Therapy culture

Posted by on Oct 31, 2006 in Uncategorized | No Comments


Just finished (finally!) this great book by Brit Sociologist Frank Furedi. Amongst other things, he argues that the “therapeutic ethos” focusses serves to separate individuals from those around them, who might otherwise help the individual heal their emotional distress. I know from personal experience how easy it is for those who follow the psychotherapeutic path often wander off into victimhood and a bizarre egotism, while at the same time they find themselves being encouraged in therapy to question and undermine the bonds and relationships that populate even a half-lived life (rejecting the imperfect often in the hope of some “ideal” solution). This is creating a very strange subculture among a number of my acquaintances.

Furedi gives a good kicking to the notion that we all need to “self-actualize” in isolation from others. While there are times when the individual really needs isolated help, more often than not it is our relationships with others that help us heal. Mankind has endured the most awful experiences and recovered remarkably well before psychotherapy and continues to do so – even if the psychotherapists have taught us that we need to work with them first to heal our individual selves. The advocates of therapeutic culture are wrong, says Furedi, in suggesting that psychotherapy is the answer.

Which reminds me of the story of when Prozac was first tested in China.

The US medics had to explain to their Chinese counterparts that the drug was intended for depressed people.

“But what” came the question back “about the rest of the family? Why just give the drugs to one?”. You see, in Chinese medicine, only a proportion of all the types of depression documented are seen to be individual problems; the majority are understood as malfunctions of the group. So it is understandable that the Chinese medics should worry about the others and not just fixate on ‘the patient’.

While Therapy Culture sometimes a little hard going for the non-academic, this is undoubetdly a brave book. Furedi doesn’t flinch from challenging the widespread acceptance of individual psychotherapy. He describes in scary detail quite how widespread therapeutic thinking has become in our culture and how damaging it is to both our view of our selves and the world we live in (every private space has become taboo – childhood is now a dangerous place that needs to be legislated, intimate relationships are a battlefield and a potential for “trauma” and co-dependence etc etc). While he would probably think Herd Theory a bit “sociology-lite”, he certainly puts a huge importance on the social side of humanity and underscores how pervasive and damaging the obsessional cult of “I” really is.

And I’d just add, not only is the “I” perspective harmful, it is first and foremost W-R-O-N-G