The Compelling Need for a Psychologist General

Monica Lewinsky's Vanity Fair article makes a powerful case

Posted Oct 17, 2020

Monica Lewinsky's call for a psychological leader in government on a par with the current surgeon general, or better yet, the pandemic authority Anthony Fauci has just appeared in the widely circulated Vanity Fair. In this strikingly moving and well argued piece, Lewinsky details her own traumas, one being particularly fresh, and compares them to the recent traumas we have suffered collectively as a nation. While the latter pertain especially to the Coronavirus, Lewinsky also alludes to the upheavals of racism and socio-political polarization. Her chief point, which I resonate to whole-heartedly is that like individual wounding, collective wounding impacts every major facet of our lives, from self-esteem, to relationships, to work, to economic viability. She also points out, equally convincingly, that collective rates of addiction, depression, suicide, and loneliness have skyrocketed in the wake of the aforementioned stressors, and that we are rapidly edging toward breakdown.

To address this condition, Lewinsky points to the enormous benefits of her personal psychotherapy as an analogue to what is needed collectively. She sees such healing playing a variety of roles in our culture to address our culture’s diverse ills. But she doesn't stop there, she keenly envisions the need for a "mental health czar" and supports my call for a "psychologist general" to stem the hemorrhaging. Such a person, she suggests would focus full time, at the highest levels of government, to promote concertedly psychosocial forms of intervention. These interventions would not replace but complement the current medical infrastructure that has traditionally overseen the mental health landscape.  

She also rightly points out that the prevailing officials such as the surgeon general and present head of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) are medical overseers of psychological services. While lauding the efforts of these overseers she also correctly, in my view, questions whether their expertise extends far enough. Put more bluntly, the mental health crises gripping our society appear far too manifold to be overseen by one branch of the healthcare system, namely the medical, when so many of the problems that beset us are plainly psychological, social, and environmental. We need, and have long lacked, national authorities in psychosocial approaches to mental healthcare. 

While it is true that many psychosocial experts are involved with public mental health, including top officials of the American Psychological Association, it is questionable whether they can have the impact of a leader in government; a leader who could elevate "mind" to the status of "body" in our culture.  

As Lewinsky further points out, such a leader could help guide the nation as Anthony Fauci has with medical advice. Think, she implores us, of what a psychosocial expert would bring to the national conversation: evidence-based recommendations for maintaining self-composure, resources to find meaning in a seemingly meaning-depleted world, means to gain access to low-cost but quality mental health services, support for caretakers and their charges, skills for remaining functional at work and at home, and tools to cope with mounting physical, emotional, and environmental threats. 

But beyond these formalistic recommendations, a national expert in psychosocial guidance might just reach the populace in more implicit ways, such as providing a steady presence; emphasizing honesty, and exhibiting an emotionally supportive alternative to the too often sham tactics of politicians, power-brokers, and  media pundits. The net effect of such a transformation in leadership could be the "emotionally corrective experience" for our culture that we as therapists traditionally reserve for individuals. 

To be sure this psychological leader would need to work in concert with other allied health professionals, but he or she would be in a unique position in comparison to those other colleagues. He or she will be authorized, not just by professional organizations, but by implication the culture at large to champion the cause of our behavioral, emotional, and spiritual revitalization. 

References

Lewinsky, M. (2020, October 1). The forgotten F-word in the pandemic:  Monica Lewinsky wonders if these times demand a prominent mental health czar.  Vanity Fair.