Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Are Personal Trainers the New Therapists?

Frank Bruni believes that he has spotted a new trend. In the latest Woody Allen movie, Blue Jasmine, he sees no therapists and no mention of therapy. In their stead he finds a personal trainer.

Are personal trainers the new therapists?

Bruni explains:

What therapists were to the more cerebral New York of yesteryear, trainers are to the more superficial here and now: designated agents of self-actualization, florid expressions of self-indulgence, must-have accessories, must-cite authorities.

“My therapist says” is outmoded. “My trainer says” is omnipresent, at least in the coddled precincts of most cosmopolitan cities coast to coast.

Bruni may be a little ahead of his time, but I think that he is largely correct.

He is right to begin with a man who, more than anyone else in New York, had too much therapy. You know the story. After having undergone three decades of therapy Woody Allen managed to fall in love with his son’s adoptive half-sister, thus blowing up his family and alienating his son, seemingly forever.

Woody Allen is eminently qualified to have an opinion on the downside of having had enough therapy.

Bruni has a good point but, unfortunately, he drowns in it snide sarcasm.

He does not mention that many New Yorkers are still consulting psychiatrists. Mental health treatment has become medication-based, so most patients seek out psychopharmacologists rather than talk therapists.

Bruni makes a mockery of the role of personal trainer, but what makes you think that therapists are offering anything more substantive or insightful than the trainers.

Bruni writes:

The ranks of trainers metastasize and the adulation for them swells, even as their precise function grows fuzzier — or more variable from trainer to trainer and client to client. Trainers are the new priests. Trainers are the new escorts. They’re paid listeners, paid talkers: friends for hire, who charge by the hour, water not included. And they’re ludicrously apt emblems of, and metaphors for, this particular juncture in America, where people of means seem to believe that there’s no problem — from a child’s grades to a belly’s sprawl — that can’t be fixed by throwing money and a putative expert at it. Anything can be delegated. Everything can be outsourced, even perspiration.

Or this:

This is our great nation’s future: an army of men and women in Lululemon apparel, barking about the importance of a “strong core” and meaning muscle, not character.

He would have been more persuasive if he had pointed out that aerobic conditioning is recognized as an excellent treatment for depression. For all he knows, and he does not seem to know very much, New Yorkers have figured out that exercise is far more effective as therapy than the insights offered by your standard-issue therapist?

If you have had the misfortune to see the Bravo series LA Shrinks last spring you know what I mean. Is there anything that any of the three therapists said during the show that did not feel like a soul-deadening banality? The show demonstrated how far the therapy profession has fallen since the old days when therapists were trying to be serious professionals.

Bruni does not mention that training is hard work. Many people would not be able to get into shape without a personal trainer. If that is what they need and if they are happy with the results, why cavil?

You can make fun of those who swear by their trainers—though Bruni does have one himself—but their faith in trainers might be an expression of gratitude. You will feel a lot better after a training session than you will after an hour logged on the couch.

The therapy world is in flux; it is transforming. The old model of insight-based therapy is fast going by the wayside. It is being replaced by more practical, more empirically verifiable models. As it happens, cognitive/behavioral therapists who prescribe homework exercises are more like trainers than like LA shrinks.

[Addendum, From MarketWatch today, h/t Ari:

A little exercise goes a long way. In fact, the effect of regular exercise on mild to moderate forms of depression is similar to the effect of cognitive behavioral therapy, according to the co-authors of the book “Exercise for Mood and Anxiety,” Jasper Smits, associate professor of psychology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, and Michael Otto, a psychologist at Boston University. The two authors analyzed the results of dozens of published population-based and clinical studies related to exercise and mental health to arrive at their findings.

There’s little consensus on how or why exercise helps, but Smits says the public health recommendation for daily exercise — 75 minutes a week of vigorous exercise or 150 minutes of moderate activity — should be more widely prescribed by mental-health care providers, especially as studies show that 25% to 40% of Americans don’t exercise at all. “Some professionals argue that exercise is the non-pharmacological antidepressant and may work in the same way as these medications,” he says.]

2 comments:

Sam L. said...

Well, Bruni writes for the NYT, and nothing I see in the NYT can I trust.

Doesn't relate to the world I live in.

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