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On therapy and the end of listening

In a post that I have now removed, I made an analogy between therapy and prostitution. I  apologize for the hurt it caused. The analogy was intentionally absurd and offensive.

A friend asked me what lessons I learned from the response to the post. Here are several notable ones plus an explanation of what I was trying to do:

First, I believe therapy is extremely helpful. My life has been changed for the better through interactions with my therapist. My marriage is stronger and my relationship with my kids healthier because of work I did in therapy. Over the past fifteen years, I’ve recommended and seen dozens of people benefit from therapy. As I’ve noted elsewhere, I had no intention of disparaging therapy though I recognize that contradicts the repugnancy of the comparison.

Second, it hurts to be misunderstood. I could sense the outrage behind some of the responses because commenters perceived I misunderstood therapy and in doing so, misunderstood their experience and misunderstood them. I’m confident many felt this post was a personal attack. It pains me this happened.

At the same time, I also felt hurt because my post was misunderstood. This may sound naive and self-centered because I knew how offensive this analogy was but I found myself hoping that even the negative comments would first acknowledge the point of my post. It felt so good to hear positive comments explain what I was trying to do.

That leads me to an important lesson about listening: We can’t hear anything until we feel we’re understood.

As a blogger, if I were to re-write this piece without offending those who are pro-therapy, it would first require a thorough explanation of how valuable therapy is and the type of people therapy can help. Once I establish my credibility on therapy’s importance, only then could I introduce an aspect of how therapy can be abused.

As a listener/reader, this works the same way. If someone says something that offends me or attacks my values, I can first reflect back the person’s argument before objecting to their approach. If I do something offensive, I want others to acknowledge what I was trying to do before judging my action. If that’s what I want, I need to model this in how I respond to others’ offensive actions.

Third, I have very gracious friends who are not afraid to call me out - both privately and on social media. I deeply appreciate these friendships. I also believe they demonstrated how to have respectful social media discourse. It is possible to have civil dialogue on social media platforms.

Lastly, the post was not meant to reflect any kind of reality nor was it based on any kind of research or study.

It was a thought experiment.

I’ve been wondering why more and more young people seek out therapists rather than pastors. One reason is therapy has been de-stigmatized in recent years while at the same time, the church has been vilified. And that led me to think about the intimacy of sex and Charlie Sheen’s quote. Throughout much of human history, sex has been a scarce commodity. Sex was only sanctioned within marriage and there was no internet. Today, sex is cheap due to the birth control pill, almost zero stigma around extramarital sex,  the accessibility of high-definition porn, and online dating.

However, what is expensive today is attention. We live in a listening deficient world where attention spans are rapidly shortening and competition for attention is fiercer than ever. Malcolm Gladwell mentioned there are 750,000 podcasts available today. What happens when listening becomes a scarce commodity? What happens when listening is sold the way the oldest profession is sold? How much would a person pay someone for his/her full attention? That was the purpose of the post. It was a thought experiment about what happens when the supply of listening, authority, and community becomes drastically constrained. That day may be approaching sooner than we think.

Comments

  1. I thought the key insight was the commoditization of things that one might hope to obtain in the normal course of a healthy life --- sex, in the one case (through marriage), and support, affirmation and wisdom through healthy friendships and mentoring relationships in the other.

    This is still a valid point. It's like taking food supplements. We should obtain all this stuff through a healthy diet, but people perceive a need to buy supplements to make up the deficits in their diet.

    So perhaps a less inflammatory comparison might be between counseling and vitamins. :-)

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  2. Although I never got therapy, I understood your previous post because I had once considered therapy as a bandaid solution to loneliness or minor issues. The other solution I considered is hiring a private tutor for an instrument or language. Paying people to pay attention to you and invest in you is always appealing when you aren't sure that anyone would be naturally so interested in you as a person. Pastors are busy. So it's possibly also a self confidence issue or even a societal issue. People are becoming more and more selfish. There are fewer people truly interested in getting to know other people.

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