'Psychotherapy as a genuine conversation'
– Or, Why to Read Jordan B. Peterson?
23.10. 2018, 6pm – 8pm,
in MayDay Rooms,
88 Fleet Street, London EC4Y 1DH
Aino-Marjatta Mäki will in her workshop examine the recent rise of self-help psychology, exemplified in the figure of the Canadian psychologist Jordan B. Peterson. In her work as a Lacanian clinician she has paid attention to the medicalisation and physicalisation of subjective phenomena. Peterson’s self-help discourse appears to counterpoise and support this foreclosure of subjectivity. Furthermore, both tendencies contribute to reactionary social movements. By providing a reading of Peterson, Aino-Marjatta investigates this conjunction of psychology and conservatism. Respondent: Robert Kiely.
Today psychological “knowledge” is ubiquitous, but it is increasingly difficult to seek long term psychotherapeutic care. We believe to understand human psychology, and think that it is possible to control the lives of individuals through this knowledge. Yet, there is a real crisis in the mental health services. Governmental policy favours short term therapeutic interventions such as CBT, SSRI medications or online counselling for their economic efficiency. Other forms of therapy and care have been slowly driven out of the main health institutions. As a Lacanian psychoanalytic clinician and a psycho-social support worker integrated within the extended field of mental health, I bear witness to the effects of these developments in my work.
The diagnostic classification systems for mental illnesses have also gone through a slow but steady change. Both the American DSM-V and the European ICD-10 systems prioritise a physicalist approach to mental pathology: subjective conditions are seen as organic and medicalised. A variety of conditions related to the psychical constitution of human beings – previously classified to be neurotic or psychotic, and as such structural – have been recategorised as personality or behavioural disorders. On the institutional level, the idea of subjectivity is being foreclosed. According to this schema, disorder manifests on the level of individual behaviour or personality. Such momentary disarray can be re-ordered by either medication or psycho-education.
In my workshop, I argue that the discourse of Jordan B. Peterson, a Canadian professor and clinical psychologist, can be seen as symptomatic for these recent changes. I will provide a reading of the self-help book 12 Rules for Life, in order to address the aforementioned structural changes in the field of mental health. Peterson is an academic with an ongoing clinical practice, but he is also a public figure actively engaged defending the individual’s right for the freedom of (hate) speech. As such he has become an indirect advocate for a social movement known as the alt right. Peterson bases his authoritative position on the psychological and scientific “knowledge”to which he as a clinical psychologist has a direct access. I will particularly target the aggressive repercussions of his overall discourse.
Aino-Marjatta Mäki is a PhD scholar in psychoanalysis, an autism and refugee support worker and in formation as a Lacanian psychoanalyst, living and working in London. She is an associate member of London Society of the New Lacanian School. She works both privately and in institutions.