I don't know how many of you were in therapy ten years ago, but those who were might remember a projective technique called "Who Am I?". Friends who were subjected to the treatment tell me that it involved little more than sitting down at a table and writing out a list of all the characteristics that they thought constituted a self-definition.
If I take my friend Geoff as an example, the list might have included such statements as "I am male", "I am middle-aged", "I am a heavy drinker", "I am routinely unfaithful to Sarah", "I am constantly talking about writing a novel but find it difficult to compose anything more extended than a holiday postcard" and "I am relatively kind to animals and children".
What interests the therapist are the relative priorities given to such self-descriptions. Why does Geoff choose to regard maleness as his number-one characteristic, rather than perpetual drunkenness or routine infidelity? And this is the site of the thera- peutic intervention (or, in lay terms, the moment when the therapist comes round to collect your answer paper).
Patients who have an inadequate sense of self are inclined to give priority to neutral or negative self-descriptions (male, middle-aged, drunk, adulterous); the therapist's task is to look down the list for more positive attributes (relatively kind to animals and children) and to persuade the patient to give such qualities a more prominent league position. (Some people have compared this task to that of managing Sheffield Wednesday in the final weeks of last season.)
Anyone who feels, by this point, that the "Who Am I?" test (or at least my representation of it) lacks the type of subtlety that would be needed to capture the psychological dimensions of a field mouse will take comfort in the news that there is a new contender on the therapeutic block, which is called "Name Therapy".
I learnt about this exciting development from Carol Hodge, who has been popping in and out of therapy ever since she arrived home early from work back in 1985 and discovered her husband lying on the marital bed dressed from head to toe in women's clothing. (It wasn't, as she later explained, that she objected to Gerald's transvestism as such, but to his naff taste. If he wanted to be a proper woman, why couldn't he have enough sensitivity to shop at French Connection, rather than Etam?)
"Name Therapy", as Carol explained over a Bacardi Breezer at Sanderson's last week, is specially designed for people like herself who suffer from pathological narcissism. All one need do is sit in front of the therapist and recite one's own name over and over again until it loses its distinctiveness and begins to sound like any other. (The technical term for the process is "semantic satiation".) In this way, CAROL HODGE slowly becomes Carol Hodge and can then take its place alongside other names, such as Geoff Webster and Mike Stanworth. The protean self recedes, and properly mutual sociability is resumed.
Although I recognise a recurrent tendency to think of myself as LAURIE TAYLOR, rather than Laurie Taylor, I think that I may wait until Name Therapy has sorted out some teething problems before I show up for treatment. Carol was so pleased with her initial results that she returned for further sessions and, as a result, reduced the significance of her own name to the point where it became indistinguishable from anyone else's. She realised that matters had gone too far only when her bank returned three cheques that she had carefully signed "Lillian Botwright".