Re: PSI Seminars: Legal Action?
Date: November 12, 2007 01:24AM
I found this on a blog and thought I would post it here. So of it is funny; but it hit home for me.
It's getting so you can't swing a dead cat these days without hitting a therapist. They seem to be ubiquitous (therapists, that is, not dead cats): we see them marching purposefully through the halls of our office buildings and our schools, and earnestly gesticulating on the set of every talk show in the country. (You have to wonder, do all those teletherapists have to pass a certification course in earnest hand gestures before they can graduate from Hustle U?)
Whatever the problem is, it seems there's a therapist to rush to the rescue. A beloved teacher is fired from your kid's elementary school after being discovered having intimate relations with a Saint Bernard? Oops, better airdrop a squadron of counselors onto the playground to help the kiddos deal with the trauma. They've quit selling St. Euren, your favorite microbrew, at your local snob-food market? Send in the Emergency Therapy Technicians to intravenously administer buzzwords and helpful tips. ("Quick! Give me six cc's of 'empowerment' and a pint of 'closure'!")
But perhaps these are the words of an ingrate. Maybe we should all be deeply thankful that therapists are there, standing ready to help us through every traumatic or even mildly irritating event by providing a buffer between us and our emotions. And I must admit that, speaking from my own experience -- as someone who's never actually been to a therapist, but has known many therapists as clients (in my day job) and as friends -- most of the ones I know are truly interested in helping people.
On the other hand, I sometimes have to wonder: in the larger scheme of things, have therapists done more harm than good? There are even some in the therapy biz who've asked the same question. A few years ago, psychologist and soulful personal-growth guru James Hillman engaged in a spirited series of dialogues with writer Michael Ventura. The result was published as a provocative book entitled, We've Had A Hundred Years of Psychotherapy, And The World's Getting Worse.
"Help! I've been abused and I can't get on TV!"
I can't say for sure if the world's getting worse or not, nor can I judge whether psychotherapy is a cause of the possible decline or if it's simply not doing much good. I can, however, tell you about an incident several years ago in which I was the victim of what can best be described as therapeutic abuse. Granted, the mistreatment came not from a real therapist, but from one of those irksome motivational "coaches," whose tenuous toe-hold on the great rock wall of therapy was that she had created a self-improvement "technology" based on therapeutic constructs. Put it this way: this woman knew just enough therapy stuff to be dangerous.
Not that I'm entirely blameless in this matter. My first mistake was allowing myself to be persuaded to meet with Ms. Coach. The instrument of persuasion was my erstwhile business partner, a woman whose primary hobby was personal growth (our "business" partnership was her secondary hobby), and whose main occupation was hunting for a Lexus-driving man with an immense bank account. My partner -- let's just call her Aerial -- never tired of talking about all the inner work she'd done, and continued to do, and how well it was working for her. And then, for the benefit of unevolved beings such as myself, she would always conclude with this humble disclaimer: "I'm still growing, of course. We all are."
Aerial had run into Ms. Coach at one of the local centers of enlightenment, and had turned her on to the possibility of hiring us to promote Ms. Coach's life-changing seminars. Aerial said Ms. Coach seemed very excited about the prospect, but thought we might benefit from taking the seminar so we'd know what we were promoting. Ms. Coach would even let us get in to the seminar at a reduced price. What a deal!
Having already been through the personal-growth-seminar drill several years back, I told Aerial I'd consider taking the promotion gig but wasn't interested in sitting through a marathon weekend. "Slept through ten or eleven, slept through 'em all," I said. But Aerial would not take no for an answer. "It will be good for you. You know you still have a lot of issues to deal with," she told me, hastening to add that she did too, of course. "I may seem to have it all together," she reassured me, "but remember, I'm still growing too. We all are." Anyway, she'd already set up a business appointment for us at Ms. Coach's apartment.
So we put on our bidness costumes, gathered up our propaganda, and off we went to our meeting. Rather than talk about promotional strategies, however, the first thing Ms. Coach wanted us to do was take the preliminary test required of all seminar participants, or, as she described it, the "free personal evaluation." To which Aerial agreed and, not wanting to be the odd one out, I agreed too. That was my second mistake.
As Aerial and I took our seats at Ms. Coach's dining room table, the latter explained the instructions for the test. There were, as I recall, 100 "yes / no" questions, and, Ms. Coach was careful to explain, we were to answer them without thinking about them -- one choice per question, of course. "Just put down the first response that comes to you," she instructed. "That's very important. When you're both finished, let me know."
At that she retired to another room, and the test began. I've never been a personality-quiz junkie, have never taken any psych courses, and have been fortunate enough to escape being psychologically plumbed by prospective employers. So my knowledge about genuine tests of this nature was (and is) sketchy at best. Near as I can tell, though, Ms. Coach's little quiz borrowed heavily from those highly intrusive standard personality or aptitude tests so often used on hapless employee prospects, patients or inmates. At any rate, I found the test quite annoying. Many of the questions seemed asinine, having no unqualified yes or no answers. Nevertheless, I plowed right through as instructed, put my pencil down, and waited like the good student I'd once been for the teacher to come get my paper.
First, though, I had to wait for Aerial to complete her test. It seemed she was having a lot more trouble than I'd had. Rather than just penciling in the first response that came to her head, per instructions, she appeared to be carefully thinking about each question. She talked aloud to herself as she proceeded, and several times went back and erased previous responses, changing them to what, according to her running self-dialogue, was a more acceptable answer. Long after I'd finished my test, she finally put her pencil down and, beaming, called out to Ms. Coach, "Okay, we're through!"
"And the winner is..."
Ms. Coach came and got our papers, and while we waited with some uneasiness she graded them...er, evaluated them. When she was finished, it was time to discuss the results with us.
It was Aerial's turn first. Sitting across the table from us, Ms. Coach looked into Aerial's eyes like an enamored lover, her own eyes brimming with admiration as she gushed, "Wow. You've obviously done a LOT of personal-growth work."
"Why, yes, I have," said Aerial modestly, and proceeded with a brief version of the spiel I'd already heard so many times before, regarding the years and years she'd spent in therapy, recovery and, of course, inner-child work. "But of course, I'm still growing," she concluded. "We all are." All the time, Ms. Coach nodded and murmured approvingly.
Then it was my turn. Ms. Coach's face became more somber as she turned to me. She had used her evaluation system to create graphs depicting our test results, which amounted to placing us within what was very obviously a hierarchy of functionality. There were three levels to the hierarchy: supremely functional, somewhere-in-between, and pretty screwed up. Those weren't the words that were used, but that was the gist of it. Aerial, of course, was floating way up there in the highest heaven of functionality. And yours truly was -- you guessed it -- slogging around in the purgatory of abject screwed up-ness. It wasn't quite hell, mainly because in this sugar-coated, new-age, I'm-okay-you're-almost-okay scheme of things there was really no place for anything so harshly judgmental as hell. But where I was definitely was not where the evolved people hung out.
If it was any comfort, Ms. Coach hastened to assure me, I was at the very top of the screwed-up heap, hovering just below that in-between level where hope began. If I took her seminar, I could certainly advance myself.
However, she explained, given the obvious severity of my screwed-up-ness, I might receive greater benefit from some one-on-one coaching sessions. She thought my test results were extraordinarily interesting. In fact, she acted as if she had never seen results quite like mine, and couldn't wait to get her healing technology on me.
I said I'd think about it, which really, of course, meant, "Bite me."
After that, we finally went on to talk about business -- specifically, what Aerial and I could do to help Ms. Coach promote her business (once we'd taken her seminar, of course). For the rest of the afternoon, however, I couldn't shake the uncomfortable feeling of being the odd one out after all -- the outsider, the messed-up one, the unassuming thorn between two veritable roses of enlightenment. Every time their eyes met, Aerial and Ms. Coach seemed to emanate rays of spiritual sisterhood. (For all you prurient types, there was nothing sexual going on between the two of them. They were simply caught up in the moment of discovering they were kindred spirits.)
On one level, of course, I knew that I was sitting in the presence of profound bullshit. Which is why I decided it wasn't worth it to let the teacher know that my fellow student seemed to have cheated on her test.
Back to reality
As it turned out, nothing ever came of that afternoon at Ms. Coach's dining room table. To begin with, both Aerial and I opted out of the seminar. Aerial decided she simply didn't have the need for a personal-growth seminar, seeing as how she was growing so well on her own, and I certainly didn't have to be persuaded not to attend. Within a year Aerial and I had parted ways, for she did indeed find a good man who, it must be said, had no Lexus (maybe all that personal-growth work had at least taught her the value of compromise), but he was possessed of a substantial bank account that relieved Aerial of the need to play business. Where Ms. Coach was concerned, the point was moot, for she turned out to be one of those standard-issue flakes one so often encounters at the places of enlightenment. It didn't take us long to figure out that she had no intention of actually hiring us for real money; at best, she was looking for a trade-off: we'd bust our butts for her, and in return we could attend her seminar for a reduced price, or even for free. Her main purpose in meeting with us had been simply to recruit more bodies for her seminar.
What bothers me to this day is that she kept copies of our test results, and they had our names on them. There's no telling what she did with those things. I would be worrying about whether or not I'm in any of the journals or textbooks, but I have to keep reminding myself that, after all, Ms. Coach is not a real therapist. Even so, I can't help feeling that she, and others like her on the fringes of professionalism, engage in a sort of voyeurism with these tests. To make things worse, they're really not bound by any official rules of confidentiality. Yeah, I feel used and abused, all right. And Springer's people won't even return my phone calls.