The cover image and all the images in the text today are from a two-part series in Artnet News, here and here, entitled “The Trials of 2020 Tested Relationships Worldwide. Here’s How They Strengthened the Bonds of Three Artist Couples."
Just imagine. You’re a doctor. A patient comes in, sick and in pain. You examine her and realize things are too far gone for you to be of much help to her. If only she’d come in earlier...
This is the futility of the healing professions.
In fact, few things are more stupid and self-indulgent than the healing professions. Including the work I do. Healing the world one person at a time is how surgeon Richard Seltzer put it. It feels so good to us to be the healer. But every act of healing is a proclamation of a failure of prevention.
This has been my life as a couples therapist. One couple comes in utterly miserable. Can I save their marriage? Who knows? I’ll try, but the sadness is that clearly they married the wrong person, and nothing can undo that. And that mistake was avoidable.
Next couple? Bitterness and disappointment. Can I save their marriage? Who knows? What’s clear is that enormous damage has been done that never had to have happened. And it wouldn’t have happened, if only these folks had had the tools people need to work out their problems. And these tools exist.
How futile all these pains and problems are. How futile trying to heal what should never have needed to be healed in the first place.
There. I said it. Okay, I over-said it, for sure. But I want to talk about why I’m committed to writing these blogs. It’s because they are—at least in theory—the way to avoid healing the world one person at a time. To avoid that futility. To get ahead of the curve of pain and disaster.
Why write, exactly?
Well, since I’m saying challenging things, there’s this. Learning from personal experience is the last thing you want to do. It’s the worst way to learn. It’s way too slow and is based on far too little experience. How much experience can each of us accumulate in our short lives?
What if you add in the experience of all your friends? Nope. Still far too little. You don’t have enough friends, and they don’t have enough varied experience.
What we need, all of us, is the experience of thousands of people. That’s what I can give: all that experience, analyzed through the lens of my learning and experience trying to help them and seeing what works and what doesn’t work.
Otherwise it’s just anecdotes.
I have some really good support for what I’m saying about the power of the knowledge I’m sharing. You know, there was a time when government worked, at least much better than it does now. From 1974 to 1995 Congress had something called the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA). Since Congress passed bills furthering new technologies, why not have a non-partisan office researching the effectiveness of new technologies. Were they cost effective? Were they effective at all? All this made tons of sense—too much sense to last, unfortunately.
Look at what the OTA found when it was up and running. When it came to therapy, there had been a lot of skepticism. Therapy was very expensive. So: did it get results and was it cost effective? Answer: yes, but mainly in the more interventionist modes, like cognitive-behavioral therapy. Less so in the psychoanalytic, listening modes. But therapy was most effective, it seemed, when combined with drug therapy, even though drugs themselves had limited and unpredictable effectiveness.
But guess what form of therapy was MOST cost effective? Bibliotherapy! Books and blogs and stuff like that! By far!! It turns out that there are a ton of books out there, ours among them of course!, with tons of well researched, well presented knowledge and tools.
So let me ask you. Would you rather prevent a problem from happening or just let it happen? For example, would you rather buy a car known to be reliable than a car of unknown or iffy reliability? Now based on how people actually behave with respect to cars, the vast majority of car buyers don’t care about their car’s reliability. Well, as they say, there’s no cure for stupidity. But if you did care about reliability and you could vastly increase your chances of getting a reliable car, who could say no to that?
Guess what? In the realm of relationships, our book Is He Mr. Right? is that buyer’s guide. And that’s just an example. And as we say there, 50 percent—50 percent!—of divorces could be prevented by people not making the kinds of bad choices we talk about in that book: easily identifiable and preventable bad choices.
It’s the same with our most recent book, Why Couples Fight. Why do couples live in a relationship filled with frustration and resentment and unmet needs? Read the book! It’s all there, plus an easy-to-implement solution. It’s the same with all of our books.
And it’s the same with all the posts in this blog. All are an attempt to make it possible for you to avoid futility. To not let your relationship drift into disaster through avoidable mistakes. To not live in misery together simply because you lack certain basic tools.
To not share this with you would be cruel and selfish. The worst kind of power move. What therapists should be doing is sharing our knowledge so we can ultimately put ourselves out of business one day, not hoarding our knowledge so we can keep the patients coming.
So our blog, modest as it is, is just our way of changing the world much MORE than one person at a time. It feels so much better.