The XX Factor

Is Finding a Proper Therapist the Same As Finding a Good Man?

A preview of Daphne Merkin’s essay, “My Life in Therapy,” chronicling her 40 years seeing various shrinks in this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine , is already online. The piece mentions more than a handful of therapists that Merkin-who has written about her depression for the Times Magazine before-has seen in the past four decades. “All those years, all that money, all that unrequited love,” Merkin laments at the beginning of the piece. She discusses her endless quest for a better therapist, “a therapist who could make me happy.”

There is something slightly wrong with each therapist. This one is too harsh; this one, not harsh enough; this one loves his dog too much; the other one is not smart enough. Whether this is intentional or not, after a while, Merkin’s encounters with her therapists start to sound like bad dates. She even describes one therapist, who died before the two could begin a theraputic relationship, as “the one who got away-the one who might have worked miracles.” What’s more, she echoes some of the language of Sex and the City when questioning her relationships with her series of shrinks. “I couldn’t help wondering whether it kept me too cocooned in the past to the detriment of the present,” she muses, using a version of Carrie’s famous syntax. Is finding a proper therapist ultimately the same as finding a good man?

In the end, just like in Lori Gottlieb’s much reviled dating advice book Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough , Merkin realizes that part of the problem is that she has been looking for the “perfect therapist,” obsessed with the “ur-figure of the therapist,” rather than settling for just a person with whom she could be herself and air her darker feelings. So Merkin decides to take a break from therapy for a while-but she’s sure she’ll be back on the couch soon enough.