Patti Therapy

January 17, 1994|By GARRY WILLS

CHICAGO — Chicago. -- I know that some people need psychological counseling, or psychiatric treatment, and profit by it. Chemical therapy is a lifesaver. In fact, we all need some wise person we can turn to for advice. A friend or mentor can be the best psychiatrist.

Having said that, I have wondered at times why the psychiatrists or psychologists I have met often seem so poorly adjusted themselves. Why go to someone whose life is a mess in order to straighten out the mess of your own life? Some counselors seem to get into their line of work because of their need for help.

Of course, some therapists offer this as a credential. They know what it is to suffer. There may be something to that, though it seems based partly on the revivalist's claim that a sinner is the best witness to God when talking to other sinners.

The situation is perfectly summed up by the current ministry of Patti Davis, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Ronald Reagan. She is a curer of distraught victims of bad families. There is an intriguing report in the current New Yorker on her session with 100 or so devotees who paid her $29 each to hear how she is doing with the aftermath of growing up in a dysfunctional family.

I have not been one of Ronald Reagan's greatest defenders. But does he deserve this? Ms. Davis told her audience: ''I've really been tested. Nicaragua was a severe test.'' She means her father's foreign policy toward Nicaragua. It was a frightful thing, but can we really call it a form of child abuse, especially when the child involved was in her 30s at the time and living away from her parents?

If bad political policy is to enter the sins of the fathers against their children, I'm afraid we will see the ranks of victims swell beyond anything Ms. Clinton's health plans will ever deal with.

Her father had his own problems, Ms. Davis will admit. After all, he grew up when ''men's role models were John Wayne and Errol Flynn.'' So she is the victim of John Wayne as well as of Ronald Reagan. Those are pretty heavy-duty victimizers, all right. And that is just one side of the story.

Ms. Davis is even bitterer toward her mother. Though she says she has forgiven her, certain traumata remain. For instance, ''I don't go on shopping trips with my mother.'' Now we know what is the supreme deprivation in distressed yuppieland.

Luckily, wisdom has been distilled from all that pain. And there she is to sell the wisdom in $29 dollops. It is a mission: ''I think I have an obligation to say to people who are going through whatever stage they're going through, 'Hey, you know what? It keeps going on, but it gets easier and you learn more and more. It gets easier and you keep getting healthier.' '' And richer.

Garry Wills is a syndicated columnist.

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