Beware of equating increased access to mental health services with health equity: The need for clinical and epistemic humility in psychology


Cosgrove, L., & Herrawi, F, The Humanistic Psychologist

As the coronavirus public health crisis continues to affect countries around the world, it has become increasingly evident that the burdens that are imposed by the pandemic are not shared equally. Those with fewer resources, immigrants, and members of marginalized and racialized groups are at a disproportionate risk of physical harm and emotional distress from coronavirus 2019. However, when responses to discrimination, social disadvantage, and racism are captured as depression, this may result in overmedicalization and overtreatment. Instead of focusing predominantly on increased access to mental health services, humanistic psychology has long recognized the need to address the structural and systemic obstacles that undermine well-being. Indeed, responses to wide-scale human suffering that focus exclusively on intraindividual interventions often keep the status quo intact and do not animate our political imagination. If mental health issues are embedded in inequality, which is a social and structural category, not a psychological category, then it is ignorance producing to suggest that one can solve mental health issues on an individual, psychological level. Finally, an important lesson can be learned from humanistic psychology’s emphasis on empathic dwelling when bearing witness to human suffering. Empathic dwelling is not a cognitive or intellectual exercise that simply facilitates mental health treatment. Rather, it is a purposeful stance or comportment from which we try “to feel one’s way into the other’s experience [ein-fu¨ hlen] . . . [what] Husserl described as ‘trading places’”. It is only in and through this type of comport ment, this deeply felt attunement, that we will be able to bring clinical and epistemic humility to fruition. Read more