This may sound like another job from the future, but “wantologists” wander among us in 2012.
IN the sprawling outskirts of San Jose, Calif., I find myself at the apartment door of Katherine Ziegler, a psychologist and wantologist. Could it be, I wonder, that there is such a thing as a wantologist, someone we can hire to figure out what we want? Have I arrived at some final telling moment in my research on outsourcing intimate parts of our lives, or at the absurdist edge of the market frontier?
A willowy woman of 55, Ms. Ziegler beckons me in. A framed Ph.D. degree in psychology from the University of Illinois hangs on the wall, along with an intricate handmade quilt and a collage of images clipped from magazines — the back of a child’s head, a gnarled tree, a wandering cat — an odd assemblage that invites one to search for a connecting thread.
After a 20-year career as a psychologist, Ms. Ziegler expanded her practice to include executive coaching, life coaching and wantology. Originally intended to help business managers make purchasing decisions, wantology is the brainchild of Kevin Kreitman, an industrial engineer who set up a two-day class to train life coaches to apply this method to individuals in private life. Ms. Ziegler took the course and was promptly certified in the new field.
Ms. Ziegler explains that the first step in thinking about a “want,” is to ask your client, “ ‘Are you floating or navigating toward your goal?’ A lot of people float. Then you ask, ‘What do you want to feel like once you have what you want?’ ”
She described her experience with a recent client, a woman who lived in a medium-size house with a small garden but yearned for a bigger house with a bigger garden. She dreaded telling her husband, who had long toiled at renovations on their present home, and she feared telling her son, who she felt would criticize her for being too materialistic.
Ms. Ziegler took me through the conversation she had with this woman: “What do you want?”
“A bigger house.”
“How would you feel if you lived in a bigger house?”
“What other things make you feel peaceful?”
“Walks by the ocean.” (The ocean was an hour’s drive away.)
“Do you ever take walks nearer where you live that remind you of the ocean?”“Certain ones, yes.”
“What do you like about those walks?”
“I hear the sound of water and feel surrounded by green.”
This gentle line of questions nudged the client toward a more nuanced understanding of her own desire. In the end, the woman dedicated a small room in her home to feeling peaceful. She filled it with lush ferns. The greenery encircled a bubbling slate-and-rock tabletop fountain. Sitting in her redesigned room in her medium-size house, the woman found the peace for which she’d yearned.
I was touched by the story. Maybe Ms. Ziegler’s client just needed a good friend who could listen sympathetically and help her work out her feelings. Ms. Ziegler provided a service — albeit one with a wacky name — for a fee. Still, the mere existence of a paid wantologist indicates just how far the market has penetrated our intimate lives. Can it be that we are no longer confident to identify even our most ordinary desires without a professional to guide us?
Is the wantologist the tail end of a larger story? Over the last century, the world of services has changed greatly.
A hundred — or even 40 — years ago, human eggs and sperm were not for sale, nor were wombs for rent. Online dating companies, nameologists, life coaches, party animators and paid graveside visitors did not exist.
Nor had a language developed that so seamlessly melded village and market — as in “Rent-a-Mom,” “Rent-a-Dad,” “Rent-a-Grandma,” “Rent-a-Friend” — insinuating itself, half joking, half serious, into our culture. The explosion in the number of available personal services says a great deal about changing ideas of what we can reasonably expect from whom. In the late 1940s, there were 2,500 clinical psychologists licensed in the United States. By 2010, there were 77,000 — and an additional 50,000 marriage and family therapists.