Liberation psychiatry could destroy our civilization.

Toward the end of a generally compelling episode of EconTalk, psychiatrist Marcus Ramos slips in a term that may shed a light on some of the discord and lunacy we’re seeing in our society these days: liberation psychiatry, which he explains thus:

There are other ways of looking at mental illness from the past and through history in other settings outside of the United States–like in Latin America as well as Africa in post-colonial context–where mental health has specifically been linked to political and social mobilization, and in certain contexts they would consider it liberation. …

…  it starts with a very simple idea, which is that: You cannot be mentally–you can’t have mental health unless you’re liberated from the social structures that are making you sick. And, if that’s the case, then there needs to be this palliative work, as you put it, that you’re talking where you support the person who’s being made ill by these larger social structures. But, there also needs to be political work on the part of the practitioner with their patients, to resist–to liberate them from–the things that are making them sick in society.

… The last, sort of–the way this loop completes, I think in many ways, is that: not only was the political action in many ways effective unevenly so, but in many ways effective in getting certain services for this community that had been affected. But also, psychologically, the process of politically organizing to speak back to the thing that had hurt you was psychologically therapeutic.

It’s unsurprising that the push to turn psychiatry into a form of political activism is originating in South America, which produced liberation theology and the politicized pedagogy of Paulo Freire that is ravaging America’s education system.  In the realm of psychiatry, however, the problem is somewhat easier to see:  If you build your activity, whether theology, education, or psychiatry, around political activism, you must necessarily find things to blame, and you must assume the solutions you come up with truly address the cause of the problems to which you’re responding.  This is obviously vulnerable to both error and manipulation that serves some other political interest.  The likelihood is high that neither the patient nor the therapist will have sufficient understanding to identify the real essential problem and prescribe the precise policy to resolve it, yet they must come up with something as a basic requirement of the treatment.

A related problem is that the patient won’t always win.  If people feel they have identified an injustice and used political activism as a type of therapy, their condition could worsen if they lose the political fight, which they may very well do, and which they may very well deserve to do if they’ve chosen their cause poorly.  Naturally, if they’ve been pointed at a cause for ulterior reasons, this worsening of their condition is a benefit, not a problem, because the cure will be to dive more deeply into the cause.

This approach could easily devolve into nothing but a scapegoating mechanism that generates a stream of impressionable activist troops.  Whether one ascribes this inevitable sequence to an ideological conspiracy, the workings of Satan, or simply the random-but-constrained operation of human nature, the incentives line up for a deadly cocktail, undermining our society in a desperate search for the root causes of discomfort.  Conspicuously, that destruction reduces stability, and thereby increases both the likelihood of tragedies and the psychological instability of the people.

As EconTalk host Russ Roberts points out, our society has already gone a long way toward undermining sources of belonging and meaning (family, religion, etc.).  Now, the deconstructionist forces are attacking even the security of our trust in a stable reality.  They’ve done this through fearmongering (“climate change”), identity politics (“trans”), and encouragement to reckless, destabilizing behavior (“pleasure-based sex education”).

The self-reinforcing cycle certainly seems designed, rather than accidental:  The movement initiates psychological instability and then prescribes political activism as a combined therapy and solution.  All that remains is to choose a political target that serves the special interest guiding the process.  To the extent their stated intentions are genuine, academics like Ramos and others rolling the stone toward the hill seem not to be cognizant of the risk.  Ramos laments the influence of powerful moneyed interests in psychiatry and elsewhere but doesn’t appear to see that powerful moneyed interests are ideally positioned to manipulate the process he’d set in motion.

The rest of us must challenge this movement at each step and reinforce in our policies and our own lives the necessary solutions — family, religion, limited government, civil rights, and community.  As we do so, we’ll have to withstand the attacks on the institutions in which to bond, because the activists will fling epithets and tar them as evil (e.g., “white supremacy”), and they’ll see assaulting us verbally and physically as part of their therapy.  But our burden can be made lighter with reminders that, yes, we are sane, and what our attackers need most is the stability we’re seeking to establish.


Featured image from Shutterstock.

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