Book Review:

Cynical Therapies: Perspectives on the Antitherapeutic Nature of Critical Social Justice

by Jennifer Friend, LCSW

As Critical Social Justice (CSJ) commonly known as “wokeness,” gains dominance in our institutions and culture, the practice of psychotherapy has likewise been transformed. Professional organizations in the mental health field, such as The American Psychological Association, have issued guidelines for practitioners that are clearly informed by a CSJ perspective. Universities train prospective therapists to use psychotherapy as a vehicle for political activism and academic journals do not publish papers that reject the CSJ viewpoint. This dramatic change in the conceptualization and practice of therapy has not been vigorously debated within the profession and public critique has been minimal. In the broader social context, to voice criticism of the tenets of CSJ is to risk social censure and damage to one’s livelihood. This phenomenon has had a chilling effect upon the ability and willingness of therapists to challenge the new orthodoxies permeating the field of therapy. Activists have used public smear campaigns and doxxing to intimidate opponents of CSJ into silence. Perhaps due to the role of therapists being a position of public trust, few therapists are willing to risk loss of professional reputation by being labeled a racist, bigot, transphobe, or any of the other terms which activists wield to their advantage.

Into this unforgiving and censorious environment, a book has emerged that dares to do what the mental health profession has not. Cynical Therapies: Perspectives on the Antitherapeutic Nature of Critical Social Justice exposes the infiltration of CSJ into the universities, professional bodies, and training programs which shape the discipline of therapy. Edited by Dr. Val Thomas, a psychotherapist and former counselor educator, the book presents the contributions of an international group of psychotherapists, academics, and psychologists. Each author examines the incursion of CSJ into therapy from a different vantage point, grappling with questions such as how the field became infiltrated by political ideology, how wokeness can be understood according to existing psychological theories and the level of compatibility of CSJ ideas with established therapy theories.

The Introduction provides readers with a foundational understanding of CSJ and includes a useful glossary of terms which equips readers to navigate the succeeding chapters. The chapters are organized into four sections. The first section details the merging of political ideology with therapy and examines how existential therapy and psychodynamic theory are useful tools for understanding both the appeal and the limitations of the CSJ viewpoint. In this section a Jungian psychologist examines the religious nature of CSJ and the concept of archetypal possession to illuminate how CSJ came to be embraced by a secular culture. A notable chapter in this section, uses the five-step social identity model of the development of collective hate to demonstrate how CSJ oriented therapy may fuel the development of hatred in clients.

The second section of the book examines how gender ideology and Queer Theory have changed therapy and even altered laws governing practice. The contributing factors to the sharp increase in trans identified youth and the restrictions placed upon therapeutic interventions is discussed. Further examined in this section is the APA’s adoption of the concept of “toxic masculinity” and the corresponding negative effect this has had upon therapy for men.

The third section details the conflict between CSJ and the theory and practice of psychotherapy. Two particularly creative chapters personify critical race theory as a client and imagine the interactions of CRT with a white practitioner and a black practitioner. The impact of CSJ on the therapeutic relationship and therapeutic presence are also examined.

The final section discusses the dangers of therapy being used for the advancement of a political agenda. This section details the threats that CSJ presents to the teaching of traditional psychotherapy to university students and how this damages students’ abilities to develop essential clinical skills. A final chapter closes with recommendations for how to preserve and protect traditional therapy.

Cynical Therapies: Perspectives on the Antitherapeutic Nature of Critical Social Justice is a powerful wake up call to therapists and the general public. Written in language that is accessible to therapists and lay persons, the author’s argumentation against the politicization of therapy is detailed and persuasive. Therapy has been repurposed from a healing tool at the individual level to a vehicle for achieving change at a societal level. Most potential consumers are unaware of this massive shift in therapy and this book takes on the critical task of educating the public. This timely commentary on the crisis in the profession assists therapists in developing coherent arguments against politicized therapy and offers inspiration for taking a stand to preserve the integrity of therapy.

Skip to content