Monday 13 August 2012

The Slippery Slope

You know the old joke: Q. What's a Freudian slip? A. It's when you say one thing but you mean your mother.

Yesterday I witnessed (from my secret Internet hidey-hole – I’m not a weirdo; I’ve been tested.) two grown men discussing psychology like it was a science. Yes, I know, an actual science! At best, psychology is an amalgam of folkloric wisdom and some best-guesswork to explain, for example, why the outsider beat the favourite, or why being bullied makes you sad. At worst it offers a mountebank’s solution to man's desire to overcome the weaknesses of mankind; grifters, after all, use psychological traits to exploit their marks. Some in the psyche game do the same with public funding.

What we used to call nerves we now label performance anxiety. What was once shyness has blossomed and polyfurcated into a whole industry pivoting about self-esteem. I've never met a psychologist who wasn’t a little odd; not because of any obvious defect in their basic intelligence, but if ever there was a sub-set of humanity needing validation... And then there’s the language of the game: Id, ego, super-ego, angst, gestalt, gruppentherapeutische; much psychology is hokum, masquerading as truth, engaged in by the needy and validated by the use of complex phrases. In German.

The best practitioners of useful psychology are the observant; it's why your cat has the measure of you and why you love your dog even though he appears to be an abject fool; both know how to push your buttons. In other words, despite the wholesale destruction of entire forests to record man's fascination with the inner workings of the mind, the average psychologist is no better judge of character than your nan. Criminal psychology is exactly that - a criminal waste of resources pursuing a conclusion that could be arrived at by a Women's Guild knitting circle with a fraction of the fuss.

Lest you think I’m dismissing mental aberration and illness out of hand, I’m not; there are some real nutters out there (not me though – I've been tested). But it’s a very convenient peg to hang any and all of your anxieties and failures on and there is an army of practitioners - some genuinely helpful, some manipulative charlatans, some misguided amateurs – ready to part you from your (or the taxpayers’) money.

The talking cure in particular is a stroke of genius. Everybody – I mean everybody has at some time felt the need to unload to a stranger - it's what barmaids are for. But offloading to a 'professional' on a regular basis is a drastic measure. After his Southern Oceans ordeal Tony Bullimore famously turned down offers of therapy on the basis that it was a load of old bollocks and he had actual, real friends and family to talk to.

That is not to say that the study of psychology is not valid, or that psychotherapy does not help people, but it’s not so long since the study of phrenology was taken seriously and while the dedicated psychologist presumably looks down his nose at homeopathy, crystal healing and horoscopes – palpable nonsense, all – they might just bear in mind that they are held in much the same regard by a significant proportion of the population (blokes, mostly… chicks will fall for anything!). J

So next time you feel the urge to get help, why not catch yourself on and head off to the park I mean pub (I’m not strange! I’ve been tested!).