Thursday, 11 September 2008

Don't worry be happy

There was a terrific article by Darian Leader in the Guardian the other day, about the current vogue for the 'quick fix' of cognitive behavioural therapy. Leader argues that CBT is based on a view of the personality as 'a set of skills that we can learn and modify' and he draws parallels with the promises of transformation held out by reality TV:

CBT promises change just as swiftly. Unwanted character traits or symptoms are no longer seen as a clue to some inner truth, but simply as disturbances to our ideal image that can be excised. Instead of seeing a bout of depression or an anxiety attack as a sign of unconscious processes that need to be carefully elicited and voiced, they become aspects of behaviour to be removed.

The market has triumphed here, as our inner worlds become a space for buying and selling. We pay experts such as life coaches to teach us how to change in the desired way. Aspects of ourselves, such as shyness or confidence, become commodities that we can pay to lose or amplify.

Leader bemoans the popularity of CBT with government agencies and is critical of Lord Layard, the so-called 'happiness tsar', for persuading ministers to divert resources from more traditional therapies based on rather more complex views of the human psyche. He compares this development with government plans to regulate mediums and spiritualists:

It will not longer be up to us to believe in them or not, but a higher power will tell us who is legitimate and who is not. Just as a new rhetoric of 'science' tells us  that CBT is the best treatment, so it will arbitrate the 'other side'.

If you've been longing for a comprehensive riposte to 'positive' psychology and the government-backed 'happiness' industry, you can read the whole thing here.


kellie said...

I can see why Darian Leader prefers analysis to cognitive therapy - there's a lot more free association than logical progression in his argument.

Martin said...

Hi Kellie
I knew there wouldn't be much sympathy for psychoanalysis in this corner of the blogosphere! I'm no great fan of Leader's hero Lacan (I prefer Melanie Klein), and I believe psychoanalsis needs to be tempered by a more sociological view...but I recoil from the quick-fix individualism and surface-only approach of CBT, which seems to me to be mechanistic and anti-humanist (for all that its been lauded by so-called 'humanistic' psychology).

kellie said...

Hi Martin,
I've nothing against psychoanalysis - it keeps some of the in-laws very busy, while others amongst them have found it unhelpful and have been very pleased with cognitive alternatives.

I do find Darian Leader's vague disparaging of scientific testing very unappealing, as is his attack on considerations of economy. If the aim is to help the whole nation rather than just the population of Hampstead, then the more immediately effective and economically viable treatment is obviously the way to go wherever possible. Why should criteria in this area be different to any other aspect of government spending?

Stuff like "the market has triumphed here, as our inner worlds become a space for buying and selling," seems very silly. As if psychoanalysis somehow exists independently of financial considerations!

And why bring up mediums and spiritualists? Does he mean to argue "hands off mediums, spiritualists and psychoanalysts"?

The passage about reality TV really betrays this as a free associating elitist rant - and I can't imagine the Jungians agreeing with his notion that drawing on myths and folk tales of transformation is an invention of TV and Thatcher.

Capitalism, TV and Thatcher, what a list of bogeymen!