The Political Self: Understanding the Social Context for Mental Illness

Integrating the Inner and the Outer: How Society Shapes Who We Are

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In my 2017 book, The Political Self: Understanding the Social Context for Mental Illness (Routledge), I explore how our social and economic contexts profoundly affect our mental health and well-being, and how modern neuroscientific and psychodynamic research has significantly developed our understanding of these wider discussions. The book therefore looks both inside and outside—indeed one of the main themes of the volume is that the conceptually discrete categories of “inner” and “outer” in reality constantly interact, shape, and inform each other. Severing these two worlds, it suggests, has led both to a devitalised and dissociated form of politics, and to a disengaged and disempowering form of therapy and analysis.

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“Rather than separating our understanding of economic and social practices from our understanding of affective development and human development, we need to bring them together, to align them: we need to realise that politics, the external world, is not a world without an ‘inner’.”

Drawing on a number of leading figures in these fields, including Iain McGilchrist, Sue Gerhardt, David Smail, Nick Totton, Joel Bakan, Nick Duffell, Dave Grossman, Joel Kovel, Jonathan Rowson, and James Hillman, the book argues that we need to understand people and their psychological distress in an essentially social and environmental context. Rather than separating our understanding of economic and social practices from our understanding of affective development and human development, we need to bring them together, to align them: we need to realise that politics, the external world, is not a world without an “inner”. And for this to happen, we need a new integrated model for mental health, and a new politics: we need a new dialogue between the political and personal worlds, and a recognition of how psychotherapeutic practice and the psyche both shape and are powerfully shaped by existing structures and interests.

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Urizen in the NHS: Zizek, McGilchrist, and Left Brain Healthcare, by Malcolm Hanson

Can the Theories of McGilchrist and Žižek Help in Understanding and Responding to Ideological Influences on the Delivery of Psycho-Social Care?

 

Introduction: McGilchrist, Zizek and Healthcare

This article developed from my work as a psychotherapist and manager within the National Health Service (NHS) from 2008 to 2017. It is a response to the ideologies influencing those areas of health policy which are related to emotional wellbeing through the United Kingdom’s statutory health services.

My work has been based on the theory put forward by McGilchrist in The Master and His Emissary (2009) that traits associated with the natural functioning of the human brain’s left hemisphere, which have evolved to enable us to analyse and manipulate the world around us, also have a propensity to distort the ways in which people mutually interact with their cultures over time. McGilchrist’s book covers two main themes: the neurology of the brain hemispheres and the cultural influence that arises from this interaction. He proposes that when they are unchecked by the moderating effect of the right hemisphere, the left hemisphere traits have an undue influence which is reflected in deleterious effects upon people and their culture.

McGilchrist explores many cultural aspects but he does not include an overall sociological viewpoint from which to study the wider societal impact of his theory, and it is here that I turn to the work of Žižek, who writes extensively about ideology as well as many of the problems confronting societies today, such as subjectivity, capitalism, human migration and social exclusion.

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