Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology

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Volume 5 Issue 5 (December 1995), Pages fmi-IV, 291-372

Power and the origins of unhappiness: Working with individuals (pages 347-356)


Evidence that the ‘ultimate repressed’ in our understanding of emotional distress is power can be gleaned even from Freud's writing. This is a form of repression which community psychology is well placed to lift. Impossible though it is to stand outside the ‘apparatus of power’ (and, therefore to give a complete analysis of it), we cannot achieve an accurate account of the causes of human unhappiness without taking its operations into account as fully as possible. The psychological therapies do have an implicit notion of will power, but this serves only to distract our attention from the external, material nature of power. We have to be careful, moreover, not to ‘psychologize’ power by trying to turn it into an internal attribute to be ‘switched on’ by an essentially mysterious process of ‘empowerment’. We need to specify empirically the types of power that contribute to ‘clinical’ distress and give an account of ‘therapy’ in terms of the powers to which it has access (recognizing also that these are limited).

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