What are we actually talking about when we talk about Kanye West?
After parsing through Ye’s nearly two-hour sit-down interview with Charlamagne, it appears as though we’re spending a lot of time talking about—and now correcting—mental health advice.
After asking Kanye to explain the physical toll of being an artist, Charlamagne posed a critical question: “Did you go to therapy at all? 'Cause I feel like this is a lot to unpack. And I’m sure you’re the go-to guy for a lot of people, so it's like, 'Who does the go-to guy go to?'”
Ye’s glance veers off before he doles out what is inarguably damaging mental health advice: “Nah, I use the world as my therapy, as my therapist. Anyone I talk to is my therapist. I will pull them into the conversation of what I’m feeling at that point and get their perspective… I’ll talk through things… I put that as advice to people: use people around you as your therapists, 'cause they probably know more about you.”
Before I break down his response, let me be clear: having a strong support system of confidants in your life who are willing to talk through situations with you is crucial to recovery and for learning how to cope with clinical depression, GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder), and the like. However, your closest friends are not and cannot be a substitute for mental health professionals. Kanye’s advice, whether he knows it or not, comes from the same pit of stigma that keeps people out of therapy in the first place.
As a culture, we have to understand that practicing therapy is just like practicing medicine; I am hard-pressed to believe Kanye would be this comfortable allowing a close friend to operate on him. By suggesting that he can rope anybody into an epiphanic conversation, Kanye is openly devaluing the work of an actual, licensed therapist. In this example, Kanye is suggesting that he can use a Band-Aid in place of stitches, but that just won’t cut it.
Based on his advice, we can conclude that Kanye does not actually understand in full what a therapist does. Depending on the type of therapy you are receiving and whether it’s in conjunction with medication, your therapist is most likely not doling out simple life advice. You don’t go to therapy to get mere perspective on present situations, you go to therapy to retool your worldviews and live a more secure, livable life. It's freeing, but it's also—if you're willing to try—grueling self-work.
“I’m not saying therapists are bad,” Kanye continues. He explains that he prefers speaking with friends and family because they know him better, but to that point, if your therapist does not know you well, that is as much your fault as it is your therapist’s. For talk therapy to be successful, you must be willing to essentially splay yourself open, just as much as your therapist must be prepared to ask the right questions for a productive, internal tune-up. Unless your best friends are also trained therapists, they're not armed with these same questions.
Kanye then treads the line of toxicity. Holding your friends on the line for 45 minutes is not innately toxic—pending your friends are aware of the role you’ve ushered them into—but over time, this practice can evolve into codependency, and then into an obsessive compulsion. There is also the obvious caveat that friends and family have layers of relationships to navigate that a therapist can avoid, bringing to light some harsh truths without worrying about next week’s dinner plans.
Kanye eventually addresses stigma, suggesting he wants to combat it—a noble desire we should celebrate but heavily critique for the purpose of getting this right. Kanye’s platform is undeniable; he has the power to flip the stigmas around mental health on their heads and potentially change lives, but his delivery is so sloppy, so misinformed, that his impact may be doing more harm than good.
“We at the beginning of the conversation,” Ye thoughtlessly concludes. So many strides have been made by artists with an eighth the visibility of Kanye West, and while there is work to be done, Kanye’s continual dissemination of false information will set us right back to square one, well-intended or not.
Here's what Kanye isn't telling you: call your friends, keep them in the loop, but do so on your way to your professional therapy session.
Update: Dr. Shawn McDaniel, a licensed psychologist who specializes in assessment and diagnosis, responded to our story with the following tweet: