I See a Darknessby 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.