Lionel Shriver Lionel Shriver

Therapy has turned on itself


Were I to overcome a lifelong scepticism about the healing powers of talk therapy, I imagine languishing on a psychiatrist’s divan and whimpering something along these lines: ‘All this “woke” stuff – I’ve even come to hate the word. Resisting its idiocies is taking over my life. I worry that I’m not setting my own agenda. When you decry something as stupid, aren’t you still babbling about something stupid? It’s a big, wonderful world out there, and “wokery” is killjoy, reductive and mean. I feel trapped.’

Yet according to the recent essay collection Cynical Therapies, I’d elicit an icy response. ‘Look here, Karen,’ my hypothetical therapist charges with a scowl. ‘Your only claim to my sympathy is being female. Otherwise, you’re criminally white, straight, cis and non-differently abled. Those sad little tits and crumbling knees can’t earn you out of the white supremacist oppressor class. Unless you suddenly decide that all along you’ve been a boy, you must devote yourself to anti-racism, apologise for having ever been born and do the work!’ Thanks, pal. Just what I needed.

Patients can expect to be lectured about their ‘privilege’ and ordered to proselytise for their own extermination

The contributors to Cynical Therapies are lecturers and clinicians in mental health who are raising the alarm about the ideological takeover of their discipline over the past 20 years. A mix of Americans and Brits – with the usual lack of dignity, the field in Britain has slavishly followed America’s into the abyss – the authors are heretics and, to many colleagues, traitors. The book is a cry for help.

Few doctrines could be more self-evidently antithetical to the traditional imperatives of psychotherapy than ‘critical social justice’, aka that tiresome, overworked term beginning with ‘w’. Although psychiatry has developed a wide range of approaches, not long ago therapists of all persuasions were coached to display openness, empathy, curiosity and neutrality.

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