Journalist Lisa Selin Davis Investigates the Activist Turn in Therapy

In her piece for Free Press, Lisa Selin Davis, reports on her investigations into the field of contemporary therapy. She discusses the worrying activist turn which does not appear to serve the best interests of the majority of clients. In her excellent article she interviews a range of people who have very significant concerns about the direction therapy is moving in; she talks to therapists, consumers of therapy and the people who are developing organisations in order to defend traditional therapy. Below is a short verbatim excerpt from her piece which gives an example of the negative impact of Critical Social Justice ideology in the clinical space – to read the full article go to Free Press.

‘Andrew Hartz, a clinical psychologist in New York, points out that when a therapist injects a specific political worldview into the therapy room, many patients are left feeling it isn’t “safe to ask questions.” This population includes, he says, conservatives, liberals, and moderates who feel stifled and censored; people of color who are concerned about racism yet object to anti-racism ideology; gay people alienated by the LGBT culture wars; cops vilified by communities they serve; and more. 

Kobi Nelson, now a 41-year-old high school teacher in Colorado, was seeing a therapist for anxiety and depression and to help her assert herself more. Nelson grew up working class in the fundamentalist Church of Christ community outside of Denver, where she was taught that girls should be quiet and self-effacing. 

Nelson was pursuing a PhD in education at the University of Colorado a few years ago, and her therapist encouraged her to speak up in class. Many of the classes, from “urban education” to “critical theory,” focused on power, privilege, and critical race theory. This explicitly linked whiteness with oppression

One day, Nelson followed her therapist’s advice and raised her hand to ask why it was okay for students of color to have “safe spaces” to work out racial issues, but white students struggling to understand their “privilege” shouldn’t. “What if white people could have ‘safe spaces’ to work out their privilege in places of higher education before they became urban teachers?” she inquired. 

The room went silent, then the professor, a person of color, yelled at Nelson, “There are no safe spaces!” There was more yelling, and though one student gingerly pointed out that they’d probably misunderstood Nelson’s point, the others debated Nelson’s power and privilege. She was shaking, devastated, but she didn’t want to cry “white women’s tears” or leave, which would be seen as white privilege. After that, she says her fellow students shunned her, no longer collaborating on presentations or papers.

When she talked to her therapist about what happened, the therapist pushed Nelson to examine her own racism, instead of helping her to deal with the pain of her public shaming. “It brought me right back to that place that I grew up in, which was this church that said because you are a woman, because of an immutable characteristic, you can’t speak up,” she told me. She felt she was treated like a “heretic” because she didn’t fit the model of an oppressed person. 

At least church offers a path to redemption. But not social justice. “There’s no forgiveness. You’re just confessing and confessing and confessing,” Nelson said. I think many who go into therapy honestly don’t feel like they have a lot of agency, and it doesn’t help when your therapist is confirming that.” ‘

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