If you know who musician Amanda Palmer is, you are probably a fan. For those who don’t, she has been doing great things in the arts for a while now. The Art of Asking, her new memoir, is one of those things. In it Palmer asks a simple question: Is it fair for the artist to ask for help from fans? Her answer: Yes. Whether you are busking on the street to get $60 a day or raising over $1,000,000 on Kickstarter (Palmer has gone from one to the other), support should be asked for.
This support is mainly financial, so I’ll be on an economic pedestal for some of this column (feel free to knock me off with an email). Palmer’s reasoning is that the real value for the artist (producer) and the fan (consumer) is not in what’s being exchanged (art for money), but in the human connection of the exchange itself (whether in person or over the net).
This week I’d like to look at examples of how those exchanges (and the human connection to boot) occur in the mental health world. Those with mental health issues struggle with the idea of asking for help. Three areas that come to mind for me are: asking for help from psychiatrists, asking for help from therapists and asking for help from friends.
Before I begin, let me note that art for money is of course not the only form of exchange. Exchanges in our 21st century world are complicated, and (as you’ll see) don’t always involve money. Yet Palmer’s principles still hold.
The main exchange in a psychiatrist-patient relationship is drugs for money (like true economists, let’s simplify ourselves out of reality and pretend pharmacists and insurance companies don’t exist). It sounds like a fair exchange, so where’s the concern? Well, unlike other dealers, the psychiatrist actually cares how you use your drugs. So if, like me, you’re meant to be taking two in the morning and two at night daily for a year, but really you’re not taking any (except before blood tests) – then is it fair to ask your psychiatrist to help you deal with your issues? Is it fair to ask them to coach you through a more practical routine? Is it fair to ask them to set you on a path toward one day not needing the drugs (even if it means the psychiatrist isn’t needed)? For me, the answer was yes to all these questions. As any good psychiatrist will tell you, the human connection is the first priority and the psychiatry comes second.
With a therapist the connection is a bit more obvious, but ironically it’s actually harder to establish good rapport with a therapist. That’s because they are offering a scripted performance in exchange for your money. They’re like a trained actor, only instead of the Stanislavski method (see Marlon Brando), they are versed in the Freudian method. The are many different acting methods, and likewise for therapy methods. As with the psychiatrist, I ask myself whether it’s fair to ask the therapist to step into a different role (though counseling and coaching are actually parts of their job description). Again the answer is yes. Cutting off a prepared speech (some therapists have a lot of these), or asking for advice on an illegal activity (yours or someone else’s). Therapists will usually try to leave their personality, beliefs and worldview outside of the exchange, but it’s completely fair to ask for them for those things.
Friends I talk about last because this situation is the most complicated. There’s no real producer or consumer (unless you consider advice and regrettable sex to be products and state transference to be a form of payment). State transference, for those unfamiliar, is basically the process of leaving the friend feeling sad after telling them about your sadness. For this reason, many therapists see their own counselors as an outlet for their feelings (creating a cycle). You can’t practice on yourself (which is also why a depressed person cannot talk themselves out of it). I joke about it, but advice for state transference really does seem to be the exchange. Economically speaking, the person with mental illness has a natural advantage (they get the relief of being heard and get advice). The only benefit the advice-giving friend may get is that feeling of gloating when we find out that we’re doing better than they are (it’s a strange combination of empathy and elation, and I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve felt it myself). But what’s really going on in a friend-to-friend exchange is not about the advice or the story of mental woes. It’s about trust. We all trust our friends with our personal information, and they confide in us as well. That’s what’s important.
A strong connection between producer and consumer means the consumer is more than willing to help raise funds (with either capital or labor). This blurs the lines between a capitalist society based on money (with clear producer and consumer roles) and an alternate community where money is more an afterthought. The real currency is trust.
So, through these three areas of the mental health world hopefully you can see that there are barriers blocking us from making meaningful connections and getting help (which are basically the same thing). If we want to break these barriers, we have to ask. We all deal with at least one of these three areas in our everyday day lives. What’s more, hopefully you can take away the awareness that a business transaction is more about the connection than the product. Anyone can make their own coffee, but we go to coffee shops to connect with others. So don’t be rude to the baristas, they really do want to know how your day is going.
PAUL BEREZOVSKY would like you to ask him something at email@example.com.
Graphic by CA Aggie Graphic Design Team
Photo by CA Aggie Photo Team