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Psychotherapy contains hundreds of competing theories and practices and ongoing turf wars. Beneath the rhetoric of successful outcomes (purportedly as high as 80 per cent) are failures and mediocre results. Beneath the requisite ethical rhetoric, unethical or poor practice sometimes happens and escapes sanctions. Nevertheless, serious perennial critiques from Eysenck, Grünbaum, Masson, Smail, Torrey, Crews, and others have been ignored by generations of therapists. Some of us will always need help in this world, sandwiched as we all are between evolutionary and genetic traits, socialist illusions, competitive capitalist stresses, and the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. But therapists tend to present themselves as highly professional and mysteriously skilled, steeped in their own hard-earned self-awareness. Few would tell you what they think of your politics should you hold right-of-centre views such as approval of UKIP, Brexit, the alt-right, or Trump, that you are sceptical about mass immigration, Islam, transgenderism, and constant pay-gap complaints.

But it’s also the case that mainstream politics may rarely arise explicitly during therapy. The client’s depression, obsessional thoughts, divorce, bereavement, or whatever, may seem entirely personal and apolitical. On the other hand, the low-paid or stressed man may raise questions about exploitation at work, or the woman who is angry or depressed at not being promoted may raise questions of gender discrimination. Depending on clinical setting, and the matching or otherwise of client and therapist in terms of gender, ethnicity and class, political differences may not intrude in any obvious way. Therapists cannot conceal their accents but can make the setting fairly neutral, and can of course, if psychoanalytic in orientation, interpret clients’ perceptions and beliefs beyond face value: your expressed anger at right-wing or left-wing politicians may conceal anger at your parents. Your dismay at Brexit is probably rational. Unconscious voting motivations have been pontificated on for years. Therapists cannot conceal their fees, which in private practice raise awkward political questions for anti-capitalists about the exploitation of individual suffering. Clinical and counselling psychologists are probably better paid than most therapists, with no evidence that they are more effective, and they may try to conceal this from colleagues, clients and even themselves. While there are a few principled leftist and anarchist therapists working for low pay and uninterested in professional status, far more are anxious about securing their place in a professional hierarchy. In a Labour paradise, free and subsidised, unlimited psychotherapy for all would be the ideal, although even small population Denmark falls short of this therapeutic utopia.

There is no right-wing equivalent of critical psychiatry and psychology. These Marxist-inspired movements oppose capitalism (especially Big Pharma) and champion self-proclaimed oppressed groups and the “epistemologies of the south”. This refers to decolonialised knowledge including non-Western healing methods like voodoo and animal sacrifice. Western psychotherapy like medicine should seek to respect as equal those practices that have been unjustly downgraded by colonial educational assumptions. Leftist psychotherapy incorporates decades of feminism, anti-racism, anti-homophobia, anti-Islamophobia and pro-egalitarianism. American psychiatrists Grier and Cobbs’s 1968 book Black Rage interpreted white racism as a major cause of black mental illness, and launched this as a therapeutic project. Some therapists have vocally criticised the English public school culture and its links with psychologically damaged (overwhelmingly right-wing) politicians. In 2000, The Times lamented the alleged outnumbering of British military personnel by counsellors, a sign that soft feelings and pacifism were becoming triumphant. This has been followed by close attention to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among soldiers and a decline in military funding and numbers. The erosion of free speech and establishment of hate crimes underlines this trend away from personal toughness and vigorous debate towards the assertion that words hurt as much as violent actions.
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Paul Atkinson
March 1st, 2018
1:03 PM
Your point is what? Of course a majority of therapists are more concerned with compassion, people’s capacity to relate, to support each other in the pain and difficulty of life than they are in a more “right-wing” empahasis on competition, self-sufficiency, economic success and other alienating life goals. You can call the former liberal or even Marxist if you like but Surely that’s you groaning some axe of your own against therapy. What’s your alternative approach to psychological distress? Why not come out and declare your own politics and prejudices.

Michael McManus
March 1st, 2018
10:03 AM
Excellent. I do wonder about how much influence tutors have on students: my experience has been that what is transmitted is seldom what is received. Perhaps it's more a case of birds of a feather. The major failure is the total lack of an evidence base, other than anecdotal. (Freud made number of colossally stupid diagnoses, and I believe the only people who thought being counselled after 9/11 was any help were the therapists.) Least said, soonest mended - not something you'll find in a counsellors office.

NewCatholic
March 1st, 2018
5:03 AM
My therapist of nearly 2 decades severed all contact with me after I refused to vote for Obama. And to think I once blindly trusted her to guide me into becoming an adult. Sheesh!

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