Annette Poizner
This Way Up: Psychological Means to Spiritual Ends

Psychology’s ‘Red Pill’: Why your therapist hates Jordan Peterson

They hate him. As they, of course, would. Peterson, in his bestselling 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, as well as in his many talks, videos and articles, has delivered a gut punch to the mental health industry, catalyzing a DIY sensibility that, in any number of cases, can obviate the need for expensive clinical services.

Check out the comments under his YouTube videos, comments like these run in the thousands:

I was on the verge of suicide in my moms basement. This man helped me get my life together. 8 months full time employed right now, working out 5 days a week and in a relationship. I even got promoted at my job. My life isnt amazing but it’s a hell of a lot better It’s a f—ing miracle. I dont want to die anymore. Thank you JP for helping me save my life.”

“I’m functionally depressed. Been listening to Peterson almost everyday for a few months now. Just cleaned my room today.”

“I want you to know that your words and ideas have helped me become the father I need to be to break the chain of poverty, addiction and abuse that plagues my family tree so that my children can have a better life than I had. You have helped me find meaning in my life; to improve myself so that those who come after can have a better chance . . . You are more of a father to me than any other mortal man has ever been.”

“My book marker for 12 rules is my empty antidepressant tablet case.

When’s the last time a friend of yours attributed those kinds of outcomes to his or her work with a psychotherapist? Not that it never happens, but how frequently does it happen?

I recently wrote a blog calling out those who despise Jordan Peterson and woke up to an email from a psychologist who permits me to share his message:

“Dr Poizner,
It was brave of you to post a supportive blog which we read in the Times of Israel about Professor Jordan Peterson. My colleague and I, Dr Mark Durkin wrote a letter [supportive of the contribution of Jordan Peterson] to The Psychologist in July last year, which was published on-line. It led to a torrent of abuse on Twitter, but all of the criticisms were levelled at Prof Peterson and not us, the messengers. When we learned about his recent illness, we sent a letter to Clinical Psychology Forum, the main in-house professional journal for clinical psychologists in the UK. We are still waiting to hear whether they will be publishing it?

My correspondent concedes what ought to be most relevant to his colleagues, while also intimating what should be less relevant. He writes: “As you comment Prof Peterson has helped thousands through his work. Actions really do speak louder.”

In his last phrase, he effectively concurs with the central point of my original article: that in considering Peterson, we must give full weight to the opus of work he has generously shared, fully register the thousands and thousands who have derived help and place less emphasis on his politics, even if they, at times, run counter to our sensibilities.

The author, Dr Jerome Carson, Professor of Psychology and Chair of the Board of Studies for Higher Research Degrees at the University of Bolton, well knows what several therapists have confided: Clinicians can’t be too public about their interest in Jordan Peterson’s work. They could lose clients, social standing or opportunities for advancement.

So here it is, I’ll just say it: The clinical mainstay is anti-Peterson, against the guy who makes a case that the secular worldview is a breeding ground for angst. Against the guy who asserts the psychological significance of the G-d ideal, the guy who traces the devastating mental health consequences that befall us when that ideal falls by the wayside.

Speaking of which, I’d like to suggest that when the priority and role of elders fall away, as it does in secular society, there is a gaping void filled by – surprise, surprise – mental health providers who take on the function of clergy; meaning-makers provide support and guidance but they, themselves, may never cultivate an enduring psycho-spiritual maturity nor seed it within their clientele. Peterson has been egging his followers on along a certain trajectory, one that your garden-variety therapist – custodian and beneficiary of the secular culture? – may not espouse nor endorse.

And yet, Peterson’s insights are overdue and even required in the current economy. It’s not feasible to equip each person with expensive one-on-one counseling, especially when the core trouble may be systemic. There is a problem with the pervasive worldview and Peterson isn’t the only academic addressing it.

Check this out: At Harvard University, the two most popular undergraduate classes hold no surprise: introductory economics and computer science. The class that historically ranks number three in popularity, though, is a head turner: Chinese philosophy.

In her book based on this course, Christine Gross-Loh describes the professor, Michael Puett:

a tall, energetic man in his late 40s stood on the stage at Sanders Theatre speaking animatedly to over 700 students. His famously engaging lectures are done without any notes or slides – 50 minutes of pure talk every time.

The author describes the impact of these ideas on the students:

Michael’s students have shared with me stories of how their lives were transformed by these ideas. Some have told me they have changed the way they look at their relationships, now recognizing that the smallest actions have a ripple effect on themselves and everyone around them. As one student explained,” Prof. Puett opens the door to a different way of interacting with the world around me, of processing my feelings, of establishing with myself, and with others, a sense of calm that I hadn’t felt before.

Summarizing the ‘take away’ for students, she suggests that the ideas,

change [the students’] approach to major life decisions and their own trajectory. Whether they decided to go into finance or anthropology, law or medicine, these ideas equip them with different tools and a different worldview than those with which they had been raised, opening a new window onto the purpose of life and its infinite possibilities. One student told me, “it’s very easy to have the mind-set that you’re building toward some ultimate goal in climbing a ladder to some dream and – whether that’s a certain position or a certain place in life. But this message really is powerful: that by living your life differently, you can open yourself up to possibilities you never imagined were even possible.

Some young people, themselves, are coming to the conclusion they need a new worldview. Enter Jordan Peterson, Michael Puett and others who reach into the wisdom traditions of yesteryear and share pearls. Ancient wisdom for modern minds.

The need is desperate but these efforts to educate will also be met with resistance. Why? Because secular culture reveres independence whereas the sacred systems insist that each young person needs to spend time sitting at the foot of an elder. Secular society venerates the new and improved, sacred systems favour the tried-and-true.

I grant you that the following is dated on various fronts but it used to be a relevant expression: “There is nothing as relevant as today’s New York Times and nothing as irrelevant as yesterday’s New York Times.” In secular society, we assume the best is yet to come. We wait for the latest research, the cure for cancer must be around the corner, the better technology is coming down the pike.

What need do we have for dated knowledge, outdated executives, the 50+ crowd who no longer have their finger on the pulse of modernity? In today’s culture, the senior executive is let go. The most valuable asset is the single 20 something, techno-savvy, Instagram-friendly, willing to travel the world to minister to lucrative accounts. Today, it’s the independent young people who radiate leadership, right?

In the context of this culture, not every young adult will have the instinct to ‘lean in’, not to the corporate structure, but to silos of moral teachings, ancient think-tanks where values can be clarified, distilled, morphed, abandoned, revised or some variant of the above.

Regardless, enough young people are leaning in to make Peterson’s book a bestseller, enough to make Puett’s course popular with the up and coming. The secret sauce: ancient wisdom, something that nobody can patent. It’s there for the taking. As close as your nearest online course, including the university courses that Peterson has made freely available on YouTube, accessible to anyone wondering if anything there could be useful.

Why doesn’t your therapist like Jordan Peterson?

Many a clinical practice could become defunct if young people continue to recalibrate with the help of Peterson, his cronies and the wealth of information that can be accessed through the spiritual traditions. Peterson warns, “don’t let who you are get in the way of who you could be.” Some young people discover that, indeed, they do want to change. As they do, one sector of the psychotherapy clientele, the ones we, in the business, call the “worried well,” morph, becoming less worried, more well. Us therapists will be able to channel our time and effort towards those with more pronounced psychological challenges.

In the short term, let the majority of therapists continue their ‘hate on’ for Jordan Peterson. The last laugh may be on them. Here’s my variant of an old joke:

How many therapists does it take to change a light bulb?
None. But the light bulb has to want to change.

Thanks to Jordan Peterson, Michael Puett and others, the lightbulb wants. But will the therapists change? Now, that remains to be seen.

About the Author
Annette Poizner is a Columbia-trained clinical social worker who graduated with a Doctorate of Education in Counseling Psychology. As an Israeli-trained graphologist, she specializes in projective personality assessment, as well as strategic psychotherapy. Her work has been featured extensively in the media and in academic venues. She founded Lobster University Press, an imprint which explores the work of Jordan Peterson. Her books, the most recent being, "From Chaos to Order: A Guide to Jordan Peterson's Worldview," summarize Peterson's ideas and explore the intersection between his insights and Jewish wisdom. She also produces animations which relay some of Peterson's insights in short soundbites.
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