Political Therapy

Valentina Desideri

Feelings and emotions are generally considered to be features of the individual, and their connections with society often disregarded. Shame, for example, is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as “A painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behaviour,” but “wrong” or “foolish” are categories defined by social norms. A feeling such as shame might then provide the opportunity to collectively question social values (i.e. Why do I feel this way? Why is this wrong? Is it wrong? How are the categories of right and wrong defined, and by whom? et cetera). Most often, however, this opportunity is not taken up, as the negative feelings produced by the violent encounter with social norms rest solely on the individual, who is made to bear those feelings alone. When their weight becomes too great, she may resort to therapy. Once again consulting the Oxford Dictionary, therapy is revealed to be a “treatment intended to relieve or heal a disorder.” Yet, a disorder is a social category defined against a category of order, of normality; of an ideal healthy subject that consequently becomes the goal of the therapy. However well-intentioned, such an understanding of therapy as a “fixing” procedure avoids questioning the very categories of thinking that give rise to the “problem” in the first place.

If we instead assume that feelings and emotions are not only a feature of the individual, but are also features of the social, then we must also recognize that: (1) troubling feelings are not only individual problems but political problems, (2) what we normally consider political problems, or issues, affect people on all levels: physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual, (as Denise Ferreira da Silva has aptly put it),1 they therefore cannot exclusively be dealt with on an intellectual level.

Political therapy is a playful way I have found to engage with this issue. Anyone is welcome to practice it. It entails individual sessions of approximately one hour, and it mixes direct discussion of political issues with hands-on healing in order to develop other languages and ways of dealing with politics. The session addresses a political problem that has been brought forward by the patient. In operation, a “political problem” is any problem, thought or question that has a political dimension for the person who experiences it. It may be something that bothers or preoccupies her, regardless of whether it is primarily lived out on a practical, personal, ideological, conceptual or existential level. What a political problem may be is a category for us to define further.

Patient Information Leaflet

What is Political Therapy?

Practiced between two individuals, Political Therapy deals with problems of a political nature and creates the conditions to develop other languages to talk about and live through politics. There is no specific discipline or theory behind it. Its practice develops as it happens. Neither the therapist nor the patient is responsible for any kind of “solution” to the problem. Instead, the problem is treated as an occasion for language to develop, for speculation to happen and for politics to be felt. It is a form of therapy for those who neither need, nor want, to be fixed. The role of therapist and patient are always exchangeable.

What is Therapy?

“Therapy is not the return of the sick body to normality but of Being to what is possible to be.”
Franco “Bifo” Berardi2

“Perhaps one day we will know that there wasn’t any art but only medicine.”
J.M.G. Le Clèzio3

Should I give / receive Political Therapy?


Who should give / receive Political Therapy?

Whoever puts him / herself in a position to give or receive a political therapy session is someone interested and open to discovering new ways of discussing politics. He or she does not mind pretending, and is a person capable of engaging in a present with no future goals or guarantees, who is nonetheless fully committed and clear in his or her intentions.

What are the possible side effects of Political Therapy?

Some feel uncomfortable touching or being touched. In that case it is enough to communicate this to your partner or stop the session entirely at any moment. It is also possible that your political behaviour may change in unforeseeable ways; you must be willing to take that risk.

Where I should practice Political Therapy?

You can practice political therapy anywhere political problems present themselves that you want to deal with. You may also practice political therapy with whomever you would like, during conversations about politics. You can do it at home, at work, at a dinner party, at an art fair, at a conference, when you or someone else around you has a political problem, at friend’s place, at an occupation... as long as you have enough space for the patient to lie down.
To practice you can make your own deck of fake therapy cards. You can find the existing cards here: http://faketherapy. wordpress.com/cards-deck

How should I give / receive Political Therapy?

One person takes the role of the Therapist (T) and the other person takes the role of the Patient (P).
T invites P to tell her what her political problem is. T and P consult each other briefly in order to formulate P’s problem in the most concise and clear way. This is best if it is formulated as a question.
T invites P to embody her political problem and to lie down either on her front or back, in a comfortable and relaxed position.
T shuffles the set of fake therapy cards and picks the first four cards from the top of the deck.
T can start from the indication written on the cards to give a pretend “hands-on healing” session to P until T feels that it is enough. Minimum time is ten minutes.
T tells P that she has finished and then asks P, who is still embodying the problem, how she is feeling and if any images, thoughts or sensations during the therapy have come to P’s mind.
T and P engage in a discussion about the problem starting from what they experienced during the therapy, connecting it with the original issue.

Option: T and P can write a conceptual map together, putting the problem / question in the middle of the page and linking it out to all the thoughts, ideas and possibilities that have emerged from the discussion. They shall continue until they both feel it has been enough.

  • 1. Denise Ferreira da Silva, personal communication.
  • 2. Franco “Bifo” Berardi, personal communication.
  • 3. J-M. G. Le Clézio, Haï (Paris: Flammarion, 1971), 7.