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Toxic Social Structures & The Climate of Trauma
on August 28, 1999
By Dr. Ian Irvine, co-editor The Animist Creating Sanctuary is a powerful piece of writing by an almost extinct professional breed - the psychiatrist/psychologist prepared to examine the bigger picture in regards to the causes of psychic distress in modern Western societies. The book undoubtably belongs to a long tradition of humanistic and Freudian writings on mental illness as produced by modern Western social structures. The title itself recalls Fromm's book 'The Sane Society' and I would argue that in many ways Bloom has given us a powerful update on themes covered in that now classic work. One also thinks of works by Arthur Janov (especially his work on trauma suppression), Alice Miller, De Mauss, Mickel Adzema, Wilhelm Reich (and the Bioenergetic tradition), Stanislav Grof and many others who have applied Freudian and Humanistic ideas to the social arena. In this sense the work is also in a kind of refracted dialogue with that great Freudian text Civilisation and its Discontents. The picture of modern society - particularly modern American society - painted for us by Bloom is not a pretty one. Sanity and psychic health is seen as a virtual impossibility in the face of a normalised climate of repression and institutionalised trauma creation. The central obsessions of our consumeristic, violence and money obsessed modern world are described in terms of a general malaise polluting and undermining the psychic integrity of individuals and collectives alike. Bloom accurately describes to us a world characterised by institutional harshness, denial (that there even is a crisis!) and outright disinterest in the truly important issues to do with trauma and violence that now shape our collective social psyches. In this climate, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and other health care professionals seem all but unable to act in the best interests of their clients. In this sense, Bloom criticises the faceless bureacrats, lawyers and insurance moguls who increasingly shape and infringe upon the client patient relationship: often forcing psychiatrists to opt for functionalist alienated treatment regimes over potentially more humane and effective ones. The insight that society is not so much interested in curing people who have fallen victim to the collective (in)humanity we call a society, as in making money out of the later life effects of trauma suppression is a disturbing under-current to the book. There is a great deal to this book, far more than I could cover in a short review like this. The work is groundbreaking in its merged sociological and psychological methodology. More importantly, however, it stands as powerful indictment of the way in which modern societies act to undermine and subtly traumatise large sections of their populations. A must read.