Sunday, 29 October 2017

The Casual Ableism of “Get Therapy”

A while ago on Ask a Manager, a letter writer with PTSD asked about how to get her boss to tone down a Halloween display that was triggering her.  The over-the-top decoration wasn’t a big deal, but the constant spooky soundtrack was a problem.  Not just spooky music, but screams and other sounds suggesting people or animals being horribly harmed.

There were lots of useful suggestions, but also at least one impressively patronizing comment. The commenter first expressed that he’d have trouble replying with a straight face if a grown woman was scared of a little spooky music, since children are fine with it. And he suggested that she get therapy.

After I finished swearing under my breath, I realized how much casual ableism is packed into those two little words.

First, there’s the condescension. I rather doubt that someone who’s triggered by their work environment every year and who takes the time to write to an advice columnist for suggestions is sitting there going, “Therapy?  What is this ‘therapy’ of which you speak?  I’d better go try that!”  It’s like asking a fat person if they’ve ever heard of diets (with the exception that therapy is way more useful).

But, aside from the attitude of “I must make incredibly basic suggestions that this person surely has never considered,” there’s also the underlying idea that mentally ill people owe it to abled people to never inconvenience them.  Because “get therapy” is presented as an *alternative* to talking to the boss about the decorations.

Even overlooking the fact that therapy is a help rather than a magic cure-all, the idea is still that it’s the responsibility of the person with the mental illness to “get better” completely rather than make the completely reasonable request that their work environment not be filled with screams and maniacal laughter for several days leading up to Halloween.  If the therapy doesn’t work quickly enough, I suppose they’re just supposed to take the time off.  Wait, no, that might inconvenience their coworkers.  Better just suck it up and have multiple panic attacks.  Make sure to hide in the bathroom and panic quietly, so no one is annoyed by any crying or hyperventilating that might occur. But, you know, don’t take too long.  Other people might need to pee.

That’s not to say that therapy isn’t important, or that you shouldn’t do what you can reasonably do on your own before asking for accommodations. But it costs *nothing* to turn the sound off on creepy decorations, or to switch the soundtrack to spooky music without the screams. (I guess it might cost $5 if you don’t have suitable music handy, but a boss this into Halloween probably has 47 covers of Monster Mash as well as every version of Toccata and Fugue in D minor ever recorded.)

It bothers me that people are so cavalier about other people’s suffering that they weigh “Boss gets to celebrate Halloween exactly as he wants” as more important than “Employee’s serious health condition isn’t exacerbated by totally optional and non-work related things.”




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