Jan 03, 2022
Can counselling cure everyone?
People who are emotionally distraught, people who are facing mental disturbances and others who are interested in knowing the deeper meanings of our existence get attracted easily to such people and their pronouncements.
Name: Rahul. Age: 14. Problem: While his mother was taking bath, he recorded it on his mobile and circulated it on WhatsApp. Used his compass as a weapon against his classmate. Attacks others without much provocation and grabs others’ stuff. Prone to strange and merciless acts. Doesn’t have any sympathy towards others and shows no remorse about his cruel actions.
His parents have nearly lost hope. His mother was sobbing uncontrollably, her eyes reflecting her sense of guilt.
“Everybody is blaming me. It is the result of wrong parenting, they say.”
“I think I carried an unwanted child in my womb for 10 months.”
“Most people blame me, the mother. I am cursed to live with endless guilt.”
“We have been taking him for counselling sessions. We have tried various psychiatrists and psychologists but all in vain.”
Her neck is swollen, with visible bruises, the remaining marks from a suicide attempt.
“His teachers, policemen and counsellors have blamed us for his errant behaviour. Had the parenting methods been more scientific, he wouldn’t have become like this, they insist. But there is nothing that we haven’t tried. But nothing worked either.”
In reality, it is neither the broken family background nor the negative influences around him that shaped his deviant ways. The primary reason is the way his brain is structured and wired. The peculiarity of his brain makes him incapable of understanding other people’s emotions and showing empathy towards others. The particular part of the brain that is responsible for triggering such emotional insights is not working in his case and therefore no amount of counselling is bringing any results.
Yes, there are a few such people among us. It is impossible to make them conform to social norms. Even enlightened figures such as Christ and Buddha could not do much when it came to correcting such people. The irony is that it is these people whom religions and priests are trying to transform thorough mere lip service. For centuries, they have been doing this kind of spiritual and moral lecturing. The fact remains that humans have not progressed much as social beings and continue to remain the way they have been for hundreds of years.
Limitations of psychology
It is now a gigantic global industry that deals with motivational techniques, personality development, wellness, happiness, success in life and business, etc. There are all kinds of gurus, thinkers and counsellors who claim special knowledge about human psychology and the art of leading one’s life. We see them on TV, social media and the entertainment industry and they are projected as super humans with an invisible halo around their heads. While some of them are spiritual leaders, there are also men of science, agnostics and others who claim to be experts in different areas. These people are idolised and turned into iconic figures.
I am not suggesting that whatever they are saying is worthless. People who are emotionally distraught, people who are facing mental disturbances and others who are interested in knowing the deeper meanings of our existence get attracted easily to such people and their pronouncements. But most of what is packaged and distributed in the guise of human psychology is utter nonsense, to say the least.
No doubt, psychology developed on the basis of the vision and thought experiments by certain brilliant individuals and is still rooted on various theories. But what this branch needs to focus on is the conscious experiences of people. Structuralists who try to arrive at a model of the mind by attributing changes in moods and behaviours to neurological factors, moralists who try to get at the bottom of how human behaviour is shaped with their theories and behaviourists who want to analyse the actions of people and reach conclusions on the basis of these actions are all taking recourse to certain fundamental theories and principles. Many of these theories are aligned with religious principles too. Thus, psychology tries to project its own worldview and tries to make judgements based on it. This leads to certain generalisations about human behaviour made with the help of certain kind of moulds that conform to existing socio-cultural frameworks. What this does is to try and bring back those non-conformists into the social framework using advisories and pronouncements that are not very different from the religious commandments. These psychological models are often counter-productive in nature.
Modern psychology combines the knowledge and insights gained from modern neuroscience, genetic science and evolutionary psychology. Without studying any of this, some people engage in an exercise to reform or improve people, armed with clinical packages based on their own subjective theories and conclusions. Those with criminal bent of mind can’t be reformed through counselling or moral advice. It is the job of the judicial system and legal agencies to ensure a peaceful life for citizens.
Neoteny is defined as the retention of juvenile features in the adult animal. Certain characteristics that are usually found only in the initial years of mammals are sometimes present in humans even after they become adults. During the human’s long childhood, the society administers certain survival techniques that makes the person capable of facing life later on. The compliant peculiarities of childhood remain even after they turn adults.
When man consciously embarked on a quest to gain knowledge, he was faced with certain fundamental questions. What is the meaning of life? Why does a person die? Naturally, those belief systems that promised answers to these eternal questions became attractive propositions. It is a life-long search for answers to these questions but there are no definitive answers. So, if a certain cult or the central figure offers a comprehensive answer, it becomes a magnet for many. This is where philosophy meets psychology.
The society has acquired certain strategies and survival instincts over the course of thousands of years. Such knowledge is passed from one human to another. For instance, there are tens of thousands of food items in this world. But we consume only a small percentage of them. It is through the experience of others that we came to know what is fit to eat and what is not. While some of these foods may have satiated hunger for some, other kinds of foods may have caused death or discomfort for others. The beauty of human society is that one person is able to convey his experiences to others through words or symbols. There is no need to repeat the bad experiences of others or reinvent the wheel. There is a collective body of experiences as a result of thousands of years of community living. The knowledge that a person possesses is not just that of one person but that of the whole society. The various amenities and facilities that we now enjoy came into being as a result of our continuous quest for survival. These did not appear as a result of any self-discovery or revelation on the part of any sage or philosopher.
The primeval fear of man towards natural forces still exist in him. Even today, when natural disasters strike, the human helplessly looks for help from any quarter. Homo sapiens, the most advanced mammal, helps each other to survive but faces many kinds of challenges even today when civilization has advanced so much. He can’t do without the expertise of individuals and organisations who work in different sectors. We need the help of technicians from software engineers to electricians to lab assistants. Basically, we have each other to help us survive and enjoy life. Those who claim to have special knowledge about the inner truths of existence or those who promise to possess the secrets of self-development are unlikely to be of much help.