This is a continuation of previous posts.
I went on sick leave in February 2012 after having been a French teacher for Lakeshore School Division in Ashern, Manitoba, Canada, for three and a half years. (For details of my decision to go on sick leave, see A Worker’s Resistance to the Capitalist Government or State and Its Representatives, Part Eight and A Worker’s Resistance to the Capitalist Government or State and Its Representatives, Part Nine).
In order to receive at first short-term disability benefits and then long-term disability benefits provided by the Manitoba Teachers’ Society (MTS), if the issue is not purely physical, it is presumably necessary to be subject to psychiatric evaluation and then psychological “care” (provided the psychiatrist furnishes an assessment, I assume, that justifies not being able to work for an employer). To receive such benefits, the worker must “agree” to both the evaluation and the care.
But what is the Manitoba Teachers’ Society? Its Facebook page indicates the following:
AboutThe Manitoba Teachers’ Society is the collective bargaining and professional development organization for all of Manitoba’s 15,000 public school teachers.Additional informationFounded in 1919, the Society provides assistance to local associations in collective bargaining, offers professional development workshops and lobbies government on legislation that affects education, students and teachers.As well, MTS provides a range of wellness services including the Disability Benefits Plan and Educator Assistance Program.It also provides publication services for teacher organizations such as Special Area Groups and publishes the teachers’ newsletter, the annual handbook, annual report and an extensive range of brochures and other handbooks
MTS is thus not a union as such, but it is more like a union of unions; it provides services to specific teachers’ associaitons and, through them, to the members of the specific teachers’ association.
In my last post in this series (A Worker’s Resistance to the Capitalist Government or State and Its Representatives, Part Nine), I showed how I found that Ms. Morier, a psychiatrist, had oppressed me during her assessment of me–an assessment required by MTS. This time I will outline how I felt about how another psychologist, Alan Slusky, oppressed me; I was obliged by the protocols of the Disability Benefits Plan of MTS, to attend “psychological counselling.” Indirectly, then, MTS also oppressed me.
The social-democratic or reformist left, in general, simply ignore the various forces and professions that reinforce the power of employers as a class and that lead to the oppression (and exploitation) of workers in various ways. It thereby often underestimates the difficulty of overcoming the power of the class of employers or overestimates its own reformist power.
So far, in this series of posts, various professionals have been involved in oppression:
- social workers
- Winnipeg Child and Family Services
- Manitoba Ombudsman
- Institute of Regiserted Social Workers of Manitoba
- Anishinaabe Child and Family Services
- the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP)
- A principal at a school
- A superintendent in a school division
- Probably the Minister of Education
- Probably the Minister of Justice
- Perhpas the New Democratic Premier of Manitoba, Greg Selinger
- Manitoba Teachers’ Society Disability Benefits Plan
- A psychiatrist, Gisele Morier
Given all these professionals and institutions who, directly or indirectly reinforce the class power of employers, it is hardly surprising that the social-democratic or reformist left run around in circles claiming to seek justice all the while failing to organize systematically and in a unified fashion to oppose such oppressive social structures and oppressive professionals.
Let me add one more professional trade to the list: psychology.
From a Helping Profession to an Oppressive Profession: The Real World of Psychology
Initially, Mr. Slusky did help me. My heart was still racing every day, and he taught me, through breathing exercises, to reduce the intensity of my pounding heart. I could sleep better–although my heart still raced every day. There were limits to the efficacy of this technique.
I started to feel oppressed by Mr. Slusky, though, especially after I had been “assessed” by the psychiatrist, Ms. Morier, in November 2012 (see my critique of her assessment in the earlier post A Worker’s Resistance to the Capitalist Government or State and Its Representatives, Part Nine). Mr. Slusky attempted to justify Ms. Morier’s assessment, and such a persistent justification led me to feel oppressed. Mr. Slusky persistently used such “post-modernist” phrases after that time as “It is a question of interpretation,” or “It depends on your point of view.” Mr. Slusky persistently tried to convince me–without success–of the accuracy of Ms. Morier’s assessment.
Ironically, Mr. Slusky did not, however, consider everything, at a practical level, to be just “a question of interpretation.” Either in late July or in August 2012, before the psychiatric assessment by Ms. Morier, he had sent me a stapled bill for July and August, 2012 (I still have the bills) since MTS had not yet paid him. When it comes to money, apparently, it is not a question of interpretation–but that is what Marxists say too. What is sauce for the goose is not, apparently, sauce for the gander.
Mr. Slusky had tried the usual psychological pablum called “cognitive behavioural therapy” (CBT) or mindfulness, which has as one of its roots the book by David Burns (1999): Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy. In fact, I had started attending voluntarily counselling sessions under the MTS Employee Assistance Plan (EAP) while still working as a teacher, and Degen Gene, an EAP counsellor, used the same approach.
This approach seems to be standard for many psychologists, without any concern for the underlying power structures and relations that give rise to stress when working for an employer.
As I indicated, the breathing exercises suggested by Mr. Slusky did help–but within limits.
Ultimately, Mr. Slusky attempted to change my “approach” to people by getting me to be more “flexible”–a code word for not criticizing bourgeois ideology as expressed by various individuals in various areas of life.
Below, I quote Mr. Slusky’s “initial progress report,” dated September 24, 2012:
Please accept this as an initial progress report on my psychotherapy contacts with Mr. Harris. Since your referral of Mr. Harris to me, I have met with him on the following occasions: April 27, May 18, June 1, 14 & 28, Jluy 27, and August 16 & 24, 2012. Over the course of these 8 meetings Mr. Harris has attended for all of his sessions punctually and has presented in an open fashion. For the most part Mr. Harris presents in a farily serious, stoic manner, displaying little range in effect. No evidence of psychomotor agitation is demonstrated by Mr. Harris and despite his ongoing complaints of “a pounding heart” he displays no overt signs of anxiety. Mr. Harris has on occasion come to session with his computer, occasionally working in the waiting room, prior to our sessions. Mr. Harris has also brought research with him which speaks to his political and philosophical beliefs and their impact on his philosophy of education. I have thanked Mr. Harris for providing me with copies of this information, and at times this has formed the basis for some of our discussions. Mr. Harris’ attention and concentration over the course of our meetings has been good, his speech has been articulate and fluent, and at no time has he evaded or refused to answer any of my questions.
As you are aware Mr. Harris was referred to me for cognitive behavioural therapy to address his ongoing difficulties with anxiety. In this regard I have provided Mr. Harris with instruction in diaphragmatic breathing, relaxation exercises, and mindfulness meditation. The latter of these strategies has been presented to Mr. Harris both through psycho-education in session as well as through (at his request) copies of peer reviewed primary journal articles which speak to the efficacy of this approach in managing anxieties and preventing relapses of depression. I have never before had a client ask me for peer reviewed journal articles which speak to the efficacy of the treatments offered to them and while one certainly does admire Mr. Harris’ efforts to be a “wise consumer,” this is also in keeping with his critical approach to concepts and information delivered to him. I will speak more on this below, and the impact I believe that this style is having on Mr. Harris’ recovery. Mr. Harris has indicates that he has practiced the aforementioned strategies but found them to be only of limited value. The relaxation audio CD provided to him was described as helpful however and I commended Mr. Harris for his efforts in persisting with this approach. While this behavioural technique has been of assistance, Mr. Harris does acknowledge that “focusing on my heart doesn’t help.” As such, approaches to assisting Mr. Harris need to be more than behavioural, leading us to a discussion of the cognitive work that we have done together.
With respect to cognition, Mr. Harris is certainly a bright and articulate individual. In conversation he is able to reference articles and works that he has read many years prior, and weave them into cogent and coherent arguments for his positions on various issues. The concern that I have is the degree to which Mr. Harris adopts this “critical” or argumentative approach in his discussions. On the one hand one admires an individual who is true to their principles and beliefs. On the other hand when those beliefs and principles are misunderstood by others and create defensive attitudes on their part, a different approach/style may then be called for, to effectively communicate one’s beliefs and needs. It is my opinion that it is most likely in this realm that Mr. Harris struggles. Likely as a result of early experiences in his life as well as his considerable education, Mr. Harris has developed some very well thought out positions on issues of social policy and education. It is my understanding that both in the past and currently, Mr. Harris takes the initiative to inform others of his beliefs. While Mr. Harris may be engaging in criticism from an academic/intellectual perspective, others I suspect interpret this as argumentative and resistant behaviour, and it is here I believe that Mr. Harris has struggled with respect to his success in “getting along” in a variety of different situations.
On a positive note, Mr. Harris and I recently discussed the impact of his style on his comfort level in his volunteer position at the Social Planning Council. Mr. Harris again had some very strong beliefs about the research being undertaken by this organization and in session he and I have worked hard to reframe his participation there, such that he is able to tolerate the differences between his opinions and the approach that this organization is taking in its research and work. Mr. Harris has shown some growth here, principally in his approach to the organization’s Executive Director, adopting a “softer” style in expressing his beliefs to her. Whereas in the past I suspect that Mr. Harris would have led quite strongly on this, he has I believe, gained some appreciation for the need for balance in the ways in which he expresses his opinions. In part as well I suspect that the requirement for him to continue in a volunteer position has provided further impetus for his willingness to be flexible here. Whatever the case may be, Mr. Harris has here demonstrated an ability to be flexible in his approach/style and I am encouraged by this. [my emphases]
In addition to anxiety, Mr. Harris does at times present with significant anger. This is nowhere more evident than when he discusses his situation with his ex-wife and daughter, and both the allegations made against him in the past, as well as his daughter’s current situation and their relationship. Mr. Harris indicates quite clearly that it is only because of his daughter that he is remaining in Manitoba, indicating that he does not feel like he “fits in” here, expressing a strong desire to move to Toronto where there are others who are more “like minded.” As such, on many fronts, Mr. Harris I believe is experiencing of being pulled in several directions, and this too is likely contributing to his subjective sense of anxiety.
As Mr. Harris has reported that the strategies provided to him to date have not been as helpful as he had hoped, he has begun now to express a willingness to entertain medication as an adjunctive treatment. For my part I fully support Mr. Harris’ thoughts in this regard. Not only will the appropriate medication provide Mr. Harris with a more immediate reduction in his anxiety symptoms, it is my hope that this will come a “loosening” or “softening” in Mr. Harris’ thinking and willingness to be slightly more circumspect in his expression of his political beliefs [my emphasis]. I have no doubt that Mr. Harris can be an excellent teacher, as he is quite intelligent. It is his “emotional intelligence” (i.e., his ability to appreciate the impact of his actions on others) that I believe is more problematic and I am hopeful that with appropriate medication and ongoing psychotherapy, Mr. Harris can come to a fuller appreciation of this, and demonstrate additional flexibility, above and beyond that already noted.
It is also my understanding that you are contemplating a referral to a psychiatrist to assess Mr. Harris’ readiness to return to teaching. I would respectfully recommend that this assessment also incorporate an evaluation of Mr. Harris’ readiness to accept medication treatment, and recommendations for same. Without this additional therapeutic aide I believe that Mr. Harris will considerably struggle in becoming ready to return to gainful employment as a teacher [my emphasis].
Thank you for your support in my work with Mr. Harris to date. I trust the above is of assistance to you. In the interests of therapeutic openness and transparency, I will be providing Mr. Harris with a copy of this report. Please feel free to contact me should you have any further questions or concerns regarding my work with this claimant to date.
Alan Slusky, Ph. D., C. Psych.’
Mr. Slusky, indirectly, points out that his frequent repetition of the phrase “its a question of interpretation” is an ideological cloak for his own reformist views . He wrote above:
I suspect that the requirement for him to continue in a volunteer position has provided further impetus for his willingness to be flexible here.
Indeed, the requirement that I volunteer in order to continue to receive disability benefits from the Manitoba Teachers’ Society was economic coercion [a phrase that John Clarke, a radical social democrat here in Toronto has used on a couple of occasions while ignoring its economic, political and social implications). Had I not “agreed” to “volunteer,” I could have been cut off from disability benefits. Mr. Slusky’s reference to ‘flexibility” in effect admits that economic coercion involves forcing a person to alter their will in order to receive money required to live.
Mr. Slusky did not even recognize that my “flexibility” was involuntary–that I was “flexible” because I was obliged to be so in order to continue to receive disability benefits. This lack of consideration of the factual economic coercion that obliged me to “volunteer” in the first place and to be “flexible” in the second place is characteristic of all social reformers and social democrats.
Like Mr. Clarke, though, he simply ignored the social, political, emotional and psychological implications of such economic coercion.
I felt so oppressed by Dr. Slusky that it formed one of the reasons for my decision to leave Winnipeg in favour of Toronto, Ontario (it was not, however, the only reason). I dreaded going to his sessions. To have to attend such sessions from a person who tried to justify the Gisele Morier’s abuse when she was evaluating me (as well as her biased assessment) was oppressive, and my heart would race because of such oppression.
I am glad that I left Winnipeg–despite leaving behind my daughter, Francesca; I would have likely had a heart-attack if I did not leave.
I still had to attend sessions with a psychologist in Toronto, but at least I was free from Mr. Slusky’s oppressive practice and attempt to justify the abusive evaluation made by Ms. Morier.
For further information about Mr. Slusky, see https://mps1.wildapricot.org/Sys/PublicProfile/25307229/1789964 or https://www.jewishpostandnews.ca/local/1074-for-dr-alan-slusky-building-relationships-is-an-essential-part-of-psychology-practice.
A follow-up post will continue with a description of my experiences with a psychologist here in Toronto.