Monday, April 24, 2017

Where the Rubber Meets the Road: Clinical Psych Tools for Organizers

The task of therapists and organizers share two fundamental goals: 1) helping people to understand their true self-interest, and 2) helping people figure out how to work toward it. There SHOULD be more overlap and cooperation in our work. Unfortunately, clinical psychology in the US (in its desperate longing to be like medicine) is plagued by neoliberalism, atomizing psychological distress. But obviously, as organizers, you know better!

Without a grasp of the larger sociopolitical power-structures that contribute to psychological distress, most of the tools that emerge from the mental health world are unfortunately used in ways that simply help people adapt to inherently unjust circumstances and neglect a focus on our fundamental interdependence. However, despite the serious flaws and problems of our mainstream psychological models of mental health, it has produced some resources that may be of service in the (sometimes overwhelming) task of healing our fractured communities.

The following is a short-list of resources of different frameworks and techniques used in therapy, with a short description and why I think they can be helpful in the task of organizing.

Motivational Interviewing (MI) - a bedrock theory in counseling. It provides a useful framework for learning how to better meet people where they are in order to explore the conflicts and ambivalence they may have about their distress. Its origins come from working with people struggling with substance abuse, but has been used in helping facilitate behavior change across a wide range of problems (e.g. abusive relationships, depression, medication adherence, etc.).

MI has a few qualities that make it particularly promising for organizers. It provides a solid structure for learning how to better explore and account for the various psychosocial barriers people face, and its emphasis on drawing out peoples' innate wisdom of the sources and solutions to their problems. One of the most useful aspects of MI is the way it helps us to reframe how we think of "resistance" and how we react to it. This can be a critical point in organizing in terms of learning how to spot resistance and "roll with it" in ways that can better avoid hostile conflict that worsens polarization and weakens solidarity.

The resources linked below are steeped in clinical language, but can hopefully be somewhat easily/intuitively translated to an organizing context (and if there are any questions or clarifications, feel free to contact me):

Distortions of Wellness and Justice - This framework comes from a larger framework of Psychopolitical Validity (PV), which is a generally useful idea to have in mind for building our movements. PV is a cornerstone concept within Community Psychology, which tends to have a much more systemic view of mental health than the field of clinical psychology does. The section I think may be of particular use for organizers is in the ability to distinguish different pathways of developing distortions. Of course, these are simple heuristics and the picture will always be more complicated, but it might offer a map for thinking about how different distortions might require different approaches/interventions for getting someone on board.

If the following chart piques your interest, you can read the whole article here:

(More of Dennis Fox's work on Critical Psychology and the intersections between Anarchism, Psychology, and Law, can be found here.)

Developmental Analysis of Psychotherapy Process (DAPP) - This suggestion will be for the more hardcore nerds, as it provides a dialectical materialist analysis of psychological/emotional growth. The underlying theory can be challenging to grasp in its entirety, though I believe it offers an elegant exploration of how psychological and behavior change can be fostered through interpersonal relations. Originally developed as a way to identify common therapeutic resources that can be found across all psychotherapy approaches, I believe the DAPP framework can be of use for organizers who are interested in finely-tuning their effectiveness in one-on-one interaction. 

  • For a comprehensive understanding of the DAPP framework (which includes a thorough exploration of adult psychological development and the factors that can encourage psychological growth), the book by Michael Basseches and Michael Mascolo can be found here
  • A quicker, simplified overview of the concepts and tools for learning how to apply them can be found here.

(A closing note: like with any of the resources I provide, I am always interested in feedback/requests. If there are specific questions or problems you'd like to get a clinical psych perspective on, please feel free to contact me! Finally, I intend to update this list with more resources as I come across them (or as you send them in to me!), so please consider this a living document.)