Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Therapy culture

What are the lessons of the Santa Barbara murders? I'm not sure there are any apart from the need for better police work and, perhaps, rethinking involuntary commitment. Whether it has any direct relationship to that event or not — and it may — I liked the central argument of this essay a lot:
...[O]ne of the main, and most terrifying, achievements of the modern cult of therapy has been to churn out a generation of people completely focused on the self and in constant need of validation from others; a generation that thinks nothing of spending hours examining and talking about their inner lives and who regard their own self-esteem as sacrosanct, something which it is unacceptable for anyone ever to dent or disrespect.

Many thinkers have attacked the therapy industry's creation of a new and ravenous narcissism which demands constant flatter-feeding. In his classic 1979 book The Culture of Narcissism, the great Christopher Lasch said "the contemporary climate is therapeutic, not religious." He said therapy culture, the post-'60s obsession with self-reflection, had created a new "narcissistic personality"; it had given rise to individuals who "depend on others to validate [their] self-esteem" and who "cannot live without an admiring audience." ....

In her powerful essay "The Overpraised American," Christine Rosen said the "overarching goal" of most therapeutic tomes is to teach people "how to love oneself." She quotes one self-help book which advises people to "Have a love affair with yourself!" Rosen writes: "Today's commercialised therapy purveyors all begin with the same premise: Think first of yourself."

The end result is a new generation invited to focus more on their navels, on their apparently fantastically interesting inner selves, rather than on the world around them; a generation encouraged to see any kind of challenge to their self-esteem, whether it's a tough exam, a presumed slight or a difficult, controversial idea, as an intolerable assault on their inner god. As the late American philosopher Jean Bethke Elshtain said, the era of therapy has created a "quivering sentimental self that gets uncomfortable very quickly, because this self has to feel good about itself all the time."

Therapy culture has created a new army of little gods made fearsomely angry by any perceived insult against their self-esteem. .... The cult of therapy convinces individuals they are gods and that their self-esteem is a gospel that must not be blasphemed against. As the New York Times columnist David Brooks once said of a therapeutic self-help guide to life, death, and life after death, "In this heaven, God and his glory are not the center of attention. It's all about you." .... [more]