Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Therapy: The self-creation of identity in late-modernity

Anthony Giddens argues in his book Modernity and Self-Identity (1991) that we live today in what he calls "risk societies". By this he means that social phenomena in our society are complex, unpredictiable and risky in nature. He develops in this book themes around the distinctive form for reflexivity which are characteristic in modernity, risk and trust, and about the self-creation of identity in late modernity through the reflexive shaping of our own biographical narratives.

The response to the complexities, uncertainties and risks inherent in late-modern societies is that new forms of institututions arise where other expert systems seem to have failed. When the professionalized expert system fails, all of their contradictions and failures are dumped at the foot of the individual involved, and leaves this individual with a well intentioned invitation to judge the failures of the expert system with ones own notions.

Changing people's lives through therapy is one such expert system and is associated with the reflexive project of the self. Giddens argues in the above mentioned book that therapy is "a phenomenon of modernity's reflexivity". Therapy is not just a method used to adjust to society; it is also a method dealing with life-planning and how to gain control over ones life. Individuals are given the opportunity of creating new identities through therapeutic intervention.

Asking for help is not necessarily shameful as long as the one asking for help has trust in the helping part, feels control and can manage it. The fear people have for asking for help, argues Richard Sennett in his well-known book Respect in a World of Inequality (2003), is a sign of a dysfunctional organization. Asking for help sends out a signal of being needy, so people tend to hide their problems so not to lose face in the environments they live in. Problems then become evident only first when they become too large to hide. Sennett argues that losing control over what is revealed can result in a feeling of nakedness; "the nakedness of shame".

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