Neoliberal Therapy

There is this kind of therapy that urges people to make an effort to forget (they call it move past or let go of) everything and especially everybody that wounded them in life. And this is supposed to bring relief.

Basically, the social is privatized in this therapy and an individual is told to assume the psychological costs of everything. The idea is that if you can’t make an effort to make yourself more agreeable, then it’s your fault that you are unhappy. This form of “therapy” doesn’t recognize the existence of any factors but the free will of freely choosing neoliberal subjects who exist in a total social vacuum.

The problem with all this that the free market individual who can choose to let go to increase his productivity is an ideological construct. It’s a fantasy. Real people don’t function like that at all.

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21 thoughts on “Neoliberal Therapy”

  1. therapy that urges people to make an effort to forget (they call it move past or let go of) everything and especially everybody that wounded them in life.

    This seems religious.

    the social is privatized in this therapy and an individual is told to assume the psychological costs of everything. The idea is that if you can’t make an effort to make yourself more agreeable, then it’s your fault that you are unhappy. This form of “therapy” doesn’t recognize the existence of any factors but the free will of freely choosing neoliberal subjects who exist in a total social vacuum.

    This is literally all therapy most people can find. There is no mechanism to transfer the psychological costs to someone else.

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    1. Oh, absolutely. It’s a secularized version of religion for consumers. It’s very Oprah-style.

      And this is all therapy people can find because that’s all they look for. Trying to suggest – in the gentlest, mildest terms possible – that another kind of therapy is possible earns you a mortal enemy. Believe me, I tried.

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  2. I am puzzled by the notion of happiness that so many people find they are unable to attain, which then brings them further down. What is it that everyone thinks they should be feeling? Contentment? Joy? Because there’s not such thing as feeling perpetually happy. Rather, it’s these flickers of enjoyment, of vitality throughout the day and usually connected to the people you love that really weave an underlying fabric of happiness.

    I am curious about your thoughts on the rising incidence of depression, because, while I do believe that mental illnesses are real, I cannot believe that orders of magnitude more people suffer from any affliction today than before. It seems like any form of dissatisfaction with one’s station in life, bleakness of prospects, loneliness, is treated as a mental disorder, whereas it’s a completely natural response to the external conditions and the very limited ability of an individual to change them. (And don’t get me started on overmedication. So many of Eldest’s teenage friends are on antidepressants—how the fuck is that OK?)

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    1. Depression isn’t feeling sad, it’s not being able to function, and happiness isn’t elation, it’s the absence of self-hatred and the presence of joy or pleasure in something, or the possibility thereof.

      The whole idea about letting go is, as Shakti says, most of US therapy. Yes, it’s religious. I also think much has to do with the fact that people are incredibly immature and REALLY hold onto self-destructive anger.

      Example: the reason I did forgive my father for a lot of what he did, “let it go” (although not deny the effects of it) was that I was angry / outraged at the time. People say I give him a pass but I don’t think so. I was never allowed to be angry at my mother or even actually see what she was doing to us. Yet people think I have to “let it go”, i.e. not look at it, not get over it, not cure myself, just repress it.

      Example: a friend of mine, who is a big fan of the let it go school of therapy: I finally figured out she has an ego of a size I do not even imagine, and that her size ego is more typical than my size. I figured out that these pseudo-therapeutic truisms are all really about not having a tantrum because you don’t get your way — something SO many people do.

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    2. It’s all consumerism. Consumers can’t tolerate any discomfort or frustration. So the moment they experience anything like it, they declare themselves broken and start looking for an instant cure. And that is usually some substance, depending on the social class and financial status.

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      1. They also can’t be wrong. Part of this therapy is about teaching people they might be wrong, which is supposed to be a revelation. They might be wrong, and they should let go, and (somehow) if they were wrong, that is OK, because that is their truth and they are, furthermore, ill. So they must let go, and be wrong, i.e. take everything onto and into themselves but not engage, and despite being wrong not have to change. Something like this, I am trying to figure it out.

        “the free market individual who can choose to let go to increase his productivity is an ideological construct” … but it really is that, you are supposed to let go so as to increase your productivity, and not look at the social at all (if you do, you are “blaming” and “not taking responsibility”)…

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              1. OK, so it is not at the library so I have ordered from Amazon — which I really need to give up, at least for Lent.

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  3. Something bugs me about this line of criticism. There’s a concept of society outside the individual at work, at least the level of the practise itself. There are clearly beneficiaries to this sort of therapy – it’s not the patients themselves, but it’s certainly a boon to be around someone who won’t completely wig out every time you remind them of their mother.

    Whatever’s happening here can’t be merely due to ignorance of social factors. If anyone honestly believed that individuals are operating as individual atoms, one wouldn’t bother teaching them to internalize anything, that’d merely be their natural state.

    It’s more of a prescriptive norm – I shouldn’t be affected by anything beyond me – rather than a descriptive model, right? Calling it out for it not getting reality right wouldn’t do much, as that was never really the point to begin with. It’s an ideal, of sorts.

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    1. The patients get a lot of benefits or they wouldn’t participate. For one, there’s no need actually to do anything. Nothing needs to be changed, no status quo needs to be disturbed, no power relations should be challenged.

      Another benefit is the confirmation bias. This system neatly confirms the validity of consumerism as a worldview and lends it a scientific feel. It feeds the narcissism, the alienation, it’s so in tune with everything the neoliberal model wants from one. It’s just super convenient.

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    2. Yes, it’s a prescriptive norm. You should be able to be a rock. I never understood one of the dicta of this line of thought, people should not be able to hurt your feelings if you do not let them. You decide how you feel. It seems very much like Christian Science, where you use mental power to rid yourself of illnesses, matter is a mere illusion, and so on.

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  4. I hate this kind of therapy. It makes up the majority of the “advice” people find online, too, which is sucky because if you have depression it actually encourages the cycle because it seems that the whole world is trying to convince you that it’s entirely your fault. It’s sort of like the advice I used to hear saying things like, “the only way you can get friends is to get better.” Because if you don’t get better, it’s clearly your fault you don’t have any friends. (This was around the time of the big falling-out between me and one best friend, after another best friend just decided to drop me out of her life altogether.)

    And while my first therapist may not have clicked, one of the first things we talked about regarding these issues was that maybe it wasn’t actually my fault. That was the first thing that really clicked. The whole point wasn’t to get me to somehow get over what had happened. The point was to learn how to recognize it for what it is and to learn how to untangle the mess it had left behind. The same goes for my depression. I have major depressive disorder — there is no way to just suck it up and get over it. The neoliberalism therapy you describe is horrific when it comes to people who actually have depression, or severe anxiety, or panic disorders.

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