Thursday, 28 January 2016

Park-bench Therapy

We have all had the experience — needing to rest one’s legs or lungs, one sits on a public bench. Then someone comes along and sits beside one. very often one shifts to the other end of the bench, all too often justified in one’s fear that he’s a loony or an alcoholic who will, if you let him, hoover up all your psychic energy. But sometimes an interesting conversation ensues, in which one, or both, bares his soul to the stranger, with beneficial results.

Somewhere in Africa — Zimbabwe or Zaire (is Zaire in Africa? Am I not ashamed of my ignorance? Yes, I am) — there is a large psychiatric clinic, and it’s not hard to imagine that people — especially those who most need its services — are reluctant to go in. And if, as seems likely, what is offered is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, their reluctance is justified: if you’re not a conventional bore before CBT, you will be if it’s ‘successful’.

This place, however, has ‘discovered’ a cheap effective therapy, one moreover that bypasses the fear of entering the building: they have put a bench outside. Just a bench; I hope it has been left plain and anonymous, looking like and indeed used as a handy place to sit down while strolling round the grounds or having a crafty fag. It is special only in its function:

When you’ve been sitting on it a little while, someone who is in fact a psychotherapist will come and sit beside you and engage you in conversation. Conversation that could be called, or very soon becomes, analytically oriented psychotherapy, which is, provided the ‘Evidence-based Statisticians’ don’t turn up like lepidopterists with killing bottles to ‘prove’ otherwise, the most long-term effective treatment for those in psychic trouble.

I suppose classic Freudian therapists could sit right at one end of the bench while the ‘patient’ lies on it, but probably best is the scenario of two people having a chat after meeting ‘by chance’ on a park bench.

(A small personal note — at my prep school there was a broken-down sofa near the headmaster’s office. You were sent to sit on it if you’d done something ‘wrong’. Sooner or later the headmaster would come out of his office and beat you. But that’s just a personal horror I wanted to get off my chest, or other bodily location. Please try to forget it now.)

A park bench doesn’t cost very much. Probably less than a few packets of Fluoxetine. Indeed, one could quickly be made by an in-patient in occupational therapy, or an out-patient or well-wisher who liked woodwork. Wouldn’t it be great if such benches appeared outside every psychiatric clinic? Cheap, almost free, psychotherapy.

But no; at best the NHS would formalize and ‘Monetise’ it, giving ‘Bench Appointments’ for three month’s time. More likely they’d sneer at the whole idea and continue going to luxury ‘conferences’ where they are persuaded to stuff patients with the latest expensive psychopharmaceutical brain-benders.

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