I’m aware your first thought upon reading the title is probably not whether I am the best therapist, more likely you are wondering why I made the statement. You might also wonder who would see a therapist that would make such a statement, me too.
The usual interpretations for making such a statement include arrogance, delusions of grandeur, narcissism and ego-inflation. However this is not the case, the title is written with humility and immodesty. (These are compatible, I will say more about this later.)
I reconceptualise truth in such a way that not only shows truth in the statement, but its abundance. However, the statement itself is not the point; what is significant is where it comes from.
Within most social and work settings making such a statement would be crass, and yet psychotherapy is often at its best as a counter-cultural force or when offering a new or different perspective.
So what is the significance of this statement?
I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.Jesus
To bind and loose is a step toward overcoming, and since as Jesus says elsewhere, ‘the kingdom of heaven is within you,’ they are key to self-overcoming.
If you open yourself up to the title statement you may notice an energetic response; a binding or loosing. You might feel or sense either a tightening in you, or perhaps something relaxes or releases: you become smaller or bigger.
The intention of the title statement is to loose or bring into awareness any boundedness. If it doesn’t loosen you – if something tightens – then the key question you might ask yourself is, ‘What does it speak to that is bound up in me?’
I could have said, ‘Why I am the worst therapist,’ which is sometimes true – though not as true, besides it would likely have less impact.
Although humans know better we seem unable to give up dichotomous thinking; we simplify ‘things’ into good or bad, right or wrong, pleasure or pain, best or worst and black or white. Humans seem uneasy conceptualising a continuum between truth and untruth. Even if they do, truth is not a correctly plotted point somewhere on a continuum; it has more to do with an approach to life.
Truth is a ‘Yes’ to life, and joy is the metric for this kind of truth.
‘Why I am the best therapist’ is also a parody of the profession of psychotherapy, it reflects the contradiction and irony of its many assumed and perceived hierarchies, the ‘faces’ or celebrities and those who elevate them, and the self-importance and privileging of knowledge and status.
It parodies the weights and measures perverts obsessed with measuring outcomes, mental health, therapist competency and incompetency. It is also a parody of the earnest verificationists and the holier-than-thou pedants who pay lip-service to political correctness.
It parodies the (not so) subtle, disguised and manipulative ways therapists promote themselves, and highlights the reality that therapists operate in a marketplace and that our profession – the very thing we try to promote – is itself suspicious of self promotion.
That said, even though I write for almost entirely other reasons I recognise how my blog has inevitably become a way of ‘setting out my stall.’ As an inadvertent marketing strategy it works well: I’m certain it puts off more people than it attracts.
While the title statement is a parody, it is also a truth statement, but what is capable of giving it truth? And what about it is true?
And we should call every truth false which was not accompanied by at least one laugh.Friedrich Nietzsche
When those who know me read the title they will most likely laugh.
This is not laughter that gets the joke. If you didn’t laugh don’t worry you probably don’t know me, and you have not missed the punchline: there isn’t one.
Though having humour as a therapist is essential and joke telling can be a powerful intervention, the laughter referred to is not a response to something funny or entertaining. It is the laughter of shared joy. To laugh with joy is not a laughing at, it is a laughing with.
Joy is (like the title) outrageous, mindless, gratuitous, hard-won and generous; all of which can cause offence. And yet it is inclusive, life affirming and never patronising.
Joyful laughter does not allow us to take ourselves and life seriously, although, without dichotomy joy’s expression is simultaneously serious and unserious. In this sense joyous laughter also affirms the untruth contained within truth, and so it transcends the statement’s content; its value as truth is as a stepping stone to higher values.
Laughter is wonderful and it can be healing, however laughter is only the fruit. Joyful laughter is a mushroom, it is the fruit that breaks the surface. What is really going on is an unseen complex of beautiful networks of mycelium operating below the surface, alive, creating connections and sending and receiving signals.
Joy arises from an internal complex of connection that affirms life as it is, which includes suffering.
Like fungi, joyful laughter can fruit almost anywhere: on the living, the dying and the dead. With joy there is no conflict, and so joy can laugh at anything.
According to Nietzsche laughter is incredibly powerful; it is one of only two things that has the power to kill a god.
That said, it is always better to have a therapist who is able to laugh so hard at themselves that they let out a little bit of wee. And if you find one that can, just keep in mind that when you tell them your problems they might die laughing.
So too with religion. Despite having a very different conception of reality and truth, I contend that if a priest has never wet themselves laughing while at the altar celebrating communion, or when knelt in prayer in the Holy of Holies, then they have no business being there.
If you are familiar with Nietzsche’s book Ecce Homo you will have undoubtedly detected his influence in this blog. With chapter headings such as, Why I am so wise, Why I am so clever and Why I write such good books, he parodies himself and philosophy in order to give them the seriousness they deserve. Arguably Nietzsche’s style is as central to his work as his philosophical ideas. His style provides an approach to life, while his ideas are an elaboration of his style.
The title Ecce Homo is itself is a parody, it is taken from the words Pilate used when he presented Jesus to the baying crowd after he had questioned him. When translated from the Latin it means, ‘Behold the man.’ This, his last book, is often seen as a sort of autobiography. Similar to Pilate Nietzsche uses the title to present himself to his readers, and like Jesus he offers no defence, and also like Jesus he too expected to be crucified. In this sense both pretty much lived their lives on their own terms whilst taking account of the cost.
The value of an individual can even be assessed by how much truth they can endure.Friedrich Nietzsche
If the value of a person depends on how much truth they can endure, then value can also be measured by how much joy a person can bear. It is not only suffering that is endured, there is challenge and risk in becoming light, playful, life affirming and joyous in the midst of suffering.
To say ‘Why I am the best therapist’ may seem risky and yet it has a paradoxical quality. It does not have to become ego inflation, rather, it can become ego dissipation: for me the statement neither inflates nor diminishes, it is another way of leaving myself behind.
Modesty’s rhetorical response to the title would be, ‘Aren’t you forgetting who you are!?’ To which the answer is, ‘Yes, that’s the point – to forget myself,’ or ‘I can only say it because I forget myself.’
The truth of the statement resides in the forgetting, playfulness, lightness and joy that led to it; this is how it becomes truthful.
So, as we reach the end of the blog let us return to humility and modesty. According to their etymology my title statement has both humility and immodesty.
Modesty comes from the Latin modestus meaning “moderate, keeping due measure” which takes us back to the current bean counting culture in therapy. It also has a whiff of, ‘Don’t get too big for your boots,’ which is of course both silly and pernicious.
Modesty is meant to be a virtue, while false modesty – if found out – is a vice, and when not found out it is self promotion. Modesty is intended to prevent being seen as superior, though it too can become something to feel superior about. When modesty is done well the modest person plays down their achievements, qualities, skills and so on in such a way as to impress with their lack of pride. Modesty attracts attention by appearing to divert it. In short, our relationship to modesty is often anything but.
Humility on the other hand is significantly different to modesty, it comes from humus meaning “earth,” or “on the ground.” So in this sense to be modest is to measure, moderate and be moderate, whereas humility is to be on the ground or grounded.
There is perhaps nothing more grounded than mushrooms and mycelium, and overcoming suffering and affirming life.
Is there anything more absurd than a therapist that believes they can measure the human psyche and then, in all seriousness, present themselves as modest?
What is the metric for measuring the psyche? I would like to know since I am toying with the idea of measuring the height of clients as they arrive, and then again at the end of the session. So when they leave a little taller it is because their burden has lifted, and when they leave a little shorter it means they are engaging with their pain; its a win-win outcome for everyone. It is a marketing stroke of genius and it’s a perfect way to demonstrate authentic modesty, although I will have to nail a yardstick into the door jamb.
I can now write on my website, ‘I guarantee you will feel better or worse, either way you receive a personalised progress report every session. I pioneer a rigorously researched, tried and tested, evidence based methodology for measuring therapeutic outcomes. I also provide the stick.’
By way of conclusion I suggest the next time you stop yourself acknowledging how brilliant, kind, beautiful, intelligent, generous or wonderful you are, instead of telling yourself not to be immodest, arrogant or some variation of the same, take a risk and share it with someone. You never know, they might actually laugh.
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