11/28/2012 04:36 pm ET Updated Jan 26, 2013

Sidebars to Psycho-Branding

For some time now, I've been developing the idea and practice of what I've called "inventing a therapy." The point has been, to my mind, that much of psychotherapy hasn't been relevant to people's lives. It has often provided interpretations or expectations that have more to do with the "ceilings" where we can speak in more sophisticated tones and content, while leaving us bereft when we return to the basements, so to speak, where the more raw and chaotic emotions and emotional responses remain in hiding or shame. For me -- yes, there are many good therapists, but to find people willing to go deep into their own insides and grow during a series of exchanges that are mutual and creative while they remain safe, has not been so easy for me, for many other professionals I know and certainly for patients/clients.

In my own practice I've seen people who have had multiple therapy experiences, who have been wounded and jarred, not just because of their own temperament and circumstances but because the narcissism and more of the therapist, made it all worse. There has to be a way to empower people to be more discerning and cautious; there have to be supports so people can grow into themselves while becoming practical and more comfortable in dealings with feelings, thoughts, decisions and conflict. Otherwise it becomes another industry that feeds on failure, like the diet industry, that will come out strong again after the holidays to flood the airways and then disappear 'til before summer. The obesity level grows and the weight counseling industry grows with it and nothing much changes. Perhaps the psychotherapy field needs to grow in ways that go beyond branding or image and have more to do with substance, with collaboration within the field and within the larger world.

This would involve maturing beyond what is, to finding ways to deal with conflict in a world torn by divisiveness and constant blame and reverting to illusions of innocence or odes to past glory. We have particular conditions that include the weapons to destroy each other, as well as information that could potentially used to attempt to understand the underlying motivations behind denial and avoidance, distraction and seduction by the thrill or so-called "cure" of the moment.

Lori Gottlieb's story "What Brand is Your Therapist?" is well told and can be pertinent to any of us for who struggle with our definitions and expectations, and a different reality from that which we expected. Her training didn't match the market, and her consultant told her how to advertise herself. Gottlieb has described the integrity to maintain her identity and purpose as a psychotherapist, although in this article she demurs from describing quite how glitzy her own website, smoothly branded, has become. Her original dilemma, as she puts it, was, "I studied mental illness, not marketing." This would be a good place to note yet another sidebar, a complication, if you will.

To my mind, to study mental illness would be to study our culture, ourselves and our marketing devices. It would include looking at the ways we feel in deep and not always acknowledged ways -- bullied by the pressures to produce, to meet standards that often have nothing to do with us, and to buy into the fads offered to us. Yes it's true that many people would buy the services of a so-called "happiness locator" (doesn't it seem like a geographical spot?), but it's also true that many people are drawn to the truth and don't like to be played the fool. Happiness is not the commodity it's being sold as, and real engagement in life includes being a participant in the variations of mood, of human weather conditions, and of the flow, as opposed to one result only. As Woody Allen said in the recent documentary about his life and films, while it's very seductive and enjoyable to go into a fantasy world, we come back to reality with its at times hard edges so we don't go insane.

If we parent our children so they can experience joy, reliability and the honest reactions to disappointment and loss, they become better practiced in negotiating grief and recovery -- not only recovery but expanding in the capacity to cope, to evaluate, and to love. If we teach people that we are developmentally meant to learn how not to be enslaved by codependencies and by magical promises of constant escapism or chronic lightness of being, they/we may want something more substantive than the "location" of happiness. Most of us have heard the expression "wherever you go, there you'll be," which also means that while what is inside us can be skipped over, it doesn't disappear.

A president, a teacher, or a psychotherapist needs to listen to those who seek them out, and also to learn from the experience. But at the same time they also need to lead and teach, and offer up knowledge that can be useful and crucial to our lives. Therapy shouldn't be about advertising nirvana for a few dollars or addictions to the quick fixes that are the reasons people go to rehab in the first place.

But there is another thing, which is that aside from the pain involved in growing, letting go of superstitions and toxic attachments can be exhilarating.

Actually, when people ask me how long therapy could last, if I'm not sure, I say that; but I add that we/they will know if something is working, and that one point of the whole thing is that the process should be interesting -- even enjoyable.

The idea can be to not only embrace personal change but to see how we can change up lots of things. And there may just be, no time like the present.