Draft Manifesto for a Social Materialist Psychology of Distress

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I was sent this today by someone I'd sent the Power Threat Meaning Framework info to. It's very similar in approach.

I've not finished reading through, yet, but I found the following section really good for pointing out some massive flaws in pop psych approaches and general cultural attitudes. I've highlighted the beginnings and ends of each paragraph as they strike me as succinct encapsulation of the main points.

"Distress is not the consequence of inner flaws or weaknesses. All mainstream approaches to ‘therapy’ locate the origin of psychological difficulty within the individual, usually as some kind of idiosyncracy of past experience. A morally neutral ‘normality’ may thus be seen as having become ‘neurotically’ distorted via, for example, unconscious personal desires or errors of personal judgment (e.g., over-generalization of negative experiences). Certainly this is the way we often experience our distress since such experience is inevitably interior. But experience and explanation are two very different things Professional therapy tends to presume that both the causes and the experience of distress are interior, since this affords the therapist a legitimate ground of intervention: individuals can be worked on in ways that social and material circumstances cannot. Individuals thus quickly learn to see themselves as in some way personally defective when in fact their troubled experience arises from a defective environment (Smail, 2005).

Neither is distress the consequence of cognitive errors, or failures to process information correctly. Those therapeutic approaches that do not attribute distress to some kind of personal emotional defect (however acquired) often point instead to ‘cognitive’ failure. The possibility that individuals, through no fault of their own, have drawn the wrong conclusions from unfortunate eventualities may at least have the advantage of absolving them from the odour of blame or personal shortcoming that tends often to waft around more ‘psychodynamic’ approaches. Again, this kind of view allows the therapist an apparently legitimate field of operation in re-working the person’s cognitive processes. It does so, however, at the expense of a truly convincing account of human learning. There is, surely, enough evidence of what a distressing place the world can be for us to avoid the necessity of concluding that the distress we experience is somehow mistaken (Smail, 2001a; 2005).

So-called ‘individual differences’ in susceptibility to distress are largely the consequences of prior socialization. The fact that some of us seem to survive adverse experience unscathed while others are thrown into confusion or despair may be taken as pointing to ‘interior’, personal qualities: ‘self-esteem’, ‘willpower’, or most recently ‘resilience’. However, it is far easier, and more credible, to point to the embodied advantages someone has acquired over time from the social/material environment than it is to postulate essentially mysterious and unanalysable personal qualities that originate from within. To mistake the gifts of providence for personal virtues is an all-too-common category-mistake, and one that psychotherapies do little to rectify."



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Re: Draft Manifesto for a Social Materialist Psychology of Distress
« Reply #1 on: March 27, 2019, 11:17:45 AM »
Oh, wow! Thanks for posting that!! This section really speaks to and for me!!



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Re: Draft Manifesto for a Social Materialist Psychology of Distress
« Reply #2 on: March 27, 2019, 04:37:53 PM »
You may have seen this already sj, but here's a great article about the pathologizing nature of most approaches to trauma - Deconstructing disorder: An ordered reaction to a disordered environment

First, human experiences leave predictable and understandable marks; trauma in particular, and interpersonal trauma more specifically,impacts survivors’ minds, bodies, and spirits.

Second, these scars do not constitute psychological disorder but instead are the natural and expected consequences of abnormal events, including betrayed trust, violated bonds,and broken boundaries. The effects of trauma are indeed just that—effects of an event—and as such are causally related to the trauma and not to the harmed individual.

And third, when psychology and mental health professionals draw that causal path incorrectly, when the field fails to place the dysfunction solidly on the shoulders of individual and societal wrongdoing,survivors of trauma are thus reduced to a single experience that was enacted on them. They end up shouldering the burden. This, in essence, is pathologizing—the assumption that because individuals exhibit certain sets of symptoms, they are themselves disordered.

I am in total agreement that our reactions are perfectly normal and ordered in the face of our experience. That said, in order to unlock the doors to the care, services and support we need, primary carers, MH professionals, insurers, etc want/need a diagnosis. 

So I'm all for naming the results of ongoing, soul crushing interpersonal trauma, but perhaps to something that focuses more on the cause of our symptoms such as Complex Traumatic Stress Injury (as in something external hurt us) or Complex Relational Trauma Response. I think though that we are going to be stuck with Complex PTSD for a while at least and if finally having an 'official' diagnosis serves to unlocks doors, I'm OK with it ... for now
« Last Edit: March 27, 2019, 04:42:56 PM by Kizzie »