Health professionals must fight a Trump administration expansion of torture

It was profoundly distressing to hear Donald Trump on the campaign trail vowing a return to abusing prisoners with “a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.” Those thoughts threaten to reverse the work that I and others have done over the last decade to end torture as an official US government policy and to prevent health professionals’ participation in detainee abuse.

This piece originally appeared at Stat News on January 25, 2017.
It is re-published here with the author’s permission. 

As a psychologist, I know the extreme damage that torture — the systematic infliction of severe pain and degradation — does to its victims and to its perpetrators. My colleagues and I helped transform the American Psychological Association’s policies, establishing a firm barrier between psychological practice and national security interrogations and forbidding psychologist involvement in detainee care at detention sites, like the Guantánamo Bay detention camp in Cuba, which violates international law. As a result, a year ago the New York Times reported that Gen. John Kelly had ordered the removal of psychologists from all involvement with detainees at Guantánamo.

Since Trump’s election, signals on torture have been mixed. His national security advisor, Mike Flynn, has at times endorsed the used of torturous “enhanced interrogation” techniques. His new CIA director, Mike Pompeo, has not ruled out changing US laws to allow waterboarding and other torture.

Despite President Obama’s efforts to close Guantánamo, it remains open. The new administration is even considering expanding its population of detainees. And it is conceivable that additional detention sites may be opened to hold detainees in harsh conditions for extended and indefinite periods without trial.

During the George W. Bush administration, the US adopted interrogation techniques that our State Department had traditionally denounced as torture when used by others. The most famous of these was waterboarding, in which drowning is induced and then interrupted, inducing panic and terror. While waterboarding got the most attention, many of the other techniques, including excruciating stress positions, exposure to extreme hot and cold, and prolonged sleep deprivation in painful positions for up to 180 hours, were also deemed torture and had been denounced by the State Department.

Torture is so repugnant that virtually every country, even those that surreptitiously practice it, feel a need to disclaim it. The United Nations’s Convention Against Torture has been signed by 160 countries. For hundreds of years, opposition to the use of torture has been an important measure of a country’s evolution toward civilized values. The return to torture in the Bush administration set back that progress, not only in our country but also around the world, as other nations took it as a green light for barbarous practices.

While ISIS would no doubt engage in barbarities regardless of US torture policy, it is no accident that the prisoners they execute in gruesome videos are cloaked in orange jumpsuits.

The US is again in danger of becoming a country where torturous barbarity is publicly endorsed as official policy. To prevent this, it is vital that every institution of civil society speak out.

Among these institutions, the health professions have great leverage. They must use it, and their constituencies must demand they use it. Wherever there is systematic torture, there are often health professionals, vetting prisoners for further abuse and treating them afterward to keep them alive, at least until the torturers are done with them.

In the Bush era torture program, psychologists played special roles. In the CIA program, psychologists devised and administered the abuses, apparently even being present during waterboarding. At Guantánamo, which is run by the military, interrogators consulted with psychologists, reportedly using information in prisoners’ medical files to identify vulnerabilities that could be used to “break” them.

This involvement of psychologists and other health professionals was intentional. In the Bush administration’s “torture memos,” the presence of health professionals during torture served as a legal “get out of jail free card” for the abusers. If a health professional assured interrogators that their techniques would not cause severe long-lasting harm — the Bush administration’s defining characteristic of torture — the interrogator was protected from legal responsibility for any harm that occurred.

The Trump administration will also likely need health professionals as participants and as legal cover for any return to torture. We must deny them that protection.

Over the last decade, professional organizations representing physicians, psychologists, and nurses have issued formal statements opposing their members’ participation in torture. Physicians and psychologists have gone further, stating that any participation by their members in national security interrogations violates the professions’ central ethical injunction to “do no harm.” However, despite credible complaints against specific health professionals, no professional associations or state licensing boards have launched investigations, much less taken disciplinary action.

Given the threat that the new administration may expand Guantánamo and return to torture, health professional and behavioral science organizations should reiterate their ethical opposition and maintain the bright line separating their professionals from national security interrogations. Other professions should follow psychologists in forbidding their members from involvement in detention facilities that violate international law.

But they must also go further. Professional organizations need to make it crystal clear that any credible complaint that a member has participated in detainee abuses or at detention sites deemed illegal under international law will be thoroughly investigated, and that discipline will be imposed if the complaint is substantiated. Not to act in the current climate would constitute a failure of the health professions carrying out their compact with society to protect and improve the health and welfare of all individuals, regardless of their legal status.

At this dangerous time, society needs the voices of health professionals, and our actions, to halt the use of torture.

Stephen Soldz, a clinical psychologist, is professor of psychology at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis and director of its Social Justice and Human Rights Program. He is a former president of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, a cofounder of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology, and an anti-torture advisor to Physicians for Human Rights.


Unrest, Inequality, and Education in South Africa


Unrest has exploded at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, as what began as a peaceful protest about rising tuition fees erupted into clashes between students and police. In television footage, students were shown throwing rocks and stones at police, before the police retaliated with tear-gas in a bid to dispel the protesters.

History, Repeating

At the beginning of September the South African government announced a rise of up to 8% in 2017 tuition fees for university students – well above the inflation rate. This decision to push fees higher would drive many of the nation’s more impoverished (generally black) students, already burdened by debt, into additional debt that they simply could not afford. Anecdotal evidence shows many students would not be able to continue with their studies. This is not the first demonstration over the cost of university education in the country: the battle has been ongoing. The high cost of education in South Africa is prohibitive for many students (particularly many black students), meaning that regardless of their academic achievements, they are unable to achieve further education. What’s more, many middle class students (often referred to as the ‘missing middle’) find themselves in the difficult position of not being eligible for any grants or financial support to help them attend university, but unable to cover the prohibitively high costs independently. As a result, more and more people are finding they simply cannot afford to attend university than ever before, leaving them trapped at a social level that is unreflective of their potential. This highlights the enduring inequalities between black and white peoples in the country (which is the most industrialised in the continent) which have not dissipated, despite it being more than two decades since the end of white minority rule within the country. The social inequalities in South Africa continue to grow, and there seems to be no end point in sight where all peoples of the country will and can be treated equally. What on the surface began as a simple protest about tuition fees is, in reality, about so much more: it is about oppression, a lack of social mobility, and a desire for change. A heavy police presence remains at Johannesburg’s universities, as a result of the protests.

This time last year, protests about the rising costs of tuition fees lead president Zuma to freeze 2016 fees at 2015 rates: it is thought that this is what is driving the above-inflation increase in fees for 2017. But what does this mean for those individuals affected? Many of those protesting against the rising fees and the high cost of education in South Africa are academics, marching alongside their students. Racism, gender-based violence and oppressive working conditions for those academics working there, are all a dominant and enduring presence in South Africa’s universities.

What Benefit The ‘Talking Cure’?

Twenty years after South African apartheid in 1994, we are still dealing with a nation that is divided. The once-ruling minority still fill the majority of university places and the flames of this inequality continue to be fanned by the prohibitive costs preventing the most gifted black students, but without financial means, from accepting places and taking the benefits of education back to their communities. South Africa is very open about its problems, its corruptions, its endemic inequality. As a nation, it continues to talk about its troubled past.

The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was set up by the Government of National Unity to help deal with what happened under apartheid, providing those that were abused, oppressed, and otherwise affected with a place that they can open up and talk about their pain and their mistreatment. As psychologists we know that talking about our problems can be a hugely beneficial, cathartic experience that can help us to overcome negative things that have happened in a positive and productive way. The TRC is often used as an example of how governments whose predecessors have failed their peoples (or where civil war and unrest have dominated) can help the population to emotionally adjust and address the abuse and inequality that they had to deal with. However, despite its continued commitment to talk about its problems, and the continued shining beacon of the TRC, as a nation South Africa doesn’t seem to be learning from its past, or from the lessons being shared within the TRC.

Time for Social Change

Now is the time for change in South Africa, and liberation psychologists can help to drive that change. It is time for us to engage with blackness, with the concept of black femininity and black masculinity, in order to build healthy communities and finally put apartheid in the past. Many of South Africa’s academic institutions are still embedded in this past, and have not embraced the change that came after 1994. Now is the time to eradicate the colonial past from inside those institutions, to make Universities a safe learning environment for students of all creeds and colours, and to open up the wonderful possibilities of education to everyone.

This article was written by who is based in North America.  It benefited from comments by a South African colleague, but as ever we would welcome responses from those closer to  the issues.


Writing About Damaged Communities

People have been attempting to alter the course of human society through writing for centuries. Charles Dickens arguably brought the attention of the world to bear on the plight of the Victorian poor in Britain, and the newly awakened social consciences of his audiences help to push through various reforms which improved the lives of street urchins, prostitutes, and those in the workhouse. Or so the theory runs. According to some social historians, the ‘Dickens Effect’ can’t be credited with nearly as much social reform as we tend to believe. So can writing really be a means by which a troubled communal psyche may be healed?

‘Talking Cure’, ‘Writing Cure’

As with everything, it probably depends upon how it’s done. We all know that ‘talking cures’ can be hugely beneficial to certain people struggling with individual psychiatric issues. Writing can also help these people. It helps to express what we’re feeling and, by so doing, work our way towards the heart of the matter. While such things won’t work for everyone, for some they bring about revelations, self-awareness, and reveal the path to healing. Such ‘talking cures’ have been attempted on a communal level with things like the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which allowed people on both sides of the nation’s divides to come together and tell their stories – with no small degree of success in raising awareness of the other point of view, and healing rifts. However, it requires a good degree of self-awareness already on the part of the troubled society to set something like this up. Before we can reach this point, this awareness needs to be triggered. Some people feel that writing is a good way to go about this. And sometimes they’re right – but it has to be done properly…

Agenda VS Audience

A great many people have attempted to bring the fractures in a community’s psyche to the attention of those both within and without that community via writing about them. Fiction has since time immemorial served as a parabolic way in which to explore our personal and societal truths, foibles, and conventions. Indeed, many traditional shamans use the power of story and myth prominently in their healing ceremonies – by using well-known stories to illustrate the complexities of the human psyche, they can bring the unconscious into a state of self-awareness. And by using trusted characters as proxies for the suffering individual, they can guide the sufferer through their own psyche as they guide the character through the story. Some writers attempt to do this kind of thing on a wider scale through the power of agenda-driven fiction. The trouble with this, however, is that if the agenda is displayed too overtly, readers lose interest. Nobody likes to feel that they’re being accused, or preached to while they’re trying to enjoy a good book. A very skilled and popular writer may get away with wearing their agenda on their sleeve, but others will have to hone their craft to get their message across and raise societal self-awareness without alienating their audience.

Engage And Educate

Let’s go back to Dickens. Plenty of historians have, as we mentioned, pointed out that his influence upon reform may not have been as great as we assume. No single piece of reformist legislation can be traced back to him or his influence. However, we still believe him and his literature to have been a reasonably big factor in the social reforms of the nineteenth century. Why? Because his characters stick in our minds, as do his stories. The adjective ‘Dickensian’ is still used to describe a situation in which the poor are exploited and mistreated. Because of Dickens, we are aware of what went on back then, and fully believe in preventing such situations from arising again. While Dickens may not have directly influenced legislation at the time, he has certainly ensured that we are self-aware enough about the potential ‘Dickensian’ cracks in our societal psyche to defend ourselves against such horrors in future (or so we hope…). He did this by not only educating people regarding parlous situations about which they may simply not have known, but by weaving his social lessons into engaging stories borne by memorable (and loveable) characters. It is his style, and the ability of readers to engage with his tales and his characters which keeps them in the forefront of the public imagination – not the lessons he seeds them with. If, therefore, you wish to enact a ‘writing cure’ for your particular communal troubles, be sure that people are engaged enough with what you’re writing to develop that vital self-awareness you’re aiming for.


Indigenous children in North America and the damage done by diagnostic labelling

An article of interest, one of a series by the author on this subject has appeared in the online journal Indian Country.

Betrayal by Labels: The Feebleminded, ADHD Native Child


Diagnosing Native children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and treating them with stimulants does nothing to improve their educational or intellectual growth. Even worse, it sets them up for failure. Such an idea may upset the many caretakers, educators and mental health providers who think they are helping so-called “ADHD children,” yet Native children have been sabotaged by a similar mentality for generations.

Read the rest of the article at

Racialized State Terrorism in Ferguson Missouri USA: A Prime Target for Liberation Studies and Action

Make the Police Shoot Themselves: Require they wear body cameras

Roderick J. Watts

City University of New York

Mark asked me to write something about the recent Mother Jones Magazine article on police violence against people of African descent (  The article is well worth reading especially if you have the research skills to propose a methodology that would help us better monitor efforts to stop the racist carnage.  Where I am going with Mark’s invitation has taken me far afield of the article, an it is longer than I planned!  Call it therapy for the negative emotions stirred up by these ongoing police killings. That said, I tend to be pragmatic. I will address the question of what we can do curtail this and other forms of social oppression.

Like some many of my friends and students, I was very angry, saddened and disillusioned by this latest high-profile tragedy in Ferguson Missouri where 18 year old Michael Brown was gunned down by police. This act, or more damningly the charade of a prosecution that took place and ended without an indictment is part of what see as racialized state terrorism. Although this term in typically reserved for state actions on a mass scale in places outside of the G20, the aims are essentially the same:

State terrorism is a systematic governmental policy in which massive violence is practiced against a given population group with the goal of eliminating any behavior that promotes political struggle or resistance by member of that group. Any state that engages in terrorism is not a protector of citizens; rather, it violates civil and human rights…”[i]

Ferguson is a place where the policing and judicial systems regularly terrorize Black and Brown communities that are already under attack from within and without. As is the case in many other places around the country, Black teenagers go to jail for nickel bags, while White adult police officers kill Black adults with the implied consent of judicial institutions that are supposed to make killers accountable. It doesn’t take a psychologist to figure out how this can terrorize, traumatize and demoralize communities of color everywhere in the system’s orbit.

Although policing in the USA can take the form of institutionalized racial terrorism, it was once a popular “sport” for amateurs during the era of lynching that peaked in the late 1800s. Ralph Ginzburg’s documentation of thousands of these murders began only just before the peak period in the starkly titled book 100 Years of Lynchings. He filled his book with photocopies of newspaper articles of the day that offer a glimpse of this populist terrorism. His is a simple, yet powerful act of social research. For the record, as Wikipedia notes “Lynchings were also very common in the Old West, where victims were primarily men of Mexican and Chinese minorities, although whites were also lynched.” This tells me that the dehumanization of Africans was so well accepted that it was difficult for people to see how once accepted, dehumanization spreads to new targets that were once seen as human. Dehumanization is at the heart of oppression. It may start with people who look like me, and others further in the margins such as transgendered Black women—but it will work its way up to others if we allow it to. Don’t we ever learn, that any one of us can be next?

The point of this historical reference is that US terrorism continues in the present moment through professionalized lynching in police departments and “stand your ground” legislation that shields amateurs from prosecution.  But even this is not at the root of the social ills in Missouri and around the nation. Khalil Gibran Muhammad’s book The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America (2011) traces the centuries-long history of the dehumanization of Black men, aided by the pseudo-scholarly work of many in the academy. His thesis tracks with the book Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II in 2009 (D. Blackmon) and also The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander in 2012. Today, the school to jail track that criminalizes youth of color figures prominently is the modern legacy of racial oppression. Carter Woodson’s book the Miseducation of the Negro from the 1930s shows how important caste is to White supremacy in major institutions like education. Violence comes in many forms. This history shows how the USA got to where it is today.

Scholars have always played ball on both sides of the divide of humanism and de-humanism, but let’s face it: the settings most of us spend our time in do not encourage us to be major players in the struggle for liberation. We are up against power players with the resources to manufacture and disseminate the narratives and consent needed to

further their interests. So what are liberation psychologists to do?

I claim no brilliant or original insights on this question, but I’d like to contribute to our on-going dialog and reflection on positioning ourselves in against oppression. First, psychology is not nearly enough—ours is a field of liberation studies and action (LiSA)–but you know that. Second, many of us pursuing LiSA have positioned ourselves in careers that give us a measure of autonomy. In my view, the challenge is to determine what our personal gifts are then commit to long-term alliances with social movements. Only a few of us have what it takes to excel at the vanguard of such movements or inspire the masses from behind a bullhorn.  Racialized terrorism whether state-sponsored or through vigilantism needs “best practices” for personal and collective resistance.  At the micro-level we can we engage with individuals and small groups. Members of marginalized populations and communities contend with an on-going pattern of traumatic experiences—wrongful deaths, discrimination, and the micro aggressions of daily live they encounter in public institutions . These traumas were vividly evident in the local response to the grand jury’s decision not to indict officer Darren Wilson. We need LiSA professionals who can apply the healing arts and sciences through critical consciousness rather than from the perspective of the pathology-centered industry that dominates US mental health. See the book Advancing Social Justice Through Clinical Practice (Edited by Aldarondo), for examples on how it can be done.

At the organization level, those of us in the geopolitical North are reminded of Seymour Sarason’s work on the creation of settings. In particular, sustainable, social-change settings. I can think of two examples where LiSA can play a role. In the schools we can partner with teachers who do social justice education. Working collaboratively with young people we can help prepare them for roles in community organizing and ultimately movement politics. For example, I am working with my colleagues in planning the Free Minds, Free People conference convened by the Education for Liberation Network ( and co-sponsored by its wide variety of allies. The Network brings together teachers, high school and college students, researchers, parents and community-based activists-educators from across the country to build a movement to develop and promote education as a tool for liberation. Second, many of us would like to see is a school to movement pipeline that connects school children, their parents and the surrounding neighborhoods so that the community capacity needed to push back on racialized terrorism and other forms of injustice can occur.

Healing+ Well-being, social movement capacity, institution building, and participatory research are all areas where so-called best practices from LiSA and play a role. Two last examples for the LiSA researchers reading this: My colleague Ben Kirshner and I are conducting a 4+ year, international study of youth community organizing in the US, Ireland and South Africa. We often hear leaders in the organizations tell us that they need brief position papers from scholars to bolster credibility with certain audiences. Better yet, they say, have these scholars who will stick their necks out as well and take a public positions on contentious issues.

Lastly, there is the challenging role of working with the police! Go to this story about a seemingly rigorous study that shows significant reductions in police violence for departments that began using body cameras to monitor their actions on the street ( Don’t sneer—having conscious people working in the belly of the beast as others engage in frontal assaults of same pack twice the punch.

Thanks for reading.  I am posting this here first, because I value thoughts on these matters. I am also I am considering another version of this for the Community Psychologist. I would love to have some feedback and to hear about the niches others have found a meaningful place for their LiSA skills.


[i] Jalata, A. (2005). State Terrorism and Globalization: The case of Ethiopia and Sudan. International Journal of Comparative Sociology 46(1-2):79-102


Liberation Psychology: 25 years on. Nacho’s Legacy in the San Francisco Bay Area

Here is the third in our series to mark the quarter century since Ignacio Martín-Baró’s murder.

In “Nacho’s Legacy in the San Francisco Bay Area” Félix Salvador Kury remembers Martín-Baró’s visit to San Francisco in 1988 and talks about his work in El Salvador in the context of a bitter struggle before going on to tell us about the Clínica Martín-Baró, a free service for Latina and Latino migrants, which as Felix says is a lasting legacy of Nacho’s visit and his relationship with North American solidaritarian colleagues.

“I knew of Ignacio Martín-Baró’s work long before I invited him to a conference on Central American refugees in the spring of 1988. It was his first visit to the San Francisco Bay Area. Having “Nacho” for a week in my house was a very special and transformative experience. Three of my cousins of were among his students of Psychology at UCA. One of them was brutally murdered when she was seven months pregnant.

“Ignacio Martín-Baró was “Nacho” to many of us who knew him, who love him and miss him. At at the time of his assassination, he was the vice rector Central American University “Jose Simeon Cañas” (UCA, in Spanish). The University of Central America played a leading role in the effort to resolve El Salvador’s decades-long civil war. Jesuit faculty members, who often spoke out against human rights abuses, were accused by the government and the military of providing intellectual support for the FMLN rebel uprising.

“Ignacio Martín-Baró, a Spanish-born Salvadoran citizen, at age 50 was best known as an analyst of national and regional affairs and as the founder and director of the Public Opinion Institute, a highly respected polling organization. He was also a writer, teacher, and a pastor. He was killed along with five other Jesuit priests and two women on November 16, 1989. He was killed by a military battalion that had just returned form military training at the School Of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia. It was not the first assassination of church leaders: 18 Catholic priests, including Father Rutilio Grande and Archbishop Oscar Romero, and four North American churchwomen, had been killed in El Salvador since the late 1970s – more than any other nation in the world. …. read the rest of the short piece HERE.

Felix is the Program Director & Faculty Advisor for the Clínica Martín-Baró, San Francisco, California, USA. Their website and blog is here (material in Spanish and English.

Here is a gallery of photos illustrating the work that Felix has kindly made available.

7photo 8photo 10 photo 12photo 14photo 16photo 20photo 156263101836 156263121836 156263141836 156263151836 392301586836 Only Justice Heals Wounds Trabajadores voluntarios de la Clinica Martín Baró


Alternatives to the psychology curriculum: lessons from economics

There is a rather uncanny resemblance between the orthodox economics and the psychology most taught in universities.

Economics emphasises the rational, autonomous individual, making choices.  It’s conceptual models ignore the wider context of ecology and society.  It ignores the collective dimension, and those aspects of human life (such as domestic work) that aren’t subject to monetary exchange.  And its models were shown to be of staggering incompetence when the global economy tumbled – only a handful of economics professionals predicted the crash.  But the orthodox teaching goes on, with its quantitative models that bear little resemblance to the real world of human life in a finite world.

And orthodox psychology similarly likes to build models based on the individual level, better if they are quantitative.  It ignores the making of humans through their transactions in society via family, economy and community.  It can be hopelessly irrelevant when confronted with the real challenges facing humanity – war, exploitation, ecological collapse.  Much of this was said in the late 1960s and 1970s and that debate helped pave the way for both community social psychology and liberation psychology.

Now economics students are saying that enough is enough and the curriculum has to change to include other approaches, including ecological economics, Marxism and a proper treatment of Keynes.  This movement began here in Manchester but is spreading to other universities, supported by a few academic economists who fall outside the hegemonic neoclassical model.

Could something like that happen in psychology?  On Wednesday in London I gave a talk to some 35 people on community social and liberation psychologies from Latin America.  The audience was interested, engaged, enthusiastic – keen to find and build alternatives that more adequately respond to the profound threats such as organised violence, neoliberal austerity and climate change that challenge people worldwide.  Only a minority had heard of Paulo Freire, one of the greatest educators who ever lived.  Not their fault but that of the Educational system here in the UK.

We need change – are psychology students up for it?  If so, could the example of the Post Crash Economics Society established by economics students at the University of Manchester help?  What do you think?


The Dangers of Diagnosis – Is Traditional Psychology Addressing the Real Causes?

One of the most fundamental problems for psychologists over the ages has been defining ‘normal’ behavior. As time and society changes, so do accepted social norms – what used to be considered witchcraft is now perfectly acceptable behavior these days for example. However, in trying to define a constant social ‘norm’ from an ever shifting cultural landscape is surely bound to cause problems. One of the problems with mental illness for example, is that it can be very hard to identify, and the dangers are that traditional psychological approaches are very quick to diagnose a problem and medicate without trying other approaches. What is the real scope of the problem, and can a move towards Liberation Psychology help?

Mental Illness in the Modern World

Mental illness in general is still a somewhat of a taboo in many parts of the world. In the UK for example, there are many campaigns that aim to raise public awareness of these problems in order to shed some of the stigma often associated with such issues. The engagement with these problems often varies wildly by country – in some African tribal communities for example, traditional tribal practices can often result in severely dangerous ‘cures’ for those suffering from what could be a fairly common, easily diagnosable condition in another part of the world. One common thread does run throughout the globe however, and that is that not only is mental illness on the rise, but it is still an issue which for the most part, is relegated to the shadows. These estimates are of course, based on traditional psychologies understanding of mental illness, and furthermore often involve a solution through medication. While there is certainly no doubt that medication is necessary for some conditions, is this a crucial flaw in our approach to dealing with this worldwide epidemic?

If we approach the problem from a Liberation Psychology focused angle, we begin to see where the problems might be starting, and find alternatives to medication to help sufferers cope. A recent research report by NAMI – GC offers us an interesting insight into one of the problems we have when it comes to defining mental health issues. The opening statement reads:

‘Mental health is a state of well being in which individuals realize their potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively, and make contributions to their community..’

It’s entirely possible that part of the reason we are seeing a global epidemic of mental health issues, especially in the developed world, is because of the traditional approach to diagnosis. How do we define the ‘normal stresses of life’ for example? If someone is from a poor background, and has little in the way of prospects due to limitations imposed on them by a capitalist society for example, because they can’t afford healthcare or education, is this a ‘normal’ stress of life? Should someone who suffers depression as a result of this, for example, then be diagnosed with mental illness and medicated? Are we really dealing with the cause of the problem by doing so, and does Liberation Psychology offer a preferred approach?

Differences in Treatment

Some Liberation Psychologists, such as Bruce Levine, have made numerous statements and observations about the inherent problems with these kind of diagnoses, and how they can in some cases be completely unnecessary and in fact damaging to the patient in the long term. If we take the approach that many of these problems, especially the large amount of new ‘disorders’ that are being suggested by traditional psychology all the time, such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder, which is especially common in American teens and young adults, are solvable not through medication, but through simple applications of Liberation Psychology counseling, and understanding them as symptoms of a society that creates such problems as a whole, perhaps we would some one step closer to solving these problems. Of course, that is not to say that some traditional diagnoses are not correct, and that all such disorders can be solved without the use of medication. Schizophrenia for example, in severe cases can be extremely dangerous to the sufferer and others, and often some form of medication can be required in order to help them lead a normal life. That said, we shouldn’t overlook the importance of guidance, counseling and simply helping a sufferer to understand that there is no blame to attribute to themselves when it comes to coping with such a condition.

A Change in Approach

By simply creating new conditions and prescribing medication, we could be seen to be running the risk of simply papering over larger problems. Perhaps instead, by embracing Liberations Psychologies’ approach to understanding that the causes of many of the new disorders that we are seeing are indicative of a much wider problem ingrained in many Western societies in particular. The modern demands of life can place huge stress on people trying to make ends meet, trying to live up to unrealistic expectations that are incessantly forced on them, and so on, and perhaps we need to begin addressing these issues at their core with a more Liberation Psychology focused approach.



Liberation Psychology Approaches to Counselling – The Wider Implications

Liberation Psychology often finds itself at the forefront of the ever-redefining lines of psychology in general – whether this is how we choose to make diagnosis, to how accurate and useful established labelling of some conditions may be, to give some examples. Counselling is an integral part of any psychological care or inquiry, and there is strong evidence to suggest that the approach employed by liberation psychology in relation to counselling can have much wider impacting, positive outcomes for not only patients but also communities at large.

The Fundamental Differences

In contrast to traditional psychological approaches, which often ignore social and contextual relevance, liberation psychology actively incorporates the importance of these factors on both an individual and community. Given the roots of Liberation Psychology, this is perhaps no surprise, but while the founding reasons for the approach are indeed based on communities that are in general struggling with social justice issues, there is evidence to suggest that adopting Liberation Psychology as wider approach is beneficial to counselling approaches all over the world. This of course, makes sense: Most communities, whatever their location, economic and political stability, will often face problems unique to their social environments. While we may find cases of similar conditions in many different places, such as depression for example, the reasons and causes for these conditions will greatly vary from individual to individual, society to society. The causes of depression are numerous, and the condition is often not set off by any one, but a combination of a number of triggers. However, the social climate can have severe effects on what triggers are likely to be more common. Countries struggling for social justice for example, will generally have differing levels, and potency of triggers compared to the UK. Of course, there are many common elements that contribute to depression, and this perhaps argues well in defence of employing liberation psychology counselling methods: By understanding and addressing the importance of social and environmental factors that are unique to the individual, the chances of successful counselling are increased, as well as achieving a greater understanding of root causes. Continue reading