When we can do pretty much whatever we want, and have a variety of ways to do it, the question becomes what we want to do. The focus shifts to values.
We live our lives responding to the situation we are in. Our situations are complicated and have many aspects — including physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and social aspects.
We adjust to physical matters, such as how close someone is standing to us or how much oxygen is in a room; we respond emotionally to what others are saying; we use our intellect to make plans and reflect on our experience; we may have a sense of spirit or purpose or sense a lack of meaning, and we negotiate our relationships with those around us. We are continually engaging with these aspects of our lives.
Our psychology is affected by the world around us.
We also carry the past with us. We not only adjust to the world around us; we are also influenced by what we have learned and our past experiences. We often carry around with us (at least a part of) the world we grew up in. Often our early caregivers remain influential throughout our lives. In psychotherapy, the attention is usually on past trauma. This can lead to the past being seen as a bad thing. However, it also contains many resources that we draw on to respond in the present: language and other social rituals we have learned, ways of understanding, skills, friendships and much more.
Our response to the present can also be affected by our concerns, worries and plans for the future.
Our personal past and individual notions about the future mean that one person’s response in the present is likely to be different to another person’s response — even if they are responding to something reasonably simple like the enquiry, “Hi, how are you?”
In psychotherapy (and blogging) the focus is usually on the individual and what they can do. For this post, I’d like to look at the other end of the individual-social polarity and focus on our social situation.
This social world affects us. It seems likely that more people are more worried about money now than 12-18 months ago. It wouldn’t be surprising if psychotherapists are dealing with more anxiety now than 12-18 months ago.
These social changes are relatively short term. There is also longer term social change — measured in decades and centuries. One commonly cited example is: Where have all those hysterical Victorian upper class women that Freud used to treat gone to? (Are shock-jocks and some kinds of politicians in the same situation as Victorian upper class women? They seem hysterical to me.)
I’d like to spend the rest of this post giving my perceptions of how our current social situation is distinctive and the impact this is likely to have on our experience.
The Big Picture: Technology
For me the best characterisation of our society is Jacques Ellul’s The Technological Society [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK]. (Also see the International Jacques Ellul Society.) When we look at our society, and compare it to previous ages, it is striking how much technology there is. There are now lots of ways to do almost anything that we want to do. One example: if I wish to get physically fit, there are gyms, running clubs, jogging clubs, different styles of routines (like Pilates), martial arts, yoga or tai chi. I live in a relatively small city (less than half a million people) and here there are even options for what style of tai chi I would like to pursue.
The technological society consists not only of methods and software but of ways of thinking and feeling too. We can approach our lives as a series of problems or situations that are to be fixed or manipulated.
The Smaller Picture: Computers
One impact of computers is on the availability of information. Being able to google your question to find an answer — to just about any question — is quite different to needing to get to a library. Having information presented in answer to your question is different to needing to read a book and process the information (possibly presented in a quite different form) to get an answer to your question.
The second impact of computers is communication. We can be in communication with many people, widely dispersed in a variety of ways. The time taken to have pen-friend relationships is quite different to being on Facebook, phoning on your mobile, and sending email. We can be ‘in touch’ with people from most places on Earth at any time we like.
Implications of Technology
When we can do pretty much whatever we want, and have a variety of ways to do it, the question becomes what we want to do. The focus shifts to values. As individuals we are confronted with a ‘choice of values’ or even the need to create them. This is quite different to a sense of vocation — a calling has a sense of inevitability, of ‘choosing to become who we are’. We need processes where people can discover their values and gain the support they need to live in accord with them.
Implications of Information Overload
We need to become much better at how to process information so that it is useful to us — and not just ‘facts’ that we memorise (or more likely google and forget quite soon). “Data is not information, information is not knowledge, knowledge is not wisdom.”
Implications of Communication
Information is only a small part of human communication. The focus on information means that we neglect our emotions, our aesthetic sense and the time it takes to build a genuinely warm and human relationship. We need to know how to communicate with others (especially those who are not part of our sub-culture or tribe).
I’d like to hear about your experience. How do you experience your social situation and how do you respond to it? Do you think we need new kinds of counselling to respond to our different social situation?
All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .on and was last reviewed or updated by