Front cover image for The impact of long-term psychotherapy on the social activism of social activists

The impact of long-term psychotherapy on the social activism of social activists

Are the process and goals of psychotherapy antithetical and inhibitive to the process and goals of social activism? Does the individual focus of psychotherapy detract from the external focus of socially based theories and actions by personalizing, depoliticizing, and ultimately perpetuating inequitable social conditions? In this descriptive research, activists who had been activists before and after at least two years of insight-oriented psychotherapy were asked to discuss how they believed their psychotherapy experience impacted their social activism. Fourteen social activists were interviewed by means of a semi-structured interview format. Data analysis was based on a theme development process. All 14 respondents reported that psychotherapy had improved their self-care skills, that their activism was suffering before therapy because of the weakness of these skills, and that the improvement enabled them to become more effective activists. Four aspects of effectiveness emerged: practical abilities, emotional capacity, intellectual understanding, and spiritual connectedness. All respondents cited improvements in two or more of these aspects. Participants were specifically asked if they believed themselves any less radical than before therapy. Thirteen participants did not think their radicalness had changed. This conclusion was supported by an examination of the activists' theory statements. The activists' positive experiences with psychotherapy did not translate into a general endorsement of psychotherapy. The participants believed that their experiences were largely the result of their choice of therapist. Almost all had worked with therapists (mostly feminist therapists) who included socially based explanations in their understanding of individual problems. These particular therapists helped the activists to incorporate their personal selves into their political fives allowing them to stay committed to their activism and enabling them to access practical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual resources so they could participate in their activism more holistically. The findings strongly suggest that social activism requires a holistic approach and that certain kinds of psychotherapy can play a significant role in improving the effectiveness of social activists. There are implications for activists, social activist organizations, and psychotherapists
Thesis, Dissertation, English, 1998
University of Toronto, [Ontario], 1998
University of Toronto