Fly on the Wall—Therapy, the World’s Oldest Profession?

Back to School, Back to Therapy

Fly on the Wall—Therapy, the World’s Oldest Profession?


Try reading aloud this article title to a counsellor and you’ll find, I wager, that contrary to the seriousness of their client’s subject matter and lifelong travails, never can it be said that therapists lack a sense of humor!  And if you want, follow it up with a paraphrase of President/WW2 General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s famous line: “we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.” Substitute therapy for military and you have one perspective on the rising tide of psychological individuation within our times that, ironically, have never been more florid with possibilities for collective unity, solidarity, and action.

Even as sex trade workers in our country receive a degree of recognition for their, er, services, another vocation has risen to heights not seen since the days of Catholic school confession booths.  I’m talking about therapists, of course, and, like many AU students and alumni, I’ve successfully availed myself of their services on multiple occasions.  Nevertheless, along with sentiments of hope and progress in therapy, a sense of futility abides; visiting a therapist often seems part of a lifelong journey rather than a temporary palliative during troubled times.  If a band-aid solution was the solution, they’d be out of a job.

Yet, wherever there’s doom and gloom and a sense of endless struggle, there’s an academic discipline or two available to help us obtain a more well-rounded sense of ourselves and our lives.  Sociology, the study of human psyches within their unique ethno-cultural landscape, provides a unique tactic for placing our individual selves within the purview of the dominant historical epoch.

Anti-Oppressive Practice, or AOP, asks us to begin by assessing our emotional lives within a context of “deepening of globalization and the rise of neoliberal policies, including cuts to social programs, rising inequality, and dominant discourse that blames individuals for their distress”.  With tongue-in-cheek, beat poet Allen Ginsberg once intoned “America, are you going to let your emotional life be run by Time magazine? I’m obsessed by Time magazine, I read it every week.” Our individuation is inseparable from our context, a fact easy to forget within the intimacy of one-on-one dialogue.  After all, the external and coercive nature of social and economic realities can seem too great a hill to overcome by merely sitting and chatting within the confines of a safe space setting.  But surely that doesn’t mean that therapists merely aid and abet our ability to adapt and survive, rather than helping us to think critically about our circumstances.

Instead of making pariahs of therapists for the seemingly eternal necessity of their compassionate services we might, with a generous horsewink involved, consider the sociological context whereby therapy came to seem such a valuable prerequisite to understanding the interior life of our minds.  To begin with, we all have an internal mirror through which we unveil our identity.  And who we are to ourselves is certainly core to the self we project to others.  Further to this natural fact is that being human involves being understood not only by ourselves but also within a community of others.  A form of cultural translation is required in each interaction, one that takes into account the prevailing winds of times and audience—jokes that worked well decades ago can lead us to being ghosted by friends, and relationship advice that might have solved problems in days of yore now can sound as antiquated as, well, an antique study desk.  Just think how rarely we’re likely to tell a loved one to shut up and do what they’re told, for instance.  We intuitively know that being respectful of the dignity of others is part of how we must behave nowadays.  Just as roads are required for us to access goods and services and have been part of settled life for thousands of years, ideological suppositories that provide meaning and solace to our populations have determined the hows and whys of human life.  Social and historical perspective begins, like any enlightenment, with stepping back to gaze at the wider picture.

Oppression Behind Our Selves, Oppression as Part of Ourselves

The fact is, we don’t all sit our kiesters down on a therapist’s couch as equal human beings.    Anti-oppressive practice allows us to put our puny lives in perspective; social science research shows that we receive opportunities for emotional satiety differently depending on membership in one or more classes of people.  Social “power is based on group identities or affiliations (such as race, class, gender, and sexual identity), and when practitioners notice group identities, they can anticipate—for that client, their family, or their community—an array of experiences that are associated with positive or negative life outcomes (such as health, income, education, marginalization, violence, status, and social inclusion/exclusion).” With that out of the way, a sense of cultural position can yield good results—contentment need not rest exclusively on our core-belief hoisting shoulders; much of our experience of life and its outcomes is outside of our control.  For many that’s a sigh of relief, being unburdened from that problematic concept of eternal individual responsibility that leads to not only lower self esteem but, at times, an excessive amount of academic anxiety.

Nevertheless, that key bugaboo of therapy praxis remains: core beliefs.  Like societal oppression, this too can be gently placed under the lens of critical interrogation.  Consider how archaeologists recently concluded that almost a million years ago “members of the human genus, Homo, weathered a roughly 117,000-year-long freeze while maintaining an average of 1,280 individuals capable of breeding”.  Almost everybody died, literally, and not only on the inside!  Maybe stone age therapists (likely occupying roles associated with religion, today that means a secular humanist belief system) told everyone to remember that how they interpret reality is how it will be, but in all seriousness such a calamity would have made everyone reach for the nearest compassionate listener.  In this broadest of historical senses, a lesson can be learned: life is largely larger than ourselves, and, even though our hermeneutic (that is, interpretive) approaches can be vital to feeling fulfilled, there’s an awful lot of misery and destruction and alienation that fall beyond the broad scope of even our most fertile of minds.  In fact, religions of world history traditionally acknowledge the uneven nature of control and powerlessness in a backhanded manner every time cataclysms are at once said to the doing of God(s) and simultaneously the consequence of human sin.  Climate change can be mapped onto here somewhere, or more specifically climate anxiety that leads many young people to attend therapy appointments out of worry that their decisions about, say,  using plastic straws (it turns out they have less of those toxic forever chemicals than their papery counterparts) are leading us to Armageddon as compared to placing the lion’s share of responsibility onto the business decisions of ruling class policies.  And while we’re at it, how often is the term busyness coined by therapists without noting its corollary in literal business?

Maybe most important when considering our modern epoch’s anxiety-producing cultural and economic tendencies is to recall that, for every contemporary example that the sky is falling, there’s countless historical examples that present troubles are, or were, also the troubles of yesteryear, and will likely be the troubles of tomorrow.  So if there’s one thing about therapy that can be sure to work, it’s the realization that, far from Thomas Hobbes’ suspicion that life without a ruling monarch would be “nasty, poor, solitary, brutish and short”, however we feel about our life is likely to remain about the same—unless, that is, we put ourselves into societal and historical perspective.


Bower, B.  (August 31 2023).  ‘Extreme Cold May Have Nearly Wiped Out Human Ancestors 900 000 Years Ago’.  Science News.  Retrieved from

Curry-Stevens, A.  (2021).  ‘Anti-Oppressive Practice’.  Oxford Bibliographies.  Retrieved from

Eisenhower, D.  (1961).  ‘Military-Industrial Complex’.  Retrieved from and

Ginsberg, A.  (1956).  ‘America’.  Retrieved from

Hobbes, T.  (1651).  ‘Thomas Hobbes: Solitary, Poor, Nasty, Brutish and Short’.  Yale Books.  Retrieved from

Mikhail, A.  (August 24 2023).  ‘Paper Straws Are More Likely to Contain Forever Chemicals than Plastic Straws.’ Fortune Magazine.  Retrieved from