Sunday, June 3, 2012


In 1998 I wrote about something I called "doppression". I never published it, and every now and then I searched google for the word.. no hits. Yesterday I tried again and found this page entitled doppression by a comedian called Drew Michael, about oppression of people who identify with being "gay". It's time I added to the meme publically, so here's what I wrote all those years ago


There are several models for viewing the experience that is popularly known as "depression". The current dominant model consists of a collection of popular memes combined in a narrative something like this...

  1. Our natural state is not to be distressed
  2. Deviation from the natural state is a disease (pathology)
  3. Disease is predominantly caused by internal factors (genes, predisposition, biochemical disturbance)
  4. Although depression can be precipitated, the development of the disease reflects some internal deficiency or lack of coping skills.
  5. The deficiency can, to some extent, be treated with medication' and the coping skills can, to some extent be leamt
  6. The best way of learning coping skills is through intellectual processes (cognitive behavioural therapy)

Some benefits of this model are that there is a widespread faith in the view that "a suitable medication, when found, can bring relief of suffering". Many medications have been found that are helpful. The process of prescribing is viewed by doctor and patient alike as a significant step toward "recovery".

This model survives, despite recent evidence resulting from technological advances which will cause it to be reviewed (people with depression don't have lowered serotonin levels in their brains, they are actually raised) (Now in 2012 I have to review this.. but I am sure that we really don't understand the role of serotonin in depression)

Some drawbacks of this model are that the person for whom medications are prescribed, or cognitive therapy instructed, are left with the idea that the illness was consequent to them being deficient or abnormal or misinformed or crazy. Context is acknowledged, but kept at a distance.

There are many alternative models
Depression is a spiritual crisis and an opportunity for spiritual growth or awareness
Depression is the result of some karmic misdemeanour
Depression is a test of one's mettle
Depression has no meaning and is a consequence of the random occurrence of pain and
Depression is consequent to loss and represents to some extent a personal loss of self
Depression is consequent to oppression (physical, verbal) , by either people or by
people's critical ideas which have been internalised as self-truths.

Being highly interested in language and its effects, and being disillusioned by the application for 10 years of the dominant model and my belief that it disempowers the "sufferer", I have devoted much of my time in recent years to exploration of the latter model which has been articulated by several people. Most cogent for me is the modem articulation of these ideas in the context of so-called "narrative therapy".

The strengths of this narrative model are that they give rise to options for any individuals who have contact with someone with depression to look at their own possible contribution to the perpetuation of the "disease", by inadvertent oppression through the use of advice, judgement, inability to understand or accept what the "sufferer" is reporting, and give us also a chance to consider the possibility that in a dominant culture we are all trained so well to dominate that we often oppress others. Hence "doppression".

As Michael White points out, our culture has moved towards this acknowledgement by putting the "post traumatic" in "post traumatic stress disorder" which was previously known by several labels which pathologised the individual including "war neurosis".

If you accept that the narrative model may have some merit, then I would invite you to consider the possibility that the ways that we usually relate to someone who is "doppressed", actually generate and keep alive the condition. These ways include.. Pitying, advice giving, rescuing, refraining, ' criticising, confronting, neutral listening, reflecting back (without checking), indulging, ignoring, labelling (officially with "diagnosis" or unofficially with pathologising lay judgements (laybels [sic]) including "immature", "weak", "fragile", "overemotional", "angry" amongst a multitude of other labels.

I have become less interested in criticisms of the narrative model, as they often rely on dominant paradigms such as "evidence leads to truth" and "of all explanations, one must be more true than others" which is extended to "unless model A can be demonstrated to be more watertight than Model B, it is not valid". I am not disinterested in such criticism because I think the underlying assumptions are flawed, but because they are unhelpful. inasmuch as they may lead to the dismissal of possible options for change. My assumption is that any approach which broadens options for action is worth privileging.

Much about the possibility that the way we treat others, especially by the language we use, is found in the accompanying essay*. I invite you to suspend disbelief and read this paper as if it had merit and ask yourself "What if this contains some truth? How could I change my language when I talk with others?" I then invite you to try it and see. If, after you are well practised at avoiding power words, your loved ones don't notice an improvement, then I invite your criticism. Criticism in the absence of a "field trial" does not particularly interest me. If you find, as I did, that serious consideration of our language opens new doors for you and the people you relate to, please feel free to let me know.

On a personal note, I had this really negative reaction to finding someone else had publicised "doppression" as it was "my word". How crazy is that?. but it made me think about how effective is the conditioning that our self worth depends on our ownership, authorship, and entitlement to use, dispense or permit usage of memes. I'll get over it... like I did with "Obecalp"... more about that another time too. Thanks Drew for bringing it to the www.

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