Monday, February 9, 2009


The financial crisis has sent more and more people into counseling. That makes it a good time to ask: Is the help you're getting the help you need?

Paul Sullivan addressed the question last week in the New York Times. His article was entitled: "It's Not Just the Money; It's the Mind-Set." Link here.

Strangely enough, Sullivan makes the words of a New York psychoanalyst the centerpiece of his article. If you were wondering why psychoanalysis is on life support, this analyst's comments will show you.

Demonstrating his superior insight and empathy, the analyst gets to the root cause of his patients' anguish: "As their net worth shrinks, their self-worth shrinks."

Notice the clever use of a word that has traditionally been used to describe the mental health profession. Do you think it is an accident that therapists of all stripes have been called "shrinks?" And ask yourself why your already shrunken self-worth needs to shrink some more.

Almost sounding like a psychoanalyst himself author Sullivan sums up the analytic approach: "The cure is to get them to understand what money means to them. Why do their feel their lives won't have meaning if they can't buy expensive clothes, own ever-larger homes, and jet around the world on a whim? The answers are no surprise: childhood traumas, feelings of inadequacy, a desire to make your success widely known."

To which the psychoanalyst adds: "The problem is not the economy. It's the stuff it's stirring up."

Let's see: you have just lost your job and your savings. The world you have known has crashed around you. The mental health professional says that it is not really the economy. Current events have simply stirred up all of your unresolved issues. This is a fancy way of saying that it's all in your mind-set.

Think about it. This analyst is assuming that if his patients had not been using money to cover up feelings of inadequacy, and if they had not defined their self-worth monetarily... they would not be suffering anguish and depression.

The truth is: if you are in dire circumstances and are not suffering, then you simply do not get it.

This article shows us that psychoanalysis caricatures people's lives to fit its own theoretical expectations. Worse yet, it imagines that by merely rearranging some mental furniture it will make them feel better.

Having no sense of people as social beings, psychoanalysis completely ignores the way the current crisis is disrupting people's lives. It does not understand that the problem is not in a depleted bank account, but in no longer belonging to a community.

Take the parents who are trying to explain to their children that they will no longer be going to private school, that their social worlds will be thrown into turmoil, that they will be losing friends and teachers... because their father or mother, whom they looked up to, whom they admired and loved, who was the beacon of their existence... failed.

If you think that these people are having problems because they mistakenly identified their self-worth with their financial security, you are insulting them.

You may not sympathize with the fact that some of them can no longer afford country club dues or weekend trips to the beach, but consider that it means that they can no longer participate in their community. They will feel like outcasts, like pariahs, marked by failure. And they will feel an even greater distress for the loss of place and status that is being visited on their children.

To imagine that you can feel better about it all by rearranging your mental furniture is insensitive to an extreme. It shows a manifest failure to understand what human life is about. You do not overcome public shame by having more picnics in the park and less golf.

While no one has a great deal of sympathy for profligate spending, it does signify status in a community and active participation in the nation's economy.

It is easy to trash people who take expensive trips, but once they stop, so do the jobs of countless others.

I would suggest that the person who has lost a significant amount of his capital might well some empathy for those people he is going to fire. Certainly, he will have more feeling for them than his psychoanalyst has for him.

And the person whose wealth is depleted will feel badly for not having more disposable income to invest in job-creating enterprise or to lend to businesses that need it.

Therapists who have trained in psychoanalysis will want people to get used to their new circumstances. But it is more constructive to help them to rebuild their lives, to get back into a community, and to make their children proud.

Until the new order arrives your pride and the pride of those near and dear to you depends on your status and your membership in community. Miss that point and you are not going to be offering the kind of help that people need and deserve.

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