Social justice and psychotherapy

This section is for questions relating to therapy, assessment, formulation and other aspects of working with people in mental health services.

xxpoogletxx
Posts: 23
Joined: Mon Mar 11, 2019 10:27 pm

Re: Social justice and psychotherapy

Post by xxpoogletxx » Sun Jul 26, 2020 7:32 pm

Aufbau83 not sure I’d say that the discussion has become rancorous. I think it’s more that people who have a lot more experience of the profession than you are disagreeing with your opinion of what therapy actually is.

I think that when we’re new to the field it’s easy for us to think that we know more than we do, when perhaps one should consider the Socratic paradox and come from
a stance of ‘I know that I know nothing’. Not saying that you know nothing, but that theory and a limited amount of experience can only give you so much. I’ve been working in mental health for 5 years, have a BSc in psychology, an MSc in neuropsychology and am about to start the clinical doctorate this year and I can tell you that I know so little in comparison to some of the other people who have given their input into this conversation. Perhaps reflecting on your views of therapy and how they differ from what people here have told you would be a fruitful endeavour.

User avatar
maven
Site Admin
Posts: 2236
Joined: Sat Mar 24, 2007 9:00 pm

Re: Social justice and psychotherapy

Post by maven » Mon Jul 27, 2020 12:47 am

aufbau83 wrote:
Sun Jul 26, 2020 10:35 am
Wait. You think I'm white? Have I indicated that?
We've heard this same comment once before on this forum, from someone who got banned for being sexist/racist. Truth is, he was a white man, and so are you. I shan't embarrass you too much but not only have you said enough about yourself to be identifiable, you have quite a cringe-inducing online footprint that you might want to clean up, rather than linking yourself to it professionally!
Maven.

Wise men talk because they have something to say, fools because they have to say something - Plato
The fool thinks himself to be wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool - Shakespeare

aufbau83
Posts: 22
Joined: Wed Jun 17, 2015 8:42 pm

Re: Social justice and psychotherapy

Post by aufbau83 » Mon Jul 27, 2020 6:42 am

"We've heard this same comment once before on this forum, from someone who got banned for being sexist/racist. Truth is, he was a white man, and so are you. I shan't embarrass you too much but not only have you said enough about yourself to be identifiable, you have quite a cringe-inducing online footprint that you might want to clean up, rather than linking yourself to it professionally!"
Well, from what I understand (which isn't much), dear old granny on my dad's side was a Turkish Gastarbeiter that good old Hans somehow picked up on one of his many trips between bombed out post-war Deutschland and merely dilapidated Manchester. I'm not entirely sure how that impacts on my rather confused sense of "ethnic identity", but you're right, of course, that I put "white British" on all the relevant forms, as I was shaped predominantly by the institutions of that particular culture.

The point of my question to Lingua_Franca was mainly to highlight the assumed link being drawn between "the west", "rationality" and "whiteness". Obviously there is a link, but it's a - for want of a better word! - Byzantine one. Martin Luther King and Mahatma Ghandi were non-white proponents of reason, though the former was a westerner and the latter wasn't. Whereas Nietzsche - one of the west's pre-eminent philosophers - was a critic of reason. My point being; the extent to which whiteness, the west and reason are linked is a matter of debate, which is why I don't think the phrase "white man's burden" is appropriate here.

A more challenging aspect of LF's post is the extent to which rationality is a man's burden - or, indeed, weapon; i.e. the extent to which reason is a kind of tool of patriarchal oppression. I think Erica Burman argues something close to this in her developmental psychology book. As LF put it:
The kind of therapist you are describing is a paternalistic figure, here to "teach" people how to think (which implies that he knows how, unlike them), to explain to them what might be causing their difficulties, and so on. I suspect any psychoanalytic training would want you to explore why it's so important for you to be that paternal figure of knowledge, and what your fervently held beliefs are defending you against. Fear of uncertainty? Sense of powerlessness? All the students on my Tavistock course have found the experience to be quite raw and bruising at times, and based on what you've written here, I don't think psychoanalytic training (or possibly any therapy training) is what you would expect.
This is very interesting. Maybe my overly zealous advocation of reason is indeed an overcompensatory attempt to recapture a lost sense of masculinity? Though I should add - I myself have been in psychoanalysis for the past three years and have gradually groped toward the conclusion that my interest in psychology is rooted more in mummy than daddy issues (it was the former, not the latter, who was the stern faced advocate of the protestant work ethic).

And by the way...
"you have quite a cringe-inducing online footprint that you might want to clean up, rather than linking yourself to it professionally!"
In what sense is it cringe inducing? You don't like my hair?

lingua_franca
Posts: 947
Joined: Tue Sep 14, 2010 11:29 pm

Re: Social justice and psychotherapy

Post by lingua_franca » Mon Jul 27, 2020 12:02 pm

The idea that reason is a white/Western quality that white societies have a moral and political duty to impart is the bedrock of colonial thought. France explicitly defined its colonial enterprise as "the civilising mission". The same thinking lay behind mandatory residential schooling for First Nations and American Indian children. Even after First Nations children in Canada were legally allowed to enrol in non-residential schools in 1948, the government used coercive measures to 'persuade' their parents to keep them in residential settings (certain welfare payments became contingent on attendance). There are too many examples of the civilising mission in action to name, and this is all in living memory, not something that occurred aeons ago. It's impossible to describe therapy as western, identify rational thought as its core, position the therapist in a "teacher" role, and then make statements such as, "Civilization depends on it," without invoking a history that spills into the present. In the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide, white therapists who had been flown in by an aid organisation were asked to leave by local people because they were doing more harm than good. After the Sri Lankan civil war, survivors were left bewildered and distressed by the attempts of white psychologists and therapists to help them; again, it wasn't what they needed. We need to be aware that the use of therapy in the humanitarian sphere has had overbearing neocolonial overtones, which makes your reference to teaching people to think rationally for the sake of civilization even more jarring.

Bringing up MLK and Gandhi as non-white examples of rational thought doesn't cancel this out. It actually has the opposite effect. Along with Rosa Parks, they are the only activists for liberation and civil rights that have been embraced by white western societies, and there's a reason for that - their non-violence makes them palatable to a white audience that is uncomfortable with any display of anger from people who have been subjugated and oppressed. Now you will often see people criticising BLM protestors for not being like MLK; there's a photo of him circulating online labelled 'This is a protest', with a BLM photo beneath labelled 'This is a riot'. (The photo of King was taken minutes before police attacked and the scene became exactly like the lower photo, but this has been conveniently forgotten.) It is possible to sanitise King, Parks, and Gandhi and to listen to the sanitised stories without feeling too discomfited, which is why if you ask the average person on a western street to name a Civil Rights icon or a major campaigner for Indian independence, it's unlikely they will have even heard of anyone other than these three. It isn't because they're such dazzling exemplars of rational thought.
aufbau83 wrote:
Mon Jul 27, 2020 6:42 am
"you have quite a cringe-inducing online footprint that you might want to clean up, rather than linking yourself to it professionally!"
In what sense is it cringe inducing? You don't like my hair?
It's a good idea to have a dedicated username when posting about professional topics. A young person once developed a fixation with me and found forum posts I'd made when I was only fifteen myself. I still don't know how she tracked down those decade-old posts, which were made under a username I've never used elsewhere, but I can only presume I left breadcrumbs of information in other places that allowed her to do it. Your username is quite distinctive, as is your writing style, and from a professional standpoint it would be helpful to make sure that it doesn't link you to anything you wouldn't want a potential client or colleague to read.
"Suppose a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?"
"Suppose it didn't," said Pooh, after careful thought.
Piglet was comforted by this.
- A.A. Milne.

User avatar
maven
Site Admin
Posts: 2236
Joined: Sat Mar 24, 2007 9:00 pm

Re: Social justice and psychotherapy

Post by maven » Mon Jul 27, 2020 5:10 pm

I've sent a PM. But as Lingua says, always good to separate the personal and the professional, particularly when you give lots of personal information away in your posts to make yourself potentially identifiable to a future employer/colleague/client. We've had members here who have experienced stalking, had posts here used to make a complaint to a course or professional body, or been recognised by colleagues and suddenly realise that they didn't want the people they work with now to know some things they had shared along the journey (eg struggles, rejections, relationship issues, concerns about supervisors that they had raised in the belief they were anonymous etc). It has made the admin team more sensitive to flagging up these issues, and is one of the reasons we allow changes of user ID, or undertake edits to remove personal/biographical information in specific cases.
Maven.

Wise men talk because they have something to say, fools because they have to say something - Plato
The fool thinks himself to be wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool - Shakespeare

aufbau83
Posts: 22
Joined: Wed Jun 17, 2015 8:42 pm

Re: Social justice and psychotherapy

Post by aufbau83 » Sat Aug 01, 2020 2:40 pm

It's impossible to describe therapy as western, identify rational thought as its core, position the therapist in a "teacher" role, and then make statements such as, "Civilization depends on it," without invoking a history that spills into the present.
I'm not disputing that there is a historical relationship between western imperialism and the spread of 'rationality'. What I am disputing is that these are inextricably linked concepts that only exist within the colonial context you've posited.

I'm not very familiar with non-western forms of social/political/moral/philosophical thought. But I'd wager that what westerners have historically referred to as 'rational thought' has played a role across time and place, though different cultures may have referred to it using different terminology at different points in history. Basically, I'm suggesting that conscious, rational thought is a transcultural, transhistorical phenomenon, that it's one of our saving graces as a species, and that it can be deliberately cultivated. Maybe you could argue that it's about strengthening the prefrontal cortex - and, in fact, maybe putting it in these neurobiological terms might serve to divest it of the historical baggage that comes with the term 'rationality'.

With that said, at this point I would make two concessions: [1] rational thought is not our only saving grace as a species (Mr Spock could not have written and recorded OK Computer - though you do need a bit of Mr Spock in you to produce such a work of art), [2] Miriam's argument about broader sociological factors (i.e. the role of environment-generated stress in basically decommissioning the prefrontal cortex) represents a profound and possibly insurmountable challenge to my position. Maybe this points toward the limits of therapy and to the valorisation of conscious thought that I've tried to advance in this thread. Gotta think about this more (no pun intended).

Lingua_Franca: Given everything you've written about the Sri Lankan / Rwandan cases, as well as the 'sanitised' civil rights activists we mentioned, I have a question for you. How do you square your apparently quite critical attitude toward the west with your predilection for psychoanalysis? After all, psychoanalysis is a thoroughly western model, rooted in western individualism and biological science. It also takes the cultivation of individual rationality as one of its key goals (though it calls this 'ego strength', right?) I get the impression that, in today's climate, propounding a psychoanalytic position has come to constitute an implicit critique of western positivism and CBT. To me, this is strange, given the origins of psychoanalysis.

PS. LF/Maven, thanks for your discretion around my username... the accursed online footprint...

User avatar
maven
Site Admin
Posts: 2236
Joined: Sat Mar 24, 2007 9:00 pm

Re: Social justice and psychotherapy

Post by maven » Mon Aug 03, 2020 5:53 am

aufbau83 wrote:
Sat Aug 01, 2020 2:40 pm
I'm not very familiar with non-western forms of social/political/moral/philosophical thought. But I'd wager that what westerners have historically referred to as 'rational thought' has played a role across time and place, though different cultures may have referred to it using different terminology at different points in history. Basically, I'm suggesting that conscious, rational thought is a transcultural, transhistorical phenomenon, that it's one of our saving graces as a species, and that it can be deliberately cultivated.
I think that's quite a white-western-rationalism centred piece of logic. How about less individualist perspectives, as are present in many of the more ancient cultures around the globe, that focus on the individual's value to the community and our balance with nature. I'd argue those are actually the most rational and long-term views, yet we've trampled on them with consumerism for centuries...
Maven.

Wise men talk because they have something to say, fools because they have to say something - Plato
The fool thinks himself to be wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool - Shakespeare

lingua_franca
Posts: 947
Joined: Tue Sep 14, 2010 11:29 pm

Re: Social justice and psychotherapy

Post by lingua_franca » Tue Aug 04, 2020 8:07 pm

Psychoanalytic theory isn't some kind of precious heirloom that gets passed down through the generations without ever being altered. Freud was flat-out wrong about many things (and sometimes unpleasantly so - he wrote things that are deeply misogynistic). Psychoanalytic/dynamic therapy as we know it today owes an enormous debt to numerous feminist practitioners, and to the pioneering work of Frantz Fanon, a Black psychiatrist and analyst born under French colonial rule who wrote extensively on colonial racism and Freud's failure to address it openly. It's worth remembering here that Freud, Klein, and several of their closest colleagues were to become refugees under the Nazis, that Klein in particular refined many of her key ideas as the Holocaust was unfolding, and that it is not possible to detach the thinkers' ideas from their experiences of being 'othered' and subjected to violent persecution, which is perhaps why psychoanalysis has often been used as a political lens on colonialism and mass violence. For Fanon it was political as much as therapeutic, and he wrote in terms of communities, not just individuals.

I encountered the psychoanalytic way of working for the first time when I was working in an adolescent psychiatric intensive care unit (PICU), where I was supervised by a psychoanalytic child psychotherapist. As I said earlier, I appreciate the emphasis on interpersonal dynamics, which was a constant reminder that the young people's distress wasn't occurring in a vacuum, that context mattered, and that problems could not be neatly located inside the young people. It was a very helpful framework for that setting, but it was just that - a framework and not a dogma. In addition to that therapist, the ward also had a trainee CBT therapist, a clinical psychologist whose expertise was in CBT, and access to a systemic therapist if needed. They all worked together as part of the MDT and young people were allocated to the therapist whose approach seemed most appropriate for their needs. There's a good evidence base for CBT, and I have no criticism of cognitive approaches. I'm interested in what is most useful for this particular person, at this particular time, and what modality is most suited to my strengths and weaknesses. I knew I wouldn't be great at delivering brief interventions, so I chose a training that would allow me to do long-term work. It was a pragmatic rather than partisan decision.

Finally, I wouldn't agree that ego strength is about rationality. I've spent most of today with a child with profound disabilities. He can't speak or use any form of structured communication, he has multiple sensory impairments, and he can't move unaided. To put 'rational thought' at the heart of ego strength would be to effectively deny his personhood and the personhood of others like him, which I think is the reason why the qualified CPs on here have been asking how you would apply your ideas about rationality to people with intellectual disabilities or other neurological conditions. I'd see ego strength as developing a stable sense of self in relation to others, which profoundly disabled people can do even in the absence of cognitive skills that others might take for granted. It's about relationship.
"Suppose a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?"
"Suppose it didn't," said Pooh, after careful thought.
Piglet was comforted by this.
- A.A. Milne.

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Google [Bot] and 1 guest