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Dare Me? Putting the Psycho In Psychology

By Sarah Buckley

Have you ever gotten the feeling that everyone around you is crazy? That’s because you go to MIT. Everywhere else, the sun shines a little brighter, people smell a little cleaner, and you just don’t see students trying to use echolocation to find their ways around campus (yes, I saw this; no, it wasn’t pretty). The point is people at MIT have problems, and, as a philanthropist, I was excited to receive a dare that would allow me to spread sanity to those around me.

“Hey Sarah, do you remember those Peanut’s comics where Lucy sets up a psychoanalysis booth? You should do that, preferably in Lobby 7.” I got a little makeshift sign (Psychiatric help 5 . The doctor is IN), I stole a table from a nearby classroom, and set up shop. I lured in my first customer almost immediately, and I soon began to feel as if I were the one receiving therapy. He was in the midst of describing his meditation techniques when a surly gentleman sauntered towards us. I offered to pencil him in for a later appointment and asked him to have a seat in my waiting room (gesturing to all of Lobby 7).

Surly gentleman: The entrance to MIT is no place for this. You’re creating a scene!

Me: And how does that make you feel?

He didn’t like that at all, and he started to tell me to clear out immediately when my patient piped up. Apparently, my patient was a big-name professor here, and I got to sit back and watch the altercation between these two men over whether I should be allowed to psychologize in a lobby of such renown. Mr. Surly won, however; I moved to Lobby 10.

Most of the people who came through wanted to talk about standard college issues: stress, lack of time or direction in life, lack of social graces, and even bad hair days. My general philosophy for these general sorts of problems is that people are too cooped up in the structures they see in their lives. I instructed most of my patients to break out of their mental prisons by doing something totally off-the-wall. One guy danced the Funky Chicken, several people complimented — or even hugged — strangers, and one girl gave a loud rendition “Under da Sea.” But my favorite was the guy who approached a woman he had never met and asked if he could carry her water bottle for her. She admitted that plastic bottles could indeed become awfully heavy, and they proceeded to have a friendly conversation ending in a hug. I got a little bleary-eyed, it was beautiful.

One strategy that I found worked quite well was sock puppet therapy. A troubled gentleman came by complaining that he had a hard time approaching girls. When I asked him to role play with me and show me how he might ask me out, he grew nervous and clammed up, and then stammered, “So, uh, are we gonna do it?” Rather than chastising his poor technique, I immediately put a sock on each hand and used puppets to show him how an appropriate conversation might go. In retrospect, I don’t think the socks really added anything insight-wise; they were just really cute, and they made people laugh.

He wasn’t nearly as charming as the guy who asked me out for coffee and then snuck up on me just moments later and bear-hugged me from behind. Ha ha! Wasn’t expecting that one! To that guy: I am attached, but I’ll totally still meet you for coffee.

The biggest blooper of the day is when I accidentally propositioned someone:

Guy in the hall: I want some help, but I don’t have any money on me.

Me: It’s ok. I’ll do you for free.

Guy: Heck yes!

Going into this, I knew to expect the unexpected, and yet I was still convinced that my encounters would be generally light-hearted affairs. Surprisingly, a good 25 percent of my patients came to me with true psychological problems. These are the kinds of issues that I won’t reveal here because 1. they’re not funny and 2. I’m not a douchebag. I just found it surprising that these people would be willing to open up to a total stranger about very real, very depressing things in such a public place. And not to wax sentimental in a humor article, but it seems to me that most people just want someone to listen to them and care about what they’re saying. Even if it means breaking down in the middle of the MIT throngs, people will pour their hearts out if someone’s there for them.

And on that hilarious note, I’d like to remind you to send in more dares (sabuckle@mit.edu). This week’s was an example of a good dare. You all should try sending in more that fit under that category.