On Psychotherapy and Liberation

J Drew Lanham: ”Joy Is the justice we give ourselves”*


 In his talk at the New Directions Rewilding the Unconscious Environmental Writing Conference, J Drew Lanham stated “Joy is the Justice We give ourselves” I resonated with these words immediately and have continued to meditate on them. Not only can psychotherapy help us to reduce or transform symptoms, it also aims to expand our positive capacities, such as joy. In fact, many are afraid to allow themselves to feel joy because of trauma, suffering from their past, and current oppression. How do we expand our capacity to exercise joy in the face of oppressive forces in society and the hardships of life? This question informs my work as a psychotherapist. To piggy back off of Drew’s brilliant statement, I would add that joy is an act of subversion. By expanding our capacity for joy in the midst of hardship and oppression, we take a stand to live our lives in spite of the forces and systems that, as Drew described “would steal our joy before we even get to experience it.” In this way, I see psychotherapy as an act of subversion and liberation.

 Adrienne Maree Brown*


 Psychotherapy allows us to be more engaged and do the work we are here to do, and know what that work is. My goal as a therapist is not to impart or share my political beliefs. Rather, no individual is living in a vacuum and psychotherapy helps us to realize our connection to the world. It helps heal the wounds and blindspots from the past that unconsciously lead us to impart our suffering on others. As we become more whole and free by doing our own work on ourselves, we consciously and unconsciously spread that freedom to others. We become more aware of the choices we can make in connection to the world around us.

 Adrienne Maree Brown is not a psychologist. She is an activist and her lens of activism and liberation resonates with some of my own thinking about the connection between individual liberation and the work of liberation in the world.  She sees pleasure as pivotal in such work.

 I admire her emphasis on “practicing.” In psychotherapy, we learn to practice and identify new behaviors and patterns that increase our freedom and joy.

 She is known for her spreading of emergent strategy, which in part grew from reflections on what the natural world can teach us about how change happens. It focuses on how what happens at the small scale happens at the larger scale and how patterns in nature repeat everywhere in life. This is part of why I think change at the individual therapeutic level can have powerful implications for our society. If you want to change the world, start with yourself. These are the kinds of conversations I welcome in my office, regardless of what your political beliefs are.

 As I mentioned in the footnote, while I may not agree with all of her ideas, some, as I’ve just described resonate deeply. Moreover, she brings an intellectual tradition rooted in ideas from thinkers of color (such as Octavia Butler and Bell Hooks), who are sorely overlooked in the field and practice of psychology. Though not a psychologist,  I believe her ideas of change have implications and resonance with change from a psychological perspective as well.

*The work of these individuals and organizations inspire my own. Please note that I cannot endorse everything they say or everything included on their website. Nor do I agree with all of their words. Nevertheless, their work sustains my own. I am a member of New Directions and Climate Psychology Alliance, but have no affiliation with the other individuals. I have included their websites as a way of giving credit to their ideas and paying tribute to their influence on me.

Schedule Appointment

Make a change today! Click here to request an appointment.