Sunday, October 2, 2016

Psychotherapy as Pseudo-religion

I am happy to say that Elizabeth King agrees with me. She agrees with me that therapy provides a spiritual experience for people who do not believe in God. And she agrees with me that, however much therapy resembles a religion, it is—she does not quite use these words—a pseudo-religion.

King is a young writer from Chicago. Her website says that she is currently living in Argentina… and if you want to find a true pseudo-religion Buenos Aires is the right place. A true classical orthodox Argentinian psychoanalyst will certainly helped her to overcome her shame about her sexuality.

In fact, Argentina is probably the most psychoanalyzed country in the world. How’s that working out?

You see, King was brought up Christian and she is trying to divest herself of her upbringing. She thinks that she is escaping from religion, but she has really just found a pseudo-religion to replace the real thing.

Happily, King demonstrates that today’s therapists are trying to indoctrinate and acculturate people. Let’s not be so na├»ve as to call it medical or paramedical treatment. The fact that therapists have professional licenses and credentials is a ruse, part of a giant scam. The fact that insurance companies call it treatment and pay for it makes them the biggest dupes of all.

King is happy that therapy is helping her to overcome her sense of shame about her sexuality. Unfortunately, she does not understand that overcoming shame means becoming shameless, becoming something like an exhibitionist. It’s basic Freud. Whatever King may or may not choose to do, a culture in which people have overcome their shame encourages children to sext and young adults to hook up.

If your religious upbringing makes it more difficult for you to send out images of your nakedness across cyberspace, that’s not such a bad thing. One notes, yet again, that having a sense of shame is normal. Overcoming it is abnormal. Therapists who numb you to your sense of shame are rendering you antisocial and asocial.

People should be very careful when they start promoting shamelessness. Beyond the inconvenient sexual practices it encourages, it also induces people to be rude, crude and lewd… to say nothing of… ill-mannered. The fact that everyone is ill mannered does not make their manners good.

In any event, King notes that for atheist and agnostic millennials, therapy is their new church. In that she is quite correct.

King explains:

But based on my own observations and interviews with mental-health experts, it seems that many millennials grappling with the big questions in life want to work them out on a psychologist’s couch instead of a church pew.

Religion and therapy do have a lot in common, according to Rachel Kazez, a Chicago-based licensed therapist and founder of All Along, a service that helps to match clients with a therapist. “Both religion and therapy help us understand our past and our future,” she says. “People talk about it leading to change.” From the structured meeting times—whether it’s 10am on Sunday or after work Tuesday nights—to the ways in which both practices help us accept the fact that certain things are beyond our control, both religion and therapy aim to guide people through life.

One might agree that both religion and therapy guide people through life. Thus, therapists are right to acknowledge that they are offering a cheap imitation of a religion for non-believers.

As for the big questions in life, precisely what do therapists have to offer on this subject? Most of them spend most of their time whining about feelings, telling you that you are narcissistic and saying that all your problems derive from your control issues. When it comes to wisdom and sophisticated thinking, therapy is a wasteland.

Obviously, someone like Freud was theoretically sophisticated. He was a very talented and brilliant mythmaker. And yet, he was telling you that what you really, really want in life is to copulate with your mother. If that nugget of pure absurdity feels like a spiritual uplift you need more help than therapy can provide.

Were you to wonder how therapy differs from religion, the answer is clear. Religion is a communal experience. It involves congregation and fellowship. It revolves around ritual and ceremony. Its great thinkers were truly great thinkers. To imagine that all theologians thought the same thing is to know nothing about theology.

Therapy, however, is an individual experience. It is a substitute religion for people who are self-absorbed and who imagine that they are self-sufficient.

King explains:

Whereas religion tends to focus on communal worship, therapy is far more focused on the self. Meanwhile, millennials (and young people in general) tend to be more individualistic than other generations and are more willing to change. The fact that the therapeutic space is designed for self-discovery and thinking through its use of open-ended questions fits these needs perfectly. As Kazez told me, in therapy, many millennials feel they can “cultivate their own sense of things and fulfill their own needs” instead of getting the answers pre-packaged from church.

Religions do not offer prepackaged answers. It’s absurd to think otherwise. And yet, therapists understand that religion is the competition. They know that it is good for business to bad mouth the competition.

It is very good and very Heideggerean—see yesterday’s post—to think that therapy is going to make you a self-indulgent and self-important human monad. If ever you succeed at recreating yourself-- as though you had been sculpted out of silly putty—you will find that when you are faced with the daunting task of working with other people, of getting along with other people, of cooperating with other people, even of coordinating schedules with other people, you will discover that therapy has taught things what you would have done better not to know.

Young people who think, as King suggests, that they are going to find their own answers are being exploited by their therapists. There are no brand new answers to life’s bigger questions. The big questions have been theorized and philosophized to within an inch of their lives. You might feel that you are a unique individual but you are primarily, as Aristotle said, a social being. Beyond the fact, as the philosopher said, that no human being can survive outside of a group, your mental health—assuming that we care about that—depends in great part on your ability to get along with other people. The perfectly individuated version of your self-actualized being is someone that no one will even want to get along with.

The fact is, therapy produces so much anomie that it makes people vulnerable to the siren song of cults. Whatever she says, King is not interested in becoming quite as individuated as she suggests. She wants to become a good feminist. And that means, being a member in good standing of an ideologically driven cult.

In effect, the one does not to contradict the other. After all, Herr Heidegger, a man who surely lived his batty philosophy to the fullest and therefore became the best version of his super-actualized self, believed that this self could only survive, thrive and flourish if it lived within a culture defined by similar values. That is, within the culture of German national socialism.

King writes:

During the years I spent in church, I internalized a great deal of harmful ideas about gender and “a woman’s place.” Having also become a feminist after leaving the church, I specifically sought out a feminist therapist when I started therapy. I wanted to sort through my problems under the guidance of someone who took the mental harms of sexism seriously, something the church I grew up in certainly did not do.

Since King has become a true believing feminist she does not question—not for an instant—the harms visited on women by feminism. She has bought into the dogma. She has been thoroughly indoctrinated. She thinks of feminism as salvation. It is saving her from the hell of organized religion.

If she believes that she has gotten out of religion, she should think again. She has effectively been swallowed up in a cult, where questioning the prevailing dogmas is strictly forbidden.

King believes that therapy has taught her critical thinking and has allowed her to ask questions. Obviously, she does not know that theology is about nothing but asking questions. I cannot speak about her church, but there are many religions out there. Nearly all of them encourage you to ask questions.  Yet, feminism, her preferred cult, thinks very ill of anyone who questions feminism.

She writes:

Above all, therapy has helped me to be comfortable in life’s “gray” areas. My church was all about seeing life in black and white: sinners and the saved, heaven and hell, success or failure. Thankfully, therapy doesn’t work on these terms. There’s room to explore, ask difficult questions, and deal with internal inconsistencies. Pushing back against your own beliefs or those of the therapist is not only allowed, but encouraged. The freedom to think critically and be honest about major doubts has been transformative for me.

One understands that critical thinking, in the feminist sense, means trashing the patriarchy, attacking organized religion, finding fault with all things American and Anglo-Saxon, denouncing capitalism and fighting for the liberation of all oppressed peoples. It does not involve being critical of feminism. If you dare question feminism you are a misogynist sexist pig.

Therapists have no real understanding of these issues. They have allowed their minds to be hijacked by the promoters of politically correct ideology and have made their clinical practice into an exercise in indoctrinating people in this belief system, all the while pretending that it is treatment.


Trigger Warning said...

"If that nugget of pure absurdity feels like a spiritual uplift you need more help than therapy can provide."

[cue] Amen chorus ♫ [/cue]

Great post, Sir.

Anonymous said...

Stuart, ici est un article de Roger Scruton a propos Jacques Lacan et Slovoj Zizek. Je pense que vous le trouverez interessant.

Anonymous said...

You seem to have a rosy view of organized religion and little to no understanding of how psychotherapy works (outside of Freud who has mostly been debunked) or of what feminism is. At the end of the day all three are about healing, the first about the world, the second about the self, and the last about an inequality between sexes. If you don't see that, it would be wise to seek understanding before tearing things down.

Trigger Warning said...

Its a pity that humanity lacked psychotherapists for 100,000 years. It's amazing we survived, what with all those unhealed selves milling around craving authenticity and integration.

Anonymous said...

Sheer decadence

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Where did Anon get the idea that religion is about healing the world. It's absurd on its face. It's not even a very good metaphor. As for healing the self--- or is it the soul-- the proposition might be good when you charge the insurance company, but in fact most therapy does not work. It does not heal people. It does not heal the self. If it wants, as King says, to provide a religious experience for non-believers, at least that's honest. If therapy is dedicated to indoctrinating people in a politically correct ideology, it will be making them zealots and fanatics, not functioning human beings. As for the inequality between the sexes, you might believe, on ideological grounds that the sexes are exactly the same and that all differences are attributable to social constructions, but that means that you reject science, and especially Darwin. Anon seems to want to lead us back to vulgar superstition and a world where people are judged by their beliefs. The reason so many people reject such thinking is that it smacks of the inquisition, where people were judged, rather harshly, for their beliefs.

Trigger Warning said...

Proglodytes may buy into it, but the dogs never will. Too smart.

Brookside said...

I don't see anything healing about feminism.

Ares Olympus said...

This seems similar to the complaints about young people wanting to be "spiritual" but not "religious."

If "spiritual" means anything at all, it would seem to imply connection to an "unseen reality", which really becomes nothing more than "inner experience", i.e. following nothing more than Descartes "Cogito ergo sum", so whatever you think is the real reality, while the world outside ourselves is suspect. So "spiritualism" is in the limit simply "idealism" in the philosopher's sense.

Perhaps an identifiable quality of religion is that it tries to set limits on our behavior, individual and collective, so it is a social construct, something that a group of people find agreement upon. But then you have the problem of schism, where any group consensus about behavior eventually produces excess and rebellion and groups fail to find consensus and divide into new groups, each declaring the other group as failing some vital truth.

So like in Iran, they are hosting a women's chess championship, and women who attend are expected to wear head scarfs, extracted by the fact that Islam expects women and men to dress conservatively, and it just so happens that the commandments end up more severe on women than men. And so we have a religious belief that becomes a government enforced duty, whether you are a believer or not in Islam.

So it is natural that some people will rebel against religious laws, and see they are objectively unsound, and take away individual freedom, whether that freedom is self-destructive or not. Anyway, this shows a quality of religion.

So if we say psychotherapy is a pseudo-religion, I might think it should be mostly about applying limits to behavior. While if it is a psuedo-spirituality, it would be more about transcending limits to behavior.

Maybe I'm wrong?

Ares Olympus said...

Being curious if the pseudo-religion of psychotherapy has taboos or commandments or "religous duties" to follow, I found this article:
I summarize these teaching tips, which I refer to as the “10 Commandments” of teaching psychology students to distinguish science from pseudoscience.

1. Thou shalt delineate the features that distinguish science from pseudoscience.
2. Thou shalt distinguish skepticism from cynicism.
3. Thou shalt distinguish methodological skepticism from philosophical skepticism.
4. Thou shalt distinguish pseudoscientific claims from claims that are merely false.
5. Thou shalt distinguish science from scientists.
6. Thou shalt explain the cognitive underpinnings of pseudoscientific beliefs.
7. Thou shalt remember that pseudoscientific beliefs serve important motivational functions.
8. Thou shalt expose students to examples of good science as well as to examples of pseudoscience.
9. Thou shalt be consistent in one’s intellectual standards.
10. Thou shalt distinguish pseudoscientific claims from purely metaphysical religious claims.

In a world in which the media, self-help industry, and Internet are disseminating psychological pseudoscience at an ever-increasing pace, the critical thinking skills needed to distinguish science from pseudoscience should be considered mandatory for all psychology students.

Well, that all sounds sensible, and hard, #2 perhaps the most "skepticism from cynicism", once you start trying to "deconstruct" things you've been told, its hard to know where to stop and the trouble that once you've removed "faith-based" beliefs, what's left might not be sufficient to say anything interesting or useful about the subjective aspects of experience.

I have to think Jung came closer than Freud, to exploring the hidden patterns behind subjective intuitive experience.

I also think of John Michael Greer's quote "Knowing no stories is ignorance. Knowing many stories is wisdom. Knowing one story is death." The implication is narratives are the source of wisdom, but if your narrative eliminates its rivals, becomes idolatrous and seeks to replace full experience with shadows that are self-consistent and lifeless.