The Rise of the Therapeutic State

The Rise of the Therapeutic State

The Rise of the Therapeutic State

The Rise of the Therapeutic State

Synopsis

Assuming that marginal citizens cannot govern their own lives, proponents of the therapeutic state urge casework intervention to reshape the attitudes and behaviors of those who live outside the social mainstream. Thus the victims of poverty, delinquency, family violence, and other problems are to be normalized. But normalize, to Andrew Polsky, is a term that jars the ear, as well it should when we consider what this effort is all about. Here he investigates the broad network of public agencies that adopt the casework approach.

Excerpt

To policymakers, opinion leaders and pundits, and the concerned public, misery bespeaks marginality. the troubles that afflict an innercity neighborhood today—poverty, substance abuse, delinquency, family violence and child neglect, homelessness, and more—seem to point up the distance between some citizens and the social mainstream. On the most obvious level, the mainstream revolves around participation in the modern post-industrial economy, which in turn requires advanced education and marketable job skills. Yet these people can find employment only in the low-wage service sector, which means insufficient income, poor benefits, and chronic insecurity. When the stresses of such a life find their way into the home, moreover, violence may erupt against spouses and children. Marginality thereby manifests itself in behavior patterns that the mainstream (rightly) defines as aberrant. in another vein, many young people in the neighborhood have dropped out of the legal economy entirely, idling away time or preferring the more lucrative opportunities that can be found in petty crime. Policy analysts and social critics worry that among the young the work ethic has collapsed. To put it another way, marginality also encompasses deviant norms and attitudes. Thus, people or groups are seen as marginal when they display one or more of the attributes—economic, behavioral, and attitudinal—that distinguish them from the social mainstream.

As part of its response to marginality, the modern welfare state incorporates programs and agencies that use an approach I term “therapeutic.” It begins with the premise that some people are unable to adjust to the demands of everyday life or function according to the rules by which most of us operate. If they are to acquire the value structure that makes for self-sufficiency, healthy relationships, and positive self-esteem, they need expert help. Accordingly they become the clients of behavioral specialists, clinicians, and social workers—a group I refer to generically as social personnel. the therapeutic approach itself follows several distinct steps. First social personnel diagnose or assess the clients' situation and establish a friendly relationship with them. Then, through instruction, counseling, and supervision, clients are assisted in overcoming their personal deficiencies and learning to bear the pressures placed upon them.

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