China talks about its feelings

You wouldn’t expect culture shock moving from Canada to the US, especially when you move from Toronto to Boston then Berkeley. One thing that, initially, took me aback: people, in polite company, would talk about their therapist. At a dinner party, “So according to my therapist…”. After a break-up, “My therapist says…”

I have nothing against psychologists – indeed I married one. Canadians, I am sure, see psychologists in numbers comparable to their southern neighbors. But you would no more bring this up at a dinner party than you would discuss your latest gastrointestinal issues (that, I’m afraid, is only polite amongst other aid workers).

In true Canuck fashion, your vote, your faith, your salary and your therapy and quietly, politely, repressed from all conversation.

If I’m going to make sweeping generalizations, why stop with Canadians and Americans? If there’s a culture that likes discussing its private troubles and emotions less than Canadians, it’s probably the Chinese. Or so I gather from Evan Osnos, who tells us (with some surprise) about the growing popularity of psychoanalysis in China.

Not just psychology, but psychoanalysis. As far as I can tell, the last bastions of Freudian analysis are (i) literature departments; and (ii) neurotic New Yorkers. Good riddance. But now it’s finding new life in a nation of one billion.

The New Yorker article, terrific as it is, is gated but there’s an outstanding podcast here.

Incidentally, the New Yorker Out Loud podcast has been particularly good lately. See John Lee Anderson on Sri Lanka, Peter Hessler on Peace Corps volunteers, and John Cassidy on Chinese state capitalism and industrial policy.

3 thoughts on “China talks about its feelings

  1. I’m not sure about your diagnosis of the Chinese as very closed. It might just be that they’re closed to people outside their circle. Most canto pop is an excruciating mess of emotions that would make grunge seem stoic.

    That said, I would be horrified if someone I met twenty minutes ago told me about things their therapist or doctor told them. I would never reciprocate.

  2. I’m an American. I’m currently undergoing psychoanalysis. I’m posting anonymously because apparently I’m a Canadian at heart.

    I know it’s fashionable these days to deride analysis and psychodynamic psychology in general, but honestly I don’t get where all the hostility comes from. Wherefore “good riddance”, Chris? The people (like myself) who choose to commit large amounts of time and money to it apparently find it helpful. Where’s the harm in that? The marketplace at work, right?

    I think there’s a sort of canard that psychodynamic psychology is “less scientific” than other forms of psychology. I’d argue that (a) this presumes a level of scientific consensus among other areas of the social sciences that simply doesn’t exist–you may have noticed that “development economics” hasn’t exactly figured out how to achieve “development”, for example–and (b) it’s based on a lot of misconceptions about what psychodynamic therapy is and what the evidence says about its effectiveness.

    As far as (b) goes, I’d suggest anyone who’s interested take a look at a recent article in American Psychologist by Jonathan Shedler called “The Efficacy of Psychodynamic Psychotherapy”. I’ve pasted a link and abstract below.

    Empirical evidence supports the efficacy of psychodynamic
    therapy. Effect sizes for psychodynamic therapy are as
    large as those reported for other therapies that have been
    actively promoted as “empirically supported” and “evidence
    based.” In addition, patients who receive psychodynamic
    therapy maintain therapeutic gains and appear to
    continue to improve after treatment ends. Finally, nonpsychodynamic
    therapies may be effective in part because the
    more skilled practitioners utilize techniques that have long
    been central to psychodynamic theory and practice. The
    perception that psychodynamic approaches lack empirical
    support does not accord with available scientific evidence
    and may reflect selective dissemination of research findings.

  3. “Not just psychology, but psychoanalysis. As far as I can tell, the last bastions of Freudian analysis are (i) literature departments; and (ii) neurotic New Yorkers.”
    Not quite. Argentines, particularly from Buenos Aires, are crazy about Freudian psychoanalysis. BsAs has the highest density of analysts in the world, there is even a “Barrio Freud”…