Every New Yorker thinks he or she needs therapy. Allen Y Wood
says through innovations such as The Psyche-Deli the food industry
aims to bring new meaning to the phrase “couch potatoes”
You may have read of the novel idea for stressed-out New
Yorkers: a taxi-cum-therapy service which combines psychotherapy
with efficient, if not always rapid, transit. Seated comfortably in
soft leather chairs in an “office-like van”, angst-ridden residents
of the Big Apple can sit back and unwind their tortured souls. With
luck, they will arrive on time and less anxious than at the start
of the journey. All this for a mere $200 an hour.
Nonetheless, we’re realistic enough to know the chances of this
counselling couch-on-wheels making it big outside of our largest
conurbations are slim. In Britain, the BBC’s successful radio
programme In the Psychiatrist’s Chair is highly unlikely
to be transformed into In the Psychiatrist’s Rear-view
There are, though, a few other exciting developments in combining
psychotherapy with ancillary services, which might do better in the
UK. A therapy bar, for example (motto: “Have a drink with your
shrink”). However, contra-indicators here include the fact that
most bartenders feel they already provide this service, free of
charge; so competition would be intense.
A much more likely, not to say wholesome, alternative would be the
burgeoning restaurant-cum-counselling centre. Top Manhattan place
is The Psyche-Deli, complete with mandatory motto: “Lettuce help
you.” Outside, a welcoming sign says, “Cheesed off? You’ll feel
better if you Camembert your soul.”
The menu understandably represents both the schools of haute
cuisine and psychotherapy. In such a setting, healing inevitably
comes as an optional extra; a sort of therapeutic side-order. A
typical request is, “I’ll have the nut roast, with some short-term,
client-centred therapy on the side. Hold the insight
Those particularly in need of a nurturing female therapist can
order Sole Bonne Femme. A customer suffering from a
multiple-personality disorder can have “a bit of everything” and
get a group rate. Fire-setters can eat their own diagnosis: Banana
Disciples of the Gestalt school frequently practise the “empty
chair” approach, by setting more places than they actually require.
They do, of course, have to pay extra. Those of a more traditional
psychoanalytical persuasion simply ask for Freud Eggs or even
SuperEgo Mayonnaise. Patience, however, is a prerequisite for those
who adhere to this approach. Psychoanalytical waiters might take
you some getting used to. Clients would have be really sure they
wanted it. Fast food it sure ain’t.
The slowness of psychoanalysis is legendary and not everyone has
this type of endurance. So, a restaurant milieu is just the place
for the “short order” cook/therapist. Advocates of regression
therapy let their clients mess with their food and eat with their
fingers, while behavioural therapists insist on strict compliance
with table manners.
Places like The Psyche-Deli have opened up a whole set of new
possibilities for food critics. Along with the wine-soaked acerbic
comments on the quality of food, ambience and so on, the
gastronomic cognoscenti now focus on the staff’s use of empathic
listening, supportive body language and the imaginative use of
The only downside is the hefty tab at the end of the session/meal.
Prices are, somewhat inevitably, on the high side but modest
compared with a night in the Betty Ford Clinic. But we hope that
medical insurance coverage could come in time. Readily stocked
medication can always ease the burden, however. Chicken wings with
a Prozac dip is a popular choice.
As GK Chesterton once said, “Psychoanalysis is confession without
absolution”. In the Psyche-Deli, if not absolution, there is, at
least, always pudding.
Allen Y Wood is, in fact, Kieran McGrath, senior social
work practitioner, St Clare’s sexual abuse assessment unit,