The phenomenon of self-help books for depression really breaks down into two phenomena, depression and self-help books, which have distinct relationships to Marxist thought. In looking at the ties between Marxism and depression, I found it necessary to look more broadly at Marxist critiques of the field of psychology. (Is it weird that most of the work I found about this was by Russian intellectuals?) Leont’ev highlights the ways Marx’s idea of consciousness challenges both functionalist and biomedical views of the mind, both of which are currently used (at least in part) to explain and treat depression. Leont’ev writes, “the reflection of reality arises and develops in the process of the development of real ties of cognitive people with the human world surrounding them; it is defined by these ties and, in its turn, has an effect on their development.” Marx’s insistence that man’s understanding/consciousness/mind is tied to reality raises serious problems with the current methods of treating depression which are grounded in the idea that depression is caused by abnormal brain chemicals and/or by the depressed persons misguided perceptions and ideas about themselves and the world around them.
I will explore the ways self-help books propagate an ideology which downplays the idea of an individuals consciousness being tied to reality: what personal qualities/traits is being praised? What is being highlighted as problematic? How do the qualities which are being advocated for in self-help books (such as functionality, productivity etc.) play into larger capitalist values? In what ways do self-help books address (or more likely fail to address) the idea that aspects of reality are the sources of depression and that social, political, economic issued may need to be addressed. I found a fantastic (Foucauldian) article that highlights the way in which the field of psychology is used by liberal governments to influence the individuals in the nation. Self-helps books and psychology offer a means for social institutions to move into and govern the private sphere: the scientific basis of psychology and the idea of experts and facts in Psychology are being increasingly used to normalize subjective experiences (such as depression).
Basically I will be looking at the ways in which the popular conception of depression and the means for treating it and explaining it, as highlighted and propagated in self-help books, is part of a powerful ideological system which attempts to deny individuals of a tie to reality (or consciousness grounded in reality) and which attempts to normalize happiness regardless of (or at least barely acknowledging) the reality of social/personal problems.
***I feel like I’m writing a rather extremist or at least very provocative paper…I would love feedback/criticisms/questions. I’m a little worried I’m going off the deep end although at the moment I’m entirely convinced by all of this…****