Two Case Studies in Biopolitics: A Critique of CBT as Ideology (Part 6)

What is biopolitics? This term, put simply, refers to bodies of knowledge and practices of power over subjected populations, and over life itself. Different populations become the object of differentiated techniques of discipline and surveillance. In Australia, such techniques are particularly grotesque with regard to the Aboriginal population and to refugees, but also to the unemployed, the disabled, and those within the health and mental health systems, among others. Many have justly pointed out the duplicity of the surveillance state in the case of NSA, for instance, but many more intensive forms of surveillance remain almost invisible. Moreover, some practitioners of CBT claim that their doctrine is on the side of ‘human rights’; yes, we might agree, but the ‘human rights’ in question are those of paternalistic neoliberal interventionism, of which the horrors of Iraq and Afghanistan were the most chilling examples in the past decade.Two recent examples of the role of CBT and psychology at large in biopolitics may help to illustrate my points above. Continue reading

The Ethics & Politics of Intervention: A Critique of CBT as Ideology (Part 5

The state of ethics in psychology, in Australia, at least, is lamentably primitive, and the politics of psychological practice virtually unspoken. If psychology is presumed a science, after all, how can it be political, any more than the laws of thermodynamics, or quadratic equations? Ethics is taught as a subject to psychology students, but it amounts to little more than a few strictures and prohibitions – do not fleece patients, do not maintain conflicts of interest, no sexual relationships, etc. By themselves, these prohibitions are perfectly reasonable, but they hardly constitute a level of ethical discourse beyond that which the average five-year old might grasp. The continuities between the biopolitics of the clinic and those of the factory, the school, and the prison are invisible. Foucault, Laing, Szasz and others go unread and misunderstood; ‘anti-psychiatry’ is even used as a term of abuse, as if criticism of this or that diagnostic system was tantamount to nihilism. If academic psychology avoids direct confrontation with complex ethical questions, the same can be said of regulators, at least in Australia. The regulators certainly enforce prohibitions and punish violators, and there is plenty of evidence that they are rapidly escalating regulatory requirements (and, of course, fees). None of this gets to the heart of the matter. The more important question, generally evaded by the discipline, is what is it that is happening, ethically and politically speaking, when one does psychology? And when one does CBT, in particular? Continue reading