Making the political personal: how psychology undermines feminist activism

Feminists should be more concerned about the way the therapy model individualizes women’s oppression and professionalizes empathy.

We are told that mental health problems are on the rise in the Western world, particularly among young women. Supposedly, these issues will only be exacerbated if “left untreated.”

In an article at The Guardian, clinical psychologist Nihara Krause states that during 2014-2015 only 20 per cent of those who “needed help” in the UK received it. By “help,” Krause means “therapy.” Experts like Krause say this increase in “mental health issues” is related to issues such as financial difficulties, homelessness, pressure to perform (in school and on social media), and (in the case of women) severe insecurities about our bodies. Despite knowing this, psychology does not exist or function to address these issues and the systemic reasons behind them — the oppression of the poor, racialized, and female, for example. Rather, therapy aims only to address each individual’s emotional reaction to their circumstances. It can make you wonder what good psychology actually does for society at large, and for women, in particular.

During a workshop at a women’s gathering I attended this summer in France, Sheila Jeffreys argued that psychology individualizes the effects of patriarchy and separates women from each other. This once common feminist analysis was completely new to me, and I realized, as I discussed it with other young women (most of us in our 20s), that I had been living in a bubble wherein psychology was never questioned.

I’m not the only one. In response to our friends’ struggles, women are quick to suggest therapy to deal with issues like lack of self-esteem, distress in social situations, habits of self-harming, relationship problems, or difficulty accepting their female body — all issues that are impacted by living under patriarchy, as can be inferred from the sex discrepancy in, for example, self-mutilation and anxiety. “Seek therapy” has become a standard piece of advice. The words, “You need help” are accepted as well-meaning and sound, when directed at friend and foe alike. What “help” refers to is understood by all, since alternatives are generally not offered.

We don’t question whether or not therapy is useful, but even psychologists acknowledge that it is impossible to prove which (if any) kind of therapy is the most effective. An author at Psychology Today writes:

“We cannot even agree what a ‘successful’ result should be. Symptom relief? Personality change? Improved relationships? Better ability to love and work? Personal growth and fulfillment? All of the above?”

What do these things even mean, outside of a psychology framework? And how would you determine and measure the results? Personal growth, improvement, realization, actualization, and empowerment sound like noble aims, so we are understanding and encouraging when women name them as “personal goals.” We are all exhausted, stressed out, depleted, depressed, and distressed, and so can relate to and empathize with women experiencing the same. But, as feminists, we know patriarchy exists and that we face various forms of oppression in this world, so why don’t we question the oft-repeated advice, “Take care of yourself first,” when a sister expresses her troubles, and instead say, “Let’s help one another.”

Divide and conquer is the oldest trick in the oppressor’s book, and it is working against us. In her 1975 book, Psychotherapy: The Hazardous Cure, Dorothy Tennov detailed what therapy truly is, in terms of a profession and study, demonstrating how difficult it is to prove that it’s helpful at all, at a time when psychology was gaining traction. Many of her concerns for the continued normalization of psychotherapy have come true, as it has become more and more socially accepted for women to see therapists, and become therapists themselves. But the destigmatization of therapy is not a positive for the feminist movement. As Tennov concluded:

“There is no question that the person who goes to a psychotherapist and learns to adapt to a situation, to adjust herself, is less likely to apply pressure outward in an attempt to bring about change in society. Psychotherapy is a distraction from other pressures.”

We have been taught, through the normalization of therapy, to individualize our struggles and look inward, rather than outward. Therapy works to prevent us from connecting with one another. It isolates us — each of us is appointed our own therapist, who teaches us how to cope with our “issues” privately. We learn we must take care of ourselves, and work on our personalities in order to better cope with the world around us, before we can act. What therapy doesn’t teach us is that women’s anger is justified, that our suffering is real, and that what we often describe as “mental health issues” are mostly caused — or greatly exacerbated — by structural oppression. Psychology pretends that the solution to — or “treatment” for — our problems is in improving our attitudes and ability to cope, instead of tackling the problems together.

Writing for The Conversation, Zoë Krupka explains that therapists are taught to look to blame at least part of the problem their clients are facing on the clients themselves. Because they cannot dismantle systematic oppression or empower their clients in a genuine sense (that is to say, by giving them actual power in society) in private sessions, therapists have to find issues to resolve within their client. In cases of male violence, for example, the terms “trauma-bonding,” “co-dependency,” and “Stockholm syndrome” all exist to place some blame on the victim (the woman), while the existence of “anger management” exists as apologist propaganda for the perpetrator (the man). “This contributes to women’s disempowerment and to our overall inability to see the violent forest for the trees,” Krupka writes.

There are many examples of how psychology has infiltrated our vocabularies and shaped discourse, for example the idea that women may suffer from “internalized” misogyny or homophobia, rather than speaking about these issues as being a result of external, systemic prejudice and hatred. It has also influenced how we approach friendships and relationships with other women. Venting to a friend is sometimes described as “therapeutic,” and women will often say they played “armchair therapist” when consoling, advising, and listening to their friends. Good therapists are described as being empathetic, attentive, and, most of all, people we trust and can speak openly to without being judged. These are all qualities one would hope describes a good friend, but we have been taught that we are not enough, and that there are “professionals” who are simply better at empathy than us. When our friends and loved ones are deeply upset, we support them in seeking “professional help,” as if a one-sided arrangement, wherein a stranger — detached from their everyday lives, in a position of power over them, and paid for — will be better able to care for them than we would be. We don’t trust ourselves to care for our own because there is an alternative “professional” option.

This professionalization of empathy and care has deeply affected the feminist movement, as rape crisis centres and battered women’s shelters become increasingly staffed by those with the ability to get degrees, rather than by regular women — including those who have been victims of male violence and may have sought help at these shelters themselves. Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter (VRRWS), Canada’s longest standing rape crisis center, still operates through a peer counselling model and as a collective. The trend of professionalization of anti-violence work has impaired our ability to help and act as feminists, as Pauline Funston, for VRRWS, explains:

“Now we see ‘clients’ and provide a ‘service,’ a clear indication of the dilution of feminist principles and practice. The battered women who come to the transition houses now sees us as other rather than the same as they are…

… The erosion of feminist standards towards professionalism is costing battered women their dignity, autonomy, and their right to participate in the feminist movement.

… We are reduced to becoming another social service which then individualizes the battered woman’s experience and works against political change for her and all women.”

Therapy opposes collective feminist action both by determining some of us are unfit to support other women if we don’t have degrees, and also by claiming we are unfit mentally — in need of therapy ourselves. It places the burden of overcoming the effects of patriarchy, along with the blame for it, onto us as individuals. I myself was often told by therapists, when I expressed how powerless I felt in terms of my ability to improve the situation of women in our society, that I could not focus on trying to save the world until I first saved myself. I was in too fragile a mental state to make any difference, they said. I couldn’t be an activist without damaging myself in the process. Just as our foremothers were labelled hysterical, we are taught that we are too mentally unwell or unstable to be effective activists. We learn that we suffer from things like social anxiety, depression, various phobias, bipolarity, and trauma that we need to personally overcome and heal from, through professional “help,” before we can focus on organizing and changing anything beyond ourselves.

In the past, women learned through consciousness raising that they were not alone, and this was a source of strength. Their anger was not debilitating, their sadness was not a character flaw, and their fear was not a diagnosis. Their “problems” were not only personal, but broad, and affected all of womankind. It was through meeting and sharing with other women, in person, that women were able to shed light on and name things like patriarchy, male supremacy, misogyny, racism, anti-lesbianism, abuse, poverty, and oppression, instead of “depression,” “mental illness,” “internalized self-hatred,” and “stress.”

Even young women who scoff at the idea that “self-empowerment” can be found in makeup and clothing still fall for the idea that we can empower ourselves through therapy and self-care. Instead of using our pain and our anger, we have to assimilate with the mentally stable status quo. As if there were a state within patriarchy for women that is more natural and logical than upset and rebellion.

The idea that we must first heal ourselves before we can act to our full extent is as fallacious as the idea that we must first “love ourselves” in order to be loved by others. As they watched the lesbian and feminist community get swallowed by psychobabble, Celia Kitzinger and Rachel Perkins, in their 1993 book, Changing Our Minds, wrote:

“Psychology claims that ‘loving ourselves’ is an essential prerequisite to loving others, and to effective political work. We cannot believe this claim…

Loving others, and being effective politically, is not something you magically become able to do once you ‘truly love yourself.’ Rather, you learn how to love in the process of loving, how to engage politically through political engagement.” [emphasis theirs]

This message remains just as important today, as the notion of psychology has gone largely unchallenged by modern feminists.

In order to move forward, we have to rid ourselves of the idea that we need mental health “professionals” to be our friends and allies, and that a different attitude and mindset is what will enable us to bring patriarchy to its knees. Systemic oppression is not addressed by learning to cope with it, by processing it with a paid professional, or by becoming that professional. It needs to be dismantled as an institution, through unrelenting organized feminist action open for all women, as does the institution of psychology which traps us in our own minds, isolated from each other, and structural analysis.

Ironically, it is often a mental block that hinders so many young women from being effective feminists. But that block is not anxiety, depression, or stress — rather, it is the idea that our emotions and problems are personal, and to be overcome on our own. We have to let go of the idea that the wrong is with us, and not with the world. We have to reach out and organize in real life, help each other, be supportive and understanding, listening and empathetic, tolerant and kind, but also firm and truthful. We must understand that we are all hurt, frustrated, and angry — and that this is not something we have to deal with alone.

I urge young feminists who feel powerless and frustrated to meet each other in real life. Look for established feminist groups in your city or area to join, women’s shelters to volunteer in, reading circles, book clubs, self-defence classes — and if you can’t find any, start your own group. Be each other’s support network and strength, show up to rallies and demonstrations in groups; make signs, slogans, stickers, and pamphlets to distribute together; organize activities and protests. I strongly encourage having ties to older women, in order to learn from their experience and knowledge, though it is equally important to act independently as a new generation of feminists and form our own networks. I was able to find friends and eventually form a feminist organization, aimed at facilitating women-separatist spaces, through radical feminist forums on Facebook and blogs on Tumblr. Dare to take the next step and meet up in real life. Join the organizations and groups you’ve been eyeing forever. Push yourself to go out and meet new women.

Our goals should not be self-empowerment or self-improvement, but the liberation of womankind.

To those who may feel defensive, let me say that, as someone who was diagnosed with “clinical depression” for a decade, and saw eight different therapists during this period (a new one each time it returned): since quitting therapy and becoming an activist, using my emotions for this cause, and finding friends within this movement — true sisters — I have never felt better, mentally.

Tove Happonen is a Swedish activist, a member in the feminist organization Kvinnofronten and a co-founder of the radical feminist organization Kvinnorum, which strives to facilitate women-separatist spaces and gatherings. The opinions expressed here are only representative of her own.

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  • Karla Gjini

    this is so much of what has been in my mind lately! fantastic article, thank you for sharing. I connect this to the idea of “women’s health in women’s hands” and also the concept of reciprocity in relationships.

  • Clare De Mayo

    I think you have created a false dichotomy. It’s not either/or, political activism or therapy and self awareness. We need to embrace both. It is generally not the case that therapists are unaware of structural cultural problems these days. Maybe that was true decades ago, when therapy was the preserve of the rich. And it is true that some of us are damaged by life, and we do need some help to move forward. It is fantastic if we have friends and family who can assist us, but sometimes we need more. Sometimes friends and family aren’t available, or they are ill-equipped to deal with things like psychosis, self harm, drug or alcohol addiction etc. Even in progressive or alternative circles people care for their significant others and family as a priority, and often times there is little left over for friends. It would be wonderful if that wasn’t the case, but often it is. I absolutely support collective action and structural change, but we still need to care for ourselves too, and understand ourselves and grow and develop as individuals who interact with others on all sorts of levels.

    • Lavender

      This is a good point. We can do both. Still, I don’t believe that most therapists today would apply a radical feminist approach to the issues that women experience. Things I’ve been told myself by therapists, as well as things friends have told me about their counselling sessions, and especially what they were told in couples therapy, have horrified me. Therapy can be a great way to get things off your chest and you just can’t unload your problems onto family and friends all the time, for sure. I just wonder if sometimes therapists don’t do more harm than good considering that they too are immersed in this patriarchal culture and what passes for feminism nowadays is weak and individualistic.

  • G L.C

    excellent analysis! Those who want to keep people docile know therapy is like a drug offering easy answers and becomes more comforting the more its used, offering rewards for little action, while politics is rough and requires real growth and is often demoralising. Hence why people are syphoned off into it.

    To say nothing of how therapeutic language now underscores all the movements undermining feminism and radicalism in general: it is used to justify the sex industry “addiction” and transgenderism and practically any behaviour of the ruling class.

  • Missy

    “It was through meeting and sharing with other women, in person, that women were able to shed light on and name things like patriarchy, male supremacy, misogyny, racism, anti-lesbianism, abuse, poverty, and oppression, instead of “depression,” “mental illness,” “internalized self-hatred,” and “stress.”

    I couldn’t help thinking about this quote from Valerie Solanas while reading this: “The male knows that
    an enlightened female population will mean the end of him.”

    It’s true. Male supremacy would come to an abrupt end if women were to ever organize in a systematic manner the way men do instead of allowing ourselves to be distracted and divided by various and often self-blaming patriarchal tactics.

  • Kelan Fox

    I think a major part of why we have the societal view that mental health problems are individualistic is because, for men, this is true. Men don’t suffer oppression and thus any disordered thinking is probably caused by individual experience and not class struggles.

    Like everything else under patriarchy, men determine norms based on their perspective and push this on women as if it is the only valid perspective (because men are default, whose opinions are the be-all and end-all, therefore all humans must feel exactly the same). So, if men’s problems are individualistic, women’s must be too. A total lack of empathy on the part of men, which has the added bonus of of reinforcing patriarchy by driving women apart.

    It could also be a result of the average man having such inadequate empathy for anyone, so they need specialized professionals who are able to empathize to help work through problems. Which once again becomes the default perspective because of patriarchy.

    “Instead of using our pain and our anger, we have to assimilate with the mentally stable status quo. As if there were a state within patriarchy for women that is more natural and logical than upset and rebellion.”

    Tove Happonen, I wanted to say I loved this line and your overall insight. Thank you for being strong, awesome and fighting the good fight.

    • Marla

      “Men don’t suffer oppression and thus any disordered thinking is probably caused by individual experience and not class struggles.”

      I’m not sure if I agree with that. Mental heath issues attack both genders without prejudice and I don’t see schizophrenia as a class struggle or having its genesis individual experiences. Mental health is still seen as a weakness in the Western/industrialized countries. I find that to be strange since either we have it ourselves or seen others we know and love needlessly suffer with it.

      • Kelan Fox

        I don’t disagree. I should clarify when I spoke of mental illness as class struggle and oppression I was largely speaking about mental health concerns that the vast majority of women experience that are a direct result of misogyny. Such as body issues which are much more prevalent in women. Self-worth as a whole is something women tend to struggle with more than men due to cultural biases. Men don’t tend to suffer from mental health problems as a class.

        That being said, I entirely agree there are many mental health concerns that are most certainly individual such as schizophrenia and helping people seek help for these struggles from a professional can help greatly.

        I think the emphasis in the west on mental illness= weakness is problematic for both genders and that if either gender were to be fully emotionally honest and open about their experiences with friends and family, we’d be a more peaceful, healthy society. Obviously, the points I made in my initial comment made this seem more black and white than it is.

      • cinderchild

        “Mental health issues attack both genders without prejudice”

        Not really. BPD is diagnosed in women far more often than it is in men, while narcissistic and antisocial personality disorder are diagnosed in men far more than women. Clinical depression and anxiety are also diagnosed in women more than in men.

        It’s worthwhile to examine the diagnoses that affect one sex more than the other instead of simply saying that they attack both sexes without prejudice. It’s worthwhile to examine why disorders are diagnosed more in one sex than the other, instead of lumping all mental health issues together.

  • I haven’t read the two writers quoted here, but I have had lots of therapy. My experience of therapy was that it included 1) helping me realize that how I was treated by men was actually abusive 2) helping me access my buried anger 3) helping me recognize that I had a right to care for myself and refuse mistreatment by myself or by others. None of these things is anti-feminist or anti-woman. I think there must be many ways to heal, as women surely must have been healing way before the time of trained, professional therapists. And I think not all women need the same kind of healing treatment. I read recently that some anorexic young women experienced healing through exposure to feminist political texts. And that sounds extremely reasonable to me. Therapy has changed a lot since the 1980’s. Psychiatry, on the other hand, still seems to me a form of patriarchal oppression. But that’s based on rumours and hearsay. I’ve never considered seeing a male psychiatrist. I agree with Clare De Mayo (below) that there is a false dichotomy.

  • Meghan Murphy

    I’ve also found therapy incredibly useful! Though I did have to go through a few people before finding a good (feminist) match… I went to therapy for about three years, and found it incredibly useful in terms of processing an abusive relationship (feminism was also obviously very useful in that regard) and dealing with an addicted partner. It also helped me with stuff like communication, anger issues, learning how to process feelings and communicate them respectfully, ending obsessive thinking, seeing red flags in terms of co-dependent or potentially abusive dudes, etc etc.

    I don’t think therapy is the end all be all, at all, and there are soooo many shitty therapists, but for me personally it was beneficial.

    • Rachael

      I went through a load of shitty therapists too, before I found one I clicked with. I think for someone like me, who was basically useless at understanding and recognising my own emotions (never mind processing them in a healthy way) it was a real game changer. I too used it to help process abusive relationships (romantic and familial), which in turn, I think strengthened my conviction with things like my general life outlook (including feminism).

      Totally relate with the anger issues too! I couldn’t allow myself to be vulnerable for the longest time – hurt would always manifest as anger, and then in turn guilt.

      So I guess for me, feminism and therapy went hand in hand (I also got more into radical feminism around the same time). But I’ve always been stubborn and opinionated, so perhaps despite my need for help, I had a feeling for the type of therapy (and therapist) I needed. Sounds like it was similar for you. 🙂

      • Meghan Murphy

        Yes, I think I am a much better, more responsible communicator than I used to be, with friends and partners, for example. I mostly just wish more men would go to therapy… Women do all this work and then we are stuck with still-useless men.

        • stmccrea

          Standards for men are SO low! All we have to do is not be total assholes and everyone thinks we’re great. And of course, being in any way vulnerable or standing up for the powerless invalidates our entitlement to power, so we have to “be tough” and therapy just doesn’t fit into that requirement.

    • Marla

      “…and there are soooo many shitty therapists…”

      I’ve been in quite a few of those offices myself.

  • Tinfoil the Hat

    This is a dangerous and irresponsible article, undermining women’s attempts to get help. Saying “psychology” harms women is ridiculous. Way to hurt women even more. Shame on the author(s), and frankly, shame on Feminist Current for publishing this. Where, pray tell, do these smug women suggest desperate women turn for help? Our options are limited as it is.

    • Meghan Murphy

      I think it’s important for Feminist Current to make space for these conversations, even when we disagree. The article does not represent my perspective, but I still think it is useful to explore these ideas and ask critical questions about things like therapy.

    • Wombat

      On two occasions I went to a counselor, both at times in my life where I’d been abused and was suffering trauma. Both occasions were a complete waste of my time and a drain on my energy. One counselor actively tried to blame me for the abuse I’d suffered. The other just sat with a smirk on his face when I relived the painful events and cruelty I’d recently suffered.

      On both occasions, I had enough residual strength to NOT GO BACK. I eventually found a good counselor through the personal recommendation of someone whose judgement I trust.

  • Wren

    Popular liberal feminism has infected the field of psychology. It took me a LONG time to find mental health professionals that didn’t see my experiences of exploitation and abuse as “my own personal experiences” and who ultimately discouraged me from making the personal political. This caused me immense unnecessary suffering.

    So many women go to therapists, and yet these women know very little about the oppression of women based on our biology. If they did, and were educated in this reality by their therapist, there would be a hell of a lot more radical feminists. There is a lot of “choicy choice” psychology that inadvertently puts the blame on the woman, and I’ve read this criticism of the field of psychology from prominent mental health professionals, particularly from noted psychologists in the trauma field.

    While I don’t agree completely with this author because I think good therapy is very helpful, to say that the majority of psychologists have an understanding of patriarchy and its effects on the mental health of women is absolutely untrue.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Yes yes, for sure to all of this.

  • Missy

    Exactly. Although I agree with what this author says about women needing to get together
    more in person when it comes to feminist topics and specifically discussing how patriarchy harms us as women, I don’t understand her rejection of women getting therapy for personal issues/trauma just because it didn’t have the desired results for herself. Seeking help from professionals has proven to be life-saving for many women, and there’s no logical reason to discourage it.

  • hyperjoy

    I’ve had a lot of therapy for mental health issues and I have to say that I essentially agree with this analysis. Except for one therapist who was enormously helpful to me, the others were everything from merely unhelpful to downright toxic. After a while I began to correctly perceive that some of the therapists, who happened to be male, were actively trying to PREVENT me from getting better. When I described to him how I had been helped by the one therapist, he actually snapped his fingers and said “dammit” under his breath to himself. I was eventually forbidden to see a female therapist at this male bossed community mental health center, so threatened were they by me and the strength of my feminism. Female staff were forbidden to speak to me. No female staff had ever complained about me. Yes, the therapist who helped me so much was female. I had seen her for three years, but she left the job when she decided she wanted to branch out some into doing workshops in the community and they wouldn’t let her. She said she felt professionally stifled by them, so she left, moving back to her home state.

    • Bleeps3

      I had two male psychiatrists diagnose me with “needing a man.”

      • Meghan Murphy


      • hyperjoy


  • BornACrone

    I’m of two minds on this … I can see how having someone to talk things out with would be helpful, but … yeah, I definitely get the feeling that a lot of the modern “therapy” mindset is basically how to break yourself to fit into a broken world, a bit like the old Twilight Zone episode called “Number 12 Looks Just Like You.” I think in a lot of ways being unhappy at being in this world is a sign that your mind is working properly.

    Also, the “someone” in question had better be the right someone.

    But at the same time, a brain is a physical body part, and they can malfunction.

  • SCB

    The mental health industry is a mixed bag.

    I went to therapy after finding out about my husband’s secret porn habit. I’ve found both therapy and in-person communities of women to be helpful. I rigorously screened my therapist and was fortunate to have a good friend to help me navigate the land mines.

    I’m pretty disillusioned with how the industry as a whole treats women who have been traumatized by a partner’s betrayal. There’s the Marty Klein approach, which seeks to cure women of their overbearing prudery. And the Doug Weiss approach where women are expected to devote their emotional labor to treating their male partner’s “intimacy anorexia.” Both models prioritize preserving the marriage. Both models fail to recognize that long-term deception of an intimate partner is abuse.

    Lots of women are privately fed up with their partner’s porn habit. Those women are a potent threat to the patriarchy. If they can’t be strong-armed into indifference, best to keep them hyper-vigilant about managing their husband’s porn addiction.

  • Henrique De Azeredo Mirenda

    Is there any textual reference to Jeffrey’s statements on this topic (“Sheila Jeffreys argued that psychology individualizes the effects of patriarchy and separates women from each other”)? It’d be interesting as a form of deepening the study of such phenomena. Thanks.

  • corvid

    Thanks for this thought-provoking piece.

    Starting at age 13, when it became apparent that I was unbearably lonely and depressed, my parents and family doctor thought it would be a great idea to immediately medicate me with antidepressants instead of addressing the fact that my parents were dysfunctional. The fact that I was suffering from the first symptoms of undiagnosed PCOS did not help. I didn’t know this until many years later.

    The psychiatrist to whom I was referred discouraged me from seeking CBT, claiming there was a long waiting list. So I dropped the issue and languished in a nowhere zone of self-hatred. The shrink would appear to listen to what I had to say, nod and make notes and ask the occasional “how does that make you feel” type question. It wasn’t therapy in any real sense, just medication of a variety of kinds over the next 10 years that did shit-all to address the real issues. My dad’s eventual spiral into full-blown psychosis was the push I needed to get the fuck away from both him and psychiatry.

    I will not mince words. Putting a child on antidepressants without attention to life factors should be seen as a form of child abuse. I have always wondered how many girls and women have experiences like this. I’m not sure I will ever know. What I do know is that any trust I might have had in the system has been forcibly removed.

    • Dear Prudence

      This happened to me too of course. And it’s funny because it was a “Therapist” who encouraged and told me about my serotonin “imbalance.” He told me I must be exaggerating about mommy dearest because he had talked to her and she’d told him the real story. It wasn’t normal to have an emotional response to my parents screaming at each other and me) every day.
      If you were poor you probably would’ve gotten an “Antipsychotic.” Poor children more likely to get antipsychotics
      ” “They say it’s impossible to stop now,” Evelyn Torres, 48, of the Bronx, said of her son’s use of antipsychotics since he received a diagnosis of bipolar disorder at age 3. Seven years later, the boy is now also afflicted with weight and heart problems.” tardive dyskinesia in a 5 year old. Mommy dearest started drugging her as an infant for her “Aggression.”

      • corvid

        I’m sorry to hear you’ve been in the same boat. Extremely glad, though, that you made it to radical feminism! I hope you’ve found peace.

        Yeah, the “imbalance”… When I asked the shrink whether I would have to be on antidepressants for the rest of my life, he answered yes. With literally no objective proof of this being the case. That’s when I really started to smell the bullshit.

        It’s like gee, whoda thunk I might have “social phobia” and “generalized anxiety disorder” considering my parents were at war with each other and had made me lose my friends by being assholes to the few friends I had…. hmmm…..

        That is some twisted shit re: anti-psychotics and a diagnosis of bipolar disorder at age 3! Wtf??? Those poor kids!!! Guess I dodged that particular bullet by being middle class. This is suspiciously reminiscent of the “trans kids” phenomenon, i.e. puberty blockers given to children despite known and unknown dangers. Revolting. I hope the backlash to this insanity only gets bigger.

  • Sashimi73

    Over the decades I have observed that episodes of major depression that women have had are often caused by the loss of hope, not because of any chemical imbalance in the brain. For eg. The aged woman who is abused by her husband, made to care for children, and sees no economic way out. Depression is for her a way of rebelling and going on strike. I’m sure commenters here can see cases everywhere yourself. The mother with no way to control her finances except through extreme micromanagement of others’ lives. I’m sad and shocked when these women are treated as though this was a private problem within their brain to be cured, rather than a social problem that would be solved by women’s liberation. They’re given antidepressants, expensive therapy sessions, go to church, but they still live with the abusive man and have episodes of depression. I wonder why! I’m grateful for your wonderful article about how the solution is political. I’m inspired by your exhortation of “Let’s help one another” and that we will benefit far more from joining feminist groups. Thank you.

  • Stefan Thomas Minkey

    Most relationship disfunction has some sort of borderline personality disorder involved from either or both parties and to blame it all on men / patrichary is just delusional. No wonder this author is so angry AND WRONG.

    • will

      Hi Troll! Here to take up column inches with your empty explanations about how we get it all wrong and should really just sit up and listen to you? Cool cool…

  • Meghan Murphy

    I agree.

  • Meghan Murphy

    Meagan Tyler has written about therapists recommending porn to couples. It’s just awful.

  • Meghan Murphy

    Well, it’s an argumentative essay… In any case, I think the discussion is useful and we welcome and are grateful for your (and everyone’s) feedback!

  • Meghan Murphy

    I also saw a counselor through the local transition house after I left an abusive relationship and she was largely responsible for helping me understand that his behaviour WAS abusive and helped me to analyze the situation through a feminist lens. Considering how many people in my community, at the time, were defending the man, blaming me, saying things like “it takes two to tango” and “sounds like a bad break up”, this was very important to me, in terms of empowering me to stay away from this man.

    • Retorter

      Same here – although it was almost 20 years ago, I still carry with me the first thing that the first genuinely helpful – and feminist! – therapist I’d thankfully found, after years of emotional abuse at the hands of those who were supposed to love me, said:
      “Of COURSE you’re outraged; what has been done to you is outrageous”.
      It was such a relief to hear someone else say that my feelings were *not* crazy, that I wasn’t ‘over-sensitive'(as so many (men, especially) had told me my reactions to their abuse was).

  • Wren

    I totally believe you, as I have had several bad apples, some mediocre apples, and maybe two good ones. I had one really good therapist when I got some sliding scale therapy at a rape crisis center, and I got to see her twice a week for six months. but then she shipped off, sent me to another who did not understand exploitation very well, and more importantly, did not want to learn from what I was telling her. Since that experience, I haven’t tried therapy again because I feel it’s risking the intellectual and emotional progress I have made. Now, I work on the somatic symptoms of trauma and that has proven to be much more healing. I have also learned through bibliotherapy and reading about radical feminism AND reading and writing here at FC. Now I know that it is ok to trust my own mind and thoughts, and that has made a world of difference.

  • corvid

    “Even at a physiological level…. my parents smoked three packs a day each, yet, I was the one to suffer surgeries and medications… to compensate for their poisoning me.”
    Wow. What an astonishing lack of foresight on the part of your parents. So sorry you went through this.

    “I makes me think, that CBT and meds sometimes work on people with a specific recent cause for the feelings, but for those of us in the long game because we can not adapt to this patriarchal structure, none of that is of any use.”
    I don’t mean to discount medication entirely. I think these things need to be applied very carefully, as a last resort ideally. That was not done in my case. There is absolutely no reason that a 13 year old child who expresses loneliness and depression should receive medication as an immediate measure. Therapy? Yes. Social skills training? Yes. Family counselling? I wish. But none of this was done. It still really breaks my mind to think about it.

  • Zoe

    Yes! The “snap out of it” that anyone struggling with mental illness has had to hear from family, friends and the world in general. Something that can be so invalidating and soul-crushing. I’ve never heard it along with the message that going to therapy was betraying feminism before. Such a creative new way to try to make people feel shitty about themselves for needing professional help! grrr

  • Zoe

    “It’s dishonest to talk about all mental illnesses like they are nothing more than feeling anxious about the state of the world.” and “People who believe that merely talking to our friends and going to protests is a cure for mental illness surely have very little knowledge about mental illnesses.”

    Thanks for putting this all into words. The message of this article is very damaging and insensitive to those of us who actually struggle with mental illness and can’t “talk” and “protest” it away like we’re waving some magical feminist wand.

  • Zoe

    ” dangerous idea that psychological illnesses are not “real”, that they are just some delusion that is to be overcome. This idea comes in many forms, and frankly, I find “stop seeking a therapist and go into activism, you naive creature” no less toxic and outright dangerous than “stop seeking a therapist and go working, you lazy creature”.”

    Exactly. The message is dangerous and hurtful. It’s a VERY sensitive theme for me personally, too. (I’m bipolar) I’m tempted to do a long rant of my own but I’m getting too worked up over this as it is. Time for me to do some self-care (which I’m sure the author would think is a tool of the patriarchy and my own weakness in being sufficiently feminist) by stopping reading the comments for this article and instead escape into some Star Wars Reylo fanfiction! you take care too 🙂

    • Dear Prudence

      Ideas are dangerous.
      You sound like a transgender activist.
      Next you’ll tell us we’re being violent.

  • corvid

    Yes absolutely. It’s damaging on two levels: the child feels broken for not being able to fix herself despite the medication, while also feeling powerless to stop the toxic family dynamic.
    I agree about family counselling and I’m sure too that if radical feminist therapy were part of the first line of defense, many of us would go on to thrive!

  • Wombat

    I have run away from two counselors after the first session because I felt worse after the sessions; because I felt gaslit; because I saw red flags with regards to abusive behaviours being ignored or excused or blamed on me. Trust your instincts. It took a lot for me to overcome the conditioning that tells me I’ve made a commitment to a healthcare professional but I’m very glad I did.

    • will

      Yeah, I had a nightmare when I was first beginning to deal with my trauma from rape. I was in couple’s counselling and the male counsellor responded to my statement that I started have sex too early (age 14) with people much older than me, that “Lots of people start have sex at 11 or 12!”. I never went back after that and it makes me sick to this day that I paid that man my hard-earned money for that sort of psychological abuse and gas-lighting.

      • stmccrea

        Ugh! What a jerk!

  • will

    I’ll post as and where I want, as long as the blogger whose space it is approves. I’m quite sure you can find Jeffreys’ thoughts on this topic if you put in the effort that anyone would were they honestly interested, in the same way that, if you had honest interest in the topics discussed on this blog, you’d see numerous examples of men breezing in asking regular commenters to provide them with references that are readily available. That sort of unconscious entitled behaviour is typical of sexist men as is your presumption to tell me how and when to comment. If you have actually engaged with Jeffrey’s writings to the extent that you imply, you’d know this.

  • corvid

    Sister, I’m so glad radical feminism has helped you as much as it’s helped me! Much solidarity!!

    • fluffywhitedog fluffy

      It lifted a huge weight of my shoulders by proving that I’m not crazy in noticing all the gross injustices towards female humans since childhood. I’m a millennial so I grew up brainwashed that all the feminist goals have been achieved and everything’s fine and dandy now. If only…

      Solidarity indeed!:-))

  • kfwkfw

    GOD you are so right!

    I always encourage people who have had hardship to go to therapy…because it’s the only thing we have to help guide you to your own identity. It’s been truly upsetting, though, to express my radical feminist ideas to one therapist…she was unconcerned in the sense that she wanted to focus on me more & it was as if I’d need to convince her that men control shit & that porn is damaging. After this, you feel truly helpless. So there’s an argument that it perpetuates the status quo, for sure.

    It’s insane the number of things I’ve done to be a “good woman” to a man who wouldn’t notice, wouldn’t think it’s enough, or simply wouldn’t care. We are supposed to think our role is concrete & we simply need help in getting there the most perfectly. I’m OVER that.

  • catlogic

    … because all his relationships have failed? /s

  • Laurel

    Well, I think that’s true about anorexia. Bulimia and binge eating are often, though not always, preceded by anorexia or dieting. And bulimia (as well as binge eating and compulsive overeating) has strong drug-like, effects on the brain. Indeed, I recently read that a significant percentage of people with bulimia also suffer from drug/alcohol addiction or abuse. Thus, in some quarters, professionals are looking at bulimia through the lens of addiction.

  • Meghan Murphy

    What are you talking about? Who is saying women need to be ‘in charge [of] the whole world’? We are talking about undoing a particular system… Patriarchy.

    • fluffywhitedog fluffy

      And men constitute far more than 49% of the population because they keep exterminating female humans – they’ve been doing it for millennia. 170 million of them ‘missing’ just in Asia – aborted or killed in early childhood. Considering how often women have died in childbirth as a product of being mens’ sex slaves – there have always been LOTS more males in the world.

  • Missy

    Misandric? LOL!

    You have some nerve coming to a radical feminist site and crying “misandry”? How delusional can you be? Oh right, you’re male, so pretty damn delusional (and pretty damn entitled).

    FYI, sexism against men doesn’t exist just like racism against whites doesn’t exist.

  • Missy

    It’s funny, the pattern with idiots like Stefan here, how the dumbest ones always try to sound smart by spewing absolute nonsense which of course makes them sound even dumber. It’s obvious these pathetic man-babies just feel entitled to suck up our time and energy, as usual.

  • kfwkfw

    This article really makes you think. Thank you for it.

  • Dear Prudence

    There is no such thing as a “chemical imbalance.” This is a theory on the cause of “mental illness” that was disproved decades ago.
    They have tested the serotonin levels of “Depressed” people. They are not lower than anyone else’s. SSRIs deplete serotonin over time.

  • Dear Prudence

    She was in therapy and found her treatment misogynistic. Do you mean she has “no knowledge” because she doesn’t have little letters after her name? Or she has “no knowledge” because she doesn’t worship psychiatry as intensely as you do?

  • Dear Prudence

    “Of course mental illnesses with actual chemical imbalances and genetic make-up would exist even without the patriarchy”
    “Chemical imbalances” do not exist. They have tested the levels of serotonin and dopamine in all “mentally ill” people. They are not lower pre drugs.

  • Dear Prudence

    Why do neuroleptics shrink the brain if they’re harmless drugs that correct an “imbalance?”
    Why do they give people tardive dyskenesia? (which i have)
    Why do they cause severe cognitive problems?
    If they exist why is there no scientific proof they exist?
    I gave you a video of scientific research. Where’s yours?

  • Dear Prudence

    Us youth diagnosed bipolar 72 times more than uk.
    “Held steady”

  • Dear Prudence

    You have so much seething hatred for those labelled “schizophrenic” it’s really unsettling. Have you ever heard of Jacqui Dillon?
    She was raped repeatedly as a child and started hearing voices. She doesn’t take drugs and now she helps people with similar distress. She’s a wonderful person. She hasn’t murdered anyone. You should watch her video on youtube_ the psychological is political.
    Kate MIllet was also told she was “bipolar” and stopped taking drugs. She lived a happy life with her wife on a farm/art colony. She wrote about her experiences in the loony bin trip. She never murdered anyone.
    I was blocked on twitter by a woman who wrote a new republic article on millet and her “bipolar disorder.” i told her she should have also mentioned her psychiatry critical activism.

  • Dear Prudence

    “First, a recap. In a 2011 blog, Pies wrote that “in truth, the chemical imbalance notion was always a kind of urban legend, never a theory seriously propounded by well-informed psychiatrists.”
    Even mainstream psychiatrists say there are no “chemical imbalances.” Why do you?

  • Dear Prudence

    You probably have experiences with violent men. Who exist in the “mentally healthy” more than the “mentally ill.” I don’t know what your experience with these supposedly “schizophrenic” people is. I would love to hear it. Your experience does not give you the right to judge the supposedly “mentally ill.”
    Elanor Longden isn’t in “Remission.” She hears voices. She’s a beautiful kind wonderful person with a PHD. And she’s a survivor of sexual abuse. Like most “schizophrenics.”

  • Dear Prudence

    Do you make money giving people drugs by the way? Just curious.

  • So, depression is now not related to brain’s inability to process certain hormones! Yay! Great for me, I guess… if only it was true, of course. And several mental illnesses (take autism, for example) are not inborn and don’t relate to brain structure. And we can’t see specific brain structure typical for those illnesses. I guess two months old babies suffer due to evil system, as well as three years old children with early debute of schizophrenia. Your world is so great. I’d love to live there and overcome my problems with pure power of friendship!..

    You see, the author tells lies. You tell lies. And you both assume that mental illness is not real – otherwise you won’t talk of bad white male doctors who are so evil they prescribe certain things and tell patients what to do. Which is, y’know, just what medicine is: medical doctor says, patient does. Because the patient (typically; they may be a specialist in this very field themselves, but it’s rare) has no expert knowledge of what is wrong with them and what has to be done to cure it. That’s why medicine itself is by its nature so strictly governed by so many statuses: because it’s easy to abuse your patient’s trust when you are a doctor.

    But no one in their right mind won’t call to abolish medicine just because it can lead to abuse. They call to improve guidelines, to oversee process better, etc. And only psychiatry is called to be abolished, because “not real”. I guess it’s telling most people offended by the essay are those who really have mental illnesses, and those praising it are not.

    By the way, I know world consists of USA only, but it happens so in my country psychiatric world is predominantly female, for example. Maybe it’s because here doctors are one of the least-paid professions, I don’t really know. Not that it does change anything, those patients who don’t do what the doctor tells are still called incompliant.

  • Dear Prudence

    “as it’s an unlikely misdiagnosis unless the professional is exceptionally incompetent.”
    i guess it is if you’re one of the people who think a manic side effect from ssris isn’t a drug side effect but “Bipolar disorder” being “unmasked.” Most psychiatrists say this in 2017. They didn’t used to decades ago. But now they do. I had a “manic” feeling on ssris as a teenager that has never resurfaced off of them. I am glad that I was not labelled “Bipolar.”
    I eventually entered psychiatry again 10 years later and had my health and life destroyed, but at least I was free for 10 years.
    The line to “bipolar” keeps getting smaller and smaller with each dsm. The definitions and duration of the symptoms keep getting more absurdly broad.
    The consequences to getting labelled “bipolar” are often not “empowering” for many women. Horrific drug side effects and going on disability are often not “Empowering.”
    The outcomes for “Bipolar” in the drug age are pretty grim and polypharmacy can kill people decades earlier than say, Kate Millet.
    You can label yourself as “bipolar” and I can support other women who have escaped it.
    A. Bipolar Illness Before the Psychopharmacology Era

    Prior to 1955, bipolar illness was a rare disorder. There were only 12,750 people hospitalized with that disorder in 1955. In addition, there were only about 2,400 “first admissions” for bipolar illness yearly in the country’s mental hospitals.

    Outcomes were relatively good too. Seventy-five percent or so of the first-admission patients would recover within 12 months. Over the long-term, only about 15% of all first-admission patients would become chronically ill, and 70% to 85% of the patients would have good outcomes, which meant they worked and had active social lives.

    22. Functional impairment and cognition in bipolar disorder . Zarate, C. Psychiatric Quarterly71 (2000):309-29.

    Researchers note that “in the era prior to pharmacotherapy, poor outcome in mania was considered a relatively rare occurrence … however, modern outcome studies have found that a majority of bipolar patients evidence high rates of functional impairment.” In their discussion of this deterioration in outcomes, they concluded that “medication-induced changes” may be at least partly responsible. Antidepressants may cause a “worsening of the course of illness,” while the antipsychotics may lead to more “depressive episodes” and “lower functional recovery rates.” Drug side effects, they added, may “explain the cognitive deficits in bipolar disorder patients.”

    23. Disability and its treatment in bipolar disorders. Huxley, N. Bipolar Disorders 9 (2007):183-96.

    Harvard researchers observe that “prognosis for bipolar disorder was once considered relatively favorable, but contemporary findings suggest that disability and poor outcomes are prevalent.” They note that “neuropharmacological-neurotoxic factors” might be causing “cognitive deficits in bipolar disorder patients.”

    24. The increasing medical burden in bipolar disorder. Kupfer, D. JAMA 293293 (2005): 2528-30.

    Bipolar patients today suffer from a host of physical illnesses–cardiovascular problems, obesity, thyroid dysfunction, etc.–which, researchers admit, may be due to “toxicity from medications.”
    “I was not well during these years. I felt flat and empty and like my life had no meaning. I slept a lot. I slept 12 hours a night in fact. I was heavily drugged and sometimes could not be roused. I also felt drugged and fuzzy headed. I did not express myself creatively as I do now and before I took drugs, too. I worked most of the time, but given I required 12 hours of sleep a night a full-time job was really far more than I could reasonably handle”

  • This is a great summary of many of the problems with therapy. I just wanted to interject that many years ago I was interested in Radical Therapy, which had precisely the same objections to most psychological therapy and attempted to change the behavior from within. I haven’t kept up, but found 2018 dates on essays on it, which is positive. It’s “radical” in the sense of looking at the root (rejects Christian idea of original sin, etc.) and emphasizes Marx’s “alienation” caused by capitalism and other unhealthy structures., This looked like a promising book too:

    I’m not adding this on to contradict you — it’s inevitable that any therapy which teaches that we are responsible for the bad that happens to us is going to be Gaslight Theory — but because you, or some of your readers, might like to know that there are other possibilities, and resistance still occurs.

  • I really like your summary “understandable human responses to…”. I wish all terms were based on that assumption (I think PTSD is; “bipolarity” definitely isn’t.) I ran a support group for rape survivors when I taught college, and I think it’s fair to say everyone in that group exhibited the classic PTSD. But names do matter — while it was very liberating for me, years before, when a psychiatrist told me I had PTSD, if he’d said “you’re clearly mentally ill,” which in his framework would also be accurate, I would have been furious. I assumed so would the group members, and my co-leader (a psychiatric ABD) agreed. “Mental illness” comes out of the liberal, individualistic mindset. Sense making terms are valuable; labels which justify billing insurance usually are not.

  • Hi! I’d agree, but say that most “heterosexual relationship dysfunction” is as you describe. One excellent argument for staying away from het therapists if one isn’t.

  • Sionna B.

    That’s so sad and horrible. I don’t understand how men can deny that sexual assault or domestic violence should indicate the victim is mentally ill? Possibly from the extreme stress of dealing with a system that denies that such actions are extremely harmful, the abrogation of trust and the betrayal of people who are supposed to support others. Ugh.

  • Matthew Steenburg

    You put into coherent words what I could not about a place I went to group therapy at. I left, but all of the long-time patients were women, and the men that went in and out of there were either adrift or found solutions elsewhere. Encouraged to be cash-cows by these young people who were able to get degrees, they say no empowerment for their lives. This isn’t feminism, it isn’t even healthy, its sad and exploitative.