An Unconventional Therapist in “The Booth at the End”

His “office” is unconventional. The gent’s appearance ranges from casual to shabby. Be assured, however: he provides a potent therapy.

The man’s consulting room is a diner. He doesn’t advertise. Nor will the “counselor” give you his name or say much about himself.

The offered service is free, but not without cost.

A woman finds him in “the booth at the end.She’s heard about the gentleman, been informed he can “do things.

The interview begins. The lady belongs to a religious order, though she dresses in everyday clothes. Her residence is a convent where she lives with others like her.

Sister Carmel’s faith vanished. She no longer hears God’s voice, the Almighty’s call. She wants the fellow’s help to get it back.

The “helper” starts by listening. He writes what she relates in a book. Once the Sister states her goal, he flips through the pages for a prescription:

You must become pregnant.

The nun is startled, horrified. Her vow of chastity would be violated. She doesn’t fathom whether or how to proceed.

Can she bargain for another way?

No.

The stranger is eating as they talk. He doesn’t insist anyone take on the remedy he suggests. The decision to go ahead with the required task is always “your choice.

I can’t do anything. You have to do it.

Little guidance is presented as to “how” to manage the job. Achievement of the chore requires the seeker’s own ingenuity. Those who come with desires often ask for alternatives, something less demanding, dangerous, or harsh.

There are many different resolutions to any given problem. I offer only one. I’m a messenger of opportunity.

Questioning him is unavailing:

Do you believe in God?Answer:I believe in the details.

When they hesitate, he reiterates, “It is up to you.

Additional sessions continue the dialogue. Those who want the help of the person at the diner’s last table are obliged to report their headway. They are promised that once their assignment stands completed, they will receive what they want.

The treatment makes each individual uncomfortable. Their job is difficult, complicated.

Sounds similar to therapy, doesn’t it?

Like psychotherapy, “What one begins one must finish,” an article of faith in the universe of healing, though no one will be forced to complete the process.

Some worry that their actions will harm others. Those repercussions can be severe.

They also wonder how their benefactor accomplishes his work:

There are things I do not know about this world, about people, about how things will turn out. But I know this: there are consequences.

When you start changing the world, you don’t know when the changes are going to stop. No matter what you choose to get, you will be breaking the world as it is.

Indeed, like conventional therapy, the alterations you make in yourself will impact your social network, your family, and your friends.

As the meetings in the restaurant progress, we discover that some of the guru’s visitors hope for the wrong thing. Psychologists call this “miswanting.” They make the mistake of believing if only they could have something — say a dream job or a new baby — life would be transformed for the better permanently.

We are poor affective forecasters — weak at predicting the emotional residue of our choices. Daniel Gilbert and Tim Wilson tell that as time passes, most losses prove less devastating than we first imagined. Equally, most hoped-for gains lose their capacity to sustain the temporary euphoria they offer.

The café “magician” doesn’t say this to his seekers. Yet even without asking, existential dilemmas reveal themselves in the course of their table talk: the shortness of life, the terror of disease and loss; the desire to be prettier, more talented, happier.

The therapist’s business is trading, but it is his clients who must decide what they are willing to trade for what the want. Not just their effort, but their safety, honor, conscience, or freedom.

A detective who is his client gladly goes to jail, though incarceration was not a stated part of the proposed arrangement. The officer was told to find and protect a “corrupt cop.He has learned of his own corruption and expresses gratitude for the knowledge.

Not all are so satisfied with the work they agree to take on in the diner.

This cable TV series ran for two seasons. It is available on Amazon Prime Video and elsewhere, as well as on DVD.

Though the episodes are quirky, therapeutic truth resides in each of them.

I suggest you tune-in, but remember the words of the man in the eatery:There are no guarantees.Just as in the counselor’s office.

Should you watch?

That would be up to you.

15 thoughts on “An Unconventional Therapist in “The Booth at the End”

  1. gb fragmented gumdrops

    In response to this passage, “The therapist’s business is trading, but it is his clients who must decide what they are willing to trade for what the want. Not just their effort, but their safety, honor, conscience, or freedom”:

    I can understand how clients trade in their freedom and their conscience, and maybe even their honor (especially if they are narcissistic in nature and hold themselves up in higher regard than others – and at the other’s expense, or if they hold faulty beliefs such as “there can be honor amongst thieves”), but what I don’t get is why clients should trade in their safety? My perception of therapy comes with expectations about what I believe therapy ought to be, not necessarily how therapy is taught today.

    I believe that safety should be established, and that cognitive distortions are essentially unsafe, and therefore changing cognitive distortions does not necessarily mean the trading in of one’s (perceived) safety, but rather the rebuilding of safety. I also believe that no one is truly free all the time, but there should be a building up of certain freedoms in therapy, such as the freedom to express emotion, tell secrets, acknowledge pains that no other person would want to hear, etc.

    Asking a person to change for the sake of conforming to an ideal therapeutic outcome is not necessarily “healing” in my eyes. Many people change from non-therapeutic (but rather behavioral) approaches, such as the kind of training that police, military, clandestine, and students in college undertake. They are forever changed in many ways, and their freedoms were exchanged for different freedoms and different directions.

    But therapy in my eyes shouldn’t be about the giving up, or exchanging of, certain things. Rather, therapy is about healing – however that process may be, which includes building safety, building a new kind of honor (if a maladaptive kind was formed before), building other kinds of freedoms, and building a better conscience – not the exchanges or taking aways of those things. For if this how therapists see their purpose in changing (as opposed to healing) clients, then that strays far away from the humane aspects of therapy I (along with many other suffering clients) will continue to expect. Otherwise, without such humane aspects of healing, clients are mere puppet-subjects ready to be tested in a lab. I seek therapy for healing, not someone’s determination of their outcome for me. I seek therapy for healing through finding an outcome that will heal me, which includes a sense of freedom.

    Perhaps those with certain disorders may not want to change, so they ought not to seek therapy because their desire isn’t for healing, but rather for admiration, a fulfilling of a narcissistic supply, a validation due to a lack of emotional social capital. Healing entails many different things, but it shouldn’t entail many of the ruptures (or existential dilemmas) that we hear about from time to time. There are different ways that can heal the psyche, but our individualist society that prizes itself on control and hierarchies reduce one’s ability to fully heal. They may change and “recover,” but they are not completely healed, or in some cases of lifelong mental disorders, they are not completely managed and healed enough.

    That’s my humble opinion.

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    • If you have a chance to see the series, you’ll understand the reference to “safety.” It is not that the “therapist” is creating an unsafe relationship with his “client.” Rather, he is telling him that change requires risk. Indeed, it always does. Of course, the client in the TV series is told that the kind of desire he wants to fulfill will require (sometimes) very great risks, like robbing a bank! This is one of the places the therapy analogue offered by this series breaks down. Sorry for the confusion.

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      • gb fragmented gumdrops

        Thanks for clarifying, Dr. S. When I watched “Burn Notice,” a series about a CIA agent who was burned and tried to get unburned, there were a few scenes that involved some sort of therapy. There was an evil therapist in one of the episodes who calculated the spy’s every move, and he manipulated his life. In one of the episodes, the evil therapist “treated” a former CIA operative who had schizophrenia by telling him to “resolve” his issues by killing the spy (and any of the spy’s friends). That evil therapist reminds me of the therapist you describe, when you stated that one of the risks would be robbing a bank. On the screen, these scenes make me laugh or kept in suspense, which I like to watch but not live out IRL. That said, there are some therapists out there who are highly controlling, persuasive, and/or seductive. It’s interesting how a power differential between a “helper” and a vulnerable “seeker” is a risky combo in and of itself. It’s a risk to “seek therapy,” in addition to seeking change. Indeed, life is filled with risks – even risks we aren’t even aware of, or the risks we unintentially cause on others. I used to love taking risks, but not anymore.

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  2. gb fragmented gumdrops

    I am actually curious now about “Booth at the End.” I may just watch the show to see what you’re referencing in terms of therapy. 🙂

    Another good thought-provoking post, Dr. S. 🙂 Thank you!

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  3. What a strangely disturbing, weird and troubling little series this was. Left a lot of unanswered questions both about the main character and about one’s own self. What do you want? What are you willing to do to get it?

    Thanks for the recommendation. It’s not a series I had ever heard about before.

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    • Your characterization is spot-on, brewdun. I, too, was sorry to see it end. I think we might have discovered more about who this “messenger” is. I was also curious about his relationship with the waitress.

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  4. gb fragmented gumdrops

    Should your post be considered a “spoiler alert”? –Just wondering. Hee hee. I plan to watch both seasons soon, now that I am curious. 🙂

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  5. I tried to entice without giving away the endings of any client’s story, except part of one. By the way, the woman who places Sister Carmel is the real-life wife of the “therapist.”

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Interesting concept for a TV series. My own life changes support your observation that “the alterations you make in yourself will impact your social network, your family, and your friends.” A friend finds my novel offensive to her conservative sensibilities. My second novel will scandalize her even more.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Offense to friends is inevitable but challenging. Change, too, is inevitable, even as much as many of us fight it. Here’s to good luck with your second novel, Rosaliene. They say scandal sells!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I haven’t got the chance to see this series, but I did watch the movie Lars and The Real Girl today, and it is a great touching movie about therapy, grief, intimacy and opening up. The actual time that the character spent in the therapy room was part of his therapy, but not all of it. In fact, the therapy room time was purposefully made to not seem like a therapy to him. It’s so interesting to see the traditional “patient goes to therapist for help in order to move on” mode does not apply always. The main therapy happened outside the therapist room, mainly in the character’s immediate life and his way of coping. It’s so refreshing to see the process from beginning to end (and to new beginnings).

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  8. Thanks, Danny. It has been a long time since I saw “Lars and the Real Girl,” but I also remember it fondly. Indeed, as you suggest, much of what is therapeutic happens between sessions. The outcome depends on what the patient does with himself in the world: the risks he takes, the changes he makes in his perception, and the courage he displays there. Take care.

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