Sunday, December 19, 2010

Avoidance Therapy

I once had a friend who was deeply troubled by psychological disturbances. She took medication to stabilize her mood disorder, but her treatment plan naturally included a healthy dose of talk therapy. My friend went diligently to her therapist for perhaps two years. Over time, my friend's mental health improved dramatically, but she still struggled with paranoia and a host of minor but nevertheless troubling mental health issues. For instance, my friend labored under the delusion--perhaps not wholly constructed by her infected imagination but nevertheless distorted by bipolar disorder--that her supervisor and colleagues at work were out to undermine her and ultimately get rid of her. In her opinion, they might even be contemplating active sabotage, subverting her scientific studies for instance to render her experimental data ridiculous. This was the type of delusion she regularly discussed at weekly therapy sessions. Well, one day my friend brought another of her worries to me. She was saddened by a romantic breakup, and missed a former a lover. Further, she now felt at sea when dealing with members of the opposite sex, and consequently worried that she would not be able to "move on" in her romantic life. After some discussion of the matter, I asked her what her therapist made of this complaint, and what he suggested as a remedy. Without hesitation she explained quite forcefully that she never discussed her personal life with her therapist.

My friend meant of course that she used her therapist as a vehicle for stabilization, but only in reference to her more serious, chemically-grounded, mental problems. For the quotidian woes of everyday life, she had her friends and her normal psychological resources. Boy troubles simply didn't rise to the level of professional treatment, and were none of her therapist's business anyhow. Yet still, the statement, which amounted to a general principle or credo, that one should never discussed private life with a therapist, stayed with me, and seemed emblematic of the way many of us approach external scrutiny. Surely, we avoid it whenever possible--even do our best not to discuss that "real thing" that lies at the heart of our neurosis.

Take another example, culled from another conversation with a friend over her therapy, which illustrates the same point. This second friend told me once that she had gone back into therapy with her former psychologist ,even though this therapist lived in another state. When I asked how this was possible, she said that naturally they conversed by phone. Not having heard of telephonic therapy, I asked how well this worked. She said that under ordinary circumstances it wasn't ideal but that her therapist happened to be blind, which meant that there really wasn't much difference between meeting with her therapist in person and talking to her by phone. Somehow, the idea of a blind therapist struck me as a wonderful metaphor of the way most of us go about delving into the truth about ourselves. On some level--the ego, is it?-- want to set up the mechanism for self-discovery and inner investigation, but on another level--if I say Id, do I have that right?--we want to do everything possible to avoid revelation, light, truth, and self-knowledge. In the end, we all want a blind therapist.

In the quest to understand the Revolution, I sometimes wonder if I'm self-sabotaging. If not, why do I constantly move away from the central revolutionary texts to explore distant pre-revolutionary events, nineteenth century literary history, recent Russian films, and even the current dramas of the Putin and Medvedev administrations? Why don't I spend more time getting to know the primary texts of Revolution, such as Trotsky's detailed treatment and the others? Why don't I learn the Russian language in order to explore primary texts? Am I looking for a blind therapist?

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