Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Inmates, the asylum, and you.

Here are links to two related articles, one from the Los Angeles Times and one from the Monterey Herald, that cover a phenomenon I deal with in SHAM*, as well as in a piece I wrote some time back for National Review Online. (The title of the Herald piece could not be more on-point: "Therapy Aims for Self-Help.") We are witnessing today the rise of a bold, in-your-face attitude on the part of America's mental-patient constituency. In fact, said constituents refuse to view themselves as "mental patients" and reject the label out of hand. The updated (politically correct) terminology is "clients of the mental-health system." In this brave new euphemistic world, viewing one's self as a patient is both stigmatizing and offensive; the patient, after all, needs treatment, whereas the client simply desires it. The very idea that someone seeks therapy out of need--in order to be "fixed"--entails the corollary notion that the therapy seeker was broken in the first place. And that's something today's new breed of mental patients--excuse me, clients--is unwilling to concede.

As self-esteem-based education teaches us, we're all "special," remember? There's no such thing as better or worse, normal or abnormal. There's only different.

Moroever, the implication that there's something wrong with you (which, one would assume, there is, but let's not dwell on that for now) is also "disempowering," since it suggests an authority imbalance between therapist and, er, client. Now, call me defective, but I'd think the power imbalance is actually why you're there. If the therapist didn't have some proprietary knowledge or insight or skill set that you don't have--hence, a certain "power" over you, at least in that limited context--then why would you consult him or her? Doesn't the auto mechanic enjoy some limited power over you when you take your car in to be repaired? Surely the surgeon does.

But see, the patient is a supplicant; the client is a consumer. And as a consumer, he's going to tell the system what he wants from it. He's empowered! I don't normally like to quote from my own book in this blog, but I am reminded of Dale Walsh's presentation to the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in 1996, wherein Walsh said that clients who "use the mental-health system" must "play a significant role in the shaping of the services, policies, and research" that affect them as part of "taking back power from the system." A second mental-health advocate, Selina Glater, once urged patients/clients to "clearly [state] what it is you need in order to feel whole again." But...if you knew that....?

What we have here is still more evidence of the self-deluding, I'm-in-charge-here nonsense that (a) has become pervasive in American society and (b) nobody seems willing to challenge with much zeal, lest we hurt people's feelings and open myriad cans of some very un-PC worms. The notion that we're all really "co-equals" (another popular term in today's world of mental health)--that even though I've gone to school for something and have spent years gaining the very expertise you came to me for, we're really partners in whatever it is we're out to accomplish in therapy--bespeaks the same basic mentality that we saw in one key part of our discussion of alternative medicine (see "Of Cam, CAM, and SHAM," below).

Aside from fact that this is transparently silly, it once again implies that there are no absolutes in life, no inviolable standards that apply across the board.

Your thoughts, fellow SHAMbloggers?

* pages 226-227.

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