This column will change your life: closure

The award for most audacious use of self-help language in the service of naked political gain probably belongs to James Baker, an adviser to George Bush in the chaotic weeks following the disputed US election of 2000. "At some point, there must be closure… for the healing and uniting [to begin]," Baker declared, in an effort to prevent further Florida recounts. It wasn't that he wanted Bush to win, you understand – he just wanted to help the nation achieve "closure". The concept of closure may rarely be so cynically deployed, but it's never far from headlines, even in Britain, despite our long tradition of mocking therapeutic-sounding language.

The killing of Osama bin Laden was another big moment for closure, as was the 10th anniversary of 9/11. But it crops up, too, wherever murder victims' families are involved, and with surprising frequency in sports reports: certain troubled managers and players seem to spend their lives doing little but searching for it. Well, now it's my turn: I want some closure on "closure".

The problem, as the sociologist Nancy Berns explains in her new book Closure: The Rush To End Grief And What It Costs Us, isn't that "closure" occasionally gets exploited for dubious ends. It's that the whole notion is little more than a piece of rhetoric, unrelated to any real psychological process. It certainly helps people: it helps relationship gurus sell books; it helps death-penalty advocates argue their case, since executions purportedly provide closure; it helps politicians construct satisfying narratives. What it doesn't seem to do is help people who are suffering, whom it instead pressurises. "The problem is that people think it's something real," Berns told me. "It taps into our desire to have things ordered and to have our pain go away – or, more specifically, to have other people's pain go away." Professional psychologists, she argues, have been complicit: in successive editions of the Diagnostic And Statistical Manual, which decrees what counts as a disorder and what doesn't, the timespan of "normal" bereavement grief has been shrinking. Once it was two years. Now, certain severe symptoms are considered abnormal, and as evidence of a depressive disorder, if they persist beyond a few months.

Berns's most intense personal encounter with grief came when her son, Zachariah, was stillborn in 2001. Wanting not to feel such raw sadness makes sense, but "closure" implies a neat-and-tidy end point on the horizon, something psychology gives little reason to believe in. (For at least some murder victims' families, seeing the murderer executed proves disorientingly anticlimactic, or makes things worse.)

There's something curious going on here that affects how pop psychology approaches all sorts of subjects, not just grief. All too often, self-help takes it as a given that neat-and-tidy end points are both possible and straightforward to define; most books (and some therapists) concern themselves solely with dispensing tips for how to get there. But what's the basis for assuming that you, or any particular advice-dispenser, knows what "there" looks like in the first place? Perhaps it looks like closure. But it's an open question.;

Thanks to who have provided this article. View the original here.