In the realm of common anxiety and anxious disorders, phobias and such-like, one frequently encounters obsessions and rituals of various kinds, such as the compulsion to spray oneself repeatedly with various types of "cleansers" (saliva, soapy water, urine, bleach). Our practice has provided therapy for many such behaviours over the decades, meeting with much success but also, unfortunately, some discomfiting failures.

Patient "L," for example, came to us one gloomy March day in '91. Typically I wouldn't have witnessed her arrival by bus, her careful exit through the rear door, her hurried re-entrance to the driver's consternation, her final exit--again through the rear door. That day, however, had brought with it a sort of therapeutic...reticence, if you will, which had a truncating effect on my appointments.

Up she came, through the revolving door (though not, certainly, without a goodly amount of coaxing by a kind-but-meddlesome ex-patient) and up the elevator shaft, to my door.

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I won't bore you with her agonizing list of fears, her hysterical accounts of what to most of us would seem trifling childhood trauma. She needed to be able to drive from her home to her job and back again, and that became our chief objective. Unfortunately, her fears were made worse by her miserliness, which dictated a penny-pinching ethos so extreme that she told tales of negotiating with gumball machines.

She could not bring herself to buy short term car insurance for her car, because, as she said: "What if I buy more minutes than I use? If I pay for 15 minutes of insurance, and crash my car after only twelve, I'll have wasted more than 47 cents."

I am not, as a rule, dishonest in my practice, although I have taken on characters (spaceman, Bugs Bunny, Mick Jagger, and so on), it's true, within the confines of my office, in order to explore various kinds of relationships. With "L," though, I had an inspiration that, though hopelessly fraudulent, proved temporarily salubrious.

"My sister," I began, "happens to work for an insurance agency unlike any other." She perked up at this. "It seems almost as though they exist to suit your exact need. I'll just look them up." I tapped at my computer keyboard for several seconds ("Just Googling," I told her, smiling quite cheerily and glancing at my Facebook feed). "Ah. Here it is: Evanescent Insurance Company, LLC. I'll just jot down the number for you. Ask for Edelbert Frothingame. It says here you can buy auto insurance 'in ten-second increments, should you so desire.'"

For a while it did make things quite difficult on my secretary, who keeps an unpublished line for these delicate operations. The first day, I heard her answer "Evanescent Insurance" more times than I could count, until I almost believed I could sing that fictional company's jingle. Unfortunately, despite its salvific potential for my client, I must admit "Evanescent's" final failure: when the inevitable crash came (a lovely old beech tree, by the way) there was no indemnification to be had. Everyone can take a lesson from that, I suppose.

Copyright John Parker 2009