Wednesday, September 24, 2014


"My therapist has told me I need to remember that I don't want to be in a relationship with him."

This, and only this, is the part of this advice-column letter we're going to discuss. The letter? It's about the lure of the aloof asshole. A classic problem, but not the question at hand.

And that question is: If you have a therapist, why are you writing to an advice column? Or: Why run such a letter? Or: If you are an advice columnist writing your own letters, why include a bit about a therapist? If you're already paying a neutral third party to discuss boy trouble, why are you taking up precious advice-column space? A second opinion, sure, but aren't advice columns for those in search of a first?


caryatis said...

Isn't that like saying, If you have a spouse, why write to an advice columnist? If you have friends, why see a therapist? If you have a pastor, why do you talk to your mom? Different people have different skill sets, and yes, second opinions. And some therapists are very reluctant to let their opinions be known. If you're sick of hearing "how does that make you feel" and want someone to straight out tell you what to do, the advice columnist is probably better.

...And probably the therapy is not just about "boy trouble."

caryatis said...

Also "He smokes a lot of weed and intimidates me with his wit and knowledge". Does not follow.

Phoebe said...

The WWPD-style graphomaniacal version of this post had addressed all this. The risk of attempting brevity is that not all counterarguments are addressed.

But yes, the therapy might be for something else. The way it's presented here, though, there's no reason to think the therapist is for some larger problem. If there is a larger problem, that would probably be essential to addressing the question. In some milieus, or so I've been told, one simply has a therapist like one has a facialist. Ultimately, my gut feeling from the letter, as someone who's known people who are in therapy for the serious reasons and the it's-just-what-one-does reasons, was that this was the latter, or closer to the latter on what is, after all, a spectrum. But there's a chance I'm wrong, of course. But if I'm right, then "therapist" indicates not so much an underlying mental illness as cultural capital. If the person at stake, though, were not an anonymous (and perhaps fictitious) letter-writer, I'd be more inclined to assume the reverse. See - complicated! I could go on...

As for therapist vs. spouse, etc., this I sort of did address - it's about neutrality. If this woman had asked a friend, maybe that friend has a crush on that guy, or on her, or is single and doesn't want her coupled, or any number of possibilities that arise when people's lives are intertwined. A therapist may be more or less forthcoming, but presumably, according to ethics, won't be personally involved.

Doctor Cleveland said...

Well, what's the purpose of an advice column?

From one perspective (the one that lets the columnist feel the work is worthwhile), it's providing a better-than-nothing substitute to people who aren't in therapy and maybe should be.

From the media platform's viewpoint, it's to publish whatever the audience will find most interesting. The writer (or radio caller's) personal welfare are only a subsidiary point.

From the writer, or call-in show caller's perspective, an advice column or call-in how is often just shopping for the advice they want. If they have therapists, they may want to hear the therapists' advice contradicted. If they've gotten advice from friends or loved ones, they may be unsatisfied with that advice. They don't always want advice. They sometimes want validation for what they really want to do.

caryatis said...

Doctor Cleveland, you don't accept the possibility that the writer might actually want a different perspective? Sometimes the letter is essentially "tell me that I'm right and the other guy is wrong", but sometimes it's more "why does he do that and how can I understand and deal with it?"