therapy doesn’t scale

Everyone Needs Therapy in a Global Mental Health Crisis?

I think, globally, we have a mental health crisis. We have billions of people on earth grappling with a rapidly changing globalizing competitive world, geopolitical conflicts, an addictive internet, and an unclear picture of what jobs will look like in the near or far future. And this is just a taste of the many things a modern human has to deal with. For this reason, I think everyone on earth should be in therapy.

It’s interesting that if I told you that I’m in therapy, some people would react with judgment, they would assume something is wrong with me (part of the assumption being there is nothing wrong with them). And another set of people would be impressed with me, that I have a certain amount of maturity to work on myself. This dichotomy is fascinating. And I think it is largely molded by our cultures and attitudes. If you are generally from an older generation or you’re from a non-Western culture, it is very likely that therapy is alien to you.

If you come from a religious background or embraced a religion, it’s likely religion plays its part as your therapy. Why would you need therapy if your priest or monk already fills that void for you? And in our modern era, if religion was Marx’s opiate of the masses in the 19th century, I think it’s social media that has come to replace religion as our opiate.

Religion as Therapy

But the thing about religion, although the philosophy and methodologies are sometimes ancient and powerful, the methodologies haven’t been through the ringer of science the way therapy has. Religions are founded on unverified metaphysics likes heavens, hells, and supernatural occurrences. Therapy, unlike religion, is founded on principles that are themselves subject to the scientific method. So although religion can be a salve and be helpful to people, it also has the potential to repress depending on the values of said religion. Is it any surprise that multiple religions have repressed male leadership that are found to be sexual deviants? Many religions are founded within a chauvinistic context, is there no surprise that it would result in chauvinistic views or practices?

Even I have to admit that Buddhism, hailed by many in the modern era as their favorite religion, leans male over female. The resulting advice from a monk, depending on the query, might be sexist in nature. How much more so religions, which are rooted in an explicitly male divine figure?

Before we depart from the religion topic though, and before I get flamed for this post, I do admit that religions are trying to update themselves to modern science as their followers demand it, in an increasingly technological and scientific world. And of course, the even bigger caveat that religions have also been the fountain of a lot of good values in this world, you could even argue that without religion there would not be enough of a philosophical structure to guide the moral compass of humans, who can be essentially driven by selfishness, greed, and lust. At the same time, I think that religion is ill equipped for the deepening mental health crisis that many individuals face across the world. Indeed, it may be exacerbating a person’s mental tapestry.

Social Media as Therapy

I’m not sure social media is any better. In fact, it’s probably worse. After all, social media was never designed to be therapeutic. Despite this, people treat it as their salve for their psychological needs. Have a private matter you are dealing with? Make a social media post. Have some interpersonal issue with a family member? Go to your socials. Have an issue with society? Go complain to your internet friends. People get their dopamine kicks and their psychological itches out in social media, but if anything, it only serves to amplify our psychoses, not heal them.

Not to mention the fact that social media itself is designed by product people and building, in part, on the work of psychologists. You could argue that social media is designed to be addictive, causing users to return to their phones over and over again. People go crazy on social media. They find a home for their psychoses there. They find and meet very close friends but they also find predators there. It has all the extremes and it’s most on display in the extremes of porn and the dark holes of 4chan. It’s no wonder that something like the Qanon conspiracy could come into fruition online. It plays into the fear, trauma, and paranoia of a whole generation of people.

Therapy is Flawed

I don’t mean to rail religion and social media not forgetting that therapy is itself fundamentally flawed. There are plenty of situations where therapists are guilty of many of the things I’ve accused religion or social media. It also takes forever to find the right therapist, and even then, it’s possible that therapist isn’t right for you. And then there are all the different methodologies of therapy, many of which might not work for you. 

So even if you get over the hump of culture and stigma that would prevent you from going to therapy, there’s no guarantee that you will even find the right therapy or therapist for you. 

Therapy Doesn’t Scale

Having said that, I think therapy is built on principles that I think are more modern and rigorous than philosophies or frameworks as old as religion. Therapy has also evolved considerably since the era of Freud, adapting to different cultures, types of people, and new science. Therapy has never been better. But maybe for that exact reason, it doesn’t scale. It’s not like a vaccine that a concentrated group of scientists pioneer and then can distribute to billions of people in record time.

Therapists themselves are humans, subject to ego and all the things that any religious figure is. It’s expensive. Therapy is also largely a Western conception and accepted mainly in Western contexts. It’s simply not acceptable nor palatable in cultures where admitting that you have something wrong with you is taboo or passé. 

All of this makes me skeptical about the long-term growth of therapy. Religion is still growing rapidly everyday. And social media is in the hands of anyone that has a smartphone, which is billions of people on earth. Religion and social media both scale infinitely. Even in western societies, we have a shortage of therapists and mental health professionals. There simply aren’t enough mental health professionals to help with the sheer number of people who have mental issues. 

And yet, I really believe that therapy is important to the maturity of humanity. I think everyone should go to therapy. After all, it’s what people turned to when it’s too late. When your relationship is falling apart, the last resort is therapy. Something you should have gotten into before things started falling apart.

Meditation and Psychedelics: Imperfect Replacements

I suppose this is why I’m excited about meditation and psychedelics. But they’re imperfect replacements for therapy. 

Meditation Is Too Self-Driven

With meditation, something I’ve been studying my entire life, it suffers from the same issues as therapy. It doesn’t scale. In some cases, it’s actually not good for someone who is suffering from certain mental issues. Not to mention that there are so many types of meditation, it’s not a one-size-fits-all. Finding the right therapist is as tedious if not more tedious than finding the right meditation technique for you. And ultimately, meditation is too self-driven. Sticking to meditation is as hard as developing a proper workout practice. And finding the right teacher is as hard as finding the right therapist, and they’re frankly even less trained, since there is no formal meditation profession at the level of therapy. And on top of it all, there is no guarantee that it will help because the methods might not be right for the internal issues.

And like religion, meditation is founded on principles rooted in a different philosophy that does not account for the revelations and theses out of the psychological and social sciences. Meditation was not engineered with the subconscious in mind as it was conceived by Freud and his descendants. And it’s rare for serious meditators to discuss topics of trauma, emotions, etc. in the way that therapists are equipped to.

Psychedelics are Too Risky (and Don’t Scale Safely)

Psychedelics have lately become the focus of great interest from the scientific and therapeutic communities, beyond just recreational use. In many cities of America, we’re starting to see legal therapeutic uses of psychedelics to help people with trauma and other psychological issues. In many ways, MDMA, Ketamine, or Shrooms can supercharge your therapeutic process, helping you to deal with PTSD, depression, addiction, etc. on an accelerated path. Even more so with a therapist, who can guide you through the experience.

And although I love psychedelics, I’m not sure how this works given the inherent danger psychedelics can have without supervision. The differential of .1g of shrooms to 2g of shrooms is the difference between a cup of coffee and a massive psychotic episode. 

It’s also very sensitive. Most psychedelics need to be taken in a safe and secure environment. Taking them in the wrong environment, even for experienced users, can be jarring and at worst, traumatic. They could essentially cause people worse mental health issues than they started with. Thus, if that’s the case, even if psychedelics get legalized and widely approved in therapeutics across the US and globally, there’s no real path towards scale here. Ultimately, psychedelics need to be administered under supervision.

No Therapy, No Meditation, No Psychedelics

Taking all of these things into account, it’s hard to imagine a case where humanity gets the therapeutic help it needs for the onslaught of stress, anxiety, and emotional turmoil that is about to beset it. We cannot train therapists fast enough, we cannot train meditators fast enough, and we cannot administer psychedelics safely at scale. Instead, we have the imperfect and fast-growing entities of social media, religion, entertainment, and more to soothe our souls.

This doesn’t fill me with much hope for the future of mental health on the planet. But it does make me wonder what is the future of mental health on the planet, and how important it is that we make progress in the neurosciences.

In some ways, my hope isn’t that we have more widespread usage of psychedelics, it’s my hope that widespread scientific enquiry into neuroscience, cognitive science, psychology, and psychedelics leads to a breakthrough in brain science that is on par with the theory of relativity, a theory so powerful and profound that it completely changes the way the whole world looks at the mind and the brain. I think that’s the only way we can climb the mountain of our sleeping giant of a mental health crisis.

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