Two years ago, my father became victim to a bout of depression, the third of his life. This time it was even more serious than in the past. In the early stages it was so severe that he spent several weeks in hospital. He has gradually been recovering, but the progress has been slow, so very, very slow.
I asked my mum recently if the cognitive behavioural therapy that dad was having earlier this year had finished for good, or whether he might go back for some more. She said that it had finished, and repeated the view which she has expressed before: neither of them felt that it had been much help. I challenged this very mildly. My perception is that he has been at his best over the last year when he was in therapy, and that progress may have stalled once he stopped.
Mum simply responded by saying that they are not really part of a therapy generation.
There’s no doubt they have little faith in therapy. Their participation in the process was reluctant to say the least, showing about as much enthusiasm as the Small Boy Wonder is currently showing for his imminent Spanish GCSE exam. There seemed to be real (but unspoken) fear about what therapy might involve and where it might lead, with my mother showing utter incredulity when my dad was asked to write about his feelings (whatever next, for goodness sake), as part of his “homework.” I feel dad only took part at all because somebody in authority told him he had to.
I find this attitude at least a little curious. It seems so completely contrary to what was plain to me – this unspeakable process was actually doing some good. There are also other examples of the benefits of therapy from elsewhere in the family. My brother has regular therapy, and speaks positively about it. It’s plain to me, and I assume to others, that my wife has got many good things out of the therapy she has been through as part of her training. My daughter saw a psychiatrist when she was gripped by an eating disorder, and although she was unenthusiastic about him and his methods (a twat, apparently), I have no doubt that she came out of the process far less affected by her condition than might have been the case.
I don’t in any way condemn my parents’ view. They are perfectly entitled to it, and as I understand it one of the prerequisites to any measure of success in therapy is a willingness to submit to the process. I just find it a little hard to understand. My father’s depression was treated, or at least fended off, when it occurred in the past by a combination of ECT and drugs. ECT has not been applied this time. The drugs haven’t completely worked. But this is where they continue to put their faith.
I remember when I studied Chaucer at A level learning about a Medieval debate over the difference between “proof” and “authority.” Authority was a scholarly view of the world that sought interpretation from approved texts. Proof relied on what you saw in front of you. Authority was viewed by some as over-riding proof, so that if (in a deliberately extreme example) enough classic texts said grass was red, then red it must be.
That may not be the analysis of a qualified Chaucerian scholar (it was so many years ago now that Chaucer may still have been classed as modern fiction), but I hope you see my point. My mum and dad put all their faith in doctors and drugs. In doing so, are they not relying on the authority of the medical solution rather than the proof of the therapeutic approach?
Nobody in my generation can really understand what it must have been like to have spent their formative years against the background of war. My mum’s dad was absent fighting Nazis in Africa and Italy for I think at least half of my mum’s first 10 years, during which the family suffered much hardship. Rationing didn’t come to an end until about 3 years after the end of the war. Things got much better in the 1960’s, and my parents are also part of a generation that has enjoyed unprecedented levels of material wealth and time to enjoy it. But those early years must have been very tough, and I don’t think that anybody who hasn’t experienced what they did can take any issue with the view that in many cases and at many times they had to show resolve, to make do, to cope. I imagine there was very little option if you didn’t. Perhaps it is from this that my parents’ suspicion of processes which ask you to dwell on, rather than paper over, the causes of your unhappiness arises?
I don’t believe that therapy can solve everything. If I hadn’t had the indirect exposure to it that I have, I suspect my view might be very similar to mum’s. I’m not good at admitting weakness about myself, and I imagine I would struggle to seek help if ever I needed to (although the Beautiful Armenian might not give me much choice). But for the potential benefits to be so completely rejected by my parents? Even in his currently much-recovered state, my dad is nothing more than a pale imitation of his former strong and life-loving self. Surely it must be worth trying everything available to address the underlying issues?