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  • Writer's pictureMats Paulsen

Needed: The Society Therapist

The fact that President Trump has lost the election does not mean that a growing mistrust between people disappears. Within the field of social psychology a movement is growing that wants the guild to step forward and help patch up the broken society.

One basic thesis is that polarization is driven by helplessness, anxiety and fear - emotions that psychologists can understand and influence.

- A grassroots movement is growing. It wants to get people from different camps to meet and get closer to each other again, says Kirk Schneider, candidate for president-elect of the American Psychologist Association (APA).

Verbal pie-throwing, even verbal or physical violence, becomes a structured and sometimes heartfelt conversation.

What Kirk Schneider describes seems to be a kind of psychological activism. He himself is one of the leading figures. As early as 2013, he wrote the acclaimed "The Polarized Mind: Why It's Killing Us and What We Can Do About It."

Since then, he has developed methods that help bridge divides between people with extremely different views. He recently published a practical handbook, "The Depolarization of America: A Guidebook for Social Healing”.

- We bring people together from very different backgrounds, whether it is cultural, religious, political or economic. They meet as people, not as ideological opponents, says Kirk Schneider.

- The biggest challenge now is to reach the people who are on the verge of the most extreme polarization.

Evaluations after Braver Angel-meetings with around 1,800 participants shows that about 79 percent answered that they better understand "experiences, feelings and beliefs of those on the other side". About 75 percent feel less angry and less alien to the other. 80 percent say they were more capable of having constructive conversations with opponents.

Kirk Schneider believes that psychologists can make a large-scale difference in the society if they take a more active social responsibility. He promotes the issue within the American Psychologist Association (APA), with over 120,000 members.

The situation does seem serious. "America is a nation in trauma. We are experiencing record high stress as a result of the pandemic, economic insecurity and concerns about injustice between races ", APA wrote in a statement just after the election.

- I think the biggest challenge now is to reach the people who are on the verge of the most extreme polarization. It is important to try to keep people together in the middle, says Kirk Schneider.

It has hardly escaped anyone within or outside the US what a powder keg American society has become. People are angry and scared. They live in parallel worlds that are becoming increasingly extreme. A new media logic, which draws people into so-called filter bubbles or echo chambers, seems to be deepening the gaps.

A similar development is taking place in several countries in Europe, perhaps mainly in Poland and Hungary. Another example is Britain, which is more and more divided due to Brexit.

More about Kirk’s socio-psychological activism:

USA Today – A close presidential election deepens the nation's divide. How do we live together now?

The Guardian – They hate each other's political views – so why have they become friends?

American Psychologist Association – How did we become such a divided nation, and how can psychologists help us bridge the gap?

Scientific American – Today's Biggest Threat: The Polarized Mind

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