What if I told you 26 million people visit beauty salons every week, and 68 percent of them choose their hairdresser mainly for psychological reasons, and a third of the time they spend talking with their hairdresser is spent hashing over "serious problems" of an emotional or psychological nature, and -- this is the best -- a whopping 84 percent of them would trust their hairdresser's advice over the advice of their therapist?
If you saw -- and believed -- "Steel Magnolias," and you figure the average hairdresser is as warm and wonderful and wise a person as the Dolly Parton character, not to mention as interested in other people's serious emotional and psychological problems, maybe you wouldn't be surprised. If, on the other hand, you've managed to get your hair cut every so often for the last 10 or 20 or 50 years without ever discussing anything more personal than your feelings about hair spray with the person doing the cutting, you might have your doubts. You might also find yourself wondering: Do all 26 million of the people who frequent beauty salons have therapists to mistrust?
Psychologist Lew Losoncy allows that the survey probably means 84 percent of the people surveyed would trust their hairdresser's advice over their therapist's if they had a therapist. But he doesn't seem to think the 84 percent is that far-fetched, maybe because it happened to him.
Oh, yes. Once he had a patient, a nice young woman, but shy, who was eager to make the acquaintance of an attractive young man. He advised her to be upfront about it, ask the guy for a date, and a week later, when she came back for her next therapy session, he asked her if she'd done it.
"I know you think it's a good idea, doctor," she said. "But I talked it over with my hairdresser and she thought it would really be a dumb thing to do."
Thus was born the fledgling discipline of salon psychology.
It started with Dr. Losoncy, fascinated by the role hairdressers played in their clients' emotional lives, hanging out in beauty salons, eavesdropping. (Or, in the lingo of social science, doing research.) "The psychodynamics were incredible," he says, and soon he was lecturing about them to groups of hairstylists under the auspices of Matrix Essentials, a company that makes mousse and shampoo sold in salons. Now he's dean of "Matrix University," its continuing education unit, and author of the text "Salon Psychology."
In a Dave Barry world, Salon Psychology would be a radical new mousse-and-peroxide-based psychotherapy, a sort of Primal Perm. After all, if clients bring profound psychological problems to the beauty salon along with their split ends and dark roots, hairdressers should be trained to solve them, no?
No. In fact, Dr. Losoncy's text warns stylists against trying to solve the non-hair-related problems clients lay on them. That way lies burnout.
What the book does is take hairdressers on a quick tour of personality theory -- Freud, Jung, Adler, Maslow, May, Maltz, Skinner, Ellis -- and apply it to the world of the beauty salon, e.g.: Clients with rigid superegos can't stand to be kept waiting, clients with a lot of anxiety about change need help to feel comfortable trying a new style.
Dr. Losoncy's objective is to teach stylists how to "read" each client.
"Use your ears before your shears," he tells his audiences, advice that many clients -- especially those who've come out of salons with a lot less hair than they expected, or a lot more frizz, or a much weirder color, or a style that would only look right in a singles bar -- would fervently echo.
*Patricia McLaughlin is a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer.
*Universal Press Syndicate