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Rhetoric of Therapy is a set of political and cultural discourses that have adopted psychotherapy’s lexicon—the conservative language of healing, coping, adaptation, and restoration of previously existing order—but in contexts of sociopolitical conflict.
Rhetoric of therapy is a rhetorical style coined by Dana Cloud. She defines it as “a set of political and cultural discourses that have adopted psychotherapy’s lexicon—the conservative language of healing, coping, adaptation, and restoration of previously existing order—but in contexts of social and political conflict” (xiv). This discourse encourages people to focus on themselves and their private lives rather than attempt to reform flawed systems of social and political power. This form of persuasion is primarily used by politicians, managers, journalist and entertainers as a way to cope with the crisis of the American Dream (Cloud 10). Cloud employs the term “rhetoric” because “the discursive pattern of translating social and political problems into the language of individual responsibility and healing is a rhetoric because of its powerful persuasive force” and the term “therapy” because “of its focus on the personal life of the individual as locus of both problem and responsibility for change” (1). In short, the twofold function of rhetoric of therapy is to exhort conformity with the prevailing social order and to encourage identification with therapeutic values: individualism, familism, self-help, and self-absorption (Cloud 2-3). It is directed towards individuals who cope with unemployment, family stress, sexual and domestic violence, childhood abuse, and other traumas that result from systemic hegemony such as women’s oppression, racism, and capitalism (Cloud xv).
The origins of therapeutic discourse, along with advertising and other consumerist cultural forms, emerged during the industrialization of the West during the eighteenth century. The new emphasis on the acquisition of wealth during this period produced the notion and language about the “democratic self-determination of individuals conceived as autonomous, self-expressive, self-reliant subjects” or, in short, the “self-made man” (Cloud 24). Cloud believes that the rhetoric of the self-made man was introduced to veil the growing polarity between classes of owners and laborers and that it disguised the fact that success attained through self-determination was never a real possibility for blacks, immigrants, the working class, and, women. Therefore, the language of personal responsibility, adaptation, and healing served not to liberate the working class, the poor, and the socially marginalized, but to persuade members of these classes that they are individually responsible for their plight (Cloud 24). In short, the therapeutic served as a diversion away from attention to social ills (Cloud 35).
One prominent movement that developed from this ideology is the self-help movement, which encouraged its audiences to take personal responsibility for solving their problems without attention to race, class, and gender issues (Cloud 29-35). The twofold objective of this particular movement—mental health and positive thinking—is demonstrated in one of the quintessential books of this period, The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vince Peale (Cloud 31).
To provide contemporary examples—contemporary is relative to when the book was published in 1998—of how rhetoric of therapy is used, Cloud analyzes different cases studies that show how the established order is maintained by redirecting blame from the hegemonic system to the individual. Cloud demonstrates an example of how rhetoric of therapy is employed when she discusses the rhetoric of family values in which she notes that the therapeutic strategy is to blame the absence of the “traditional” family as the cause for social ills. Rhetoric of therapy is used to divert attention from issues cause by the hegemonic systems and it leads one to believe that restoration of the traditional family structure will result in a harmonious society (Cloud 55-82). A second contemporary example of rhetoric of therapy is illustrated in her discussion of the extensive media coverage of groups that supported the Persian Gulf War. Here, the media intentionally devoted significant attention to groups that supported the war in an effort to instill blame, guilt, shame, and anxiety in individuals who openly opposed the war. Cloud’s conspiracy theory is that this was a government effort to control the nation’s perception and response to the war that many deemed unjust (Cloud 85-100). In both cases, rhetoric of therapy is used to deflate the possibility of collective resistance and to inflate receptivity to prevailing social and political structures.
- The Links below cite Dana Clouds work in their work.
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