GS Psychology 2

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What happens when a psychologist gets insulted by a drunk social worker.

I thought I would write a personal story that helped me articulate, but not change my approach to therapy. I was in a car with a friend of a friend, headed to a party. He was a community services worker and he was drunk. Conversation had turned to my profession and he was ready for a fight. I’ve had friends and colleagues who are social workers of all stripes. I agree with some who believe that the inevitable focus that psychology places on the individual can be problematic if the social context of their decisions are not considered. Unfortunately when intoxicated the black and white thinking tends to come out, and this was definitely one of those times.

The friend of the friend asked what type of therapy I use as a focus and all I got to say was the therapy’s title, “Acceptance and Commitment Therapy”. This was where the rant began. He tore into me personally, saying that I couldn’t really be working for the good of others. He based that insult on the idea that I was only making people worse if I was teaching them to accept things they assume are out of their control. It was a thinly veiled attempt to suggest that I was a puppet of the status quo by removing the focus from the systemic issues that were causing people to feel anxious or depressed and instead “blaming” the individual.

Who knows how this man would have conducted his argument had he been sober. I hadn’t been ready for the argument, was looking forward to a night of fun and as such delivered a few choice expletives and sulked in the back of the car.

What I would have liked to have said, and he may have acknowledged was that psychology allowed healing for individuals who have been disadvantaged by systemic issues. I certainly offer bulk-billing for those on Centrelink payments. I also am very largely guided by a client’s value systems and personal motivators and if that includes a vision of smashing the state so that anarcho-capitalism can finally reign, then my position is not to get in their way. In fact, it is exactly the opposite, how do I help them remove the psychological obstacles in the way and have a clearer view of the practical obstacles.

It is the idea of helping a client have a clear view of the practical obstacles to their goals that is one of the more dubious tasks a psychologist has to undertake and a task that can unfortunately involve a psychologist’s own beliefs and biases. For example, if a client wishes to return to the care of a loved one who has been abusive in one form or another, unfortunately that is their decision. Empowering an individual does not include telling them what to do. However, it is my job to help the client to be clear and more importantly as connected with the possible consequences of their decisions as possible, so that those decisions are made very deliberately. They need to feel those consequences in the here and now in order to douse the often very strong desire for instant gratification that can lead people away from their values. It is also my job to investigate what fuels that desire.

This approach can often lead people to considering alternatives that community and social workers are trained to organise. Giving them the information they need about their rights and what services are out there to support an alternative solution to danger, if that is what they want. It is my belief that where possible all care workers should be working together as a team and not in isolation.

Grant Spencer