At this point, most of us know of the Dr. Phil tweet, “If a girl is drunk, is it OK to have sex with her?” What ensued is criticism of Dr. Phil’s insult and insensitivity to the issues faced by so many women, and all women in a way, regarding sexual violence, domestic violence, and rape. What ensued, is the furthering of a discussion about sexual violence, gender, and the level of ignorance about these issues. Personally, I support the conversation. Personally I think that Dr. Phil, as a public figure, ought to respond to those offended. Personally, I believe that when a group of people is not seen clearly (in this case women, especially women who know sexual violence) are unseen, however unintentionally, it is good when members of that group find a way to speak up, be seen, and be heard even if some find that disturbing in and of itself.
Going further, I would like to open a dialogue that goes beyond Dr. Phil but the role and practice of psychology in today’s society, specifically what I call “mainstream psychology.”
Let me begin that dialogue by asserting that much of “mainstream psychology” treats the difficulties of individuals in a vacuum, maintaining boundaries between social action and psychological intervention. Sexism, homophobia, classism, ethnocentrism, racism, and other forms of social bias play an integral role in the suffering people experience. Women’s feelings about their bodies, black youths’ success in the public education system, gay youths’ experiences of prejudice or suicidal tendencies, and men’s freedom to express vulnerability reflect the dominant culture’s values and systems of control. Accordingly, healing these issues requires more than individual therapy and interventions, but social interventions. Specifically, let me recommend that mainstream psychology begin to consider efforts to promote social justice as within the scope of psychology.
Further, it is important to consider the depth and scope of mainstream psychology’s message—that promoted by many professional analysts and scores of books, magazines, blogs, Internet sites, and television programs like the Dr. Phil show. Mostly, it bombards us with messages that we are in need of correction or reprogramming and offers ways to rid us of our disturbing feelings and behavior pattern. It regularly guides us to stop eating certain foods or ingesting certain substances, as if there were nothing to learn from exploring our yearnings; to stop making certain choices, as if there were no deeper reasons for our actions; to anti-depress, as if emotions that move us into ourselves have nothing to offer us. We are told, “Stop eating that,” “Don’t worry so much,” “Don’t judge,” “Forgive, apologize,” “Be honest,” “Make different choices,” “Don’t be so aggressive (sensitive, passive, cold, bold, insecure),” “Don’t act on your attraction to certain people,” “Stop falling in love with the wrong people,” “Be more reasonable (rational, normal).” However, such psychological platitudes focusing on individuals’ inadequacies rarely address the issues underlying people’s behaviors or offer ways to deepen personal transformation.
This kind of psychological thinking is so woven into our day-to-day lives that we attribute almost everything disturbing to us about ourselves or others to a psychological problem in need of diagnosis and treatment. When we experience disturbing feelings, we say we are depressed, hot tempered, overly sensitive, insecure, or have low self-esteem. When we become aware of disturbing patterns of behavior, we say we are lazy, undisciplined, out of control, self-medicating, or judgmental. We also show this predilection for diagnosing when we are disturbed by other people’s emotions and behaviors, assuming that they have anger issues, lack self-control, are egotistical, narcissistic, out of touch, depressed, irresponsible, or lazy. We even diagnose whole groups of people who disturb us, concluding that they are immoral, oversexed, greedy, menacing, manipulative, untrustworthy, irresponsible, or criminal.
What do I recommend? I recommend what I call a “love-based psychology.” A love-based psychology is rooted in the belief that there is profound meaning in our personal struggles that can be healed when more deeply understood. It is rooted in the belief that behind our greatest difficulties are seeds of our greatest powers, beauties, uniqueness, and intelligence. It doesn’t look at people as “sick,” subtly shaming them as part of the effort to ‘heal’ them, but instead brings meaning, soul, depth, and a profound psychology into psychology.
In the words of author and psychologist Julie Diamond, Ph.D, we need to “not just talk back to Dr. Phil but to a whole century of normative psychology, an approach to mental health that has more to do with socialization than with well-being.”
You might also like:
Is Psychology Making Us Sick?
Talking Back to Dr. Phil: Alternatives to Mainstream Psychology
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