought that was an accident, he adds another condescending remark later in his post: "it is possible to feel good about yourself even when you can no longer afford the Mercedes, and what's more, it's healthy."

As you read this you are probably asking yourself whether these patients feel an extra dose of humiliation at the hands of their contemptuous therapist. How do you expect them to rebuild their self-respect when their therapist is laughing at their misfortune. And don't imagine for an instant that these patients cannot read his attitude.

I would also ask this: if these patients do not know how to deal with shame, what exactly have they been doing in therapy? Isn't their therapist responsible for guiding them to more constructive behaviors? Apparently, this therapist has not been doing a very good job dealing with his patients' narcissism.

Now he seems to be telling them that losing a job, a lifestyle, a circle of friends, a place in a community... is really a blessing in disguise. Theologians call it: felix culpa, the fortunate fall.

When a therapist says that you can now discover what really matters in life, he means that you have to go out and do penance for your sins. Especially the therapist's favorite sin: pride, a.k.a. narcissism.

This resembles religion more than science, acculturation more than treatment.

For today, however, I also want to examine a different angle. At a time when the country, especially our politicians, are happily scapegoating Wall Street bankers, will these bankers, if they are being treated by such a therapist, know how to defend his honor and integrity or will they learn to just take their punishment.

While it is true that financial professionals made the most money from the bubble, they also lost the most in the collapse. And besides if you listened to the Congressional hearings on the subject earlier this week, weren't you impressed by how little our Congresspeople knew about finance.

Say what you want about Jamie Dimon, Ken Lewis, Lloyd Blankfein, and company, would you rather have the banking system run by Barney Frank and Maxine Waters?

Besides, the Congresspeople who worked themselves into high dudgeon over the predations of the bankers had fought tooth and nail to protect Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac a few years ago. Are they not somewhat complicit in the debacle?

Similarly, are therapists somewhat responsible for the fact that their patients are narcissistic and unable to deal with failure?

A commenter named Thom wrote this on Dr. Helen's blog: "Remember how it's not healthy for children to fail? We must always build their self-esteem rather than hold them to standards....After force-feeding them that crap for two decades, should we be surprised if they are unprepared to deal with actual failure. They have no coping mechanism. And when they do reach out for help they get kicked in the teeth by the very people who took away their chance to develop coping mechanisms." Link to Dr. Helen's blog here. (Seen comments on her Feb. 10 post.)