Sunday, October 4, 2015

Activism and Therapy

Purple Sage has a great post about being a feminist in therapy:
The most common form of psychotherapy is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) which is where the patient talks about her life and the therapist suggests ways of changing her behavior and thought patterns in order to improve her life. I know that when feminists hear this we immediately jump to accusations of victim-blaming. It’s not her fault, it’s the patriarchy! we want to shout. But I have done lots and lots of CBT and it did not turn me into a self-blaming patriarchy enthusiast. Let’s take a closer look at the idea of “changing your negative thoughts.”

Some thoughts are negative because the situation is truly negative. If you are being abused by your husband, for example, and you think this is a negative situation, then you are absolutely correct. This thought does not need to be changed at all, it is an accurate assessment of the situation. Other thoughts are negative even though the situation is not actually negative. If you believe that you are ugly and stupid, those are truly negative thoughts. They are making a negative and untrue interpretation of your situation. Those are thoughts that do need to be changed and you can, and should, change them, because they are harmful to you and you deserve to be safe from harm.
Interestingly, CBT was recommended as an antidote for some social justice actvists' black and white thinking style in the Atlantic's September cover story, The Coddling of the American Mind. Says Greg Lukianoff of FIRE, an organization dedicated to free speech on college campuses, on his own experience with CBT:
As I was learning to identify distortions in my own thinking, I began to recognize them in the thinking of others. The organization I lead, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, supports free-speech rights on campus. One case that was much on my mind had taken place in the fall of 2007. At the University of Delaware, as part of a diversity-focused orientation program, students reported being made to “take a stance” on one side of a room or another, displaying their personal views on polarizing topics such as affirmative action and gay marriage—even if they didn’t yet know where they stood. Such an activity is not only reductive and unscholarly, it is a classic demonstration of the all-or-nothing thinking I had struggled with.
Purple Sage goes to to say that while "self-care" (a phrase I personally loathe for reasons I'll get into another time) is important, it's crucial to note that changing one's thinking doesn't get to the root of systematic oppression, something ignored entirely in self-help culture, but it can give you better tools in which to fight.