There’s a recent post, The role of the psychologist in social change, on Peter Kinderman’s blog that is well worth reading. Peter begins with Martin Luther King’s 1967 statement:
“…there are some things in our society, some things in our world, to which we … must always be maladjusted if we are to be people of good will.”
It is a fact that many, probably most, of the problems that bring people into the mental health system are rooted in poverty, victimization, discrimination and other negative life circumstances.
Peter reminds us that:
“Many of us say and do little about the social circumstances that determine the well-being and mental health of our clients.”
He encourages us to speak out:
” Clinical psychologists, whose professional role is the promotion of well-being and the prevention of such distress, have a responsibility to speak out about those social, economic and political circumstances that impact on their clients and the general public.”
There is a tendency, certainly here in the US, for mental health practitioners to see ourselves as “working with the individual” and feeling that the wider picture of deeply embedded poverty and victimization is not our concern.
Indeed, the very notion of “mental illness” militates strongly against any appreciation of the wider circumstances in which our clients live. Under the medical model, the task is spuriously simplified as one of “treating” the client’s “illness” (usually with ineffective and toxic drugs), whilst studiously ignoring the contextual constraints that often generate and nourish the problems in the first place.
The medical model may sometimes provide a measure of comfort to clients and practitioners alike. But comfort bought at the price of honesty is usually a poor bargain.
Dr. Kinderman’s post is a call to action; a call to speak out. And he’s correct. We need to speak out in our meetings, seminars, and other venues against the smug complacency and destructive orthodoxy of psychiatric care. We need to draw attention constantly to the fact that the problem a client presents isn’t just an illness “in the individual” as the APA and psychiatrists generally would have us believe. Often it’s an understandable reaction to truly dreadful life experiences.
It’s appropriate to afford whatever psychosocial help we can on an individual basis, but it’s also appropriate to address the wider issues.