A clever test of an individual psychotherapist’s effectiveness is to ask how therapy affects patients’ partners and spouses. Effective therapy causes patients to change rapidly, disrupting their closest relationships. Ineffective therapy maintains the status quo.
So, for an effective therapist, the right answer is that therapy often leads to separation, divorce, new careers, emigration, and other significant life changes. Partners and spouses have to adapt fast if they want to stay in the relationship, and they often have to do it without professional help. It can be a good idea for them to have counselling or psychotherapy at the same time as the primary patient, simply to preserve the relationship.
The wrong answer is that therapy simply makes for general happiness all round. A therapist who makes this claim is likely ineffective, deluded, or a bit of both.
Strangely, this effect was celebrated in song way back in 1957 by Arizona folk singer Katie Lee, in two of the tracks on her deliciously funny album Songs of Couch and Consultation.
In the first, stay as sick as you are, she sings of a lover who can never leave her because he has so many problems, fearing that one day he might be cured:
I love your steak of cruelty,
your psychopathic lies,
the homocidal tendencies
shining in your eyes.
In the second, i can’t get adjusted to the you who got adjusted to me, she sings of a subservient lover who changes after having psychoanalysis:
So bring back those wonderful days
when you were a psychic mess,
and the only answer you ever had
was a dull undefiant “Yes”
Incidentally, these songs show that the lyricist knew (or was) an effective psychoanalyst, though psychoanalysis could take a long time — ten years in the first case and two years in the second.
I’m grateful to Tom Stafford at Mind Hacks for writing about Katie Lee’s album in Songs of Couch and Consultation. Mind Hacks is full of good things, and topics covered there range widely:
Neuroscience and psychology tricks to find out what’s going on inside your brain.
I’ve added it to my blogroll.