I have been absent from my blog for a number of weeks, due to the time of year (holidays, giving feedback on final papers...) Yet this blog post has been brewing in me for a number of months now. As you may glean from the title, it is about the knowledge of psychology and it's therapies, and how I see it is currently situated within... lets just say "American society," whatever that means to you.
Psychology is not a savior, nor does it have all the answers. It is a rather broad field, whose insights and propagators are as varied as any other major field of knowledge. There is not "one" psychology, rather there is a plurality of "psychologies," some which share much in common, others not so much.
That being said I would like to briefly focus on one of the microcosms within the field of psychology, which is that of psychotherapy. Within psychotherapy, many of the theoretical orientations within the field of psychology are applied let's just say for a specific intention or purpose. Generally that is to help individuals, families, couples deal with some 'dysfunction,' which really means inability to cope with circumstances and the feelings they elicit in lets say an "optimal," way- which of course may be defined differently according to different theories.
While this psychotherapeutic institution is meant to help individuals and the family microcosm of society, it is a primarily privatized institution. Even though the government provides psychological services, what I mean by privatized is that the actual practice of psychotherapy occurs between therapist and client(s)- and in a private, confidential setting- which by the way is extremely critical for the process. In no way do I think this particular expression is entirely negative: There is a calculated purpose for anonymity, confidentiality, privacy- and I believe those to be absolutely necessary in this context.
However, in another context I find myself wondering... Why the hell are psychotherapeutic insights relegated primarily to a privatized institution? In other words, if psychotherapy as a field has knowledge about emotional and/or health why the hell is this knowledge not being practiced, employed, acknowledged, in institutions outside of a very limited, private setting? Why are these insights not common knowledge, as in 2 + 2 = 4? Of course psychological issues are more complex than this simple example, yet my point is that there is an undeniability to certain psycho-emotional premises.
Psychology as a discipline is well over 100 years old. While some of it's ideas have crept into mainstream, overall it's principles can seem enigmatic, abstract- and perhaps this can be in part attributed to early Psychologists (ie. Freud) wanting this discipline to be recognized as a Medical one. I don't know. Regardless, it stuns me that there is a field dedicated to personal insights, learning to work with challenging emotions and communicate them, and that such a process can contribute to a greater sense of well being, and yet it is somehow still "fringe" knowledge. As if the "mentally ill" are the only people with emotional problems. Maybe my expectations are out of whack, because I have education in this field... and yet the way I see it is that emotional issues are ubiquitous- and rightfully so- it is hard to be alive. As a species we haven't learned to process emotions consciously, and that is precisely what "psychotherapy," is about. Who is to blame for this lack of social integration of psychotherapeutic insight?
No one, this is just the state that our society is in. However, I think it is important to acknowledge a shared responsibility.
There is no one to blame, yet we can attribute responsibility...
I am not one of those people who think that there is one person, entity, company, or even group to blame for all of the challenges we are facing now- much less the lack of integration of psychological insight within society. I am a proponent of complexity, and blame tends to reduce dynamics to either/or rather than both/and. Of course there are exceptions, yet that discussion is not the intention of this post.
In regards to the topic I am presenting, I think there is mutual responsibility on the part of the individual, the family, social groups, and institutions- within reasonable limitation (hard to hold the individual responsible for not being able to process feelings of depression/hopelessness/etc when they are starving). Clearly this can be a highly nuanced discussion, and I am trying to draw sweeping generalizations. Thus, there is a lot of room for more in depth examination, exceptions to my generalizations, etc. I will simply present a few ideas in the paragraphs to come.
My claim is that there is both individual and societal responsibility for the lack of integration of psychological insight into common knowledge, and furthermore that both individual and society influence each other's definition (for the sake of simplicity I will just leave it at that). So let's go over some of this theory about individual and societal responsibility- with the recognition that whatever theories I present are not exhaustive, nor necessarily 'correct', rather they are a beginning in the process of interpretation.
Responsibility for lack of psychotherapeutic common knowledge
The term "value" comes to mind- which we will definitely touch on in the individual section as well. How does a society "value," or "devalue," this idea of psychotherapeutic insight, 'emotional health?' Undoubtedly, the government sponsors and supports programs for mental and behavioral/emotional health, yet again this does not seem to further the case for a common knowledge. I would argue a somewhat radical position in that in some ways such programs may actually increase the discrepancy between common knowledge and psychotherapeutic insight precisely because it is primarily individuals with behavioral "dis-orders," that end up in these programs. This is not to say that these programs are bad, or not worthwhile, rather that from a societal perspective they promote the further marginalization of behavioral issues, rather than the integration of therapeutic insight as normative. Of course- there is logic behind the implementation of such programs which is purposeful to the population they serve. There are gradations of behavioral functionality, and some need more help than others to work towards "functionality." Often those in government programs are those who are also facing economic and societal marginalization- both of which simply contribute greatly to emotional instability. Furthermore, "functionality," does not necessarily mean "emotionally healthy..."
I am going to make a sizable leap here into an extremely generalized interpretation about the value system of the current society in relationship to emotional health. I would argue that dominant society as it is reinforces, values and promotes the avoidance, denial, disavowal, minimization and dissociation from emotional pain. Privatized treatment centers, while they can help individuals confront such pain, do not address society as a whole, and thus are missing at least half of the equation.
Furthermore, in terms of individual values, we all develop unconscious strategies/protective mechanisms to keep us from experience emotional and psychological distress. Now these strategies themselves are not "values," they are unconscious- we don't necessarily "choose" them. However unless we value non-avoidance, non-denial, non-disavowal, non-minimization, and non-dissocation we are going to stick with the status quo- which is the unconscious enactment of denial and avoidance of pain. One way of interpreting this pattern is that it is a survival mechanism. Even if we value non-avoidance, etc. we are still going to try to avoid pain- survival mechanisms are deep patterns. Nevertheless, if psychotherapeutic insight were common knowledge, it would also be common knowledge that the avoidance of emotional pain can actually be quite problematic to emotional health.
Are you getting tired of reading about this idea of pain? Are you frustrated that I am linking many issues back to the avoidance of pain? Are you eager to discredit this theory? Are you thinking of ways to not just discredit this theory, but me as an author as a human being? Are you sleepy, or bored? If you answered yes to any of these questions, it is likely that you are in the process of avoiding your own pain.
It is only natural. The point I am making is that if we want psychotherapeutic insight we have to value it individually and as a society. And at this point, the only explanation I can come up with about why psychotherapeutic insight is not common knowledge is that our protective mechanisms are built for one purpose and one purpose alone- the avoidance of emotional/psychological pain. Our societal mechanisms follow a similar pattern. Therefore, if we want a society that promotes emotional health and well-being, we ourselves also need to commit to feeling our own pain and that of others. If we want emotional health we need to normalize emotional pain (which does not mean "make it okay to emotionally abuse someone!") instead of trying to deny or avoid it.
Protective mechanisms are strong.
Good luck to us all.