In a time of crisis and collapse of all institutions, the latest book edited by Katia Charalabaki (“Psychotherapy and Politics Reviews” ed. Korontzis, 2019) introduces us to an oasis where the culture of caring for the helpless, the perpetual changing institutions of healing and the organization of resistance (collective and individual) to the destabilizing processes of the economic and social crisis that we live in today.
In Greece the crisis of alienation has taken on a terrifying dimension. The tendency towards personalization which is systematically cultivated by the dominant ideology creates the feeling that everyone is alone in the crisis, exposed to the forces of evil, constantly fostering the familiar feeling of general insecurity and fear.
In this climate, can the Mental Health Officer in the public health sector, who is already collapsing under the burden of the crisis, be optimistic? Can they continue to operate on the basis of humanitarian values, respect for dialogue and the principle of social solidarity?
K. Charalabaki responds affirmatively, through her speech and her therapeutic action. As a psychiatrist, belonging to the school of systemic psychotherapy, she is inspired by psychoanalysis. In the public mental health field, and more specifically in the “wider asylum”, Daphne has been struggling for decades to put her vision into practice, to regularize psychotherapy in the public mental health institution so that the “non-possessors” can also benefit from what she offers for free. After all, Freud and many psychoanalysts experience the introduction of free psychotherapy (and psychoanalysis) after the First World War. She has fought, theoretically and practically, trained young psychiatrists in this culture, and along with her worthy collaborators, whose texts are in the book we present, she has created, we could say, a “school” against the academic, psychiatric establishment. The Family Therapy Center in Pagrati also operates in this context, which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year.
K. Charalabaki is very concerned about the changes in collective and individual identity in times of deep social crisis and destabilization. That is why she constantly reverts to the example of Nazi Germany. Through the texts of Titus Milech, which she translates, she tries to understand the phenomenon of the mass awakening of anti-Semitism and racism in interwar Germany, in other words, the “atrocities” committed against human beings. Similarly, racism also raises its head in Greece under its crisis and targets the refugees arriving on the islands (the lucky ones who have not drowned in the Aegean) seeking refuge to heal their wounds, as the book’s artistic analysis reveals.
At this point, speaking of refugees drowning in the Mediterranean, we cannot fail to refer to the statement by French actress Arian Ascarrid (first prize for “Best Female Performance’ at the Venice Film Festival for the film “Gloria Mundi”): “Europeans are living the end of their world, a world which is aging, dying. I feel strongly that something very radical will happen, but I don’t know when,” she said and dedicated the award” to those who are forever in the depths of the Mediterranean “.
K. Charalabaki, who works primarily with families and couples, opens a public debate on the relationship of Psychotherapy with Politics in this book. Its starting point is the experiences of healing families and couples undergoing the consequences of the crisis in their lives and seeking help.
Her approach does not merely dwell on the consequences of the crisis, although in the relevant theoretical articles contained in the book, the consequences, namely the indicators of psychopathological morbidity and the effects of the crisis on families, institutions, the therapeutic system and the therapeutic relationship, even suicides – all refer to related articles.
She seems to share the position of her friend and great author Ioanna Karystiani, who says:
“Hours and Hours I wonder if the one-word refinement of the implications tends to ultimately transform all life into a sequence of consequences, into a giant sequel. Can it stand? Does it help increase passivity, isolation, fear? (p. 153).
However, as emphasized in the book, the antidote to passivity, isolation and fear is the introduction to teamwork, the logic of collectivity, the transition from the individual to the collective and the creation of inter-subjective and trans-subjective spaces and links.
Psychotherapy with couples and families who are trapped in precisely the same situation of constantly counting the hardships that the crisis has brought to their lives is one that can open an outlet to the impasses they are experiencing. The crisis can be experienced as a challenge and opportunity for the necessary changes in relationships, for a new meaning of relationships and their lives, as excellent systemic psychotherapists explain in the book.
In our relationships we give meaning. As psychoanalyst Sotiris Manolopoulos points out, “each of us puts a stone in the construction of the world of meanings” (p. 49).
In this respect, and given the innate need of man to “create meaning,” each of us is born a potential healer.
“What we are experiencing today in the Greece of the crisis,” said K. Charalbaki in a conversation with Maria Borsca in 2016 in Dresden,” is that in relationships, whether that be family, brotherhood, institutional or political, the sense of being dominant has destroyed any secure emotional attachment and there’s a lack of opportunity for symbolization. The humiliation of the country by its lenders has been endorsed by every person living in shame. ”
This is why group psychotherapy is needed so it can create “islets of euphoria” by introducing people suffering to another meaning to their lives, another communication within and through the group. After all, the subject of the unconscious is the subject of the group, according to psychoanalyst René Kaës, while the unconscious itself is structured as a group.
In a country that has not yet achieved its mourning for civilization, a new reading of history and a culture of collectivity is needed, for the modern man is not “a man without attributes”, as Mouzil would say, but “a man without bonds”.
Healing means serving the needs of the sufferer. To meet this lofty goal requires a method of approaching contradictions at their source, within social reality itself. And this is the method of Dialectics. To be a psychiatrist you have to know to swim between paradoxes and contradictions, says the great psychiatrist Pierre Delion, because the alienation of the sufferer is dual, social and mental, and you cannot ignore either dimension.
So the question posed by K. Charalabaki from the beginning, “do we need Marx as therapists?” is answered in the affirmative. It looks for the contradictions in treatment, the contradictions in theory, institutional settings and in the culture of psychotherapy. She emphasizes the relationship between continuity and discontinuity, in a recurring spiral, the spiral of theory under Marx, the profound changes in theory and techniques, the theoretical “revolutions”, the profound transformation of psychotherapeutic culture.”As therapists we are involved in an effort to deny power and control, with the goal of restoring self-esteem and respect for the psychotherapist per se”, she says.
“As healers, I think we are cursed to live and grow in a process where therapeutic, institutional, personal and professional change (evolution and revolution) creates and recreates dialectical contrasts”.
The practice of psychotherapy, therefore, must be in constant conflict with the exercise of authority and control of the patient by the therapist, by the medical and in general institutional arrangements, the pharmaceutical companies and all agents that have subjected the patient to treatment with market logic and private profit.
After all, the experience of the innovative, historic La Borde Clinic and the introduction of “institutional psychotherapy” with Tosquelles, Lucien Bonnaféand Jean Oury, was based on two pillars, Marx and Freud.
The text entitled “Position – Contrast – Composition” was very characteristic. An “Inaugural Speech for Dialogue “, in which Katia Charalabaki talks again with systemic psychotherapist and former EFTA President Maria Borsca, the author approaches the social and economic crisis through dialectical method, and through the origin – contrast – synthesis results (in composition) in the changes that treatment institutions need to make to respond to the destabilizing processes of crisis. “Finally”, she says, “the nostalgia, the deeper mourning for what we have lost, the nostalgic pain we feel and experience seems to be a yearning for humanity. We need to transform nostalgia into creativity, build internal and interpersonal dialogues, interactions and practices, as philosophers, writers and intellectuals have taught us”(p. 216).
It goes on to say: “In this context, therapists’ professional as well as personal skills must include an increased awareness of social responsibility, an increased sense of sympathy and participation, an increased capacity for empathy, and a more effective management of their available reserves” (p. 237).
It is the therapist who possesses the art of remaining human, as explained in the relevant text on reflections on the experience of a dialogue group in psychotherapy. Dialogue and pluralism are crucial in understanding and therefore understanding reality through the cultivation of collectivity and reciprocity.
Storytelling within the group, which enhances mental toughness, as analyzed in the narrative approach, is of paramount importance.
George Gournas says characteristically, “It is not the techniques or approaches of the team coordinator that influence its successful outcome and effectiveness but the relationships, the network of relationships that nurtures a sense of involvement and belonging, exploiting the potential of plasticity of the brain” (p. 65).
The question comes up again: What essentially is the relationship between Psychotherapy and Politics? Psychiatrist Katia Charalabakis’ response: “Politics and psychotherapy have never been so close: leaving behind the mutual suspicion that had led to the relationship being seen as either hostile or “illegally erotic”, they have now become open talkers and companions”. (p. 40).
The answer from politician Alecos Alavanos:
“The correlation of psychotherapyand politics must be seen in the context of another, a policy of liberation, which is necessary in order to have extramarital relations with all social – and not only – sciences. Psychotherapy should be provided free of charge in the public domain. Freud’s 1918 example of free psychoanalysis is very instructive. Polyphony, in Bakhtin’s sense, and “open dialogue” are elements that should characterize psychotherapy as a policy of liberation, and have an element of popular folk festivals, according to Bakhtin, where the masses take their lives into their own hands, live through the Revolution and transform society.” Still, he says characteristically: “A liberation movement to be broad is not only made up of political organizations, but also social gatherings, cultural initiatives, study groups, immigrant or homeless support groups, social groceries, music groups, solidarity committees or neo-solidarity groups”. (p. 308).
Below, a poetic crescendo concludes: The political-economic program of a social transformation is a central branch of a large tree. This tree is the great folk festival of freedom, timid, powerless, impeccable, rascal, experimental, inventive, erotic, Dionysian, rebellious and happy. ” (p. 310).
In this folk festival as Bakhtin envisioned it, life ceases to be an event, in the expression of Ioanna Karystiani, and acquires meaning and value.
I remember Katia Charalabaki in Daphni in the 1980s, both of us members of the Scientific Committee of Psychiatric Hospital of Attica, with Katia passionately fighting the long-standing meetings of the Scientific Committee in order to pass its position that resistance action should not enter the candidate’s track record or curriculum vitae in order to be employed by the NHS and should be registered as a bonus in the “social contribution and action” column, as stipulated by the law of the PASOK party. The decision to resist tyranny is a life-long decision for freedom, it is not redeemable and it does not lose its value. All this from a woman who resisted and was chased by the junta!
In a “fluid society” where everything, such as relationships, families, love and fear are fluid, as Zygmund Bauman would say, there are fortunately some solid points of reference. One of them is Katia Charalabaki, with what surrounds her.
For me, this book, as it is structured, exposing the tight links between Psychotherapy and Politics, Psychiatry with Philosophy and Dialectics and Bateson and Marx, was a pleasant surprise.
As psychotherapist and psychiatrist Cristiane Joubert says in some of her lyrics, “The ocean of life is full of strange surprises and beautiful encounters. Let us cultivate our bonds and let the momentum of life be expressed.”
*The text is from a presentation of the book “Psychotherapy and Policy Reviews”, of the Hellenic Systemic Thinking and Family Therapy Association, edited by Katia Charalabaki, KORONTZI Publications 2019, at the Polis Art Cafe, September 29, 2019.