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The Soul of Therapy

Spiritual Insight on Vulnerability From Schitt’s Creek

Photo Credit: Getty/Heiko119

The Soul of Therapy

The Soul of Therapy explores the difficulties people bring to therapy, with a focus on how...
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You live inside your skin tone, your mental health situation, your flawed family. “Like Johnny and Moira, we don’t need to be stigmatized or made to feel less than fully human when we’re up a creek without a paddle.”

When I heard that Schitt’s Creek had won nine Emmys in 2020, I decided to check it out. The show is about a wealthy family (Johnny and Moira Rose and their two adult children) that goes bankrupt and tries to adjust to life in Schitt’s Creek, a small town Johnny bought years earlier as a joke birthday gift for his son. Schitt’s Creek’s mayor is named Roland Schitt, a good indication of the writers’ willingness to play off the town’s name.

In an episode near the beginning of season 3, Johnny and Moira are out for an anniversary dinner at a nice restaurant in a nearby town. They run into a couple from their prior life who just happened to be passing through the area. The two couples are having dinner when Roland Schitt and his wife Jocelyn wander in and invite themselves to join the gathering. That’s Roland’s way. He’s rough around the edges, both in his manner of dress and his quirky behavior.

The old friends of Johnny and Moira can’t stop laughing about the town down the road which they had just driven through. Misremembering the town’s name, Johnny’s former friend Don asks, “What do you call someone from Schittsville? A Schitter?” When Don’s wife suggests that Roland Schitt, “by the looks of it” must work in agriculture, Jocelyn says, “Roland is the mayor of our town.”

“Not Schittsville, I hope!” the wife says, and the out-of-towners have another guffaw.

Finally, Johnny, who’s been struggling since the first episode to accept his fall from millionaire business success to occupant of a run-down motel in Schitt’s Creek, has had enough. He tells his former friends:

All you two have done is complain about the food and pretend that you didn’t leave us high and dry after we lost everything. … You wrote us off, Donnot a phone call, not an email, not a nickel. Roland and Jocelyn here could not have been more generous with what little they have. They’ve offered us a place to live. They’ve offered us their truck whenever we’ve needed it. They’ve invited us to parties. They even offered to take us out to dinner tonight … and that town you passed through, it’s not called Schittsville. It’s called Schitt’s Creek, and it’s where we live.”

After that episode I began wondering about how many vulnerable people in the world could relate to Johnny Rose’s words:

  • This skin tone that seems to threaten you somehow—it’s where I live.
  • This recovery process I’ll be in for life—it’s where I live.
  • This mental health struggle I’ve had for years—it’s where I live.
  • This sexual orientation you cannot seem to accept—it’s where I live.
  • This beautiful and deeply flawed family I am a part of—it’s where we live.

In 1978, The Road Less Traveled by the late psychiatrist M. Scott Peck was a bestseller. I’ve always wondered if much of its success was attributable to its opening three sentences:

“Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it.”

Paraphrasing Peck, we all live in our own version of Schitt’s Creek. We’re just good at pretending we don’t.

Laughing at a town’s name turned out to be a lot easier for Johnny and Moira Rose’s former friends than reaching out to them during a time of vulnerability. Many who have been through shattering failure or a dark night of the soul know how a fair percentage of the people in their lives keep a safe distance, waiting for the storm to clear so they don’t have to get too close to pain—another person’s and their own.

Being present with people in their times of feeling lost, broken, or vulnerable brings us face to face with the uncomfortable truth that we are all in this life-is-difficult world together, and none of us knows just how difficult our own life could become. It’s much easier to convince ourselves that we’re committed to being around “positive people” than to develop the depth and non-judgment it takes to be present to people in good times and bad.

I recently had the opportunity to present my poetry to a committee charged with selecting Ohio’s next poet laureate. After telling them the story of my grandfather’s suicide attempt in the 1930s, I showed them a tin platter he made during his therapy at what was still in those days called an asylum. My parents gave me the platter twenty years ago when I was going through a severe depression. After showing it to them I performed the following piece:

I am mentally ill sometimes.

(I began with a straight-up admission that I am a member of a group subject to stigma.)

I am mentally ill sometimes
and so are you.

(As I repeated the first line and added “and so are you,” I pointed one-by-one at each of the seven members of the selection committee. Possibly not the best way to start off a job interview! Everyone struggles with thoughts and emotions at times; everyone knows both ease and dis-ease.)

I am mentally ill sometimes
and so are you
willing to help me end it—the stigma I mean?

(A pause after “... are you willing to help me end it” before finishing with “the stigma I mean” conveyed a sense of how dark mental illness can get.)

I am mentally ill sometimes
and so are you
willing to help me end it—the stigma? I mean,
why pretend life is not difficult for us all?

(Bringing in Peck’s wisdom in the first lines of The Road Less Traveled)

I am mentally ill sometimes
and so are you
willing to help me end it—the stigma? I mean,
why pretend life is not difficult? For us all
healing begins with letting go of shame.

(From Now is Where God Lives © 2018 by Kevin Anderson)

I tell patients that shame is dirt in the wound they are trying to heal. We begin healing shame when we prune it down to its first two letters: “Sh ...”

When we quiet the voice of self-judgment, we can begin gently saying to ourselves: “Right now this is where I live.” Like Johnny and Moira, we don’t need to be stigmatized or made to feel less than fully human when we’re up a creek without a paddle. We don’t need people trying to cheer us up or paddle us out of trouble according to their need for us to get quickly back in the positive column. The deep, non-judging presence of another person who says “I’ve been in a place like this too” is not a paddle to get us moving. We are moved, rather, by another’s radical acceptance that helps us begin to accept ourselves and our situation even if we can’t yet see a healing path.

Keep reading about shame: “Is Shame Keeping Your Partner From Healing?”


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