What I Learned About Therapy From Frankie Avalon


Now, you might not think about Frankie Avalon in connection with psychotherapy. But, in a peculiar way, he taught me a bit about treatment many years ago.

Frankie Avalon was performing in Chicago and appeared on a late night local program on Chicago’s ABC affiliate TV station; as did I and two other mental health professionals. Avalon was talking about his career as a singer and one-time pop-idol of the 1960s. The rest of us were speaking about hypnosis. Frankie Avalon was to appear on the first half of the program, while the mental health section was scheduled second.

The program was taped on Thursday for broadcast the next day. And, as things worked out, both the legendary singer and the shrinks all spent a few minutes together in “the Green Room” before the taping began. Avalon asked us a bit about ourselves.  When he discovered that we would be talking about hypnosis, he posed the following question: “Hey, can you guys stop me from smoking?”

One of my fellow-therapists responded, “Do you want to stop?”

“No,” Avalon replied.

We all laughed, but in truth, the singer had demonstrated something very important about therapy. To wit, not everyone who comes to therapy wants to change. Or, at least, they might not want to change the particular thing about themselves that is causing their unhappiness, or suffer the pain of making that change, or explore the unsettling emotions that sometimes surface in treatment.

This often happens in marital therapy too, when one member of the couple doesn’t think he or she is doing anything that bad, and so has no reason to adjust.

Therapists often can help those who recognize that their problems are severe enough to require “whatever it takes” to change. But, we are not much good when working with someone who, like Frankie Avalon, really doesn’t want to do anything different.

Those adults who are forced into therapy, pressured into treatment, or who go because they think that they ought to, are usually setting themselves up for failure. A wise therapist will usually identify this quickly and ask those individuals if they really want to be there — or point out that they don’t seem ready, and that premature therapy would be a waste of their time and money.

As the old joke goes, “How many therapists does it take to change a light bulb?”

One, but the light bulb has to want to be changed.

The above image is an Electric Light Bulb From Neolux in Studio by KMJ, sourced from Wikimedia Commons.