Netflix’s Persuasion adaptation sums up the psychobabble ruining culture

Therapy has certainly done a lot of good for a lot of people, but it is ruining the arts. In mainstream cinema, we are now seeing a tendency to overshare in the most trite ways: in Fisherman’s Friends: One and All we hear Jim, played by James Purefoy, talk about his mental health struggles from him in solemn soundbites via a radio interview. “It’s OK not to be OK,” he says.

In therapy culture, nothing can be left internalised, silence is a space that must be filled, everything must be vocalised, made surface, as though the ocean of the subconscious should be drained and its hidden depths revealed. The guiding logic of today’s literary fiction is to leave no emotional stone unturned, and with the emphasis now on “lived experience” threatening the writerly imagination, novels have become a form of soul-baring. The author Matt Haig has understood this trend so fully that a hugely popular novel such as The Midnight Library, in which the main character is able to revisit all of her life choices in a library that contains their alternative paths, crosses the border from fiction to become a work of therapy in itself.

Even Sally Rooney, the most celebrated novelist of her generation, has been drawn towards the psychoanalyst’s chair. Her first two books of her are written with a cool detachment that recalls Isherwood’s of her: “I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking.” Her de ella most recent de ella, Beautiful World, Where Are You, with its central character de ella, Alice, a novelist, seems almost like an exploration of herself.

Of course, navel-gazing is nothing new. On BBC iPlayer, at the moment, you can find the 1970 adaptation of Jean-Paul Sartre’s The Roads to Freedom. People talk a lot in it about how they feel, but that isn’t just meaningless platitudes. They are trying, rigorously, to understand human experience. The flaw in psychobabble is that it can be as vague as the one-size-fits-all projections of newspaper horoscopes.

This makes me think of Adele. Over the past decade, the owner of that stirring voice has been the musical equivalent of Michael Apted’s Up series on television: she turns up every few years with a new album pegged to her age – 19, 21, 25, 30 – to let us know what’s going on in her life. Yet where her lyrics used to bleed easily through pop’s permeable barrier between the personal and the universal – “We could have had it all”, “Never mind, I’ll find someone like you” – now she’s started writing as if you had made yourself emotionally available to meet her for a long-promised session of unburdening. “How can one become so bounded by choices that somebody else makes?” I know, babe, I feel you.

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