‘The past two decades have witnessed unprecedented changes in the economic and political organisation of the world. We live, we are constantly told, in the era of globalisation, a euphemism for the triumph throughout the world of the so-called free market, of a capitalism unfettered by national or even international restraints. Competition and the pursuit of profit are now, if not the only goals valued, at least the ones most highly esteemed. It is a world where, as John Berger puts it, “commodities have replaced the future as a vehicle of hope “. Whole industries, ways of working and ways of life have been destroyed in the name of the market, in the pursuit of profit. The description offered nearly 150 years ago by two young discontents is even more apt now than when they wrote:
“Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations… are swept away… All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned…”
This is Marx and Engels of course in The Communist Manifesto.
All of this has huge psychological and emotional implications which we have not even begun to grasp. It means, for example, that we live now in what is called a “risk society”, where insecurity rather than certainty is the order of the day, an insecurity that affects not just one’s ability to earn a living, but our relationships, our ethical beliefs and the very sense of a meaningful future. None of these can any longer be taken for granted. In Richard Sennett’s exemplary contribution, globalisation has led to the “corrosion of character” itself, the erosion in individuals of a sense of sustained purpose, a world in which everything is put in question. Hence the rise of different forms of religious and political fundamentalism on the one hand and a doctrinaire social authoritarianism, including much of what used to be social democracy, on the other. Everywhere people are haunted by what Sennett calls the spectre of uselessness, where skills, acquired over long periods, are not only not valued but regarded as unhelpful in a world which rewards flexibility above all else. (“Flexibility”, like globalisation, is one of those weasel words so common nowadays, a euphemism for having to do as one is told by the powers that be.)
The private sector is driven by an unrelenting and unhindered search for profitability. While the public sector is subject to relentless comparisons with the private and those who work in it, the teachers, nurses, doctors, social workers and many others, undermined, even vilified at times, for what they do and give.
People are made active participants in their own passivity, although some, the fortunate, are allowed still to believe themselves exercisers of choice as consumers of goods and increasingly services. In a world of untrammelled consumerism we are no longer citizens but consumers and the consumer is sovereign. There is, it seems, nothing that cannot be purchased if you have the means to do so, no place on Earth you cannot visit. You can, if you have the money, even go into space. We fool ourselves that the endless choices available to us – from what to eat for dinner to what school we send our children to – make us different, make us free. The truth is we live in a world where what Castoriadis and others called generalised conformity has everywhere become the norm.’
The Hope of Therapy – Paul Gordon
Yes. It is evident on a daily basis to the writer – as a therapist working for this person-centred not-for-profit service – that every person who walks through our door, with whatever issues, brings with them the impact and the harm of living in such a culture. This is true, even for those who – at a surface level – appear to be doing well out of it, with high pay and other trappings of ‘success’. None of us is immune. The deeper any of us drop into presence and awareness, the more challenging becomes some of what we have normalised, and cultural expectations of us. In long term work, themes such as lack of meaning, loss of safe space/a sense of sacredness, purposelessness, disconnection, and experiences of being objectified, invaded, used and controlled almost inevitably become a substantial focus for most.
The therapeutic world also offers an example of ‘doctrinaire social authoritarianism’ in the ‘pro’ side of the continuing regulation debate. This has its life energy in ideas that rules will make us ‘safe’, that human relationship will tend to exploitative if not policed, that there is a definable ‘right way’ to do therapy and that coercive conformity/compliance is useful – all of which are culturally sanctioned doctrine, and normalised practice. So powerful are these ideas that even therapists who self-describe as humanist or person-centred are often unable to recognize the disconnect between what they purport to offer/believe works with the client-in-the-room on the one hand, and what they seek to impose on themselves, their peers and those they work with on the other.
Paul’s book covers all of this and much more, and is well worth investing in. Here is the book link:-
Palace Gate Counselling Service, Exeter
Counselling Exeter since 1994