Psychology listservs have been ablaze following an article in last week’s Times Magazine, in which a young psychotherapist describes her struggles with establishing a private practice, and the increasing push to “brand” herself in order to attract clients in an increasingly competitive marketplace. Not surprisingly, many feel that taking a commercialistic approach to psychotherapy is antithetical to the very notion of psychotherapy, which prizes authenticity (though the meaning of that term is hotly debated) and a respect for the complexity of life and change. (Lori Gottlieb, the author of the piece, also acknowledges this concern.) Beyond being distasteful, there are ethical issues that Gottlieb touches on — unlike other fields that take advantage of marketing tactics, therapists are not in the position to “guarantee” results.
However, the most troubling aspect of a world in which therapists purport to sell happiness and peace of mind at lightning speed for low, low prices is not the compromising of personal values or even the ethical gray areas, but the fact that such practices may ultimately be harmful to clients and society as a whole. By indulging the often pathological craving for “quick fix” solutions that is prevalent in American culture, we risk reinforcing unhealthy patterns of living before even meeting a client for a consultation. Of course, Gottlieb suggests the alternative may be to have no clients at all. So which serves the greater good, or at least as the lesser of two evils?