Monthly Archives: October 2015

Autárkeia and Aphrodite

Fullscreen capture 2015-05-20 15128 PMThus speaks the man in love: autárkeia, self-sufficiency, the philosopher’s ideal, has exited stage left, along with my libran keel. Take my free will, for I wish to be your predestined fool. Slavery to you, my dear, shall henceforth for me be the rule. I cannot feign nonchalance, or Castiglione cool.

Let truth be told: a knowing look from your gentle eyes, and I am intoxicated with the strength of Samson. But a trivial slight from those very same green tyrants, shears me of my former boldness, and puts my stomach in knots.

Oh Epictetus, wipe that disapproving look off your face! Stern Stoic, surrender to Aphrodite, and join the human race. You thought the poets hedonists and simpletons. But they saw something, something you and Buddha missed: a losing game it is, fleeing from fear and desire, for if you win, what have you won?

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2017)

When God Stopped Talking to Me

“If you talk to God, you are praying; if God talks to you, you have schizophrenia.”—Thomas Szasz, The Second Sin (1973)

imagesI used to believe in God the way you believe in the existence of your mother and the sky. Like Enoch of old, I knew God. This wasn’t faith or hope or wishful thinking; it was a real relationship. For about three years, between the ages of twelve and fifteen, prayer wasn’t a one-sided exercise for me; it was a two-way conversation. I heard the voice of God. But it didn’t last. One day, without warning, and for no apparent reason, God just stopped talking to me. Never before or since have I felt so completely and utterly lost and alone in the world. Like that madman who mourns the death of God in The Gay Science (1887), I was also profoundly disoriented: “Is there still an up and a down? Aren’t we straying as though through an infinite nothing? Isn’t empty space breathing at us? Hasn’t it got colder? Isn’t night and more night coming again and again?” It was excruciating. Easily the worst experience of my life. But I survived, I muddled through, and I found a way to live happily and well in this Groundhog Day world of ours, a world where each and every day is Holy Saturday.

I haven’t heard the voice of God once since then. Nor do I expect to. Truth be told, I’ve long suspected that this deeply religious period of my life was in fact a rather serious brush with mental illness, brought on by chronic insomnia, raging hormones, and a malfunctioning adolescent brain. And I’m glad to have dodged that bullet. But I’m equally glad to have dodged a psychiatric diagnosis. I’m thankful to my uncle Peter for sharing his faith with me when he did. Pentecostalism provided me with a narrative framework within which to make sense of what was happening to me, as well as a supportive religious community that normalized (and, indeed, often valorized) the strange experiences I was having. If it wasn’t for Peter, I’d probably be a drugged out shell of a man now: in and out of psychiatric hospitals, living at the margins of society, without family, without work, without self-respect, without dignity, without purpose.

Psychiatry’s current conception of “schizophrenia” is deeply flawed and thoroughly incomplete. Even so, it’s surely truer, far truer, than Pentecostalism’s supernatural understanding of the same set of symptoms. But this is largely irrelevant to someone who’s hearing voices from time to time. For them, the relevant questions are more likely to be: Whose treatment is more humane? Which narrative is more likely to allow me to remain part of my community? Which diagnosis is more likely to allow me to live a more or less regular, productive life? Which will permit me to remain a fully functional member of my society? These questions pretty much answer themselves, and that’s the problem. Schizophrenia is hard, no doubt about that. But what we do to schizophrenics is often much harder than schizophrenia.

—John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2017)

Why I Hate Jack & Diane

“The most pernicious bit of idealization is the very widespread view that the best time of one’s life is the decade between sixteen and twenty-six, when young men’s muscles and young women’s skin are at their most blooming. . . . By describing life as a downhill process, we prepare young people to expect—and demand—very little of it.”—Susan Neiman, Why Grow Up? Subversive Thoughts for an Infantile Age (2015)

Mixbook Beautiful Possibilities A Graphic Introduction to the Examined Life by John Faithful Hamer - Google Chrome 2015-09-27 103358 PMA friend recently challenged me to name one thing that could not be explained to a five-year-old. My example was romantic love. I can’t explain that to a five-year-old, not in any real way. It would be like trying to explain the color blue to someone who was born blind. To understand what blue is, you have to have seen blue things. And to understand what love is, you have to have experienced love. There are many more examples of course, but they all come down to this: I happen to think that growing up is an achievement, not some sort of fall from grace. What’s more, unlike the leagues of youth-obsessed romantics who fuel the self-help industry and our therapeutic culture, I happen to think that being an adult is pretty fucking fun, and, despite its many drawbacks, by far the most interesting part of life. And part of what makes it so great is that you get to understand things that simply cannot be explained to a five-year-old.

23492_317179112682_3337470_nIf I had to choose the one pop song that makes me cringe the most, it would be John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Jack & Diane”. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great tune. But its message makes me want to throw up:

Hold on to 16 as long as you can
Changes come around real soon
Make us women and men

Oh yeah life goes on
Long after the thrill of livin’ is gone
Oh yeah they say life goes on
Long after the thrill of livin’ is gone

Much suffering is unavoidable. I try not to wage war on that kind of suffering. But other forms of suffering are entirely avoidable. I try to wage war on these every chance I get. The suffering that comes from buying into the toxic worldview made manifest in Mellencamp’s music is unnecessary suffering. Although it may seem as if he’s merely reporting, it’s important to realize that Mellencamp isn’t a reporter in “Jack & Diane”; he’s a prophet, and a false prophet at that. The song’s message is a self-fulfilling prophecy that leads to suffering. And that’s precisely what I hate about it.

—John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2016)

Less austerity, more philosophy


When deprived of funding educational systems respond by centralization and efficiency. These concepts make sense when mass-manufacturing ketchup, but undermine curiosity, creativity, and wisdom when applied to education.

The logic of efficiency demands that more be done with less. Inevitably, this translates to teachers having more students with the same time available to teach them. In consequence, teachers have less time to establish a rapport with their students and must learn to treat them like they are all the same tomato being squished into the same bottle. Over-standardization and the installation of often-inflexible rules, at all levels, is the outcome. Ministers, administrators, and teachers must employ ever more efficient methods to assess outcomes and demonstrate progress. In Cegep, where learning the names of 120 students is already challenging, the human-ness of students recedes. In short: education – when funneled through the logic of efficiency – is at threat of becoming cold, impersonal, and soulless.

All is not lost, to be sure. Knowledge, as the saying goes, is generated. Vocabulary is improved, logic is strengthened, morals are considered, and skills are acquired. Society benefits from this. But at risk of being lost is a whole set of skills that are at the heart of learning, even if they are not easily quantifiable, or quantifiable at all.

Ignoring the triaging tactics that assessment and feedback demand of large classes, consider how efficiency and the overloading of classes alter the nature of conversation. There is the risk of there being no conversation, for starters. In a classroom of 40 – 42 students – typical of Cegep – there may be too many personalities, too much social pressure, and too many people for an open and inclusive conversation to develop. This can be a curse for the social sciences and humanities, in particular. What should be a dialogue, dialectic, conversation, etc. may become an extended monologue. Some larger classes can develop great discussions, to be sure, and some teachers are particularly effective in such settings. Quite often, though, the same 3 or 4 personalities dominate, while most others remain silent, often in opposition to the more confident personalities. Knowing that they will not be called upon, many students recede into their cell-phones or internal preoccupations where they have more skin in the game, so to speak. Whatever they miss in class they will make up for with cramming later. The more students that teachers have to instruct, the greater the distance between them and their students, and the more the educational system becomes less responsive to students’ thought processes.

I was recently speaking with a student about a project that she was developing on whether violent imagery perpetuates violent behaviour. The student is smart, patient, and creative, and she was applying a unique and thoughtful analysis to a question that is wrought with clichés and oversimplifications. While speaking with her she divulged that she believes in the theory that aliens have built the pyramids. I prompted her by suggesting that the type of experts she has used as sources for her class project are similar to the experts that, by consensus, reject the idea that aliens built the pyramids. ‘Yeah, well we all know about “experts”,’ was the reply.

My mind began to race as the words fell from her mouth. Here we have one of the more able students in the class – a 90s student who can deliver a 15 page, university-level, APA formatted analysis – who by her own words does not trust the sources that she is using to deliver her work, but knows that they are required in order to gain good grades. Administrators can check all of the boxes for her in terms of “meeting competencies”, “obtaining objectives”, “demonstrating knowledge”, etc. without knowing that she doesn’t believe in any of it and is probably more concerned about the dangers of chemtrails (not unlikely given the way ideas overlap).

It occurred to me that this could be an excellent learning opportunity. By what criteria can we establish truth about the building of the pyramids? If the criteria are defined and accepted, does one or the other theory better survive the scrutiny demanded by the criteria? This situation could have been developed into an engaging exercise in the philosophy of science, and might have reframed the way that she approaches important questions throughout her life. As I thought all of this I realized that her time was up and that the next student was at the door, waiting for her 10 minutes of conversation time. We had to leave it there. Next.

Geoffrey Pearce – Montreal, Qc

Trudeau’s Hotness

11230109_10156175696195068_6632135282872998127_nDISCLAIMER: While I do in fact have eyes, and can therefore note the new Leader of the Great White North is in fact …. smoking fuckin’ hot… I have to confess, having actually met him on a number of occasions, that while he’s pretty to look at? He’s actually not my type. I’m 5′ even on a day when I stand up super duper straight and fluff my hair a bit. And I feel like a little kid when I am with guys his size, as I barely come up to his rib cage! (The new PM is also super ridiculously crazy tall. Well, compared to me, anyway). I actually used to have “if you’re over 5’8″ please don’t bother messaging me!” in my online dating profiles, and I wasn’t kidding. On one of our first dates, my husband told me he was 5’5″, and I jumped across the table and kissed him, because I’d never heard a man admit outloud that he was less than 5’7″ before. Fifteen months later, I married him. So while I can indeed see that Canada’s Favourite Boy Scout is fiiiiine, I am not one of the many women who has JT on her “Freebie List.” This piece is in defence of those men and women who do!

Recently, there’s been an outcry that it’s not okay to point out that in the case of our new Prime Minister, it seems PM stands for Pretty Manly and Positively Magnificent. The argument goes something along the lines of either “it’s not okay to say that about women so why is it okay to say about him?!” or something about how talking about someone’s sexuality without their consent isn’t cool, is objectifying, and reducing them to a “thing”.

With regard to the second argument, I think there’s a way to point out someone is attractive without being gross. Being gross is never okay. And I’ll totally admit that some of the commentary on our completely fine PM is way over the top, the kind of stuff that should be reserved for bedrooms, not boardrooms! Stuff that is disrespectful to someone’s marriage and their own personhood. That’s completely not cool.

But I will take issue with the argument that because it’s not okay to say something about women leaders, it’s not okay to say that same something about male leaders.

There is a huge, massive, major difference between how men and women and their sexuality are viewed in mainstream society. A man’s sexuality has never, EVER taken away from the assumption he is also competent and capable. It, a woman’s sexuality that is, does take away from the assumption she is competent and capable when we’re talking about a woman’s hot factor. Well, actually, no, maybe it doesn’t, because it’s always assumed women are, well, women first, and competent later. If ever. So adding that she’s hot on top of it is just another layer of stuff to dig through before mainstream society sees her as competent and capable.

There is absolutely a double standard, and that’s because they are different. Men and women are equally capable of being competent, effective leaders. Of learning, of leading, of governing. But when it comes to how women and men are perceived as sexual and intellectual beings, It’s apples and oranges. Pointing out the fact the good Lord spent just a little extra time on Justin doesn’t demean Mr Trudeau as a PM, or imply he’s just a hot body and great hair. But there’s no way to seriously put forward the idea his sex appeal is not part of his overall appeal. Let’s face it, he won the election when the accompanying picture here went all over Canada, and women fell in love with the guy who handed a woman beater’s ass to him in the boxing ring, and then got kissed passionately by his wife after as if she was breathing fire into him. That has to be one of the hottest, sexiest pictures ever taken of a national leader in any country!

And no one thinks that makes him less capable as a leader. Now, a woman would absolutely be thought of as less capable due to the fact she’s a woman and seen as sexual. Somehow, we can’t be seen as sexual and be taken seriously at the same time. And so no, I don’t think it’s inappropriate to point out the sky is blue the PM is hot simply because it’s inappropriate to point out a woman in his position is hot. Instead, I lament that women have to be stripped of their hotness to be taken seriously as leaders. Because I’d prefer to live in a world where one could admit they find a woman sexually appealing without that being either a physical threat to her safety*, or essentially saying that her value as a human begins and ends with the fact that she is sexually appealing.

But we don’t live in that world. Yet.

*let’s face it, the world we live in, that is in fact what it is for many women when they are told some man finds them sexually appealing: sure, most men probably won’t rape us. And we aren’t stupid; we know that! But here’s the thing: we don’t know which men will, and which men will not, until after we’ve put ourselves in the position where he can… and yet chooses not to do so. And yeah . . . that’s not a risk many women are willing to take until we know a man quite well

—Wendy KH

Why We Strike

student-demo-20150321Over the upcoming weeks you will be seeing an increase in footage and reporting about Quebec teachers on strike and protesting. I wanted to take this opportunity to give you a bit of context that will most likely not be provided by news outlets so that you understand what is being protested.

The popular perception of teacher protests is that they are mainly motivated by cuts to salaries and benefits. While this is undoubtedly a motivator, I do not think that I speak only for myself when I say that this is not the primary issue that is bringing me to the picket line. We have already accustomed ourselves to salary increases that lag behind the cost of living, and while the proposed salary freeze is even more regrettable, it is only the tip of the iceberg.

Mixbook Beautiful Possibilities A Graphic Introduction to the Examined Life by John Faithful Hamer - Google Chrome 2015-09-27 103535 PMFor me, the main concern is a series of proposals whose effect would be to undermine the quality of education that students receive by reducing the autonomy, working conditions, and quality of living of teachers. We are being asked to increase class size and work load, to allow non-departmental figures to select department chairs and coordinators, and to deal with budget squeezing that has already had a marked effect, among other proposals.

IMG_3390But the most toxic issue by a long shot is one that you have probably never heard of: the continued growth of the two class education system that is taking over Cegeps and has already poisoned higher education systems across North America. While day teachers enjoy a decent salary and good working conditions, Cont Ed teachers must perform the same job as day teachers but at a much lower salary and with access to fewer resources and less support. The students in Cont Ed classes often come from underprivileged backgrounds and have weaker skill sets. They clearly require more support, and yet they are placed in a situation where they must pay more than daytime students for classes taught by teachers who are given working conditions that discourage any extra effort, and that do not pay them for the obvious efforts that they already make. Try to tell a teacher worthy of the name that they do not have to meet, speak, or correspond with students outside of class time because they are not paid to do so (which they are not). The teachers that I know feel a moral and professional obligation to do this regardless of whether they are paid for it, and it is an insulting policy to assume that teachers should appeal to their pay check to excuse themselves from the basic duties of their profession.

411704_10150630542152683_897430939_oThe corporatized lens through which education is increasingly filtered will mean that the public will probably not hear about these issues. The proposed cuts are ways of promoting “efficiency”. Teachers must learn to “do more with less”. Cont Ed is a great “profit centre”, even if this profit is at the expense of anyone who should profit from it (students and teachers, in case you were wondering). Austerity is “inevitable” (it is not). Given the climate where this type of thinking dominates, it is not surprising that Cont Ed has experienced rapid growth at a time when daytime enrolment is projected to decline.

It is a cliche to point out that investing in education is investing in the future, and since we have heard the cliche so many times we probably forget just how profoundly true it is. The ideas, skills, and values made possible by our education system determine the economic, social, and environmental well being of our country. If you have been disturbed by displays of ignorance over this election, you might have a sense of what is at stake.

Investment in teachers and their working conditions is an investment in students and the future that they will create. The more that this system provides teachers with good working conditions and benefits, and ways of implementing creativity and innovation, the better the outcome for students and society. This is not something that should be so readily compromised.

—Geoffrey Pearce, Dawson College (Westmount, Quebec)

You Must Unlearn What You Have Learned

“You must unlearn what you have learned.”—Yoda, Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)

Fullscreen capture 2015-10-18 115544 AMDon Lorenzetti, my childhood karate teacher, my sensai, loomed large in the working-class Verdun of my youth. This is due, in part, to the extreme scarcity of worthwhile father figures in my neighborhood. At least a third of my friends lived, like me, in single-parent households where father was nowhere to be found; and at least half of those who did have fathers around, wished they didn’t—because dad was a drunk, a lazy loser, a teenager trapped in a man’s body, who smacked mom around from time to time, watched TV all day, and spent the rent. Don was the very opposite of this. He was a man who kept his promises, a grown man you could count on, and an adult who always acted like an adult.

xrpj4In the midst of a thoroughly screwed-up neighborhood—wracked with record levels of unemployment, a pernicious culture of poverty, and all sorts of social problems—there was the Centre de Karaté Verdun: an island of order in the midst of a sea of urban chaos. Many of us looked up to Don. And for good reason: he was a thoroughly honourable man: a real mensch. He was more than just our sensei: for many of us, he was a moral exemplar and a fountain of wisdom. Though I’m 41 now, I find that I can remember much of what he said to us with astonishing word-for-word accuracy. And I can remember the only time I ever saw Don lose his temper.

Karate kid - Google Search - Google Chrome 2015-10-18 115931 AMA few boys had recently come to our karate school from a defunct dojo in LaSalle. The clueless charlatan running their martial arts school had taught them a remarkably stupid way of punching. I’ll spare you the details. Suffice it to say that punching this way in an actual fight pretty much guarantees that you’re going to break your wrist. Anyhow, because these students had practiced this bad way of punching thousands and thousands of times, it had become a kind of second nature for them, a very bad habit. So before Don could teach them how to punch properly, he had to first undo the damage done by their accursed education. It would take months, he once said, to get these new students to the place where most new students were on Day One. In the midst of a particularly difficult class, wherein three of these students injured their wrists severely, Don thundered: “It would be better if you knew nothing!” I see the wisdom in what Don said more and more with each passing year, especially now that I’m a teacher. What my students don’t know isn’t the problem; it’s some of what they think they know.

—John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2016)

Do Bullies Lack Self-Esteem and a Capacity for Empathy?

large_1uRKsxOCtgz0xVqs9l4hYtp4dFmIn the movie Powder (1995), a hunter is cured of his desire to kill for fun by a bodhisattva-like boy with magical powers: Jeremy Reed (nicknamed “Powder”). As a thuggish small-town cop discovers, much to his chagrin, Powder can quite literally make you feel another creature’s pain. If the film has an overarching message, it’s that bullies are bullies because they lack empathy and self-esteem.

This was the received wisdom in the 1990s, and it made sense to me at the time. But it’s been disproved so many times since then that, in my experience, the only people who still subscribe to this myth are aging hippies and out-of-touch babyboomers running high-school anti-bullying campaigns. Numerous studies have demonstrated that most bullies have higher than average self-esteem. What’s worse, perhaps, is that Zimbardo and others now think that raising a bully’s self-esteem may make him more of a bully, not less.

eda2f6f08c766a96d5634ca5f0681b55Although I must confess that I still find this quite counter-intuitive, it now seems that the notion that bullies are bullies because they lack empathy is being disproved in the 2010s just as thoroughly as the notion that bullies are bullies because they lack self-esteem was in the first decade of the twenty-first century. As Mary Lamia put it in Psychology Today: “Typically, we misinform children that bullies behave in this way because they have low self-esteem, which doesn’t make much sense to kids since bullies appear confident, arrogant, and self-assured—and they are. (See my previous blog, Do Bullies Really Have Low Self-esteem?) In addition, children are often told that a bully is unable to empathize; to put himself in your shoes. But this is also untrue. Anyone who is a victim of someone who behaves like a bully knows that bullies have an amazing ability to recognize exactly what is going to hurt, manipulate, or control you. . . . Empathizing with someone and understanding what the other person feels does not necessarily mean that you will respond sympathetically or compassionately. In fact, descriptions of empathy, have included the notion that empathy can be used for destructive purposes.”

Teaching a bully how to be more empathetic, like raising his self-esteem or his IQ, may just help him become a bigger and better bully. Many bullies score high on empathy tests. In fact, they’re good at hurting you because they’re good at imagining what it might be like to be you. Evil, it seems, isn’t always, or even usually, a function of ignorance. What follows, of course, is that Socrates was wrong: education can’t save us.

—John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2016)

p.s. I highly recommend that you watch Dr. Kwame M. Brown’s response to my piece, wherein he quite rightly suggests that we interpret these research findings cautiously: swinging the pendulum to yet another extreme, yet another mono-causal explanation, is decidedly unwise. 

Get the Hell out of My Mayor’s Way, Harper!

“Montreal did its homework. Speak to the experts who will tell you very clearly that this was the only option. If the federal government wants to try to teach us a lesson, I suggest they invest millions of dollars and tell us how they will invest in the green industry. Until then, we have work to do.”—Denis Coderre, Mayor of Montreal

My son Indie throwing his first rock into the Saint Lawrence River (Summer 2005)

Dear Denis: You should have penciled in “oil” on the form instead of “sewage”, Mr. Mayor. Would have been green-lighted by the feds faster than you can say “pipeline-poutine” (this is the Harper Government, after all). But seriously, I’ve been agonizing over this sewage dump issue for almost two weeks: reading everything I can get my hands on, talking to everyone who knows what they’re talking about. As many of you know, The River is sacred to me. Indeed, I’ve made it quite clear that after I die, I want someone to dump my cremated remains into the Saint Lawrence (a rather comic death wish, given our current debate). Anyhow, I have a deep sense of connection to The River: love it like an old friend, truth be told. And yet I’ve come to the conclusion that Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre is doing the right thing: that construction work is long overdue, and this sewage dump is unavoidable. What’s more, it probably won’t cause any long-term damage to The River. Eight billion litres sounds like a lot, but we’re not dealing with a little river like the Mississippi here; we’re dealing with the Queen of North American Rivers, the Saint Lawrence, a very big river. Anyhow, that’s why I didn’t sign that petition that was going around, much to the chagrin of my friends; and that’s why I want the feds to stop playing politics and get the hell out of my mayor’s way!

—John Faithful Hamer

Is Therapy Destroying Your Life?

Just as those who pay for sex soon suck at sex, those who pay someone to listen soon suck at listening.

books020410_03-003Although we spend billions on it, talk therapy seems to help, at best, one in four. Numerous studies have demonstrated this: it simply does not work for most people. What’s odd, to my mind, is that nobody who knows what they’re talking about seems to dispute this, not even the profession’s most vocal apologists. And yet for some strange reason, our collective faith in the promise of therapeutic salvation remains strong—stronger now, perhaps, than ever before. Despite this abysmal track record, most of us reflexively advise our friends and relatives to “get some help” when they’re going through a tough time. Most of us believe—in a lazy, unthinking way—that seeing a therapist whenever life hurts is, well, you know, just what normal people do. Those who fail to seek professional help when they’re “in a bad place” are viewed with suspicion. At best, we think them eccentric, quirky, and odd, like that weird old friend who still doesn’t have a driver’s license at 42, or that funny middle-aged aunt who lives alone, makes her own hummus, and refuses to use underarm deodorant. At worst, we begin to resent their refusal: “I can’t believe she still hasn’t seen someone! I mean, seriously, at this point, I’m starting to think she wants to be miserable.” “Ya, I know what you mean, my brother’s the same way. It’s like he just doesn’t wanna be happy.”

z024p-001Peer pressure to “get help” can be surprisingly strong on Planet Oprah. We’ve probably all found ourselves in its orbit at some point or another; but none have felt the terrible tug of its gravitational force more than the parents of bratty kids and troubled teens. Most give in to the zeitgeist’s demands regardless of whether or not they think it’s going to help. And they are richly rewarded for their conformity: they and their wayward children shall be washed in therapeutic grace. Schoolyard sins shall be forgiven. These parents—who get their little monsters “the help they need”—are deemed decent, upstanding, responsible, virtuous, and good. But those who stubbornly refuse to seek professional help for their problematic offspring are subjected to a tsunami wave of righteous indignation.

THAT BOY NEEDS THERAPYIf Dante was reincarnated today as a mommy-shaming helicopter parent, my guess is that he’d reserve a particularly nasty place in his new and improved Inferno for suburban heretics who refuse to find therapists for their difficult kids. These parental outlaws will share a spot on Hell Crescent with crackheads who gave their kids beer for breakfast, working parents who slipped peanut butter sandwiches into school lunches, and that coked-up celebrity who sped down the highway in a red convertible with an unsecured baby on his lap. Of course all of this social pressure to “get help” is predicated on the assumption that therapy works—that it can fix you, fix your kid, fix your marriage—however, as I mentioned from the outset, numerous studies have demonstrated that therapy simply does not work for most people. Some find healing, no doubt about that; but most of those who show up broken, leave broken. That being said, my concern, here, isn’t, first and foremost, with whether or not therapy works; it’s with therapy’s side-effects. I suspect that many of those who find healing in the therapist’s office trade in old problems for new ones. What’s worse, I suspect that many who show up broken, leave more broken. There are three reasons for this: (1) talk therapy often erodes social skills; (2) most talk therapy is based upon a discredited model of the mind; and (3) talk therapy often undermines friendship.

(1) How Talk Therapy Erodes Social Skills

Although some learn how to communicate more effectively in therapy, most do not. All to the contrary, talk therapy usually reinforces many of the same inept ways of relating, such as a monological manner, which contributed to the individual’s social isolation in the first place. Good conversation is based on give-and-take, dialogue, empathy, reciprocity, and giving a shit about how the other person feels. When you’re talking with a friend, even an extremely close friend, you’re always trying, to some extent, to engage them, to be funny and entertaining. But when you’re talking with your therapist, it’s all about you—and that’s, well, not that good for you.

(2) Talk Therapy is Based on a Discredited Model of the Mind

We live in a therapeutic culture that’s been extolling the virtues of venting for the better part of a century. As such, we’ve all heard a great deal about the need to express our anger and talk, at length, about things that have made us angry in the past. All of this is based upon a hydraulic model of the mind that was popularized during the Industrial Revolution, a model that still relies heavily—perhaps unsurprisingly—upon steam-engine metaphors (e.g., pressure build-up, the importance of pressure-release valves, etc.). But since we’re dealing here with the received wisdom of our age, this underlying rationale is rarely made manifest, nor is it subjected to serious scrutiny. Most of us simply assume that venting is good for us. What’s more, we assume that its benefits have been proven (somewhere) and backed-up by solid research. In fact, the rationale for venting is based upon a hydraulic model of the mind which researchers disproved and discarded decades ago. As Susan Cain puts it, in Quiet (2012): “The ‘catharsis hypothesis’—that aggression builds up inside us until it’s healthily released—dates back to the Greeks, was revived by Freud, and gained steam during the ‘let it all hang out’ 1960s of punching bags and primal screams. But the catharsis hypothesis is a myth—a plausible one, an elegant one, but a myth nonetheless. Scores of studies have shown that venting doesn’t soothe anger; it fuels it.” What does all of this mean? Well, it means that talking about your problems can often make them worse. This is probably what Aaron Haspel had in mind when he wrote: “If you want to kill your marriage, talk about it.”

(3) Talk Therapy Undermines Friendship

We all like going out for dinner from time to time, and this usually involves paying a stranger to cook for us. Still, most of our meals are home-cooked by family members or friends. But imagine, for a moment, how strange it would be if we all ate out at restaurants so much that we forgot how to cook for each other. What’s more, imagine if we came to believe that it was actually dangerous and unhealthy for “non-professionals” to cook for themselves and others. That, to my mind, is where we are right now vis-à-vis therapy in our culture. Many of us seem to have come to the conclusion that the normal thing to do—Plan A, as it were—is to go to a therapist whenever something’s wrong. And that’s the problem. That’s what’s stunting the growth of our personal relationships and rendering so many of our friendships shallow and superficial.

In The Commercialization of Intimate Life (2003), sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild maintains that an over-reliance upon therapy is one of liberal feminism’s greatest weaknesses: “While books like Women Who Love Too Much focus on therapy, ironically the actual process of healing is subtracted from the image of normal family or communal bonds. The women in Norwood’s tales seem to live in a wider community strikingly barren of emotional support. Actual healing is reserved for a separate zone of paid professionals where people have PhDs, MDs, MAs, accept money, and have special therapeutic identities. While psychotherapy is surely a help to many, it is no substitute for life itself. In the picture Norwood paints, there is little power of healing outside of therapy. In the stories Norwood tells, love doesn’t heal. When you give it, it doesn’t take. When another offers it, it may feel good but it’s not good for you. . . . If the word ‘therapy’ conveys the desire to help another to get to the root of a problem, this is a very deep subtraction from our idea of love and friendship. It thins and lightens our idea of love. We are invited to confine our trust to the thinner, once-a-week, ‘processed’ concern of the professional. This may add to our expectations of therapy, but it lightens our expectations of lovers, family, and friends.”

Though some of our deepest and most meaningful connections to others grow out of joy, most are forged in adversity: e.g., she was there for me when I was going through that terrible break-up; she was there, as well, when my mother was dying of cancer; he was there for me when I got fired; he was there, as well, when I was recovering from that horrible car accident. Every time you pay someone to hang out with you during a rough patch, you rob yourself of an opportunity to get closer to a friend or relative.

I once took a powerful course of antibiotics that wreaked havoc on my digestive system for months. Do I regret taking the antibiotics? Of course not. But I wish I had been better informed about how much damage “the cure” would do. Likewise, it’s time to have an honest conversation about the sociological side-effects of talk therapy. We need to start viewing talk therapy the way we’ve come to view antibiotics. Only a fool would say that antibiotics are useless. Likewise, only a fool would say that talk therapy is useless. But we now know that antibiotics have been vastly over-prescribed, and that this overuse has done real damage. What’s more, we now know that even when the use of antibiotics is warranted, there are harmful side-effects associated with their use which need to be acknowledged and addressed. The same is no doubt true of talk therapy.

—John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2017)