Friday, February 25, 2011

Is psychotherapy mental prostitution?

One day when I was on my way home after seeing my psychologist, I started pondering how bizarre the patient-therapist relationship is. After only talking for a few hours, I felt like this person understood and accepted me more than my family or my friends. The whole thing struck me as kind of strange. And so I began to wonder: is psychotherapy some form of social prostitution?

Think about it: you're paying for a relationship where the terms are at least somewhat defined; you know that you'll be the chief subject of attention (instead of giving out the attention); you get to connect intimately with this person almost immediately, but you don't have to worry about any social obligations when you're not in a session. The terms are pretty clear cut. You are the sole subject of focus. Maybe you're not getting a blow job, but the playing field sure isn't equal.

Oh, but, let's stop talking about me.

Taking the focus off of yourself apparently crosses some kind of professional barrier, but the therapist is expected to at least objectively care about you. It's a fundamentally unbalanced relationship: one person's livelihood combined with another's personal life.

I wonder why it is so acceptable to have this mind mistress or sorts, when it's clearly not to spend some money to obtain a little sexual healing. Isn't prostitution one form of taking care of yourself on one of the most basic levels, uncomplicated by commitment? If someone were to ask me my opinion, I'd probably be an advocate for the decriminalization of prostitution. After all, with legalization comes some level of regulation. Regular STI screenings, more tax money (instead of illicit income), a decreased amount of workplace violence and significantly more comfort reporting it. Legalized prostitution sounds way less sketchy and scary. I wonder why we choose to make it so scandalous and culturally unacceptable.

Sex and psychotherapy - they're both trying to fulfill some pretty basic desires. A therapist will listen and maybe put you on a trajectory to becoming a more emotionally satisfied human being. That kind of relationship seems as (if not more) intimate than a strictly sexual one. Weird.


  1. Um yep, definitely agree with you. Being healthy mentally is essential to our functioning well which ultimately benefits society. Being sexually satisfied is probably equally beneficial for our mental and physical health. I feel so weird saying that...

  2. By that argument, going to see any doctor is a form of prostitution. So, no. I don't think psychotherapy is prostitution. Plus, they aren't paid just to listen to you. They are paid to make you better.

  3. Interesting analogy. We just finished psychiatry (loved it) and our module leader does a lot of psychotherapy in her practice. She made the point that it's such an intimate relationship- but it's totally one sided. Yes, the therapist cares deeply about their patients, but the reason it works is because the therapist doesn't really reveal anything personal about him or herself.

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  5. This is an interesting take on things. I actually agree with your rationale. I guess I view psychotherapy as part of a healing process, though. The psychotherapist does get to know you in a very intimate way, but he or she is also there to help you become more introspective about yourself and to teach you long-term coping skills. So, it's more bang for your buck than prostitution (pun intended...haha).

    (Sorry...that last comment was from me. I was signed into the wrong email account when I posted.)

  6. So then is being a self-psychotherapist a form of masturbation?

  7. K - Yeah. It's kind of weird how sex is rarely addressed as a part of general well being. What's up with that?

    OMDG - I'm not really sure what this whole post was about. It was sort of a stream of consciousness rambling. But I do agree with you, by my argument, pretty much any job is a form of prostitution. I think, actually, I agree with that too. Or I think prostitution is okay. Or both. I'm so confused.

    C - Why does the psychotherapy thing "work" because the therapist keeps his or her life private? I never exactly understood what the purpose of that was. It always seemed sort of like a control thing to me.

    RS - Yes, I agree with you. Still, therapy strikes me as sort of fast-paced (and for me, a little unsettling), even if it's ultimately helpful.

    K - Thanks for the laugh.