The Leftist Defense of Psychiatry

This article raises some typical points in service of a leftist defense of psychiatry. (NB: the post I am citing summarises rather than advocates for these positions). This defense hinges on the claim that if mental illness is held to be ‘socially constructed’, this conception may lead to a denial of the existence of certain forms of suffering. This denial is something that can then be exploited by contemporary governments increasingly eager to implement spending cuts and austerity measures. One person cited in the article was Tad Tietze, for whom ‘the logic of Szasz would empty hospitals and put the same people in prison’. Continue reading


Torture, psychology and the neoliberal state

Here is a piece I wrote for Overland magazine, in response to the recent CIA torture scandal. It looks more generally at how the dominant paradigms within psychology play an instrumental role in a number of forms of coercion and oppression.

Suicide, selfishness and “illness”


A celebrity has died, apparently by his own hand. Amidst expressions of grief and condolences to the bereaved are a profusion of obviously incorrect, deeply ideological pronouncements on the nature of suicide.

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On Shame and Shaming

In psychoanalysis, there is a clear distinction to be made between guilt and shame. Guilt implies a relation to the law. The law is the flipside of desire*, since its instantiation generates the possibility of its transgression (and hence of enjoyment through transgression). Thus, the law limits and regulates the very enjoyment it makes possible.

Shame, by way of contrast, involves no transgression, but it does always imply a relation to an Other. Continue reading

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