A reader recently suggested I consider therapy.
This is a ridiculous suggestion. Not because I don’t “need therapy” – I do. But because I am, in fact, one of the world’s largest consumers of therapy.
Here’s a graph, showing Americans’ lifetime consumption of therapy – with none on the left, and more on the right.
You see where that chart trails off, all the way at the right? That would be me.
You almost certainly don’t know a single person who has had more therapy in their life than I have. Seriously.
But here’s a/the thing: I think my reader was wrong. Or maybe not “wrong,” but perhaps, not as right as s/he knew. S/he suggested therapy in response to my recent post about loneliness. About how, in the face of circumstances that should make me happy, I found myself feeling sad.
Most people think therapy is a once-a-week trip to a kindly and supportive person who listens and offers encouragement, validation, and perspective. I find this kind of therapy utterly useless in the face of intractable, structural, characterological suffering. Or simply neurotic patterns of behavior and feeling.
That sort of suffering – my sort of suffering – responds far better to depth psychology, to psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis has some things in common with “therapy,” but differs in some crucial ways.
I won’t say or write much more on the topic – I’m not an evangelist. But. Between psychoanalysis and meditation, I’ve learned one crucial life lesson: my suffering derives not from my circumstance, but from my wish that my circumstance should somehow be different than it is.
The Buddha’s version of this is the “first noble truth” – “Life is suffering,” or, in the translation I prefer, “Life is pervasive unsatisfactoriness.” Freud said that the goal of psychoanalysis is “to transform neurotic misery into common unhappiness.”
Most people – and often, especially, those who recommend therapy as a “solution” to a “problem” miss the Buddha’s and Freud’s crucial insight: most of our problems don’t have “solutions.” Their solutions, inevitably, lie in acceptance. So, too, here: I wrote about my experience, not about a “problem” that required “solving.” Rather, I was seeking understanding. And acceptance. As always.
Happy New Year.