Thursday, July 07, 2005

The Tyranny of Therapism and Some Surprising Roots

I've almost finished reading One Nation Under Therapy, a book I referred to here, here, and here. Last night I came across an essay by the authors, Christina Hoff Sommers and Sally Satel, called "The Tyranny of Therapism." "Therapism" is a phrase they coined to describe the constellation of assumptions about human nature and well-being promoted and perpetuated by many helping professionals. (The book isn't a rant against mental health professions per se as Satel is a practicing psychiatrist.)

As they describe it, therapism:
....extols openness, emotional self-absorption, and the sharing of feelings. It encompasses the assumption that vulnerability rather than strength characterizes the American psyche and that suffering is a pathology in need of a cure. Therapism assumes that a diffident, anguished, and emotionally apprehensive public requires a vast array of therapists, self-esteem educators, grief counselors, work-shoppers, healers, and traumatologists to lead it though the trials of everyday life. Children, more than any group, are targeted for therapeutic improvement.
Hoffman and Satel state that therapism has many historical and ideological roots among which is the philosophy of Jean-Jaques Rousseau. Freudian psychoanalysis and the human potential movement popularized by Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow are more recent contributing factors. Secularists don't bear the whole brunt of responsibility, however. The authors also claim that the current preoccupation with feelings "can be traced to nineteenth-century evangelical movements that offered nostrums for liberating their followers from negative emotions." Ouch!


Donnie said...

Great post. Thank you for the book suggestion.

As a matter of fact (light-hearted chuckle), I just got out of our weekly team meeting here at school where the clinicians and teaching staff discuss the ongoings of students.

Franklin Mason said...

I sometimes think that it's a universal, or near-universal, assumption among therapists that we ought to live happily and well in this world as it is now. They assume that we need never suffer, or suffer only very little, and that, should we suffer, we must work diligently to erase the pain.

This seems to me a byproduct of modern Western democracy/capitalism. It has managed to shield us, for a short time at least, from the horrors of the world and make us expect that the world, as it is now, is a good world in which to live.

But the world as it is now is not good. We should not attempt to reconcile ourselves to it. We should not expect that we can be happy in it. It is a world of sin, a world of anger, of hatred, of war, of disease, of death. If you do not see this, it is because you refuse to look. If it is not near to you, it will be; and it afflicts many who are not as lucky as you.

I think that all we feel, even our greatest joys, should be tinged with sorrow, sorrow for this fallen world. To erase pain is to embrace an illusion, the illusion that this world is not in need of rescue.