Therapon? Therapon, indeed!

Thank you Jean-Max Gaudilliere and Francoise Davoine for introducing me to the ancient Greek word “therapon” from which the word “therapist” is derived.

Francoise spoke tonight of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with her patients, trying to be fully present in their reality. The therapist is a second-in-command, a comrade-in-arms in the patient’s battle against the treachery and terror she faces. The therapon, in Homer’s Iliad, was also a ritual sacrifice substitute and one who buried the dead. And so the therapist also submits to the rages of the patient and helps to put the restless, vengeful ghosts of trauma to rest.

The therapon is the patient’s right-hand-(wo)man, an ally and a servant who provides willingly. This willingness is recognized in the word therapon, even if the therapon is a slave (doulos). Many clients inevitably lament that “you’re only here because you get paid,” as if the fact of a commercial transaction negates the existence of another level of relationship. But willingness is the hallmark of being a therapon; it supersedes even the master-slave relationship (another sort of commercial transaction.)

The Precept Austin website elaborates the understanding of the therapon through biblical exegesis:

Therapon is one who serves willingly regardless of whether he is a free man (eleútheros see in depth analysis of related verb eleutheroo) impelled by love or a slave (see either doulos or doulos) bound by duty. Thus the services of a therapon (Ex 14:31) were voluntary and higher than those of an ordinary doulos or slave. And so therapon denotes the willing service rendered as well as the relationship between the one serving and the one he serves. It also emphasizes an office which was honorable and dignified.

Sometimes I feel like an ordinary doulos when I see the meager checks I get from Medicaid for services rendered, but as a therapon, I know I am an honorable woman.

Your comrade-in-arms,

Jessica Arenella


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