I recently watched the original film version of Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple” and it was as funny and touching as when I first saw it. Viewing the classic flick as a counselor-in-training I have rediscovered Felix as a person with obsessive compulsive disorder who would benefit from a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy and medication. And Oscar? Clearly Mr. Madison has executive functioning challenges and really could use some help from a professional organizer. On a more psychoanalytical note: I don’t even want to consider how either of these two were toilet trained!
Being a playwright I am aware that both comedy and tragedy are built on emotional dysfunction. The rule of thumb is: comedy happens when somebody slips on a banana peel and doesn’t get hurt and tragedy ensues when somebody trips on a banana peel and breaks his or her neck. The great Irish playwright Samuel Beckett said there is nothing funnier than unhappiness – true, at least in fiction.
Take the old sitcom “I Love Lucy,” for example. Ricky, her band director husband, doesn’t let Lucy perform in his shows – she keeps trying and gets herself in hilarious predicaments and the audience laughs because we identify with Lucy. Could these two use couples counseling?
Oh, yes! As could many a sitcom couple. Veering off into the world of animation The Simpsons would benefit greatly from more than a few sessions of family sculpting.
I’ve spent my writing career creating characters that ache for something and face obstacles on stage. This conflict always creates an energy for the both the actors and the audience. I’ve come to sometimes view counseling through a similar lens – one that is neither comic nor tragic, but simply focused on our shared human condition. We are all in this together.
Like characters on a stage our clients are faced with a myriad of obstacles. I feel a counselor is kind of a guide, or perhaps more of a companion, to help a client experience, overcome and move past such obstacles. Through this pursuit behavior change can occur and more meaning may be found in life. As counselors, our theories may be used as a roadmap to enable our clients to get where they want and need to be. On this roadmap you can’t avoid dysfunction junction because everybody faces adversity.
Relationships are nuanced and perfection doesn’t exist. Awareness and acceptance of as well as the willingness to face the dysfunction is the work of the client and is the essence of therapy.
Susan Jennifer Polese is a counselor in training, a personal coach and a freelance writer. Her areas of interest are mindfulness, divergent thinking, and creativity in counseling.