Mental Health News

The Psycho-Swamp and its victims

The successful are especially susceptible

From Wiesbaden, Germany
the Wiesbadener Kurier
reported on November 19, 2002

that it had conducted an interview with Jürgen Hardt, the president of the chamber of psychotherapy under the auspices of a series called "Gurus, Cults and Psycho-groups." The interview was conducted by Christoph Cuntz.

The first question asked of Mr. Hardt by the Kurier was:
How big is the psycho-swamp in which the charlatans do their damage?

to which Mr. Hardt replied:
That we don't exactly know, but we have to assume it's a rather considerable number. For one thing it's not so easy at present to differentiate the psycho-market from legitimate therapy. There are a good number of fraudulent corporations that operate quite openly, and they include those that operate in the fringe areas, such as the psycho-shows on TV that offer psychotherapeutic help for amusement and/or to boost ratings.

Kurier: So how can a person tell whether he's getting professional treatment or not?

Hardt: There are strict regulations about psychological and medical psychotherapy, same as in other areas of medicine. Psychotherapists may not advertise. Therefore if they advertise, it's already suspicious, and there's some question about whether they may operate on the psycho-market at all. At the very least they have to make it clear they are not practicing medicine. Sometimes psychotherapy is not so easy to differentiate from life management, for which there is a great need. After all, in our society there is hardly enough time to find out how to deal with problems of life such as death or loss, a task that the churches used to do.

Kurier: Do psychotherapists help with those?

Hardt: They help if the resolution to these life-problems goes awry and leads to illness. In a society that makes no provision for the management of life-problems, you have to count on a higher rate of sickness and reliance on the businesses of salvation and healing.

Kurier: Are there sectors of the population that have a harder time with this than others?

Hardt: It's cross-sectional, but women show up for psychotherapy more than men.

Kurier: Why's that?

Hardt: Women are more prone to recognize psychic suffering and that is a strength. Men have a tendency to deny psychic illness, and these problems give way to physical ones.


Kurier: Which social groups do gurus and psycho-groups target?

Hardt: It's the so-called successful people in our society that are most likely in times of crisis to go to one of the many scintillating psychogurus who make the appropriate promises of salvation according to their ideology. That's as opposed to psychotherapists, who can't promise you a rose garden. They can only help you adjust to your internal and external reality.

Kurier: Why the successful, of all people?

Hardt: Those are the ones under the greatest pressure to perform. They're the ones who think they have to do everything, who consider sympathy to be a deficiency. As a result they become rather disoriented when things don't go as planned. They seek what used to be called a meaning in life in psychogroups.

Kurier: And people who are so well educated on the one hand are so easily taken in by charlatans?

Hardt: The emotional model is rather simple. There is someone who says, "I have solved the problems of life. If you come to me, you will share my greatness and I will lead you through the experiences of life." That's an attractive offer, and charlatans are not just dangerous because they exploit people financially. The real danger is when they believe what they say themselves. [...]

Kurier: But why don't these well-educated middle-class clients go to psychotherapists?

Hardt: That particular social layer looks down on psychotherapy. Under enormous pressure to perform, people think if they only have the right idea and if they only work at it hard enough, the rest is child's play. That is an ideology demanded by society. Besides that there is the scandalous idea that psychotherapy makes you less capable and more dependent. The opposite is true.

Kurier: How much do psychotherapists cost an hour?

Hardt: The current rate is under 50 euros. Another scandal is that some people say that it can't be worth anything if it is so cheap. [...]

Kurier: A guru gets far more than that.

Hardt: A psychotherapists make only a fraction of what a guru does.

Kurier: Do people have a model they follow that makes them believe that which costs a lot, helps a lot?

Hardt: No. In the beginning the clients are not that concerned about expense. The gurus exploit dependencies that arise in a psychotherapeutic relationship.

Kurier: Why is it primarily the middle class that is suffering from a lack of meaning?

Hardt: That has a lot do do with the fact that we live in a secular society that has not succeeded in keeping up with our needs. In the 17th century, the reduction of the mental down to a rational sense was begun. That's led to a lack of feeling about life. Naturally people complain about that a lot, but that's always been set aside for the prospect of success. Now that we've reached a plateau, we are beginning to notice that we are not making progress, neither commercially nor culturally. Therefore life will have to be reinvented and the mental rediscovered as reality. That means more than just marketable feelings.

Kurier: Are you referring to a cultural pessimism deeply ingrained into the middle class?

Hardt: Not just with them. Great skepticism about matters of culture reigns throughout our society. Psychocults make an offer of meaning/sense which fills a void.

Kurier: Can the psychotherapists learn something from the gurus in this regard?

Hardt: No, nothing new. Their offerings lie in their promises of cure and salvation. Only the packaging is new. The contents are old hat.

Kurier: How can the chamber of psychotherapists help to drain the psychoswamp?

Hardt: In order to deal effectively with the devaluation of psychotherapy, the chamber has to have enough money to go up against huge financial powers. Mainly, though, we need the support of public opinion to make it clear that human mentality needs expert care, and that most of those offering salvation are in it to save themselves, not others.