Interesting piece. A few thoughts—

1) Coriolanus is hugely underrated. Also I agree with the other commenter who recommended Rieff's Triumph of the Therapeutic. Very interesting book, but keep in mind when you read it that it was published in 1966 and is very much a product of its time.

2) "The idea of excavating my inner self before anyone—it’s just not of my world." Therapy hasn't been your thing, which is fine. Therapy isn't for everyone and I think people who say "everyone could benefit from some therapy" are overstating their case.

3) Therapy as emergent religion. I suppose there is some truth in this, but I think it is less structural (therapist-as-priest) than it is the fact that the "religious impulses" or needs or whatever haven't gone away, and have found various other outlets. Some outlets, like therapy, have a more interior aspect, while others, like politics and other group activities, are more communal. But also, people are calling almost everything a religion these days. Part of therapy's rise has probably has to do with people having less family around, fewer friends, and various other downsides of modern life. (One important difference among many between priests and therapists: while priests have always been desperate to get the halls of their churches full of congregants, even half-hearted ones, therapists hate doing therapy with patients who don't want to be there. It is boring, frustrating, and unfulfilling work.)

4) I think the real danger re: "therapy as religion" is less people submitting to therapists in blind obedience or anything like that, but more a function of interference from or capture by the state. Call it "religion" or whatever you want, but having therapists as state-sanctioned gatekeepers of any sort is where things get dicey. Even when well-intentioned, there is great risk. Having them be state-sponsored mouthpieces for certain political causes, as is starting to occur, is clearly a problem.

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This is really interesting as always. I am agnostic on the question of therapy but I do have concerns over its increasingly sacral position in modern society especially amongst people my generation (I am 29). Having sadly experienced therapy as a result of a breakdown it did in some ways help. It got me back on my unsteady feet and the talking therapy which lasted for two years was pivotal in allowing me to stay functional at university.

However, therapy has become a catch all solution for whatever ails us. Increasingly it seems to be used in order to address normal anxieties or life events such as exam stress or an early split up with a partner. The go-to appears to be 'see a therapist', in some ways making therapy an evangelical form of religious identity. Perhaps, Haidt's work on social media links in with this kind of argument, therapy rather than being touted as a genuine solution is just another fad ppl want in on.


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May 23, 2023Liked by Damir Marusic

I sort of got at this in the open thread on therapy, but I think what’s really crazy re: the secular belief in therapy is that people see it as a moral fault to *not* go to therapy.

And if I can keep the Crowd current on the young-ins, it’s very common to see on people’s dating app profiles “don’t ask me out if you don’t go to therapy.” Personal pet peeve of mine. Like what the hell is that? Code for “don’t go out with me unless you have really really good health insurance”? Don’t go out with me if you draw meaning or sanity from any other source? Don’t go out with me if you tried therapy and it didn’t work for you?

Also ... sigh ... it’s like people don’t realize you can go to therapy and still be a shitty person? Have they not seen The Sopranos???

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Yes, therapists are our new priests, offering moral counsel and absolution. Or too often helping you find a way to be more comfortable in your sins.

I do struggle with this. I think cognitive distortions are important to recognize and someone trained in reality-testing assumptions can be helpful.

Rieff's "The Triumph of the Therapeutic" goes into this subject very deeply.

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Thanks for this! James Mumford's piece in the New Atlantis was incredibly clarifying along these lines—got me to the heart of my own ambivalence about therapy (despite several good years of learning observable emotions and behaviors, etc). It willfully obscures first-order questions by normatively claiming its own paradigm as as the bedrock anthropology of the human person:

"...Next, the psychologist, with a flourish, ventures an observation. Each of us, he says, has different values. What’s more, we often disagree about our values. “So,” he concludes, “values are subjective.” And our recovery, our restoration to sanity, hinges upon our willingness to choose our own values. He lets us know that while morality “is externally imposed by society,” it is imperative that we be the ones to pick which ideals, morals, judgments, precepts, and rules to live by.

"Harmless, surely? Who would deny that it’s vital that my values be ones I’ve properly signed up for rather than had simply foisted upon me — by my parents, my teachers, my culture? But this truism — that I will more likely be able to live out a set of values if I have consciously adopted them — doesn’t exhaust the sense of what’s being said. My psychologist is implying something more radical when he insists on the pivotal importance of choosing your own values. When he claims that “values are subjective,” he is painting a picture of the world according to which the only values that exist are ones we have created. To say values are subjective is to say there is nothing independent of our own minds that answers to our talk of right and wrong. It is to say that our ethical beliefs do not track a reality which is “there anyway.” According to his picture, values are determined, not discovered, and selfhood — what it means to be a person — is therefore fundamentally about choice, not vision. It is about picking a course of action arbitrarily, not about seeing a reality that transcends you — goodness — and integrating with it."

[end quote]

Link: https://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/therapy-beyond-good-and-evil

This realization and its implications may be what you're aiming for—contingency and contextuality above all—but it helped me to see, at a key moment in deciding to end therapy, that I was asking metaphysical questions in the wrong venue. And that wisdom traditions (for me, Christianity) *do frame and offer responses in that metaphysics.

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Thanks for being open here.

As a Muslim chaplain, I find mental health being very secular. Religiosity is being substituted for a sugary spirituality that can be used by mental health clinicians and chaplains. It's a copy of a copy. For someone like yourself, I can see what got you here when it comes to therapy. Maybe I'm coming with my own biased as a Muslim. But as a theist, that's what I will stand by. - Omar

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Eh, that tweet is a shallow and misleading summary of the research the article summarizes. The research results are mixed and inconclusive when taken as a whole. It would be equally “unscientific” to say that therapy doesn’t work.

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