Psychotherapist Esther Perel talked about the pros and cons of the growing interest in the topic of mental health. Can self-care cause harm?
Esther Perel is a Belgian-born psychologist and psychotherapist of Polish origin who has been working in the United States for 30 years. She is a writer, TED speaker and host of the "Where should we begin?" podcast. She specialises in couples therapy. In an interview with Vanity Fair, she talked about the advantages and disadvantages of the popularity of mental health issues in mainstream discussions.
Esther Perel on the advantages of the popularity of undergoing therapy
When asked about the so-called "therapy speak" now entering everyday use, Perel stressed that talking about taking on therapy has some advantages. She also mentioned that, until recently, there was a belief that therapy was only "for crazies" but now the attitude towards it changed.
"It’s becoming a sign of being an evolved person is an interesting thing. It means ‘I’m thinking about myself’; ‘I’m reflective’; ‘I have an interiority’; ‘I’m a deep and self-aware person.’ It has taken on this whole other aura!" Perel told Vanity Fair.
Perel finds it valuable that more and more people have the chance to receive professional support regarding problems that, until recently, they would have struggled with forever and often in isolation.
How therapy is often regarded in Poland is perfectly illustrated in the newest song by a popular Polish rapper Taco Hemingway. In "Macarena" released on the artist’s latest album "1-800-OŚWIECENIE" he sings that whenever people tell the protagonist of the song to go to therapy, he believes it won’t make any difference. "I don’t know what some quack’s gonna tell me" line reflects this attitude well.
Meanwhile, Perel emphasises that therapy is a relational experience, very complex and grounded in the context of the particular person needing support. A well-prepared therapist really brings out more clarity and understanding than TikTok videos, Instagram stories or even best-wishing friends.
Can "therapy speak" be dangerous?
The psychologist warns, however, of the dangers that may be posed by the culture of psychological "self-care" on the threshold of which we are now standing. She reminds us that what we need as social beings is not so much individual attainment of higher levels of cognition, especially if we look down on others from them, but the ability to function better in relationships. This, in fact, is what the vast majority of therapy is about.
Just because we learn to use terminology taken from psychology, which is now called "therapy speak" and described by Perel as "psychobabble", does not guarantee positive change. Openness to change is a prerequisite for drawing real benefits from therapy. Understanding where our difficulties come from is only the beginning. The next, more difficult step, is to change the way we function in life outside of a therapist’s office.
Perel also warned of the dangers of "self-labelling", which can follow social media exposure to some psychological issue, such as attachment styles. She believes that reducing oneself or others to a single label such as "I'm an evasive" is a dangerous downplaying of very complex and individual issues.