Sunday, July 3, 2011

Can Watching TV Be Therapeutic?

We’ve been watching In Treatment. An American TV series shot entirely within the confines of a therapist’s office. (The entire script is adapted from the Israeli show Be Tipul) It’s addictive and engrossing. J has even been glued to it, and he has no suspension of disbelief, meaning he normally hates any fictional drama series.

Throughout my life I’ve had friends in therapy. I felt like it was some sort of club I didn’t really need, had no clue how to join, but had a morbid curiousity about. I wondered whether there could truly be a formula where peoples’ lives could be spoken – like puzzle pieces poured onto a table - and with a therapist’s presence, reflecting the words back upon the wounded one like a mirror, the puzzle would fit together and the person would emerge cured…

In as much as a TV show reflects the reality of our lives, the series illustrates the fact that there is no secret at all. That therapists are not special nor gifted. That they have neuroses of their own, that they can be weak and impulsive and damaged. That they cannot see the patterns they theorize about, when it comes to their own lives. In essence, that they are just one of us. Normal in their imperfections.

This is depressing and elating at once.

At the end of the season 1, the hero, our therapist, decides finally to follow his heart, professing his love for a patient with whom the sexual tension has been palpable throughout the series. He visits her house, enters her bedroom and … has an anxiety attack on the edge of the bed. He begins to sweat uncontrollably and gasp for air. He flees.

I never believed in anxiety attacks when I was younger. I grew up with the impression that most psychological problems were just melodramatic self absorption. This was easy to believe. Easier than facing the possibility that life’s experiences could damage our minds, our hearts, our souls.

One day a few months after my six year old son died inexplicably in my arms, I found myself at the bottom of a pool of air, forgetting how to breath it in, how to stand, how to walk. I was gripped with panic at the thought of walking down the stairs, sipping water, living another moment. In my mind, I knew that something had to give. I would have to pass out or vomit or die.

I had an anxiety attack. I found myself on the side of the road in my car, on the streets of Accra, in a neighborhood I knew well. Lost, out of breath and terrified. I had to call a friend to come and save me.

I knew then that the mind was a delicate organ and I was so scared that mine was tipping into the uncontrollable. Turning against me. I have never been more frightened about my own sanity. I needed a miracle.

I wanted a therapist to soothe my shaking psyche. To talk me through my own mine field of experience. To make me better.

I came to realise that the choice was inside me. The strength to pull up and out of the abyss. Time is a healer, more than a $150 an hour psychotherapist.

Their theories and the incessant talking about memories and feelings are all stabs in the dark to help us, but in the end, futile without us. I have lost the naive belief in external cures. I am much more in awe of the human brain now though, and how it reacts to the blows of reality. I will never venture to judge again...

But my morbid curiousity is not abated. I have realised that watching the therapy dynamic is fascinating in it’s inaccuracy, interplay, and raw emotion. It makes brilliant television.
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DIDI said...

So Sorry about your Son :( ,Time indeed is a healer but in some cases the psychotherapist are there to lift some sort of burden from your chest. Guess at the end of the day a choice has to be made, as to whether its gonna be gradual healing over time or therapy.

The pale observer said...

Thanks Didi - I believe whatever works for each person - the mind is fragile and whatever we can do to help it with the wounds we endure, we should do that!

Anonymous said...

My personal experience is that when tragedy struck early and often therapists were the few people who described my reactions as normal. But, they're like teachers - most are okay, but once in a while there's one that's exceptional.

I also found that after a certain point of health I could do better on my own ...


The pale observer said...

a - agreed - if you get that special someone that you can connect to, then it can make a big difference. But then, it's all down to the interpersonal relationship, and beyond the academics of therapy - do you agree? Have you watched In Treatment by the way?

Miss Footloose | Life in the Expat Lane said...

What a great post, with stuff to consider and contemplate. The most scary thing that happened to me was the feeling of being out of control depressed as a result of post traumatic stress (after brain surgery).

I had always thought I was a "strong" person and could/would be in control of my own feelings and my own mind. And then I wasn't. It was terrifying because I didn't understand it since the surgery had been successful and I was fine. Why be out-of-control depressed? Cry day and night?

Strangely it was the surgeon who gave me the "therapy" by telling me that of course I was experiencing what I was experiencing -- it was "normal" because I had been "strong" and kept my emotions under control all that time and now they were just catching up.

After that, it slowly abated. But I'll never forget that feeling of just not being in control of my own mind.

More than you wanted to know, I'm sure ;)

Maya Mame said...

I think I have similar ideas about therapy as you do. Really, I think at times we need an outlet to express our feelings, some of us find it through talking to family or friends, through art, writing, even exercise; and those who don't, may need the therapist to play that role. My friend needed a therapist to deal with her mother's death, because no one else had time to listen to her pain.

When I was an emotional wreck after my daughter's premature birth (she's thankfully fine now), the same friend gave me a book to write in, knowing I don't believe in therapy. Two years on, I still write in that book every now and then, and it gives me better therapy than $150 an hour could ever do. (sorry for the superlong comment!)

The pale observer said...

Miss Footloose and Maya Mame - thanks for sharing! I think everyone comes to some impasse in life where we need an outlet - if therapy can be that outlet for some, I think it's great. Writing is definitely one of my outlets!

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