“Consider the shrink. Many mental problems originate not in diseases of the brain but in deficiencies of society. The arduousness of living with unfulfilling work, financial insecurity, arbitrary bosses, lack of solidarity and insufficient personal power, together with the anguish caused by racism, sexism, ageism, lookism, ableism and all the other oppressive hierarchies that plague this society, helps explain the fact that more than 10% of the population (and not counting those with substance abuse disorders) suffers from mental or emotional problems. There are enough troubled individuals in the United States to keep busy 100,000 psychiatrists and clinical psychologists and a much larger number of clinically trained social workers and other mental health professionals. People’s mental problems often appear as deviations from social or legal norms and therefore are problems for the status quo as well as for the deviant individuals.
The problems of both would be solved if troubled individuals abided by the values of the status quo, and of course the mainstream mental health system more often than not works to alter behavior in that direction. But attempting to adjust people to the unhealthy society that caused their problems in the first place may not always be the healthiest approach for either the individuals or society. A simple alternative would be to help some trouble individuals bring out, clarify and sharpen their implicit critique — to strengthen them for the struggle in which they are engaged, instead of removing them from it, because the struggle can be both therapeutic for the individual and beneficial to society. But the institutions of mental health, such as hospitals that employ psychiatrists and clinical psychologists, are institutions of the status quo. They are not about to turn the troubled into troublemakers, no matter how healthful that might be. The mental health professional is someone that such an employer can trust to move confused people away from struggle with social norms and authority and toward a life in which they are “well adjusted” to their place in the socio-economic hierarchy.
As professionals, psychotherapists are “nonpartisan” in their work: They just help ill people get better. But to declare extreme nonconformity an illness, as psychology professionals often do, is a partisan act because of the down-on-the-victim therapeutic framework it rationalizes: “Treating `sick’ individuals” is a much more politically conservative framework than is “treating individuals troubled by a sick and oppressive society.” Evidently it is not the place of the clinicians to question the health of the society to which the patient must be adjusted. Their “legitimate” professional concern is how best to bring about the adjustment. In this alone, they are expected to use their creativity. The few who do raise questions are seen as “getting political,” even though it is hard to imagine how they could get any more political than mainstream clinical psychology itself, which often practices conservative social action disguised as
— Jeff Schmidt, Disciplined Minds