How Politics and Psychology Interact for Psychology Majors

If you are a psychology major, it might be useful to know and realize how politics and psychology interact. Some of those who study psychology and/or social work may have be in the business of involuntarily “treating” others. This treatment can be a political venture in certain respects. Those “mental health” professionals who treat others involuntarily may be, in essence, enforcers for the laws that exist that prohibit suicide. So in this sense, some psychological services are in essence law enforcement services, if the “treatment” is involuntary. It seems that one should be aware of this, because mainstream education may not make students in the field explicitly aware of this.

In psychological counseling, and in family therapy there may be political components. Professional ethics dictate that a professional should not impose their moral, religious, or philosophical positions onto their clients. However, if a practitioner specifically advertises their self as a spiritual or religious psychotherapist, then there are ethical ways to go about it, as long as informed consent is given. But even in secular family

There are political factors in diagnosing psychological disorders. In the Soviet Union (before its dissolution), and probably other politically repressive regimes throughout history, those who disagreed with the ruling party were sometimes labeled as crazy, insane or mentally ill for disagreeing with the ruling party. They were then sent to “treatment”. This is one way that psychology and politics have interacted in the past.

Additionally, in the past, psychology was used as a justification for chattel slavery. Some Caucasians actually came up with a mental disorder which labeled African American slaves who wanted to be free as mentally ill. The disorder was called “drapetomania”. If these was objectively a disorder, then this would have many political implications. However, it is not objectively a disorder and now, over 100 years later, it is easy to see that this was wrong to do.

Also, in the past, homosexuality was considered a mental disorder. This certainly had political implications. Could same sex marriage ever be legalized if homosexuality was a mental disorder? Probably not. However, this was changed maybe about 30 years ago, and it was taken out of the DSM (the book that mental health professionals use to diagnosis and code psychological disorders). It is not considered ethical now to try and pathologize homosexuality. However, if someone who is homosexual wishes to change their sexual orientation, under certain circumstances, it can be considered ethical for a practitioner to try and help a homosexual change their orientation if the individual who is homosexual wants and seeks the treatment. It would not be considered ethical for a practitioner to try and treat someone for this who did not want it or seek it. There is a professional organization called NARTH which is dedicated to research on coversion therapy. This a controversial topic, and therefore, politics are involved in certain respects.

There are many controversial areas within the field of psychology. Politics and human decisions play many key roles within psychology. So hopefully, as a psychology major, one can now have a better understand of how politics and professional psychology can interact.