It`s Good To Talk by Andy Austin
A critique of non-specialised counselling.
(This essay was written in 1996 during my own training as a counsellor)
It seems strange to me that in an era of psycho-technology anybody would want to bother with counselling at all. When all we need to do is pop a little capsule once a day that will take away our ails of modern living, who on earth wants to actually talk about it.
As the unstoppable duo Ronald Fieve and Joshua Logan put it: “It is much easier to swallow a pill than to think of even one self-revealing sentence.”
Indeed I expect most people would rather cash in the script from their GP than spend several years and several thousand pounds on a ridiculous concept like psycho-analysis, hoping that beneath all the Freudian hokum lies the possibility of revelation and a cure.
It seems even stranger that whilst the vast majority of the population invest a large amount of time and money losing themselves in a fog of alcohol, smoking, sex, drugs and rock`n`roll (in other words: “having fun”) in order to “escape their feelings”, across the country a dedicated band of would-be counsellors are being trained to put us back in touch with the very feelings most of us seek to escape.
Medical professionals help us to escape very efficiently: we are now permitted to blame our alleged defects on our genetic make-up or upon chemical imbalances. We can say that we cannot help it but to be defective- it’s not our fault. The doctors are kind enough to give us pills that, after extensive research, have been proven to work but are the very same drugs that are also proven to cause extensive brain damage for some people; thus the desired result is achieved either way.
But who are these creatures that make up this band of do-gooders seeking to enable us to get in touch with ourselves?
For starters people like me.
Actually, that’s not quite true, since nobody on my counselling course speaks to me. This is probably because I’m the only one that hasn’t broken down in tears yet during our initial off-loading at the beginning of each lesson and that I am clearly embarrassed by all the bonding exercises whereby I am forced to tell revolting and blatantly neurotic victim cultured do-gooders why I think that they are valuable as people. I am also (apparently) out of touch with my feelings because I am so clearly unable to express unconditional positive regard for all of mankind.
So I say, what the hell, at least I’m being congruent with my supposed feelings…..and whilst I’m on the subject, who on earth is anyone to tell me that I’m out of touch with my feelings anyway? The key word for counsellors is empathy; the counsellor makes himself busy understanding the clients ‘internal frame of reference’, sensing what the client means when his outward communication is confused and is able to understand exactly how the client feels.
Its no surprise that most of them take the happy pills and every counsellor himself has to have ongoing counselling. The internal world of the counsellor must have to lurch through some pretty extreme states in order to keep pace with some of the loony clients I can think of.
All this empathy business reminds me of something R.D. Laing wrote about the experience. To paraphrase, he suggested that nobody can ever really know of another’s experience. We can only understand our experience of them telling us of their experience.
Now it follows that if the counsellors believe they are genuinely reconstructing within themselves a reflection of what it is I am feeling, they must be deluding themselves. The counsellor brings himself to believe that he is genuinely experiencing the feelings that I am experiencing but that supposedly I am unable to `face` or `confront`.
Since I am not experiencing these feelings, because it is only the counsellor who has these feelings that are ‘brought into therapy’, it is not my feelings that I am out of touch with, but I am out of touch with the counsellors feelings who is himself in a state of delusion congruent with the doctrines of Rogers and Egan.
A few years back during a bout of mediocre but somewhat melancholic depression, I sought out the services of a counsellor in the hope that my life would be transformed for the better. I had in my mind an image of something happy like the cows from the Anchor butter adverts.
Herself clearly suffering from a severe bout of empathy, my counsellor decided (for reasons I`ve never been able to figure out) that all my problems were due to me being unable to face up to my homosexual feelings. When I stated that I was not homosexual and had no particular need or intention to be, she decreed that this proved to be a clear cut case of denial, confirming her unhelpful belief.
Finding myself in a classic double bind, I quit the counselling deciding that the woman counsellor was far more fucked up than I was and immediately I felt a little better.
During the course of time working as a therapist myself, I have frequently worked with people who have failed at counselling. I have seen suicidal depressives, desperate for help, that have received extensive counselling to no avail; they simply haven`t been able to get in touch with their feelings.
Suicidally depressed! How in touch do they have to be before somebody has the brains to actually do something?!!
When I ask these clients if in truth they feel any better for the months spent talking about it nobody has yet said that they do. Not surprising. Talk about unhappy things and sure enough, it won`t be long before you experience a degree of unhappiness. Repeated for fifty minutes, twice a week for as long as can be tolerated, it seems likely to make even the happiest person sizeably upset.
Many clients have “failed” counselling because they haven’t been able to contact any feelings what-so-ever and so are clearly very “out of touch”. It only takes a few moments after meeting these clients to discover that their internal frame of reference is not organised kinaesthetically but through an auditory or visual system.
For counsellors to work exclusively with the kinaesthetic nominalisation of “feelings” is clearly short-sighted and horrendously ineffective and, as previously suggested, sometimes delusional as well. Yet throughout the country, such nonsense is being taught to groups of therapy hungry middle class, middle-aged, evening classes at colleges, night schools, hospitals, even by mail order (or ‘Distance Learning’). Such drivel is peddled by the media (“…and the group were met by police and trained counsellors…”), GP`s (take one daily to reduce these horrid feelings and two counselling sessions, weekly, to re-establish them, don’t worry about the side effects, they are all socially acceptable.”), and more so by the drivelling students of such courses themselves.
After all, what a perfect job it is to assist people to understand their misery. It beats having to take (and teach) responsibility.