At The Free Press: How Therapists Became Social Justice Warriors
With unpublished excerpts to come...
This article began with someone writing me from an anonymous account on Twitter, telling me she’d shared something I wrote and had been threatened with expulsion from her masters’ program because of it.
Her story terrified me—who will be left to treat people if only ideologues can graduate? How can therapy training programs impose censorship on students, which negatively affects their mental health? What if therapy itself is now contributing to our national mental health crisis?
That encounter eventually led to this piece. I’m so grateful to The Free Press for working so hard on the edits with me, and for publishing it.
Ironically, The New York Times released a series of articles about the profession today, too, as part of their “Therapy Issue.” One took the opposite stance, and talked about how understanding the world through a nexus of intersecting oppressions was actually helping couples. To which I say: Great! Interesting! And I hope my piece makes it clear that I, and the people I talked to, abhor racism and sexism and homophobia and transphobia, etc, but that the objection to this ideological takeover in psychology is in part because it’s not helping anyone heal from those things—nor helping to combat them.
As one young woman told me:
“I care about equality, I care about racism, I care about homophobia, I care about trans people being safe. I just don’t want to walk around in the world where everyone’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are dictated by their identities.”
There were many stories that didn’t make it in. I’ll share some of those here later.
Thanks for sharing! I found your piece informative and well-reported, though I'm left wanting to know more about how we got here.
I read the NYT article that you linked, and I find it alarming that there seems to be a lack of a shared reality between practitioners like Dr. Guralnik and most other people (I hope? I cannot imagine living life according to the principles she lays out; I'm neurotic enough!). In the context of your reporting, I found this line to be almost chilling: "New words make new thoughts and feelings possible." Later in the piece, she seems to welcome the intrusion of new, charged terms like "white fragility" and "Karen" into therapy.
Interestingly, the couples that she profiles don't actually support the thesis that a critical social justice framework is useful in therapy. Most of the couples seemed hindered by mapping social issues like BLM or #metoo onto their personal lives; Dr. Guralnik describes them as going around and around in circles without making a lot of progress, worrying about systemic forces beyond their control. The CSJ approach described in the article also seemed to result in the therapist favoring the "more oppressed" or "less privileged" half of each couple; in each example, the one who was "more privileged" had to come around to the partner's point of view. There wasn't an emphasis on mutual understanding.
I did peek at the NYT top rated comments, and they were critical for the most part. Which brings me back to my first question—most people don't like this way of thinking about the world. So how did we get here?
It is not transphobic to say the diagnosis has a history of low quality published research, continuing through to the present, and that politics and profit are the machines driving the "in the initial appointment" diagnoses. As well, the mental health field has done an extremely poor job of advising patients and their families how to deal with suicidal ideation ethically. It is unethical and immoral to promote the choice of suicide, exceptions being those with serious terminal illness. Dr. Ray Blanchard, the originator of the "2 years of crossdressing while keeping a job" Blanchard Protocols for the letter leading to surgeries said, "It's too disruptive to acknowledge that it is a sexual obsession." This means that back in his heyday, he felt no ethical quandary in telling the wives of crossdressing men that it was our duty to do sex role play "to keep the marriage together." As usual, actual women's voices were unheard.