Psycho-Socio-Therapeutic Discussion

chaplin - the kid

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A query came into Zeteo—I wish I could remember who it was from. It reminded me of one of my favorite “found” books: This Fine Place So Far From Home: Voices of Academics from the Working Class. I have a particular fondness for found books, even for The Mystery Method: How to Get Beautiful Women into Bed, which someone—frustrated by his own lack of success?—left out in the rain not far from a lonely New York bar. (A key suggestion, as I recall: Make sure you have your back to the bar with the supermodel facing you, so that all she sees is you, while you may seem to be scouting the crowd for someone yet more super. Such positioning, the book observes, gives “you,” if you should get your back to a bar, more power. Please note, however, that in my case the technique has as yet proved ineffectual, and not only because I never go to bars.)

This Fine Place, which I found in the garbage at my apartment building, is a collection of more than twenty pieces. I will quote from but two here. The first excerpt—on two “hoods”: the south Bronx and academia—is from education professor Stephen Garger, who grew up in the shadows of Yankee Stadium:

On the street or playground, arguments generally ended in “do-overs” (when an impasse seemed to be reached, in the interest of time and avoiding bloodshed, the whole play was simply repeated as through the first one hadn’t occurred) or fights, both following often lengthy, loud, crude, and insulting yelling matches. Not to engage in these verbal and physical battles was to be a wimp and could exclude one from any sort of street game or activity. . . .

Just how much academics like to argue received some objective validation when a friend in the communications department and I began timing debates at faculty meetings. We discovered the longer the arguments ran, sometimes over an hour on a relatively minor issue, the more likely it was that when the motion was called it would pass unanimously.

Marriage and family therapist Deborah Piper’s “Psychology Class Blindness: Investment in the Status Quo” speaks more directly to one of my interests. “Psychologists,” she writes

also function in their research and their work as though social class does not exist. . . . Rather than helping [economically disenfranchised] clients understand and deal with the life context that contributes to their hopelessness, their anger, and the manifestations of those feelings, most psychologists focus on the individual and how their own cognition, emotions, or behaviors are dysfunctional. In this way, psychology tacitly supports the status quo of an unjust system.

I have often thought that psychotherapy clients of all social classes could be aided by therapists who were trained and attuned to discuss social factors with their clients. For example, the problems people bring to psychotherapists often involve relationships, and relationships are greatly affected by factors that are psychological only secondarily. There are, for example, what could be called demographic issues: how many single people are available and what are they like (in age, physical qualities and personality type, habits good and bad, sexual preferences, etc.).

Our relationships are greatly affected, if not rather rigidly framed, by the demands and expectations of our capitalist system and how these demands and expectations organize our time and make us feel about other people, our romantic-economic partners certainly included. As professional women come to earn similar or in some cases higher salaries than male partners, this is leading to huge changes in heterosexual relationships. I have also read that, whereas in the old days men often married women of a lower social class than they were (e.g. a doctor marrying a nurse), now there is a growing tendency for people to marry—heterosexually or homosexually—at their own class or professional level. This has tremendous consequences for what relationships are like both within such couples and between classes, which are now, at least in this regard, more segregated from one another.

I recall a historian of eighteenth-century Germany proposing that German fathers related to their wives and children the way their superiors at work or in the fields related to them. And thus, in line with the writing of my former Berkeley sociology professor Robert Blauner, I would propose that the family relations of a mother or father who works on Wall Street, in a hospital, as a school teacher, or for the United Nations will vary significantly. And the effect of work structures on family relations seems an excellent topic for psychotherapeutic—or for psycho-socio-therapeutic discussion.


— William Eaton, Zeteo Executive Editor


Credit & Links

The photo is a still from The Kid (1921), produced by, directed by and starring Charlie Chaplin, with Jackie Coogan as his adopted son and sidekick. The movie begins when an aspiring actress has a child and decides that, in order to pursue her career, she has to abandon the child. And thus class, gender and economic issues begin to shape relationships, above all a relationship between a hapless glazier (Chaplin) and the child he ends up adopting and loving.

C.L. Barney Dews and Carolyn Leste Law, editors, This Fine Place So Far from Home: Voices of Academics from the Working Class (Temple Univesity Press, 1995). This being a favorite book, I previously quoted from and discussed it in another Zeteo is Reading (ZiR) post, in December 2012. This was back in the day when ZiR was a weekly rather than daily feature, and the two engagements with This Fine Place appear at the end of the post, under the 28 December and 29 December subheads.

W.H. Bruford, Germany in the Eighteenth-Century: The Social Background of the Literary Revival (Cambridge University Press, 1935).

Robert Blauner, Alienation and Freedom; The Factory Worker and His Industry (University of Chicago Press, 1964).

William Eaton, Imagine — a very brief note on the fear and truth of difference in relationships, be these differences ones of social class, profession, gender, or, let’s say, approaches to hand-washing.

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