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Friday, 02 January 2009 11:28

The 8 Minute Cure - Page 7

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House Calls

Before tuning in to Dr. Phil, let me say that during the course of my life, I've seen four "traditional" therapists, amounting to some seven years in the consulting room. The first was Freudian, the second Gestalt, the third Jungian, the fourth--she didn't name it, but it was practical. All four were useful to me, and all four had much in common. The setting, for one: a consulting room is usually smallish and modestly furnished; the decor is tasteful, quiet, comfy; the lighting is gentle, intimate. The physical space between patient and therapist is well defined but living-room close. Two human beings have made an appointment for some serious talk. There are long silences. There are outbursts--I'm free to disagree, free to walk out. I'm paying for a service, which means I have a right to expect something. My therapist and I are protected by laws, both civil and professional, which regulate our boundaries and guard our privacy. Within those boundaries, a personal relationship develops: we have a stake in each other, my therapist and I.

There's nothing more alive than two people sequestered in a room who must deal with each other as human beings, and it's the aliveness of that contact that ultimately heals. Therapy is primarily a private, secluded relationship that develops over time, and therapist and patient must have the patience to get to know each other and to work on complex dilemmas that can only be addressed and solved gradually.

The words patient and patience are connected--both derive from Latin pati, to suffer. This is one reason I regret that the old usage patient has been replaced in psychotherapy by client . Speaking for myself, I didn't feel remotely like a client in therapy. I was a wounded, suffering, panicky person in need of help and healing, and I felt not at all demeaned if the fact of my situation was acknowledged by the word patient. Medical doctors can have "patients," why can't therapists? My being a "patient" also (so I fancied) gave my therapist a little more responsibility and class than, say, a lawyer or a publicist, for whom I'm certainly a "client." I was definitely not a "guest" or a "contestant," as Dr. Phil refers to his TV consultees. In any case, it's through my experience as a patient that I viewed Dr. Phil's TV show.

Contrast the consulting room with a television soundstage. A soundstage is bright--much brighter than it appears on TV. Watch any talk show or sitcom and you'll see that no one casts a significant shadow, barely any shadow at all (a living metaphor that Jungians can have fun with). For people to cast no shadows, no matter how they move, lots of light is required; banks of lights overhead, pointed every which way. Performers (talk-show hosts, actors, newscasters) are used to all this light, but watching TV can't possibly prepare the uninitiated for the bright reality of a soundstage. Dr. Phil's patients/guests--mostly working-middle-class folks from all walks of life--are like deer in the headlights. (Imagine walking into a consulting room and squinting into a thousand-watt spotlight.)

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Last modified on Sunday, 11 January 2009 16:40

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