Saturday, 1 March 2008

Depression and political snake oil

Restlessly swivelling its cock-eyed purblind beam around the social scene searching for yet more errant groups in need of correction and ’improvement’, the basilisk glare of this ever-meddlesome government of half-baked State Nannies has in recent weeks alighted successively upon fatties, binge drinkers, salt eaters, school truants [again], and assorted others, most recently settling upon the growing army of depressed people. With the ever-ready cry “Something must be done!” issuing from their lips, and alarmed by a recent Hull University report of clinical studies indicating that the billions poured into over-priced ‘anti-depressant’ drugs may be largely misdirected and wasted, ministers have come up with the mind-boggling notion of spending £170 millions of our money on training 3,500 new psychotherapists. Not to be outdone, the new LibDem leader Nick Clegg blithely ups the ante with calls for 10,000 of these paragons, while for the Conservatives David Cameron burbles of the ‘politics of happiness’.

No doubt all this is well meant. But from what assembly line are this national posse of state-trained mood-changing miracle-workers to emerge, and how soon can they be effective – bearing in mind that adequate psychotherapy training requires years rather than months? More to the point, do politicians or civil servants – none of whom, we charitably assume, are ever even a teeny weeny bit depressed because they are far too busy virtuously striving round the clock for the nation’s wellbeing – ever stop to consider why so many people are currently depressed, or whether the political climate which they are responsible for manufacturing might have anything to do with it?

That widespread mental and emotional malaise, amounting in many cases to clinical depression, is the direct result of more or less repressed fears and anxieties about humanity’s global and local predicament in this sombre first decade of the 21st century is to my mind indisputable. While depression is a personal and private tragedy, its origins often lie far further afield than an individual’s genetic makeup, inherited tendencies, family circumstances, or other life experiences. It can be not only socially, but also politically, induced. In the 1980s, psychologist Dorothy Rowe wrote Living with the Bomb: Can we live without enemies? in which she discussed many instances of depressed people internalising their fears of a nuclear holocaust while the majority carried on with their lives, turning a blind eye to the reality of danger. She commented: “Denial of reality, that is, lying to yourself, is the most costly error you can ever make. Reality does not become unreal. You do. Our present world is full of people who are unreal to themselves, who do not know themselves. It is they who will destroy us all.”

In similar vein, the sociologist Frank Furedi, in his recent book Politics of Fear: Beyond Left and Right, speaks of the pervasive denial practised not only by private individuals, but by governments, which has led us far along the road towards a dependency culture in which the elitist Nanny State, besides endlessly lecturing us on how to behave and what to think, even aspires to control our emotions, telling us what it is OK and not OK for us to feel. “Therapeutic policies aim to forge a relationship between governments and individuals through the management of the internal lives of people“, Furedi says. This sinister ‘politics of behaviour’ is underwritten by the idea that people ‘need support’ in order to cope with their state of vulnerability. “Treating citizens as vulnerable children constitutes the unstated supposition of the politics of behaviour.“ Government institutions no longer engage in dialogue with the electorate as responsible adults, but offer them ‘treatment’, ‘support’ and ‘counselling’. As long as the public is disengaged from politics they can be treated as atomized units and infantilized. Furedi sees this trend as undermining democracy.

This blatant hijacking of counselling and therapy by the shameless Politically Correct brigade should set alarm bells ringing, not least among those of us who have rather more in-depth knowledge about what psychotherapy is and how it operates than the political busybodies who would, no doubt, eagerly lace our drinking water with a euphoria-inducing drug if one were available to make us all more pliable to their wishes. Successful counselling and therapy is an intensely personal journey towards greater self-knowledge which demands time, patience, and dedicated effort on the part of both the client and the counsellor. It must be voluntarily entered in to, and cannot be forced upon an unwilling client as a social obligation. Reluctant clients are failures waiting to happen. Psychotherapy is not a mechanical ‘procedure’ which can be switched on and applied automatically as if it were a mental vacuum cleaner.

There is too much humbugging, ignorant talk by politicians around mental health issues; and the pretence that these have nothing to do with the citizen’s daily experience of international, national, and local politics in action cannot be sustained. A therapist friend says there are too many flakey thinkers in the therapeutic world [and in the political world too, I would add]; and that the idea that politics has no place in psychotherapy and no relevance to depression needs to be challenged. I heartily agree.


Emmett said...

ONE First of all may take comfort from Heraclitus, who remarked that the soul loves to build up and pull down its infinite phantasies; and, that goes for the dreadful optimism of the apollonian phantasy of therapy as much as anything else. Come the day, and this clap-trap too will be but
a(nother) distant historical odd footnote. Mr James Hillman has already had the last word on this, namely that the great value of depression is that /it/ is the irrefutable last word, on a society that, in fact, is -- precisely -- hypermaniac. Only look in your Tee Vees, at Mr G Brown, Mrs W J Clinton, Mr D 'Boner A Day' Cheney and Mr B Obama, and The Russian Rehash Mr V Putin, all of them wrenching their faces and grimacing in stark terror, of the indifferent future that most arrogantly does /not/ include even one of them, and you may see the truth in this all for yourselves.

Richard W. Symonds said...

"It is not a sign of good health to be well adjusted to a sick society"

J. Krishnamurti (1895- 1986)

zola a social thing said...

Nice one Anticant.
Most clinical therapy is but the ideology of insanity itself.

Prefer Erich Fromm I do.
You sociologist Mr FF, however, does not yet merit being called a "Living Marxism" as he is still a mere spike.

Suspect you and a few more do not have a fear of freedom.
Good on yers.

Jose said...

A very interesting reflection, something that brings to my mind the dawn of our times about which we have read when the human beings because of their lack of knowledge had to lean towards gods and fetishes to allay their fears. Is that very lack of knowledge bringing again fetishism unconsciously to our environment?

And if so why money is not invested in proper education instead of making people's lives more unlivable through depressions, misunderstandings and lies?

anticant said...

Not all therapy is bad. It can be very liberating and illuminating, as I know from my own experience. As with everything, it depends upon motivation. If the object is to 'adjust' people to a sick society, it can at best be useless and at worst do harm.

Yes, Erich Fromm is great. I wonder who reads him now, apart from us oldies? Furedi is a very interesting writer. I strongly recommend his books 'Politics of Fear' and 'Invitation to Terror'. I think his diagnosis of our 21st century malaise is spot-on.

'Proper education' is not favoured by the PC self-styled elite, because it encourages people to think for themselves, and that might make them more restless and eager to question the wisdom of their 'masters', which would never do!

zola a social thing said...

Narziss and Goldmund springs up again from our respected Anticant.
But... Who is who and .....
Ah Dunno, just Postmodern, I guess.

anticant said...

Narziss? Goldmund? Who they? Anyone here speak Zolaspeak?

bwook said...

'Post-modern'? Effing Christ, it's /post-contemporary/ nowadays, innit?

JAME Hillman is altogether less 'solar' and exploitive toward the psyche, considering that therapy is latently vicious in the main, at least insofar it is an unexamined matter, in other words, of seeking to strip-mine the unconsciuos for the (sick!) socially-condoned unilateral ego-attiutude.

bwook said...

Sorry, /my/ 'unconsciuos'
'attiutude' is showing rather.

anticant said...

Wook, you seem to have been bitten by the wrong sort of therapeutic snake at some point! Hillman does sound interesting, but I fear I'm too old to canter off in pursuit of yet more theoretical models.

My own 'gurus' are Eric Berne [Transactional Analysis] and Fritz Perls [Gestalt therapy], the first for a realistic conceptual framework and the second for more intuitive, spontaneous insight. Used together they are a powerful combination.

bwook said...

YEH, But by quoting Hillman over the drinks you can brown off the more dull & nannyish of the psychology-gang!

trousers said...

Excellent stuff anti. Thanks for posting, there's much to ponder here (as such, at the moment, I'll refrain from adding anything less slight than this comment).