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Get Some Counseling!

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

10,000 Maniacs--"Don't Talk" (mp3)

Some opening thoughts, snippets from three different conversations, one of them internal:

ME TO A FRIEND: I agree, I think you need to get some counseling about...

A FRIEND TO ME: I think every marriage should attend a marriage seminar every single year. Every kind of marriage.

ME TO ME: I don't really do counseling.

The fact that in the past two days I have found myself both recommending counseling and maintaining no interest in a marriage tune-up myself does not surprise me. After all, like the rest of you, I am, as Kris Kristofferson wrote, "a walking contradiction, partly fact and partly fiction."

If I see a friend about to plunge once again into a pattern that keeps getting repeated, then, yeah, I support the idea of counseling. Otherwise, I'm pretty iffy about it.

I am willing to concede that there have been a few times during my 29-year marriage that likely would have benefitted from some counseling, but the more general pattern of people seeking counseling for everything that ails them makes me very nervous. And not only personally-nervous (since I tend to be a pretty private person), but also societally-nervous, because I see the counseling boom as another potential crutch, like the plethora of prescription drugs that plague our society. Yes, they are a plague.

To complicate matters, my older daughter is headed for a graduate program to become a counselor. I think she will make a very good one; I think that she will do a lot of good. But she will become a counselor in the context of social work, where it is most definitely needed.

No, my concern is about the kind of "I'm depressed so I think I need to go see someone or take something" mentality that pervades our daily lives and mental patterns. Again, I am well-aware of the clinical diagnosis of "depression" and the profound ways that it can take over a person's life. What I'm talking about is surviving day-to-day ups-and-downs in outlook, in marriage, in motivation, in hope for the future, in worries about children, in sex drive, in faith, in the what-the-hell-am-I-doing questions that sometimes hit us in the morning shower. To me, those are things that you work through on your own, or with your spouse or partner, or with your children or your parents or your friends. Period.

I am sorry when someone loses a parent; I lost my mother. But that isn't a circumstance that requires medication. We should be depressed when that happens, we should feel like the rug has been pulled out from beneath us, we should feel forced to reexamine all aspects of life. Our bodies and minds are reacting to a massive physical, emotional, and mental void. We should have to learn how to reinvent joy. Over time. Not artificially produce it.

And I guess I look at marriage the same way. Marriages have rough spots. They're supposed to. They're supposed to because two people are never going to be perfectly in sync. They're supposed to because humans are probably not monogamous beings by nature, and to battle with our natures to try to find our better selves. And so, the idea of a marriage seminar, a marriage billboard, a marriage website doesn't do all that much for me either.

What is a marriage seminar but mass counseling? It's a place where two people with a very idiosyncratic relationship have to hold that relationship up to a) a created ideal and b) every other marriage in the room around them. Yeah, I might go for that once some time. Or maybe I should have already. But every year? Good God, no!

I suppose the idea is, at least in this specific case, some kind of Christian version of "the unexamined life is not worth living." While I agree with that idea on the surface as it applies to marriage, I would also amend it in two ways. First, I am certain that Aristotle meant that as an demand for self-reflection, not as a dictum suggesting that couples work through a workbook or listen to a series of CDs together. Someone somewhere with some other agenda created those tools for, dare I say, a capitalistic purpose. Second, examination requires time and action in between. To take on a yearly marriage check-up doesn't leave enough time for a marriage to actually live. It's like training for sprints, not marathons.

And while I'm mixing metaphors, I'll add this. Marriages are sometimes like wounds. They are raw and open and they need a chance to scab over and heal. A yearly seminar, at least to my thinking, does nothing more than rip the scabs off, the scabs of imperfection. I have no interest in that; in fact, I think it's unhealthy, likely to cause infections. May even potentially be fatal.

But beyond that, a marriage seminar, or any seminar, for that matter, is built on the idea that somewhere out there lies THE ANSWER and that maybe, just maybe, these latest folks pulling into town are holding that answer and will reveal sometime late Saturday night, or even early Sunday for a reasonable individual or group fee. If they gave it out any earlier, everybody would leave. So they've got to stretch it out, tease everyone, and then finally reveal that the answer lies within. Or without with Jesus. Things that people already knew, if they'd been paying attention at all during the previous seminars.

I realize that these notions put me outside the current norms of treatment and drug therapy (unless you count beer) and that you probably think that inside I am a mess of unresolved issues and unfulfilled desires. That may well be true. But if it's something that you think I need to work on, let's meet over a beer or a trip to New Orleans or a game of catch in my front yard. I'd rather talk it out that way. My wife will probably join us. We'll probably want to get something to eat, too.

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