Troubling emotions in China’s psy-boom

Barclay Bram


  • The rise of psychological counseling, 心理咨询, as part of China’s unfolding psy-boom has brought with it a new discourse of distress. In particular, this article will look at the concept of 心理困扰/困惑, which I translate as “psychological troubles.” By identifying psychological troubles the psy-boom is providing a discursive space for people in China to discuss issues that distress them which sits in between the medicalized realm of DSM-category illnesses like depression and the language of activism and social justice. This ethnography shows how psychological troubles are understood by some therapists as “blockages” to freely flowing emotions. Drawing on the scholarship of affective contagion, a link is drawn between the unsticking of emotions within persons and the inability of freely flowing emotions to “stick” to wider social issues due to the constraints placed on civil society and free speech by the Chinese Communist Party. The apolitical and nonmedicalized language of the psy-boom is, therefore, a reflection of the social function of this particular form of therapeutic care.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/717183