I couldn’t believe my eyes when I walked into Starbucks yesterday. There were three old men sitting on tall cafe stools in a middle table, surrounded by a crowd of teens, soccer moms, retirees from Leisure World and dapper young Turks in Armani suits.
Usually people sit in anonymous pairs or just small groups and talk quietly, but this was a big event because the three white-haired men in the middle of the frenzy were Socrates, the father of question and answer therapy; Sigmund Freud, the father of modern psychoanalysis and Dr. Carl Jung, the father of depth psychology. They were showing people how to use psychotherapy apps on their cell phones and tablets.
The teens crowded in closest listening intently, and one cheerleader yelled out, “Oh, my god! My mom needs to see this. Now she’ll know why I’m on my iPhone so much. She’ll totally believe it!”
A soccer mom turned to her pony-tailed friend and whispered, “You know, Tami, I’m worried about how much time Rex spends online. He comes home, has a glass of chardonnay and just goes upstairs to his computer. He says it relaxes him, but I think he’s watching porn.”
Two young businessmen caught up in the excitement said, “We have to show this to Johnson in the HR Department. I’ll bet she’ll make a big deal out of it at the next stress-relief workshop.”
OK, so this didn’t really happen, but just pretend you were there watching the whole thing. What were the three luminary psychologists telling the crowd?
Socrates would be thrilled to answer questions from more people than ever before, and then respond to them with more of his own questions. “Therapy’s supposed to make you think and think deeper and deeper about what puzzles and worries you. If you keep answering one question after another, you’ll eventually discover a whole world of wisdom inside yourself.”
Freud was pissed off because he wasn’t allowed to smoke cigars in Starbucks, but he was fired up about the idea of more people learning about his theories. “These apps will allow people to talk about those horrible secrets they’re keeping inside. Creepy things they dream about their mothers. But the code has to be secure. Nobody should be able to respond but me.”
Carl Jung attracted the older people in the crowd. “Check out this cool app for picking out your favorite archetype. I like the Mystic and the Sage best. You just touch up the character you like best, and the app dials up a Master’s Degree student who’s doing a thesis on the light and shadow characteristics of that archetype. I’m all for inspiration, but I need to sit face-to-face with a patient to look into their eyes, read their body language and just listen over and over again as they learn to trust me with their deepest shadowy fears. That’s where the real individual growth happens.”
NY Mag’s writer Julia Carpenter raises exactly the right eyebrows in her February 2016 article about the rise of therapy apps titled “How Mental Health Apps Are Changing Therapy.” Her conclusion questions “7 Cups of Tea” app creator, a psychologist named Glen Moriarty. Carpenter clearly believes in the deep personal relationship style of therapy while Moriarty hopes it can be effectively mimicked with peer “listeners” online. 7 Cups offers a thorough menu of helping options, and even provides training for aspiring “listeners.”
Can a peer listener on an internet app provide you the informed insight of a licensed therapist or a wise old uncle, made clever by a lifetime of trial-and-error experience? I doubt it. I also don’t believe that holding a therapy license guarantees anyone will be able to help you with serious issues. Jung reminds us that the quality of human relationship determines the effectiveness of the therapeutic encounter, not the therapist’s special technique and education.
After all, the original Greek translation of the word therapy is “to tend to the soul,” not play head games. Anyone can talk to you about how to handle an unruly teenager or what to do with an aging parent, but authentic depth psychotherapy goes deeper. It helps you seek out the meaning behind your thoughts and feelings so you can feel more secure in the actions you choose to take.
Rather than apps, I’d like to see more people logging on to Dabney Alix’s Shades of Awakening or taking peer counselor courses from Emma Bragdon’s Integrated Mental Health for You. Alix shares her knowledge from personal spiritual awakening. Bragdon is a licensed psychotherapist incorporating shamanic wisdom methods into modern practice. She certifies people in how to help others experiencing spiritual emergencies without resorting dangerous psychiatric drugs that crush psychospiritual growth.
It’s fun to investigate new therapy apps like 7 Cups. Some of them inspire me, but at the end of the day, they are just more ideas, nothing substantial that I can readily incorporate in my daily lifestyle. I need to sit down and do my meditation. I need to watch my fears and doubts arise and pass away like clouds. At the end of every meditation I’m reminded again that everything in the mind and body are impermanent, that I have no unchangeable sense of myself. Constant change is here to stay, and any therapy worth doing should make you comfortable with that truth.
I hope the instant relief addiction of modern American culture doesn’t turn heartfelt therapy into a disaster like drug-for-every-problem Big Pharma. We need to turn off some technologies, or at least use them less. Old wisdoms are too often forgotten and overlooked, even when they’re right there under our nose. I’ll leave you with this timeless and very low-tech Zen story (author unknown) to raise your consciousness.
The Holy Man in the Mountain House
Word spread across the countryside about the wise Holy Man who lived in a small house atop the mountain. A man from the village decided to make the long and difficult journey to visit him.
When he arrived at the house, he saw an old servant inside who greeting him at the door. “I would like to see the wise Holy Man,” he said to the servant. The servant smiled and led him inside. As they walked through the house, the man from the village looked eagerly around the house, anticipating his encounter with the Holy Man.
Before he knew it, he had been led to the back door and escorted outside. He stopped and turned to the servant, “But I want to see the Holy Man!”
“You already have,” said the old man. “Everyone you may meet in life, even if they appear plain and insignificant… see each of them as a wise Holy Man. If you do this, then whatever problem you brought here today will be solved.”
Share this Post