How much might psychology impinge upon the clients right to be dissatisfied with the current world order?
Much psych therapy, very generally speaking, encourages people to adapt to societal status quo, rather than fight to change it. Indeed psychologists have a strict duty of care to employ methods that can be empirically validated as effectively alleviating client concerns, but there is much more we could do.
We know that minority groups have drastically different mental health outcomes than the dominant group. For instance, women have around twice the depression and anxiety than men, younger Aboriginal people have around 5x the suicide rate of the white population. In light of this, do we need to be doing more than sending people home with a pocket of tissues and a packet of SSRIs? Do Aboriginal youth need more CBT, or do they need opportunities to seek justice for living through genocide and ongoing colonisation?
People have the right to mobilise for social justice and the psychology academy has the obligation to better inform its students of the social justice issues that are hampering individual’s abilities to good mental health.
For instance, I had ONE lecture in six years from an Aboriginal woman, and it resulted in a group of students (notably white and male) going on racist diatribes about how it wasn’t their problem. More recently I have come across a ‘psych practitioner’ who has published sexist tirades about how domestic violence is exaggerated. We should not have health practitioner graduates entering the professional world whilst harboring harmful attitudes.
Psych research tells us that inequality is harmful and moreover that inequality is growing. Not only inequality of the sexes but also in wealth and other outcomes. Yet psychology has fairly little to say about it and in fact is moving toward the trend of mindfulness and other de-politicized solutions that may pacify and silence the oppressed.
In this context, every psych professional has a moral obligation to integrate social justice into their praxis, to ensure clients are not further internalizing or blaming themselves for living with the harms of social injustices.
I am not advocating for anyone to avoid psychologists or therapy, but I do hope that all clients recognise their rights to find a therapist that truly suits their needs.
I’m told there is a saying in Brazil that goes ‘plastic surgery is cheaper than psychotherapy’. I would argue social justice is cheaper than both and everyone has the right to access it.
More about this can be found in Totton (2006) Power in the Therapeutic Relationship