I love this cartoon of a drowning man shouting to his dog on the bank, “Lassie, get help!” In the next picture we see the trusty dog lying on a psychiatrist’s couch.
We all encounter many and various frustrations that we can’t always deal with on our own. But the idea that to ‘get help’ involves a tortuous process of introspection and confession is way out of date. It was based on the medical model of a patient-doctor relationship, and on Dr Freud’s psychoanalytic style in particular. His patients lay on his elegant couch, several times a week for years, while he sat invisibly behind them, puffing on his cigar and telling them what was wrong with them.
This woeful misconception lingers on in the popular imagination. People who would not think twice before phoning a breakdown company when their car won’t start on a cold morning, or a decorator when their house is looking tired, are still reluctant to ‘get help’ for themselves when they are unhappy or overwhelmed.
There is a welcome change in the way we ask now for professional help. We are customers rather than patients. We can choose between a wide variety of services on offer. We expect to feel better, sooner. We want the process to be safe, effective and empowering. But the client-therapist relationship is far more than a consumer-supplier negotiation. The analogy is more like finding a personal trainer with the skills to help you feel fitter.
As a cognitive behavioural hypnotherapist, like a personal trainer, I do not need to know about your past or private life: only your present situation. At a difficult moment, it does not help to ask ”Why?” so much as “What to do about it?” Lassie saves the day every time, by being resourceful, practical and coming straight to the point.
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This article appeared in the Test Valley Forum magazine March 2018