Social Justice Therapy

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Against Social Justice Therapy

Evan Dunn:

"It should come as no surprise that a credentialed field like mental health would be a vehicle for disseminating the ideology that legitimizes the class interests of its PMC practitioners, but the ways that this dynamic has impacted clinical practice recently is troubling. As a new generation of therapists vies for dominance of the field, the function of the identity-based training industrial complex as a disciplinary battering ram for their own legitimacy becomes clear. New practitioners, as members of the PMC with aspirations towards roles in consultation, program development, and management, generally do not see themselves benefitting from redistributive politics. Instead, the politics of representation and diversity are circulated through the field of mental health to secure consultative and managerial roles for the elites of industry and academia.

Any well-meaning clinician would, of course, want to make sure not to replicate or re-enact biases that patients face outside of the consulting room. But a hyper-focus on a taxonomical model of patients being like this because they look or act like that, in addition to cynically serving career goals, begins to reproduce exactly the race- and gender-based classifications of people that social justice ideology ostensibly aims to transcend. Mapping prescriptive ideology onto our patients is inherently dehumanizing. The depravity of programming a patient is masked by a facade of social justice.


I do not mean to imply that progressive values are bad, or that white supremacy and sexism do not exist. But these concepts are being used to legitimize precisely what they attempt to decry. The more the mental health field has become aligned with counterproductive “progressive trends,” the more it increases alienation and resentment.

Social justice ideology’s expropriation of the field of mental health through its pervasive control on the academic sphere has created two new economies that practitioners are subsumed by: one psychological and discrete, the second politicized and ostentatious. In the first, the currently dominant cultural relations of shame, guilt, and identity fetishism are imparted onto the practitioner, transforming them into an agent compelled by anxiety to “do the work” whether or not the patient sitting in front of them has any interest in it. In the second, a scaffolding of diversity cartels and committees has circumscribed our institutions, diverting funding and attention to ever-more arcane trainings, talks, and an entire set of non-clinical consultation careers. The manifest purpose is (of course) to save face, while the latent purpose is to prevent lawsuit or liability. The unconscious consequence of both these trends is that the field loses further touch with its roots: direct therapeutic work.

Scrolling through Psychology Today, you will find the majority of profiles riddled with therapeutic progressive-identitarian jargon. It’s important to remember the source of this trend: mental health workers have increasingly been deskilled and are eager to abide by the new professional standards of success for plainly material reasons. They have abandoned analytic neutrality for a kind of condescension at a moment when they feel themselves condescended to.

But what does the radlib echo chamber of Psychology Today profiles indicate to potential patients? In short, that we therapists only want to be available to those who think a certain way. "