If They Don’t Make You Happy, Sue Them

Paul Verhaeghe

Contribution to the conference of The College of Psychoanalysts-UK ‘Are you fit to practise? From ethical framework to model of good behaviour’- London, 6 June 2009

The very idea that psychotherapy needs a regulation focussing on the health and character of the practitioners as well as their competences and skills is a typical sign of our times. This means that this idea goes much further than the field of psychotherapy. Today, we are putting all our hope in a behavioural regulation combined with a bureaucratic and technical control, because there seems to be no alternative. Unfortunately, as a sign of the times, of our times, this need for a behavioural control is both necessary and wrong.

It is necessary because we are confronted with gross misconduct on every level of our society. In the UK, you have your apparently corrupt MP’s and even your Speaker had to resign, we have ours in Belgium. Bank managers are not to be trusted any more, and every priest and teacher is a possible threat to his pupils. Violence in the street is virtually everywhere. On top of that, we are confronted with unbelievable illustrations of incompetence – private IT-data are left behind in train cabins, which in itself is not that serious since they are accessible to 14 year old hackers. Medical doctors perform the right surgery on the wrong patient and even to get new plumbing in your house is just asking for trouble. It seems as if nobody cares about doing a decent job any more and that everybody is only looking out for number one, often enough to the detriment of all the other numbers. This explains the ever growing need for public control. In spite of this necessity, the need for a behavioural control is wrong for at least two reasons.

If we consider this situation from a philosophical point of view, it is obvious that our society is suffering a loss of ethics on a mass scale, and tries to remediate this loss on a behavioural level. Well, every psychologist can tell you that this will not work. Putting your hope in a purely behavioural regulation is an illusion if there is no psychological back-up in the people that you want to regulate. A lack of ethics can never be remediated by a big brother system, even on the contrary.

Moreover, offering a forum for complaints on psychotherapists is just asking for trouble. I predict that a considerable number of patients will use this kind of regulation to shoot the pianist, i.e., the therapist. The denomination of the official URL is very telling in this respect (http://www.hpc-uk.org/complaints/making/nothappy/) as it seems to convey the message that therapists should make the client happy and if this is not the case, the client has the right to complain. This will create what I would ironically call a super Dalrymple syndrome.