One of the insights of psychotherapy is that the desire to help someone, say by identifying a ‘fix’, is often ineffectual or unhelpful or possibly destructive. This might be for a number of reasons. The law of unintended consequences. Never really knowing as much as you think you know. The ‘hammer fallacy’ (when you’ve a hammer in your hand, every problem looks like a nail): the fix feels like a thump and so becomes another problem.
Better is to be a catalyst that assists the averagely neurotic individual to see reality more clearly, and discern what’s true about a particular situation. That’s more cathartic – a bit like the ease you feel when you work out exactly how much debt is on your credit card, as opposed to the unease you have when you only vaguely know that it’s a lot. And it’s the point at which healing can start, because it’s starting from the place you are at, not some different place that a fix will probably implicitly assume.
I have a sense that this matters in relation to one of the rumbling debates of the moment, on whether science can deliver what religion used to, when it comes to wellbeing. (It’s certainly wrong to oppose science and religion so diametrically, but just to make the point…)
Broadly, you might say that the new ‘moral sciences’ – as championed by Sam Harris but apparently now quite pervasive in government – are on the side of fix-finding. Behavioural sciences, for example, when applied in the policy arena, link perceived problems such as social fragmentation, to proposed solutions such as encouraging street parties for the royal wedding – with all the optimism and risk that the fix-approach brings.
Religion, though, is more about trying to gain a sense of reality as it is and then, exposed to it, trusting that reality to work. Christianity, for example, has an account of the human condition captured in stories such as the one rehearsed this week, about suffering and death, love and resurrection. It doesn’t claim to understand or control what’s doing on, which is difficult because the desire for fixes is so powerful. But it does offer a way of opening up to that reality – and whilst that’s often difficult to bear, the promise is it’s the place from which new life springs.
Only, and as philosopher George Michael reminds us: I gotta have faith. Hmm. Fixes do have an appeal.