The New Observer Psychotherapy Calling the rebels mad – psychiatry and repressive regimes have the same aim [Psychotherapy]

Calling the rebels mad – psychiatry and repressive regimes have the same aim [Psychotherapy]

A comment on modern psychotherapy.

People who are ill at ease of (in slightly old-fashioned terms) maladjusted are so – at least when they are young – almost always because they have been abused or failed by caregivers and teachers etc. The abuse may be active; e.g. sexual abuse, or a case of not rendering the kind of love and care which children need. The latter can be even an unintentional failing.

Psychoanalysis and its modern derivative psychotherapy always interprets this condition of being ill-at-ease as due to some kind of internal disorder or even malfeasance on the part of the young person. Psychotherapy (and its further derivative, counselling) has to do this in order to set up the business. The business model requires it. If therapy were to admit that this condition of being ill-at-ease was caused by abuse (or other failings) psychotherapy would have to become a political movement; or, at least, a social movement, and challenge the roots of the condition in society. But there is no money to be made from political and social movements. Thus therapy declares that the condition of being ill at ease is due to your internal problems. Having established that the problem is deep-seated and internal therapy can now offer the ‘therapeutic relationship’ as a cure; in the same way that a massage therapist can offer to cure you of a knot in your muscles. Therapy is a little bit special of  course in that the patient cannot see the supposed internal disorder. But the answer to that is simple; it is part of the problem that you cannot see the disorder. You lack ‘insight’. Indeed – the whole cure will lie in you seeing that you are disordered and seeing the disorder! And so the gullible patient embarks on a 5 year programme which is largely based around him being trained to understand himself as having an internal problem. The longer he takes to find it – the sicker he must be!

In some trendy sixties versions of therapy (e.g. Laing and his sidekick Leon Redler and others) the alleged internal disorder was given a hippyish twist; you are not in touch with your emotions. In more traditional psychoanalysis it is because your otherwise necessary infant-stage phantasy system has developed in a skew-whiff way. (The source model for this myth is the medical fact of tumour growth; when cell growth becomes aberrant and harmful). Some modern proponents of therapy/counselling take a different approach. Realising that any variant theory ofinternal disorder’ will eventually be exposed and will have to be replaced by another they just say that “everyone needs therapy”.  We all have an inner disorder. I.e. needing therapy is part of the human condition.

This process of persuading people that they are weak and sick and need a counsellor to be their conscience is aptly described in Ivan’s tale of the Grand Inquisitor in Book Five of the Brothers Karamazov. Like a modern therapist the Grand Inquisitor is convinced that people are weak and is convinced that in helping them become enslaved and give up on freedom he is actually loving them. In the Soviet Union political dissidents were sometimes consigned to psychiatric institutions for being out of step with the thinking of the Communist Party (whatever its thinking was at that point).

All these are self-serving institutions who wish to bend the will of the individual firstly to their institution (the person of the therapist, the Communist Party, the Priest) and secondly, to society at large. Ivan’s Grand Inquisitor, the psychiatric institution holding political detainees in the USSR and psychotherapy all manage and make weak and sick the individual in the name of helping him and in the name of building a happy society.

As a footnote; once in a therapy session with Redler [1] he suddenly and spontaneously came out with a diatribe against Communism – presenting it as one of the great, if not the greatest, evil on earth. (In passing; a nice example of how therapists often use therapy sessions to promote their own ideas and values, in contradiction to all the advertising blurb about ‘client autonomy’). But here we can note the idea of psychology that when people hate something with a great passion it is usually because of a similarity to some aspect of themselves.


  1. The editor of this web site was ‘in therapy’ with Leon Redler off and on for some years. Leon Redler was an ‘apprentice’ (yes, really, like something from Harry Potter) of the sixties maverick psychiatrist R. D. Laing who was struck of the GMC register for malpractice. There is some material on this website about this experience.