“Doctor, Please Pour Me a Drink?”

Somebody sent me the following story (author unknown) entitled, ‘Psychiatrists vs. Bartenders.’

Ever since I was a child, I’ve had a fear of someone under my bed at night. So I went to a shrink and told him:

‘I’ve got problems. Every time I go to bed I think there’s somebody under it.  I’m scared.  I think I’m going crazy.’

‘Just put yourself in my hands for one year,’ said the shrink. ‘Come talk to me three times a week and we should be able to get rid of those fears.’

‘How much do you charge?’

‘Eighty dollars per visit,’ replied the doctor.

‘I’ll sleep on it,’ I said.

Six months later the doctor met me on the street. ‘Why didn’t you come to see me about those fears you were having?’ he asked.

‘Well, eighty bucks a visit three times a week for a year is an awful lot of money! A bartender cured me for $10. I was so happy to have saved all that money that I went and bought me a new pickup!’

‘Is that so!’ With a bit of an attitude, he said, ‘And how, may I ask, did a bartender cure you?’

‘He told me to cut the legs off the bed! Ain’t nobody under there now!’

Forget the Shrinks

Have a drink and talk to a bartender!

Whoever sent me this story either meant it as a joke, or an insult (knowing I’m a psychotherapist).

Actually, the story caused me to think.

It might surprise you, but I agree with the attitude of the storyteller. Not the conclusion—that you should escape your problems through alcohol or anything else. But I agree with the implication of the story: that you might as well drink for $10 than pay a psychiatrist of that kind $80, three times a week.

The psychiatrist implied that he can ‘cure’ the patient. This is what I mean when I criticize the medical model applied to human psychology.

The medical model, when applied to human psychology, is misleading and false. Human beings do not ‘get cured’ of their troubling emotions. They don’t have rationality, objectivity, perspective, sanity, or anything of that kind implanted into their brains, the same way a surgeon might transplant new organs into your body.

Your mind is dependent on a physical organ—your brain—but its capacity can only be utilized by your own conscious, deliberate and ongoing choice to initiate thought!

To prove this point, simply think of two people with comparable brains who exercise very different choices about how (or even whether) to use their respective brains.

Define mental health. Definitions vary widely, but in some form most of them boil down to something like a sense of inner peace, calm and serenity. This refers to an emotional state that cannot be purchased. Not by a $10 drink, and not by $80 three times a week into the indefinite future.

What a therapist can do is guide you. Or talk back to you, hopefully with rationality. Or ask you provocative questions and encourage you to think about the possible errors in your actions or thinking. Or perhaps offer you new knowledge, or a different perspective on what you already know. Sometimes, a therapist will simply feed back what you’re saying, operating as a sounding board, and this in itself can cause you to look more rationally and objectively at your erroneous, even silly emotions. Saying thoughts out loud can be very powerful.

Can a bartender or a friend provide these things just as well? Probably, at least sometimes. But that doesn’t automatically wipe out the value of hiring someone precisely because they’re not a family member or friend. Sometimes it’s valuable to talk in privacy, and without the guilt of worrying you’re imposing on somebody. And some therapists and psychiatrists actually do have wisdom and knowledge to offer—not all of them by any means, but certainly some do.

There are many, many things a good therapist can do. But ‘curing’ you while you passively sit back, mindless and brain-dead, is not one of them. This is why the bartender’s advice to cut the legs off the bed, while silly, was at least an attempt to find a solution to the problem. The psychiatrist started out by assuming the problem had to be more complicated than it necessarily had to be.

That’s why the medical model is so foolish. It’s this phony reliance on the medical model that gives psychiatry and therapy such a bad name. Like all snake oil, it promises the improbable, while eliminating or overlooking the more probable. It’s no wonder the narrator of this humorous story concluded he might as well just have a drink.

The story doesn’t make me angry or threatened by someone putting down my field. I’m never threatened by falsehoods. I am sometimes saddened by them, and that’s why I’m more inclined to feel sadness than laughter at this story.

This little story poses the false alternative that has been sold to most of us, throughout most of human history to date.

In philosophy, the false alternative goes like this: ‘Either you know things easily and automatically, or you can’t know anything at all.’ It’s the doctrine of supernatural revelation versus the doctrine of subjective skepticism, i.e. that knowledge is impossible. Put simply, it’s religion versus post-modern ‘intellectualism.’

In psychology and psychotherapy, the false alternative (arising from the same philosophical base) takes the following form: ‘It’s either the expensive escape of the psychiatrist, or the cheaper and easier escape of the bartender.’

In other words, you can either fake the attainment of serenity and self-esteem—via a substance, such as alcohol—or you can engage in the hopeless task of being cured by a professional instead of doing the necessary thinking yourself.

The rational alternatives, in philosophy, to skepticism or religion are: Reason and objectivity.

The rational alternative, in psychology, to the psychiatrist (as described in the story) or the barstool is: Rational introspection.

Of course a professional can help you ‘ at helping yourself. But it’s still up to you to think. And thinking can lead to certainty, knowledge and efficacy. Give your mind and brain a chance. You’ll marvel at the results.


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