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I See a Darkness

I See a Darkness

by Brandon Edmonds, image by Jason Bronkhorst / 28.01.2010

Here’s an ethical question for you: I owe my analyst R3000 for six sessions, but I’m still depressed, as depressed as when I first walked into his hyper-calm home office, with its box of Kleenex and tinkling Zen rock pool. Should I pay? I mean I can pay, but I’m choosing, at this point, not to. I’m protesting the lack of analytical success, by withholding payment, which, in turn, ironically, is making me feel a whole lot better! It’s a Woody Allen joke, except its real, it’s my life, and I have a right, don’t I, as a consumer, one of the few roles the social system offers us, unreservedly, to get what I pay for?

When I buy a chicken sandwich, I expect chicken in it. That’s my valid assumption based on the packaging. “Capitalist realism”, an important new concept for understanding our “social moment”, developed by Mark Fisher at his influential K-punk blog, never quits urging us to assume the best of products. Fat-free means fat-free, okay, it’s written right there on the box. Every day we do this little dance of suspended disbelief with the stuff on the supermarket shelves. We may be wearily disillusioned with the grave state of our planet and all those stuttering social institutions, failing to serve or placate us anymore, but we still fill up our baskets in touching good faith that what products profess to be, they are.

The “packaging” of my analyst’s office, the diploma on the wall, the set of books in his cabinet, and the “packaging” of his persona, solicitous, concerned, attentive, led me to assume seeing him would provide some emotive uplift, a genuine change in my not-so-good mental state. Was I wrong to assume a psycho-analyst would lessen, to paraphrase that hirsute Indie troubadour, Bonnie Prince Billy, the darkness I see? No, you say, that’s food, dude, not therapy. Assuming chicken in a chicken sandwich is way different to assuming the abating of chronic ill-feelings in therapy. One assumption is way more complex than the other because a chicken sandwich is a lot simpler than human consciousness, dumbass! Hey, jeez, go easy on yourself. (See, my analyst was no help at all).

Okay, shit, so we need to establish the difference between products and services. These are the alpha and omega of the capitalist universe of consumption. The “material reality” behind Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” said to guide the market in classical economics.

Products are generally objects, things, while services generally entail relationships, extensive relations of exchange between providers and consumers. Both see to some sort of need or desire the public wants seen to. The product is a limited, object-based solution to popular needs and desires. Hungry? Have a chicken sandwich. Horny? Buy a customised Real Doll made of silicon, and sadness. A service is an ongoing solution to a want or need, setting up a long-term commitment, like a mortgage, or a cellular network contract, payable over months or years.

Looks like therapy is a service rather than a one-off type product, and this is where things get interesting. Therapy itself has long been morphing from a service, entailing mutual commitment, long-term interaction, hours upon hours of agonized disclosure and considered response, into a product! Therapy is giving way to a short-term, quick-fix, market-friendly mentality, with the solution to the deeply complex question of troubled human consciousness, routinely being drugs. Analysts are all too eager to push fragile selves onto expensive medication.

My analyst suggested medication at the end of our very first session. I was a stranger to him, and vice versa. Yet here he was blithely advocating drugs. His trickling Zen rock pooI suddenly seemed the centrepiece of a Bond villain’s lair. This is how little he thought of Freud’s elegantly humane approach, best summed up as “the talking cure”. The curative potential of talking freely about abiding concerns and conflicts was immediately given up for commercially made products, pharmaceuticals, within one session. I’m sure I’m not alone in this. I’m sure many more of you have had medication placed before your pain. Medicating unhappiness seems to be what analysts, tellingly called, these days, therapists, tend to do. Talk is slow and demanding, messy and meandering, drugs are clean and efficient. They apparently do what’s on the label. An outcome you can’t be sure of with the “talking cure”.

Drugs take society, its demands, frustrations, inequalities and dangers out of the equation of mental health, placing the “blame” on particular chemical imbalances within the individual. Your brain is the problem not the objective social system your brain processes each second.
Change your brain, not society. As online thinker, Mark Fisher, puts it, “an individual-therapeutic model of stress deflects any structural account of how the stress arose. This is reinforced by the psychiatric tendency to understand mental illness in terms of chemical imbalances in the brain, which, again, makes stress a purely private matter.” This is absurd in a country as conflicted and stressful as ours.

I often even felt like I was talking to myself, since my analyst often misheard me! Here’s a great example. I mentioned that I often feel like “a Golem” in social situations. The Golem is a protector figure from Jewish folklore. A creature made of stone but animated by the name of God and used to defend the community against attack. I used the term to suggest how stolid and thick-set I sometimes feel, being a large mammal and all. He thought I said “Gollum” – the wretched, “preciousss” addict from the Lord of the Rings! I was invoking history, he was invoking Hollywood. Another great Woody Allen joke. What was missing then from my analysis was precisely this sensitivity to history, to larger social forces, the big issues, and great themes. Part of what will cure me, and many more of us, he failed to understand, is getting beyond ourselves and taking up a cause we can believe in.

Finally, here’s Mark Fisher again, “depression is a symptom of the failure of politics – discontent and disaffection have no outlet, so they are internalized, reinforcing the very conditions which gave rise to it in the first place. It’s a particularly vicious kind of circle!”

So, enough already, should I pay the quack or not? Please leave a comment. Either – Pay/or Don’t Pay. We’ll tally the score after 10 days and I’ll respect the outcome, democratically, one way or the other.

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  1. G says:

    Sounds like you need a new therapist. I would have said “pay” but when you said that he suggested medication after the first session, I say, “Don’t pay!”

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  2. don trump says:

    If the patient is smarter than the therapist, then surely the exercise is doomed to failure? Don’t pay.

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  3. emmanence says:

    I agree with both, find a different therapist, one who’s as smart and has the kind of background and context and thinking you have, and don’t pay. To use your initial analogy, you could buy a woolworths chicken sandwhich, or a chicken sandwhich from spar. There are chicken sandwhiches, and chicken sandwhiches, and until you find your favourite make, you keep tasting, once you’ve found the one you really love, you’ll go back there because it gives satisfaction.

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  4. snapper says:

    sounds like the first session was a pretty blatant indication that the solution he could give you wasn’t the one you wanted.
    i say ‘pay’ since you wasted his and your time for another 5 sessions.

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  5. KK says:

    Pay. It’s more like an entrance fee than anything else. Then ask Dr Bronkhorst for help – his drawings seem very, er, therapeutic

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  6. Anonymous says:

    Why did you go back after the first session? That’s like having six chicken sandwhiches. If the first one didn’t have any, you should have said something then, not after the sixth! Obviously you are getting something of value of our of those things, that’s why you keep going back. Pay!

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  7. Dave says:

    Offer him payment in kind.. then hold his gaze for a second too long

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  8. Freud says:

    Well, if you are so well spoken about this, I would expect you to smell a rat from the start. Seems that you (a) were curious to see where the therapy was going and kept going back (b) really desperate for help and blinded by that or (c) prompt by your inner urge to reject everything the man has to say to stay in your hole. Pay up seeing that the therapist knew you were (a) curios (b) desperate (c) unwilling to change. Therapists are businessmen as well

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  9. Sara says:

    Depression is due to one’s dogged determination to hold onto one’s illusions about the nature of reality – face your illusions about reality and then take responsibility for your mental well being.
    If you need someone to help you do that, get another therapist and do your homework first to find out what philosophy and method she uses

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  10. your conscience says:

    Pay, because remuneration for therapy is like a TV license – it’s the right thing to do.

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  11. therapootic says:

    trying to solve the problems of the mind by using the mind is a complete waste of time. when are people finally going to figure that out. talking about your problems and how complex they are keeps you stuck in the mind, the source of the problem.

    two things have helped me overcome debilitating depression. 1. i decided to stop thinking about my own problems and start helping other people, being of service to society in one way or another instead of living with so much self-focus and 2. getting outta my mind (meditation) and discovering that if my mind shuts up for a moment, i’m actually quite happy and peaceful underneath that.

    therapists are the most self-righteous scam artists and drug dealers. and you know what happens if you dont pay your dealer.

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  12. Anonymous says:

    But Brandon, the Darkness sees you too! It’s a love story!

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  13. lfd says:

    I agree with Snapper. Pay up, buddy, and then do your homework on your next therapist before ringing up such a big bill. It’s called Being an Adult and Taking Responsibility.

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  14. Joerg says:

    I think not paying after the first session is totally good if it’s not gonna work out, but by going back to the next five sessions you’re also giving the headshrinker an indication that you’re getting some value out of this.

    But I love the idea. I really do.

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  15. Lisa says:

    I’m with emmanence on this one

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  16. Mike says:

    First, you should pay, because that’s the contract you entered into by going to therapy – he didn’t guarantee you would not be depressed by the end of x sessions, did he?

    Second, you really are a sad case. Maybe suicide would help.

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  17. tough love says:

    don’t eat half the meal before you complain that it wasn’t what you ordered… sorry my boy, i vote pay.

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  18. Headshrunk says:

    Hmmm, i suppose in a way therapy is always a gamble, because in order for it to work you, you have to feel a deep sense of trust or affinity with your therapist. In a way you agree to seeing whether or not it is going to work out from the beginning. It’s high risk service delivery. I say speak to your therapist about really not being happy with the service, and maybe pay a reduced fee, but paying it all or nothing at all doesn’t seem right.
    To therapootic – Vipassana has done more for me than therapy, so i completely agree. The solution is not in psycho-analysis, it is outdated. but therapists do have a value if we find a way to use them to enter into spaces we feel we cannot enter alone. Anyone know a good (open,heartfelt,insightful) therapist out there?

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  19. talkaintcheap says:

    “The talking cure is slow and demanding” – so put your money where your mouth was!

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  20. - says:

    The root of the depression sits with yourself analysing emotions and not objects… Imagine water surrounding you, you have a stone in your left hand and a stone in the right… Throw the stone in your left hand as hard as you can in the water, shortly followed by the same process for the right… What do you see? Ripples… You are analysing emotions, what happened to the rock? I did not tell you much about the water. Not literally, but this helps-that guy that observed gravity, that boy sat under a tree looking after his fathers sheep and he noticed an apple fall from a tree and it hit the ground, did he analyse WHY he witnessed an apple falling to the ground or the apple falling to the ground?
    Quite simply, the main point remains that you went for 6 sessions and felt nothing or no change, you’re surely not apathetic yet? And it took you six sessions to make the decision you were not feeling better, after the prefered method of treatment was advised at session number 1? Hmmmm… This isn’t an ethical issue?

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  21. Anonymous says:

    pay. being depressed is self pity and an indulgence. I love your writing. You are brilliant.
    A comedian recently quipped: “Humanity is approaching a brick wall at high speed and we are all arguing about the seats” ha ha ha. thats so depressing it’s funny. keep up your excellent writing and please dont commit suicide.

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  22. Gail says:

    Pay, but negotiatie the payment with your ex-therapist, Good Luck.!

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  23. David Steynberg says:

    I agree with Anonymous about depression being “self pity and an indulgence”. And yes, your writing is insightful, thought-provoking and down-right masterful. But, dude, pay up and cheer up. Being positive is harder than chilling in self-loathing. Try to look for the different angles to the most depressing circumstances and believe in the good of humanity instead of the evil.
    In the immortal words of Emma Thompson’s character in the film Love Actually: “Get a grip. No-one’s ever gonna shag you if you cry all the time.”
    That quote alone should get a smile going.

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  24. JT says:

    If he stayed awake through your kak, you owe him

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  25. Graeme Feltham says:

    “A schizo on a walk through a park is a better model than a neurotic lying on a psychiatrist’s couch” – Dealuze and Guattari from the groundbreaking Anti-Oedipus.

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  26. Graeme Feltham says:


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  27. Snoepwinkel says:

    pay him for usufruct. you were doing your favourite thing: lying on the couch.

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  28. Anonymous says:

    Don’t PAY!

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  29. Brandon Edmonds says:

    You seem overwhelmingly in favour of paying! (20 – 3) So that’s what I am going to do. Thanks for getting involved. I’m okay by the way. Getting out of the house, making beetroot salad wraps and steering clear of sad songs – they say so much…

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  30. Dave says:

    Shit brandon, if i’d read your last comment before my phone call to you I wouldn’t have asked for payment up front for the book i collected for you… .

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  31. Roger Young says:

    Don’t pay. Just send him the link to this story.

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  32. Andy says:

    whether you pay or not you should definitely send the link… and post the correspondence below?

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  33. Bonzo says:

    I once saved up like 200 bucks to buy a present for my father… so I spent the money on a hooker and some crystal meth. then went and told him all about it. he said it was the best gift he ever got.

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  34. Ally says:

    Buy him a chicken sandwhich.

    One with no chicken in it.

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