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.