Although professionals in psychology have traditionally focused on improving the quality of people’s lives as a fundamental goal, the truth is that in today’s world, this discipline tends to act in favor of the status quo and promote both the maintenance of the negative consequences of the “free market.”
Not in vain, the design of psychology as the corrective arm of modern capitalism it is widespread. To analyze the validity of this idea, we must first examine the global economic structure in which mental health operates today.
Capitalism and neoliberalism in today’s society
We can define capitalism as a economic system based on competition for resources, In the primacy of private property over public property and in decision-making by the owners of the means of production rather than by states and, therefore, citizens. Although capitalism has existed in different forms since the beginning of history, it has become the dominant economic model since the industrial revolution and has been institutionalized around the world with globalization as an obvious consequence of these technical developments.
The critics we call “neoliberalism” the ideology that underlies modern capitalism. This term refers to the resurgence of classical free market principles that took place after the decades following World War II, in which states implemented interventionist policies to minimize social inequalities, which tend to to grow without limit within the capitalist framework due to the accumulation of resources. by those who have more. Such measures have redistributed wealth to some extent, which is almost unusual in modern history and which has alerted economic elites.
The main difference with traditional liberalism is that, in practice, neoliberalism advocates taking (not necessarily democratic) control over states and supranational organizations, such as the European Union, to ensure the implementation of policies that promote those who own them. . This harms most of the population because the reduction of wages and the dismantling of the public sector they make it less difficult for disadvantaged people to access basic services such as education and health.
Neoliberal ideas and the very natural functioning of the capitalist economy argue that more and more aspects of life are governed by the logic of monetary profit, particularly focused on the short term and individual enrichment. Unfortunately, this includes the conception of sanity as a commodity, even as a luxury item.
Economic inequality and mental health
The material inequalities promoted by capitalism in turn promote differences in mental health according to socio-economic status. As the number of people in monetary difficulty increases, a fact which has been particularly marked since the 2008-2009 global financial crisis and the resulting recession, it also increases the prevalence of mental disorders, Especially those related to anxiety and depression.
An increasingly demanding work environment contributes to the generalization of stress, an alteration that is increasingly difficult to avoid and which increases the risk of contracting cardiovascular disorders and other physical illnesses. Likewise, precarious working conditions generate insecurity and reduce the quality of life of people who depend on their jobs for survival.
On the other hand, the capitalist structure needs a large percentage of the poor to be able to maintain it: if everyone could survive without a job, it would be very difficult for wages to remain equally low, and therefore for the landowners. to be able to continue. increase their profit margin. This is why proponents of neoliberal ideology reject reform of a system in which unemployment is not so much a problem as a structural requirement.
Those who fail to integrate into society are told that they are not making an effort or that they are not good enough; this facilitates the development of depressive disorders linked to the inability to achieve their social and professional goals. Depression is a major risk factor for suicide, Which is also favored by poverty and unemployment. In Greece, the country most affected by the austerity measures for public investment that the European Union has imposed since the crisis, the number of suicides has increased by around 35% since 2010.
In addition, the privatization and gradual destruction of public services is exacerbated by the negative consequences of capitalism on mental health. Within the welfare state, there were more people who were able to access psychological therapy than they otherwise could have afforded, but states now invest much less in health care, in particular in their psychological aspect; it helps that psychotherapy remains a luxury for most of the population, rather than a fundamental right.
The corrective role of psychology
Clinical psychology is not only difficult to access for a large number of people, but is also subject to the medicalization of mental health. Although in the long run it is more effective to treat depression or anxiety with psychotherapyThe power of pharmaceutical companies and the obsession with immediate profit have formalized a model of health around the world in which psychology is little more than support for disorders that cannot be “cured” with drugs.
In this unfavorable context for the promotion of mental health, psychology functions as a containment valve which, although it can improve well-being in individual cases, it does not act on the ultimate causes of the problems that collectively affect societies. So, an unemployed person may be able to find work after going through therapy to overcome their depression, but there will still be a high number of unemployed people at risk of depression as long as working conditions are maintained.
In fact, even the term “disorder” denotes a lack of adaptation to the social context or a discomfort produced by it, rather than a fact of a problematic nature in itself. Obviously, psychological disorders are seen as problems because they interfere with the productivity of those who suffer from them and with the structure of society at a given time, rather than because they harm the individual.
In many cases, especially in areas such as marketing and human resources, the scientific knowledge gained through psychology is not only used to improve the well-being of those who need it most, but also it tends to directly promote the interests of the company and the “system”, making it easier for them to achieve their goals: to obtain the most possible benefits and with the least resistance from subordinates or citizens.
From the capitalist model, human development and the achievement of personal well-being are only beneficial to the extent that they promote the progress of the economic and political structures that already exist. The non-monetary part of social progress is considered irrelevant because it cannot capture gross domestic product (GDP) and other indicators of material wealth, designed to foster competitive capital accumulation.
The individual against the collective
Today’s psychology has adapted to the social, political and economic system in such a way that it favors its continuity and the adaptation of people to its rules of operation, even when they have basic errors. In structures that promote individualism and selfishness, psychotherapy is also obligated to do so if it seeks to help specific individuals overcome their difficulties.
A good example is the Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, or ACT, a cognitive behavioral treatment developed over the past decades. ACT, strongly endorsed by research on a large number of disorders, focuses on the person adjusting to the conditions in their life and derive their goals from their personal values, overcoming the temporary discomfort that they may feel in the process. achievement of these objectives.
ACT, like most psychological interventions, has a very obvious positive side in terms of effectiveness, but also depoliticizes social problems because it emphasizes individual responsibility, indirectly minimizing the role of institutions and other macrosocial aspects in the emergence of psychological alterations. Essentially, the logic behind these therapies is that the person who failed is not the company.
Psychology will not be really effective in improving the well-being of society as a whole as long as it continues to put aside the overriding importance of changing social, economic and political structures and to focus almost exclusively on provision. of individual solutions to problems which have a collective nature.