CBT is Aristotle with Facebook brain – A note on paranoia as an epistemic ideal

In Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) discourse is reduced to data, and this data is further submitted to the Aristotlesque requirement of non-contradiction, albeit, without any Aristotelian depth of intellect.

Consequently, cognitivism and CBT affirm the existence of an unconscious, but this unconscious is entirely continuous with the conscious. It’s more of the same, more or less. Contrast this with the Freudo-Lacanian unconscious, which is disruptive, punctual, discontinuous, and structurally incapable of completion.

It’s no coincidence that CBT first arose when cognitivism was displacing the increasingly-discredited behaviourism from the laboratory (though not yet the clinic, in the Anglosphere at least). This was the age of Festinger’s cognitive dissonance, in which, like good Aristotelians, the subject abhors contradiction. Since contemporary CBT reaffirms a data-based, continuous unconscious, Festinger’s ideas fester still. Show the subject that his suffering arises from the faulty conviction that he always bungles his relationships/work/studies – show him the contrary evidence, the errors in his logic – and he will be obliged, by way of contradiction, to renounce his conviction, and thereby eliminate his suffering.

It was not until the era of neoliberalism that these Aristotelian outtakes reigned supreme over the clinic, for reasons that I have attempted to explicate elsewhere, but which are largely economic and biopolitical in character.

At the heart of the adventures of Freud and Lacan is the proposition that, in at least a thousand different ways, human subjects, divided as they are, exist in permanent, structural contradiction. There are so many examples of this in the centuries that preceded them that I would say that Freud and Lacan merely articulated and formalised, rather than discovered this fact. My experience is that it is common knowledge amongst the uneducated, and that perhaps the educated have some catching-up to do.

The clinical work of psychoanalysis cannot, on this basis, be oriented toward either completeness or consistency, if one means by this the overcoming of contradiction. Repression, disavowal, denial, foreclosure, the law of the exception, the law of the not-all are but some of the psychoanalytically-articulated responses to contradiction. After Gödel,he who trades consistency for completeness deserves neither.

But let us suppose that the psychoanalytic premises are wrong, and that the cognitivists are really as evidence-based as they say. In principle, the latter would be able to work with a subject to produce an image of perfect consistency, with the offending data eliminated. The outcome would resemble nothing so much as the most brittle paranoid delusion. The subject attains an image of coherence with all that is unassimilated sent packing, much line a refugee ship at Australia’s borders. This is the best case scenario for treatment by CBT principles, and we need only look at the outcome of excessive Facebook consumption to see what befalls those who cannot live in contradiction.

Review of CBT: The Cognitive Behavioural Tsunami, by Farhad Dalal

Back in 2014, I posted a series of essays critiquing cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) in terms of its philosophical and ethical problems. The idea that I had at the time was to provide a rebuttal of CBT that was not from within the parameters of its own assumptions, but which examined CBT from first principles, and also in terms of its political positions. The data may supposedly be in support of CBT, I reasoned, but such data was largely irrelevant if it pertained to incoherent theories and concepts, and was used to prop up a series of coercive and unethical practices. There were many critiques of my articles, on Reddit, for instance (here is an example), though practically none of them attempted to defend the theory of CBT. Few people seem to seriously uphold CBT concepts, even among advocates of this approach. Rather, the main objection to an a priori critique of CBT was ‘evidence’, which clearly proves CBT to be the ‘industry gold standard’, at least for now. Since CBT ‘works’, principles – first, or otherwise – simply do not matter. Continue reading

‘Changing Minds’: An unintentional satire of the mental health industry

In recent years, there has been an annual commemoration of ‘Mental Health Week’, a period in which Australians are subjected to ‘awareness campaigns’ by various media organisations. We tend to receive a familiar style of ‘messaging’, namely, tokenism (‘Are You Ok Day?’), advocacy for more bureaucracy, and censorship of views that do not conform to simplistic biomedical paradigms. It is in this context that the national broadcaster screened ‘Changing Minds’, a series which ‘journeys with mentally ill patients on their road to recovery, from breaking point to breakthrough.’ The setting for the doco is a hospital in Sydney, and patients and staff apparently consented to the footage being made public. Continue reading

Thoughts – June 2015: Psychoanalysis, Psychology, Mindfulness, Sexuation…

Contrary to popular belief, psychoanalysis is least accessible to the very rich man, to the man who goes through life throwing money at his problems. It is precisely he who has no way to pay. Continue reading

Biopower and subjection: The strange and disturbing case of Martin Seligman


By now, it should be clear that the role of psychologists in organising torture for the CIA does not merely implicate a few individuals, or even a corrupt institution (the APA), but large swathes of the discipline of psychology. That is, the tortures which occurred at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere derived directly from officially-accepted, paradigmatic implementations of cognitive-behaviourism, and were therefore in keeping (and not in conflict) with the dominant ethical and intellectual underpinnings of Anglophone psychology. Continue reading

Reductio ad traumatum

In 1933, two servant girls in Le Mans, France, Christine and Léa Papin, murdered two of their employers.(1) Madame Lancelin and her adult daughter were bludgeoned and knived repeatedly, to the point of unrecognisability. Each had their eyes gouged out. The Papin sisters had spent much of their young lives in institutional care. Their family had a history of incestuous abuse, and at least one of their relatives had died by suicide. Continue reading

The Founding of CBT, and Beck’s Foundational Errors: A Critique of CBT as Ideology (Part 2)

Psychoanalysis was the first of the systematic talking therapies. The first couple of generations of psychoanalysts consisted principally, with some notable exceptions, of Central European Jews from Vienna, Budapest, Berlin and elsewhere. By the 1930s, this part of Europe had fallen to fascism, and this cataclysm was ominous (and eventually catastrophic) for Jews. A diaspora ensued, with Freud himself relocating to London, and many others moving there also, with other prominent destinations including Paris and the Americas. In these diverse environments, various sub-schools of psychoanalysis emerged, with considerable differences in their theory and practice. ‘Ego psychology’ was the sub-school which dominated psychoanalysis in the US to such an extent that it came to be identified (by some) as the only ‘true’ form of psychoanalysis. It was out of this context – post-war US, mass demand for psychological interventions, and the growing influenced of managed care – that Beck’s CBT first emerged. Continue reading