Benevolent Therapist Traumatized By “Dowdy Patient,” Internet Displeased

Here is a tale as old as time, from the pages of the New York Times.  A mid-thirtes woman is in therapy. She is in therapy to discuss a variety of issues, from career concerns to personal things, and her therapist, a kind and benevolent man, helps her through these issues, because that is his job, and she is his patient. She thrives! She flourishes. She becomes a person who is successful in all aspects of her life except for love. Why, oh why, can’t this woman find love?
Because, as her therapist puts it, she is “dowdy”.  In fact, if she could just throw on some lipstick and brush her hair, the therapist posits, she’d probably walk out her apartment and stumble into a line of men, just waiting to wife her up. But, when the therapist suggests this as a possible course of action (what?), well, here’s how that went:
One day, after a bit of hemming and hawing — I knew it would be a sensitive topic — I raised the obvious: Had she considered getting a makeover? One of her friends, as Greta herself had told me, had recently seen an “image consultant” who recommended a whole new wardrobe, new hairstyle, different makeup. Could that, I asked, possibly be helpful?

“After all,” I added, “men tend to judge … ”

Greta bristled, and I stopped midsentence.

“You know,” she said, “I look much better when I go on a date. I put on makeup, I dress up. My friends say I look great!”

That shut me up.

The rest of the article, written by the actual therapist, patters on in a remarkable journalistic display of inserting one foot firmly into one’s mouth, offending a woman who is paying for his services all under the guise of being helpful. Helpful!

Sir, this is an appalling display of what not to do as a person whose job it is to help others.

The real problem was that I didn’t know what to do in this situation. Years of psychotherapy training had given me no guidance in how to deal with the staunchly dowdy patient. Starting early in our training, we psychiatry residents spent innumerable hours addressing issues raised by inappropriately seductive patients. How best to deal with patients who flirt in session, who wear inappropriate attire, who ignore boundaries, who try, whether consciously or not, to lure you away from “therapeutic neutrality”? There were articles, books and lectures that helped us deal with a patient’s “erotic transference” and our own “countertransference reactions.”

But advice about the patient who refuses to be attractive? No.

There’s more, and if you’re interested in seeing the thrilling conclusion of the jerk who means well and his unrepentantly dowdy patient, knock yourself out. Outrage is a perfectly acceptable response, and I saw this link fly through Twitter and across the timelines of various friends, with shock and horror. But, I can’t get my blood up about it enough to dive into those waters.

Yes, it’s terrible that this woman’s therapist was telling her that she should make herself look attractive in order to find a man. It is absolutely not okay for a medical professional to pick apart your appearance when the one thing that could be actually holding you back from finding a partner is whatever the fuck is going on in your head. I know all that’s bad. Add this to the list of things that happen in the world that are very, very bad. If you spent all day combing the news for things to get mad at, you’d burn out by lunch.  Some things, I’m sorry to say, aren’t worth the breath.

I’m not discounting the legitimacy of any of the internet chatter that I’ve seen about this. Yes, it is bad. If I were paying someone who had the power to prescribe me medication to help me with my issues and they told me that I needed to not look the way I do, I would be extremely upset. The gender of the person delivering this terrible thing doesn’t really matter to me, and that’s the tenor of the outrage that I’ve seen. I suppose it’s a little worse that it’s a man. But, if a female therapist had even alluded to the fact that I should get a facial and put on some blush in order to snare a man in my honeypot, I would be just as offended if not more so.

The fact that this therapist is a man is bad, but what we really need to keep in mind is that he’s actually an asshole. That guy standing over there by the mailbox could be an asshole. The woman sitting next to you at work who blows her nose too loudly could be an asshole. There’s probably an asshole in the group of 8 year olds walking down the street knocking into garbage cans and singing “Let It Go” at the top of their lungs, even though that movie’s relevancy is arguable at this point.

Assholes come in all shapes, sizes, colors, genders and creeds. They’re everywhere! But, being an asshole doesn’t make you a misogynist. This therapist in question is a dick, but, really, there are worse things happening right now. Your rage contains multitudes, yes, but if you’re going to use your energy to yell about something, know that there are so many other issues that could use it.

So, be angry about this expert bit of trolling from the New York Times, if you’re moved to do so. Ban men. But, before you take that deep breath and open your mouth and yell to the sky, keep in mind that there are other things happening in this world — today! this week! — that are possibly more deserving of your outrage.

[New York Times]