What to know about what you don’t know you know. #1: Intuition is very efficient—if you don't overthink it.
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Initially I read this article as taking an approach to treatment similar to the advice of a coach or a sergeant to walk it off, to engage in some bodily activity to manage arousal until it passes. But the walk recommended here, to manage arousal by acting on emotional distress in social spaces, is intended to have quite the opposite effect of walking it off. And it is recommended in place of therapy.
To be clear, I accept that activism is therapeutic. Before the development of a psychological understanding of mental processes, activism was the primary therapeutic modality. I also accept that community involvement and incremental steps, in fact most of the recommendations in the article, as good enough advice. But these are just the explicit recommendations.
What if the formulation of causality and externality the author uses here for rhetorical effect were extended beyond the exception made for media exposure in this particular moment in time? What if the treatment for any experience of emotional distress attributable to an external cause was affiliation and activism? What would being a therapist look like? Imagine that the standard of clinical practice was to direct clients distressed by a particular kind of media exposure to find others who feel like they do and act out their distress socially for political ends. Or imagine explaining to a client who was upset about her parents getting divorced that because the cause of her emotional distress was external the best treatment would be for her to join a religious organization that was working to change divorce laws. The work of clinicians in this reality would appear to be closer to that of a recruiter, someone who finds the best fit for tribal identities. This is quite a distance from the prototype of the convivial yet antagonistic rabbi on which this whole therapy enterprise was founded.
It doesn’t take much imagination to see that the standard of care is moving in this direction. But this isn’t what really worries me. My concern is that the recommendation to activism relies on a conflation of mediated and unmediated environment that remains a broadly unresolved problem for psychology. What is the best treatment for emotional distress resulting from media exposure? Is the best treatment to diagnose the effects of media exposure as “not internal” and direct a client to social activism? Wouldn’t the advice presented here, if it were the norm, increase the likelihood of exactly the kinds of extreme events that become the violent content of media that causes emotional distress?
I’m a grad student in psych so I see myself as inheriting this problem in the same way the author inherited the problem but in the context of the increasing rate of development of electronic media therapists need to be very careful about affirming treatment that validates assumptions, increases bias and could amount to little more than a benediction over reflex actions.
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