Data Type: Journal Article

Therapeutic institutions

Kelly, C. G. (2007). Therapeutic institutions. In S. Seidman & N. Fischer & C. Meeks (Eds.), Introducing the new sexuality studies: Original essays and interviews (1st Ed., pp. 377-381). New York, NY: Routledge.

This chapter is a brief description of the way that therapeutic institutions (TIs) contribute to the “social construction of sexuality” (377). The work notes that TIs rely on the “pathological perspective”, a perspective that Kelly criticizes. The article is composed of three parts. First, it includes a description of the “pathological perspective,” which attempts to explain social deviancy in terms of individual illness. Second, it outlines an explanation of the ways in which therapeutic institutions are “knowledge factories”– in that they enforce social norms [i.e. define social deviancy as a “problem”], ignore social factors [i.e. focus on the deviant actor rather than her/his social surroundings], justify treatment, and speak for others [i.e. deny the client the ability to tell her/his own story]) Finally, the work offers some broad examples of the way TIs have historically operated as “knowledge factories” in women’s sexuality and homosexuality. While Kelly does not say that TIs are wholesale malignant, he does suggest that they ought to be treated with caution and skepticism.

Kelly does cite a particular methodology in the writing of this article; he merely recounts facts and a genealogy of events. In this sense, his work can be seen as theoretical in nature. Readers may note that because his explanation is mostly broad and historical in nature, it lacks the individual stories that could lend more credence to the impact of TIs on individuals. Readers may find this is interesting because Kelly addresses that one concern of TIs is that they deny clients the ability to tell their own stories, yet, due to his robust historical explanations, he himself is unable to include these personal stories in his work.

This article contributes to knowledge about social construction, psychotherapy and sexuality, because it outlines some of mechanisms through which therapeutic institutions influence meaning making about sexuality. The author identifies that TIs can enforce social norms, ignore social factors, justify treatment, and speak for others in a way that attaches a specific client’s deviancy to her/his pathology rather than society at large. This suggests that individuals operating in TIs have a significant role in defining, and enforcing, social norms about sexuality.

Categories: History & Philosophy of Psychology & Psychiatry, Queer Theory/Sexuality Studies, Social Construction, Sociology of Mental Health and Illness
Publication Date: 2007