The third issue of our electronic magazine Systemic Thinking & Psychotherapy begins with the article by Lia Mastropaolo about hihikomori, a phenomenon which has overwhelmed one million teenagers in Japan. The author defines it as a “new social phenomenon”, a cultural syndrome that now ceases to be exclusively Japanese, as it is spreading in Italy and the rest of a crisis-ridden Europe. Hihikomori means withdrawal. It means no social relations and resorting to the virtual world of the internet, to video games, to television. It means lethargy, lack of communication and total isolation. What situations in Greece remind us of that description? Of course we can recognize them in a growing number of teenagers today. But one could expand the use of the word for situations where lack of communication is not visible through “physical isolation” (the young man who has not ventured out of his house for almost four years), but as a “psychic hihikomori” where communication is lost through a “breakdown of meaning”, as Sotiris Manolopoulos argues in the next article. We see it in relationships that become as bureaucratic and utilitarian (we do not want to fall in love in order not to be fooled) as in some public service mechanisms or political party gatherings, with their lack of respect for the context, the boundaries, the others; their acts of violence and exploitation against colleagues, their extortion, bribery, corruption and intrigues. We see it in the fascination with power or with situations of danger which excite and serve as an antidepressant in a life between fame and shame. But we see it also in the way people resort to alcohol and drugs, as described next by Philip Flores. Though this seems to be “commonplace” among mental health professionals and the general public, here it is illuminated through some special aspects of dealing with the problem: “It has long been a well-knownaxiom in the addiction treatment community that addicts or alcoholics will usually not give up their chemical use until the pain and dysphoria they experience from its continual use exceeds the pleasure or euphoria they derive from its present use. Conversely, the possibility of successful long-term recovery is greatly reduced unless the alcoholic’s newfound life of abstinence is more rewarding than the previous one centered around alcohol use. This reflects an important principle of recovery: alcoholics and addicts will not remain abstinent unless they derive more pleasure from a chemically free life than they did when using”. At this point new dilemmas and challenges emerge for the therapists, and not only in their work with addiction: how can they help clients to search for this more interesting life today—and where? Perhaps, answers Kia Thanopoulou in her article about bonding and meaning as an antidote to trauma, if they are given a context of emotional healing and reparation by means of dialogue, narration, the therapeutic relationship, relationship in general. This paper, like the one before it, focuses on the concept of attachment, in both life and therapy. The next article by Alan Cooklin is on the impacts of parental mental illness on children and the necessity of encouraging them to improve resilience. But what does the parents’ mental illness have to do with the current situation in Greece? Isn’t it true that the State as a “parent” is also sick, and parents as “children” of the state need resilience in order to survive? And aren’t therapists “children” of their scientific association which also has prodromal symptoms of the contagious disease, the same as their hospital or other place of work — don’t they also need a ‘vaccine’ of resilience? And how can this be accomplished? By engaging the child’s thinking, says the author. By engaging children to participate -not talking “about” the children but “with” the children. By forming networks, listening to their own difficulties and recognizing their work as “carers of their mentally ill parents”. The usefulness of this perspective from the therapist’s standpoint is obvious. But many questions and reflections arise about how this can be transformed to a “child’s request” when we therapists are in the children’s place in the context of our institutions.
The present issue ends with the article by Elsa Koppasi on Tibetan polyandry -a model of marriage and family so rare that it can be seen as an ethnographic paradox- which proposes approaching psychic phenomena from the perspective of a social anthropologist: “the social/cultural interacts constantly with individual choices and a person’s Ego. But at the same time, through the interaction with the informants, the anthropologist (and psychotherapist) determines and is determined by those with whom he or she interacts. Thus, the dialogue with the ‘other’ is both internal and external …. The exploration of the ‘other’ and the otherness essentially means examining one’s own self, just as the formation of the subject simultaneously determines and is determined by those others whom it engages in relationships of reciprocity and interaction with”. Similar reflections on the self and the “other” are presented in the introductory comment by Nikos Marketos (to go back full circle) about envy and hatred at times of crisis: “The current crisis promotes a fear of paralyzing bankruptcy of the world and triggers the search for absolute truth, ontologically given, not falsifiable, which rejects the chaos of life, and provides a foundation for the order of the world … This tendency activates nationalism and fundamentalism … We are before a crucial option that determines the function of all institutions and social bonds: how can the needed confirmation of our peculiarity avoid becoming its paranoid defense? ‘Belonging’ is essential to define an identity, but when it tends to become obsessively hardened it leads, inevitably, to a closure against the other and thus to its progressive sterilization”.
So, the third issue of Systemic Thinking & Psychotherapy reflects on a broader quest around new possibilities for our work as therapists in the present situation, but also on a profounder understanding of ourselves as persons and social entities.