“All professions are a conspiracy against the laity,” George Bernard Shaw famously said. But what is the laity to do about it? In the context of psychotherapy and related fields, Denis Postle, an independent practitioner of humanistic psychology, thinks that we need to recognize and honor the “psyCommons.”
For Postle, a Brit, the psyCommons is the realm of the informal, the customary and the local – the social spaces in our lives that are largely exempt from bureaucratic or legal control, the spaces where people can negotiate their own shared understandings of intersubjective reality. The psyCommons is the great reservoir of human wisdom and power that we “create, renew and replenish every day as we learn from experience, make choices, befriend, support and confront each other,” he writes.
Reading Postle, I could not help but think of renegade sociologist and social critic Ivan Illich, who referred to this zone of life as “the vernacular.” As Illich put it in his 1981 book Shadow Work, the vernacular domain evokes a “sensibility and rootedness…in which local life has been conducted throughout most of history and even today in a significant proportion of subsistence-and communitarian-oriented communities.” The vernacular consists of those “places and spaces where people are struggling to achieve regeneration and social restoration against the forces of economic globalization,” Illich wrote.
Like Illich, Postle bridles at the professionalism and guild mentality that psychotherapy and other “helping professions” have come to embody. These professions are determined to set therapists apart as a class of “experts” that control the wisdom of the psyCommons. They regiment and bureaucratize the process of emotional healing, often setting up barriers to authentic human relationships. They can sometimes expunge the somber realities of the human condition, including a sense of the tragic.
In effect, psychiatry, psychology, psychotherapy, counseling and coaching have enclosed the psyCommons, says Postle, by treating people’s problems as personal “deficits” and “mental illness.” The prestige and livelihoods of the professions are maintained through “an imposed technocratic monoculture of regulatory control,” he charges. Professional licensing, certification and reimbursement rules put the coercive power of the state behind certain types of approved practitioners and therapeutic techniques – while marginalizing all the others.