Talking about your shrink isn't just for Woody Allen characters anymore. Once the kiss of death for a political career, announcing that you're in or about to enter therapy has actually become go-to damage-control strategy for public servants.
There's the local example, San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, subject of a cascade of sexual harassment allegations, including such debonair comportment as telling an aide she should come to work without underwear. Resisting calls to resign, Filner will seek therapy in "the hope of becoming a better person." It will take place over two weeks at an undisclosed clinic, after which, Filner said, "My focus will be on … being the best mayor I can be, and the best person I must be."
And in New York, revelations that mayoral candidate and former congressman
"It took a lot of work and a whole lot of therapy to get to a place where I could forgive Anthony," said Weiner's wife, Huma Abedin.
Granted, these are New Yorkers who know their audience. A
When it comes to public figures, especially those as beholden to old-fashioned values as most politicians claim to be, there's a distinction between going to rehab for
But even in the post-Tony Soprano era, the politician with a standing appointment for id and super-ego maintenance is likely to be regarded with suspicion, at the very least because what lawmaker worth his salt has time in his schedule for that much life examination? Isn't that reserved for morning jogs and prayer breakfasts? (Lesson: There's very little id and super-ego maintenance going on in Washington.)
Filner, and to some extent Weiner and Abedin, fall into the category of therapy-seekers with a mission. They're helping themselves so that they can continue to "help others" (translation: hold on to their careers). But amid the debate about their sincerity and, in Filner's case, whether years of creepiness can be cured in two weeks, at least one point seems to be getting ignored: Most therapy just isn't that effective.
For those lucky enough to find the right clinician (and dedicated enough to the process), psychotherapy can be life changing. But it's not like killing an infection with 10 days of antibiotics — it takes as long as it takes. Nor can all therapists can get beyond simplistic insights and basic hand holding. You don't "do therapy" and suddenly all is well, over and done.
Despite this, we've come to give therapy immediate, outsized credence, so much so that a politician can attempt to erase a record of bad deeds by simply saying he's signed up. And while it's good that the stigma around
Meanwhile, this current crop of politicians-in-treatment is about to encounter yet another problem. It's August, the month when shrinks traditionally go on vacation. Here's hoping Weiner and Abedin have some self-help books to tide them over. And that Filner packs some extra underwear.