I’m proud to be a signatory to this important letter published in the Guardian today.
There are some people who believe that therapists should have no opinions, and definitely no political opinions. This ignores the fact that everything around us is political. Have a job to get out of bed for (or don’t)? That’s political. Walk on a pavement or drive on a road? Political. Want your kids to go to school? Political. Want to see a doctor/ live in a stable home/ have weekend off and holiday pay? That’s political.
Therapy has been criticised for producing selfish, self-obsessed people who care only for themselves, but I’ve found that when people are given the opportunity to sit still and allow their minds to do something other than endless problem solving and fire fighting, the opposite is true. We think about why we are so exhausted and irritated. We find some empathy for our noisy neighbours or hopeless co-workers, which doesn’t mean that we suddenly become saintly and allow them to walk all over us, but that the pressure on us diminishes and we find more skilful ways of dealing with them.
Solipsism and mercenary behaviour are marks of mental illness. Such people may do very well in their organisations from time to time but don't confuse high status with good mental health. Selfish people don’t care that people who are not them are dying or killing themselves because the pressure put on them is too great. They feel scorn and loathing for people who are forced to use food banks. This is called ‘punching down’, indulging a hateful (I use the word precisely) desire to dehumanise and harm groups that are not perceived as being quite as human as the person doing the punching. Therapists will work with racists. We’ll work with people who feel less awful about themselves when they bitch about the unemployed, the unwell, people that it’s become safe to despise.
In general, therapists exist to help people feel more in control of their own wellbeing on their own terms. Almost always, when a person starts moving towards that they become less judgemental, less fearful, more able to deal with complexity, more empathic and infinitely more effective in both their private and public life. Living in the real world wakes them up to reality. It makes them better people. They stop punching down because they see that it’s only a distraction from what they feel about their own crappy life. When they take control and begin to improve that life – not in terms of obsessively gathering Stuff but by getting their relationships right – they begin to perceive other people as actual human beings rather than things whose function is to improve or diminish their life.
You don’t have to be an airy fairy new ager to understand interconnectedness. The clear-eyed Chicago school, the Milton Friedman's of the world, understand it very well. They call it globalisation. Poets and philosophers got it too. “Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.”
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