Everyone's in therapy? No, it just seems that way

November 03, 1993|By Loraine O'Connell | Loraine O'Connell,Orlando Sentinel

In a nation where thousands of people are "in recovery" or "doing inner-child work," you might think that trooping off to a counselor's office is routine among Americans.

Not so.

Thanks to individuals' wrongheaded thinking and our national ethic of self-sufficiency, many who could benefit from therapy don't go.

Many people "believe that if they have a problem, they themselves are no good, worthless or inferior," says Philip Tate, a clinical psychologist in Altamonte Springs, Fla.

Mr. Tate is convinced such thoughts are the product of a biological tendency to think irrationally -- a tendency that can be transformed through therapy.

Others note that American culture historically has equated mental health with moral development.

Lingering in the national psyche is the notion that "if we were morally clear and strong and certain enough, we wouldn't have problems we'd need to expose to others," says Luther Luedtke, president of California Lutheran University and editor of "Making America: The Society and Culture of the United States."

"At some level, it's ingrained in our national consciousness that it's

a moral failure to have to turn outward and expose self-doubt or anxiety." The concept of "moral failure" has roots in both our Puritan heritage and in our Industrial Revolution, Mr. Luedtke says.

"In the time of Andrew Carnegie and other American industrial moguls, with the Darwinian mentality of the time, there was the understanding that the fittest would survive -- not just the physically most fit but the morally most fit also," Mr. Luedtke says.

And doggone it, Americans are known for for picking themselves up by their frayed bootstraps.

Calling this ethos the "John Wayne law of the West," Mr. Tate notes that "you have to be an independent, help-yourself kind of person to be an OK person. We're more that way than Europeans."

Which may explain why the self-help movement, with its videos, audio tapes, seminars and best-selling books, has prospered.

Chuck Waldron, executive director of the Mental Health Association of Central Florida, chalks up the resistance to "fear and ignorance."

"Historically, the mentally ill have been ostracized, laughed at, ridiculed and locked away," says Chuck Waldron, executive director of the Mental Health Association of Central Florida.

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