No More Cages

What’s next in therapeutic interventions?

Posted May 19, 2020

Weeks of isolation, loss of life, and grave doubts about the future have turned into months. Those lucky enough to have survived, and not had family suffer or die, and who still have jobs, perhaps experienced a range of emotions.

Initially, disbelief and denial.

Soon: Sadness and worrying.

Now many are feeling angry. That’s a dangerous prospect: Without an object for anger, it has no place to go.

It’s like Rilke's panther trapped in a cage and disheartened.  

Therapeutic intervention is a private experience: An individual reports pain, in one form or another, that limits their functioning. The therapist intervenes; identifying the source of the pain leads typically to the family or relationships specific to the person in therapy.

But what if the source isn’t just the family and relationships? What if it’s the cage itself?

The challenge now is for the anger to be acknowledged and directed to its source.

For the panther, it is too late: He is exhausted by his lifetime in a cage.

For those of us fortunate enough to be caged temporarily, it is high time to recognize that our stress, while experienced as private, is due to the bars behind which many of us pace.

The French-Martinique psychiatrist Frantz Fanon, writing in, “Black Skin, White Masks,” described it well: “We are driven from the individual back to the social structure. If there is a taint, it lies not in the ‘soul’ of the individual, but rather in that of the environment.”

So it is fair to say with certainty that therapeutic intervention has the great value of restoration. The individual, with the help of a clinician, is restored to a mentally healthy state that provides them with calm.

Unlike the panther, passing by the bars of the cage, with no way out, we have the abilities to unlatch the door, and step out into the world.

That world is changed.

To return to standards that created the cages means that our freedom will be short-lived.

The conditions are ripe for a return to the cages the very next time there is a crisis—of public health, of income disparity, of access to care defined by race, of a system in which private debt is encouraged.

Therapeutic intervention to have lasting meaningfulness can provide the strength required for focus.

Identifying the causes means that the private experience of stress is better understood.

The Swiss psychiatrist Bertrand Piccard noted recently, about the current predicament: “A crisis that one accepts is an adventure; a crisis that one ignores remains a crisis.”

There remains a choice: Being put into cages each time there is a crisis, and therapeutic intervention that willfully compels the caged to see the confinement as private. Or, therapeutic intervention that provides the clarity and strength needed so that there are: No more cages.

The time is now.

To find a therapist, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.