Stephen Joseph Ph.D.

What Doesn't Kill Us

Would Politicians Benefit from Psychotherapy?

We need a new political culture that values emotional maturity.

Posted Sep 03, 2019

The journalist George Monbiot recently wrote in the Guardian that politicians would benefit from psychotherapy. His premise was that those entering politics and seeking leadership positions tend to have narcissistic and psychopathic characteristics. That is to say, he argued, they tend to be deceitful, dishonest and with a desire for attention and admiration.

He writes that researchers have speculated that such characteristics emerge from troubled childhoods, and in the case of British politicians caused by the trauma of boarding school, where children learn to be this way in order to survive in a competitive and emotionally cold environment. 

Certainly, looked at this way, psychotherapy would likely be very beneficial to some politicians. Monbiot writes that: ‘I believe that anyone who wants to stand in a national election should receive a course of psychotherapy. Completing the course should be a qualification for office’.

This is a thought-provoking idea but I’m not sure how serious it was intended to be as of course the problem with it is that psychotherapy is really only helpful for people who want to change.  Any person seeking a position of power and whose behavior is characterized by narcissistic and psychopathic traits would probably have no desire to change. 

Psychotherapy can’t be forced on someone. You can’t make people change.

At best we can change ourselves. And I think that's where we have to start.

Monbiot is right that it is helpful to open up the conversation about the qualities we desire in our politicians. Do we value qualities like emotional literacy, intellectual ability, openness, thoughtfulness, kindness, and authenticity enough?  Or do we let these qualities be overshadowed by material success, ambition, and self-confidence?

But perhaps the best place to start is with ourselves.

Going back to George Monbiot’s argument, I would say that it is not only the politicians that would benefit from psychotherapy but all of us would benefit from living in a society that actively values personal development and emotional maturation in its people.  At the moment I don’t think our society gives as much thought to this as it could. I think we are seeing the consequences of this playing out in our political debates and in the divisions opening up between people. Putting the ideas of psychotherapy into society seems ever more important.

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