Mental Health and Oppression

How do we therapists see the conditions our clients live with? In our daily contacts with people, it is important to have a clear understanding of why people suffer from what they report being challenging for them.

For me, health and dysfunction are discourses that are intertwined with the politics by which human life is defined.  In order to identify my core beliefs, I had to look at the forces that have changed and shifted our Iranian life. The politics that contributed to the failure of establishment of democracy in my home country have only reinforced neuroticism and despair. How can we not recognize the politics around which our lives are constantly changing?

Mental health among people of my community is greatly defined by the forces of oppression and segregation. My definition of mental health is definitely impacted by how I view the historical impact of vigorous political views interfering in and violating the lives of people of my home country.  It is important to remember how over the centuries, abuse of power and abuse of politics have contributed to systematic human rights violations, war zones, and financial exploitation that have only made human conditions worse. I believe that mental health issues are largely due to the politics ruling human life in every community. This is why I cannot ignore factors impacting human life anywhere in the world.

Over the years, through my own personal and professional experiences, I became aware of the influence of socio-political reality of authoritarian governments and oppression on mental health issues.   I guess I was born in a time where I had to make a conscious choice, namely to look beyond a divided, polarized world.  I sensed that oppression was a poison for our minds that made us believe how racism, gender segregation, and sexism are part of life. I refused to accept that life had one single color.  I could see the danger of a cultural dichotomy between good and bad, black and white, less and more.

I have learned that oppression requires systematic subjugation. People who are shouting that they have the only answer to every aspect of human life are forcing systematic submission and conformity.  My life experiences have helped me realize that some people fall for this system and lose their integrity. I can connect the internalized sense of shame and guilt to the explicit rules of oppressive systems, where the only mission is to destroy life and happiness.

I was trained in this humanistic school of thought in a very simple and natural way:  by observation.  I was living in a world of many contrasts, polarities, and contradictions. I do believe that social inequality and oppression are blocking people from gaining self-respect and dignity.

In search for the real truth, I realized that there is no such thing, and we all have our own individual truths. I came to trust my instincts and to believe that even those who oppress us are in need of respect, because they are blindly perpetuating the notion of conformity.    In that path, I was able to externalize the reasons for mental health issues and neurotic responses to many areas of life.

Many Iranians now question the traditional notion of sex, race, ethnicity, culture, and gender.   In working toward change, we can not ignore social injustice as the main reason for human pain and suffering.  Where gender, race, culture, religion, and ethnicity intersect, there is only one regulation that can help peace and order, and that is respect and acceptance.

For me, mental health and mental illness are constantly jeopardized by the underlying forces of submission and subjugation. Oppression is one nasty and dark wall, cluttered with faulty beliefs, stigma, hatred, racism, extremism, and sexism.

This is how I believe psychotherapy and psychology have a main duty on both a personal and a societal level.  This is where psychotherapy could have an impact on how people try to challenge the status quo.

With regard to theoretical orientation, I cannot ignore the views on women conditions in our home country, a complex issue that impacts health and dysfunction.

Change is possible once our clients are able to see their position in the realm of reality and conditions of existence.

September 3. 2010

Poran Poregbal, MA, RSW, RCC.


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