Mental Health as Self Defense

It is not uncommon for revolutionaries and radicals of all stripes to devote time, money and energy to self-defense classes in preparation for physical encounters with the State and other antagonists. Self-defense has been an important characteristic of the revolutionary project. However, physical preparedness is only one part of true self-defense. Mental health is all too often ignored as a necessity for engaging in sustainable radical projects. Most predictably, this oversight has seriously compromised the effectiveness of our resistance, and it has also limited the social relationships we build and our ability to create genuine and powerful communities. This oversight is a complex combination of stigma and well-founded suspicion of current mental health models and industries, as well as a consequence of inadequate access to mental health services under capitalism. We must find a way to overcome these obstacles and explore modes to strengthen our mental health to refuse the reproduction of the the violent system that we live in, and to continue to challenge white supremacy, capitalism, and patriarchy.

It would be naive to believe that dysfunctional and oppressive social structures only affect us in physical and material ways while leaving our emotions and behaviors unaffected. It is equally naive to believe that mental health models that directly benefit from these unjust and oppressive societal structures offer the best advice to bolster a radical community’s mental self-defense and health. All too often, repressive societies have used the rubric of mental health to coerce, and at times punish, those who oppose domination and coercion; so it is natural for revolutionaries to be skeptical of therapy in general. We all know oppressive forces routinely use physical force, but this doesn’t mean we inherently reject physical means to pursue our goals. Radical therapy’s goal should not be assimilating the individual to the status quo, but allowing the individual to regain autonomy over their emotions and behaviors and allow them to work in communities to promote these goals.

Radical therapies must respect the political goals of the participants. MAST is one therapy that highlights autonomy and anti-authoritarian modes of allowing individuals to manage their emotions and behaviors in a way they find productive and gratifying. Radical therapies should seek to create situations where people can freely work out emotional and behavioral obstacles that affect their ability to form relationships and resistance. Therapy need not only be reactive, focusing on damage already done, but can also be preventive, preparing an individual for future stressors, oppression or difficulties. MAST is not so much about repairing damage but mastering tools to be emotionally and behaviorally intentional and autonomous.

MAST deconstructs traditional cognitive therapeutic techniques by considering them using the frameworks of radical political praxis. MAST rejects the hierarchy and static roles of therapist and patient, and replaces them with a learning community where roles intentionally change. Narrators (the name for those being counseled) become supporters (name for those doing the counseling) and vice versa creating a more holistic and egalitarian social relationship that is at odds with the specialist paradigm of cognitive psychology. MAST draws on group therapy and peer support networks tools to create community environments instead of traditional dyadic models found in all therapeutic models including cognitive ones. MAST practices extreme transparency as part of its model by presenting all the tools of MAST prior to them being used in a session combined with participants experiencing both using the tools to help others and the tools being used by others to help them. This approach completely demystifies the process and goals of the sessions. MAST focuses on autonomy and its tools resist the creation of dependency relationships so common in therapeutic settings. This is done by removing the dyad model and creating different group configurations. MAST focuses on the power of the community to provide support as opposed to specialists or charismatic individuals. MAST teaches tools to laypeople and allows them to use them in a way to help others and, eventually, themselves. MAST allows the group, and the individuals involved, to create the community standards of the program, and to consider ways to hold each other accountable in order to create an open and intimate environment free of mandatory “reporting.” MAST is free and voluntary, removing material considerations, coercive financial structures and creating an open atmosphere for exploration and mastery. MAST is an open system. It seeks to evolve and change with each session, rejecting static or dogmatic solutions. MAST is primarily based on cognitive psychology but is heterogeneous enough to use tools from other modes and influences. MAST allows problems to be located in a number of places, not just the individual as is in traditional psychotherapy, and allows for ongoing political analysis and criticism of current social structures in society. The infusion of radical critiques and ideas inform every aspect of the MAST experience, which is an explicit political project. MAST can be easily replicated without need for significant money, time or energy nor does it require obtaining permission from specialists or a governing body. MAST is not exclusive; it is just one set of tools among many.