A while ago I set up a blog called Therapy Nation, which was intended to look at how talking therapies can both help and hinder an understanding of modern life. In particular, I wanted to look at how psychoanalysis can shed light on some of the peculiarities and contradictions of life in the early part of twenty-first century Britain.
Recently though I decided to abandon this blog, and to migrate all the posts that I had written for it over to Touching the Real. The reason for this decision was primarily because I thought that the focus of my blogging should be on what I believe to be the fundamental point of psychoanalysis, which is it’s engagement with the Real.
In my view, this is what makes psychoanalysis genuinely subversive and radical. It’s also what differentiates psychoanalysis from psychotherapy and other talking treatments. Still, it raises an interesting question: do we live in a (psycho)therapy nation?
I think the answer to this is, as is so often the case, both yes and no. Yes to the extent that the language, or to use (post) modern parlance, the discourse, of psychotherapy pervades our culture, even if most of the time we are probably unaware of it. No to the extent that the actual number of people who choose to go and see a psychotherapist, or some similar practitioner, is surprisingly low; at least it is compared to the number of people which research suggests have a ‘common’ mental health problem such as anxiety or depression.
Perhaps it could be argued that if the discourse of therapy pervades our culture then there is no need for people to actually visit a real live therapist. After all, isn’t the ultimate aim of any form of talking treatment for the patient/client to become his or her own therapist? The therapist is there simply to guide the patient/client in the right direction. There may be a lot of truth in this but it misses the point that in order to be able to become one’s own therapist one still has to engage in the therapeutic process. Which means engaging with a real live therapist…
There is a fundamental problem here, though, which relates to the whole therapeutic enterprise itself. From a Lacanian position, this is because psychotherapy is on the side of meaning and therefore on the side of the signified, rather than the signifier.
Why does this matter? After all, isn’t everyone looking for a meaningful existence, a purpose in life, a reason to be? The problem with meaning is that, as already stated, it resides on the side of the signified, which means it’s in the register of the imaginary. And the problem with this is that the imaginary is only one of three registers of subjectivity. A life that resides purely in the imaginary is extremely fragile; it is the world of narcissism, of the ego.
An imaginary life is ultimately an unsustainable life. And a therapy nation is, ultimately, an imaginary nation, and therefore an unsustainable one