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Is Psychology the corrective arm of modern capitalism?

Is Psychology the corrective arm of modern capitalism?

May 1, 2024

Although professionals of psychology have traditionally proposed the improvement of the quality of life of people as a fundamental objective, the truth is that in today's world this discipline tends to act in favor of the status quo, and therefore to promote maintenance of the negative consequences of the "free market".

Not in vain, the conception of psychology as a corrective arm of modern capitalism It is very widespread. To analyze to what extent this idea is right, it is first of all necessary to observe the global economic structure in which mental health is framed today.

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Capitalism and neoliberalism in today's society

We can define capitalism as a economic system focused on competition for resources , in the primacy of private property over public property and in decision-making by the owners of the means of production rather than by the states and, therefore, the citizens. Although capitalism has existed in different forms since the beginning of history, it became the dominant economic model since the Industrial Revolution and was institutionalized throughout the world with globalization, a clear consequence of these technical developments.

The critics we call "neoliberalism" the ideology that sustains modern capitalism . This term refers to the resurgence of the classic principles of the free market that took place after the decades after the Second World War, during which the states had applied interventionist policies to minimize social inequalities, which tend to grow without limit within the capitalist framework due to the accumulation of resources by those who have more. This type of measures allowed the wealth to be redistributed to a certain point, something almost unusual in modern history and which put the economic elites on alert.

The key difference with traditional liberalism is that in practice neoliberalism advocates taking control (not necessarily democratic) of states and supranational organizations, such as the European Union, to ensure that policies can be implemented that favor those they have large amounts of accumulated capital. This harms the majority of the population, since the reduction of salaries and the dismantling of the public sector They make it difficult for the less favored to access basic services such as education and health.

The neoliberal ideas and the natural functioning of the capitalist economy promote that more and more aspects of life are governed by the logic of monetary benefit, especially focused on the short term and individual enrichment. Unfortunately, this includes the conception of mental health as a commodity, even as a luxury item.

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Economic inequality and mental health

The material inequalities promoted by capitalism in turn favor differences in mental health as a function of socioeconomic status. As the number of people with monetary difficulties increases, an especially marked event since the global financial crisis of 2008-2009 and the consequent recession, the prevalence of mental disorders also increases , particularly those related to anxiety and depression.

An increasingly demanding work environment contributes to the generalization of stress, an alteration that is increasingly difficult to avoid and that increases the risk of contracting cardiovascular disorders and other physical illnesses. Likewise, the precariousness of working conditions generates insecurity and diminishes the quality of life of the people who depend on their employment to be able to survive.


On the other hand, the capitalist structure needs a significant percentage of poor people to support itself: if everyone could survive without the need for employment it would be very difficult for salaries to remain equally low, and therefore the owners could continue to increase their profit margin. That is why the promoters of the neoliberal ideology refuse to reform a system in which unemployment is not so much a problem as a structural requirement.

They are told that they do not make an effort or that they are not good enough; This facilitates the development of depressive disorders related to the inability to achieve their social and professional goals. Depression is one of the main risk factors of suicide , which is also favored by poverty and unemployment.In Greece, the country most affected by the austerity measures in public investment that the European Union has imposed since the crisis, the number of suicides has increased by approximately 35% since 2010.

In addition, with the privatization and progressive destruction of public services, the negative consequences of capitalism for mental health are accentuated. Within the framework of the welfare state, there were more people who could access psychological therapies that they could not otherwise afford, but today the states invest much less in health, especially in its psychological aspect; this favors that psychotherapy remains a luxury for most of the population, instead of a fundamental right.

The corrective role of psychology

Clinical psychology is not only difficult to access for a large number of people, but it is also subject to the medicalization of mental health. Although in the long term it is more effective to treat depression or anxiety through psychotherapy , the power of the pharmaceutical corporations and the obsession with immediate profit have formalized all over the world a health model in which psychology is little more than a support for disorders that can not be "cured" with medicines.

In this unfavorable context for the promotion of mental health, psychology functions as a containment valve that, although it may improve welfare in individual cases, does not act on the ultimate causes of the problems that affect societies collectively. Thus, a unemployed person may find work after going to therapy to overcome his depression, but there will still be a high number of unemployed at risk of depression as long as working conditions are maintained.

In fact, even the term "disorder" designates a lack of adaptation to the social context or the discomfort produced by it, rather than a fact of a problematic nature in itself. Stated clearly, psychological disorders are seen as problems because they interfere in the productivity of those who suffer them and with the structure of society in a given period, rather than because they harm the individual.

In many cases, especially in areas such as marketing and human resources, the scientific knowledge obtained by psychology is not only used to increase the well-being of the people who need it most, but also it tends to directly favor the interests of the company and the "system", making them more easily achieve their objectives: obtain as many benefits as possible and with the least resistance from subordinates or citizens.

From the capitalist model, human development and the attainment of personal well-being are only beneficial insofar as they favor the progress of the economic and political structures that already exist. The non-monetary part of social progress is considered little relevant since it can not be accounted for within the gross domestic product (GDP) and other indicators of material wealth, designed to favor the competitive accumulation of capital.

The individual against the collective

Current psychology has adapted to the social, political and economic system in such a way that it favors its continuity and the adaptation of people to its operating rules, even when they have basic failures. In structures that promote individualism and selfishness, psychotherapy is also forced to do so if it is to help concrete individuals overcome their difficulties.

A good example is the Acceptance and Commitment Therapy or ACT, a cognitive-behavioral treatment developed during the last decades. The ACT, highly endorsed by research in a large number of disorders, focuses on the person adapts to the conditions of their lives and derives their goals from their personal values, overcoming the temporary discomfort that can be felt in the process of achieve these objectives.

The ACT, like most psychological interventions, has a positive side that is very evident in terms of its effectiveness, but also depoliticizes social problems because it focuses on individual responsibility, minimizing in an indirect way the role of institutions and other macrosocial aspects in the emergence of psychological alterations. Basically, the logic behind these therapies is that the person who has failed is the person, not the society.

Psychology will not be truly effective in increasing the well-being of society as a whole as long as it continues to ignore the paramount importance of modifying social, economic and political structures and focusing almost exclusively on providing individual solutions to problems that actually have a collective nature. .

HISTORY OF IDEAS - Ancient Greece (May 2024).

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