Saturday, April 9, 2022

Psychobabble, Ink

Financial Times columnist Janan Ganesh has been traveling around the country sussing out the good, the bad and the appalling, about America. 

Now that he is or has recently been in Los Angeles, he is being showered with the lingua franca of that desolate outpost. He is being showered with constant psychobabble. In truth, in a part of the nation where everyone has been therapied to within an inch of his sanity, everyone now speaks psychobabble.


At the least, they can’t say I didn’t warn them.


What is psychobabble? Ganesh offers a definition:


You will know the mode of speech that I am getting at, but let us anatomise its main features: a desperate grasping for profundity. A stress on being “humble” that sits alongside an almost Napoleonic sense of one’s central place in the universe (“God is calling on me”). Above all, a belief that knowing the language and conceptual framework of psychotherapy is the same thing as having emotional depth. I keep going back to the unimprovable aper├žu of a friend. “They don’t talk about their feelings. They talk about talking about their feelings.”


A useful insight, to say the least. People who are constantly whining about how no one talks about their feelings are the least likely to expose anything about their feelings. They do not feel their feelings, but they have learned from their extensive therapy how to talk about talking about their feelings.


At some point this must have something to do with method acting.


It is all about demonstrating mastery of psycho jargon. It pretends to be profound, but it is mindlessly shallow:


I just don’t believe that any emotion is being shared here. The psychological word salad that millions of people have mastered (“intentionality”, “growth mindset”) creates the impression of hard-earned self-knowledge and fearless disclosure of it. What I hear, though, is the sound of nothing. I hear one of those precocious children who can recite rote-learned sonnets without quite feeling or even fathoming them. No one is so shallow as the ostentatiously deep.


And, of course, those who are promoting therapy as something of a panacea for America’s and the world’s problems, most often demonstrate, by the evidence of their persons, that it is largely ineffective.


I can’t be the only foreigner in the US who has been chided for not having a therapist by someone who — choosing my words carefully here — seems to be getting uneven results from theirs.


As for empathy, an especially useless buzzword that flies off of everyone’s lips these days, we have already explained how vapid all the empathy talk is. All Ganesh his word:


But nothing about “empathy”, or EQ, implies being good. It is about insight into the workings of human beings. It is much harder than parroting the language around it.


So, Ganesh believes that psychobabble does not reveal. It hides. It is very much like the actor or even the actress who emotes all over the stage and pretends that that constitutes good acting.


When you are in character, whatever you emote is not really yours. It expresses nothing of your soul. To think that grand histrionic displays constitute a form of communication is merely a therapy con:


Psychobabble … fails even on its own terms. It does not reveal things, it obscures them in a fog. It does not necessarily stave off a personal eruption. It can be a sign of one bubbling. There is, it occurs to me, a word for this kind of thing. Take it from a Brit. It is another form of repression.

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