When society is sick: research at UFF investigates psychological suffering in times of savage capitalism

There are many ways to access a past or present time in human history, with its ways of existing, of organizing life, and relating. One of the keys to knowing each of these periods is through the modes of suffering that took place in it. Anorexia, depression, and cutting, for example, are the names with which we identify some of the psychic pains that we have been experiencing today. Contrary to what can be imagined, they have characteristics in common and highlight the way we have become ill in society.

Seeking to understand this scenario, in 2011, the Contemporary Psychopathology Research Laboratory (Lapsicon) was opened, under the coordination of the professor at the Department of Psychology at the UFF campus of Volta Redonda, Claudia Henschel de Lima. Since then, the laboratory, which started its investigations on the psychopathology of drug use, has greatly expanded its research in the direction of contemporary clinical phenomena, in an attempt to take care of the forms of suffering that we have generated with our way of living.

According to the psychologist, who also supervises an internship line at the Applied Psychology Service (SPA) at UFF, associated with the research, “in recent years, a large number of demands for the treatment of depression in adult women have started, mainly, treatment of anorexia, self-injurious conduct, drug use and, more recently, autism.” According to her, “the SPA is a kind of laboratory in the sense that there we can investigate, in the singularity of each case, what circumstances trigger these psychopathologies and how we can stabilize them over time,” she explains.

There is an excessive demand that the subject attributes to himself to always be well, always healthy, always in accordance with social norms.


Claudia Henschel

The thread that stitches all these sufferings is, for Claudia, the contemporary form of social organization with a neoliberal character, which directly impacts the subjective functioning of people: “Neoliberalism has this trait that locates in the subject the full responsibility for the destiny of his life. With its foundation of extreme appreciation of the individual and quantification of its action, being well in a certain activity depends solely and exclusively on how much you are capable. There is an excessive demand that the subject attributes to himself to always be well, always healthy, always in accordance with social norms.”

An example of how this has appeared is related to student psychological distress, one of the research areas of the Laboratory. According to the teacher, “in 2016, many students began to appear applying for treatment and everyone complained that they were with a deficient concentration in their studies, that they were unable to understand what the teachers said in class, that they looked at the horizon of their lives and do not see the possibility of advancing anything. We had some difficult situations on campus and this caught the attention of my scholars, who came to ask me for the possibility of opening vacancies for the treatment of these students’ situations. Many of them are extremely concerned with their university performance, in order to realize the ideal that their parents projected in them.”

Excessive demands also appear, albeit in a different way, in the subject’s self-injury practices (cutting), which is increasingly common in clinics and also in the SPA. Claudia explains that self-injury is common at the time of transition from childhood to adolescence: “At this moment, a series of changes are happening in the subjective functioning and in the body image itself. The weight changes, the height changes, the secondary sexual characters appear and alter the aesthetics of the subject who was sometimes a child six months before. The demands of the world are often experienced as a kind of non-belonging experience. The equation is: ‘I don’t fit, I am guilty of the harm I do to my parents and, if I am guilty, I deserve the punishment and then I cut myself.’ The effect of this conduct is to produce physical pain that overcomes the pain of guilt for doing harm to your parents,” she says.

The practice of self-injury also highlights another common aspect in the contemporary clinic, in which the way the individual attacks his body ends up making him vulnerable in the face of death: “what is anorexia if not the aestheticization of death? The subject makes a corpse of his body. What is cutting if not the practice of injuring and vilifying the body? We work with subjects who use 12, 14, 15 crack stones a day. We know that in the horizon of these resources — to the blade, not to eat anything, to the drug — there is death. Clinically speaking, the theme is not an exception, but the rule. Every day at the clinic is a suicide prevention day.”

For the master’s student in Psychology Thalles Cavalcanti Sampaio, who has already participated in the Lapsicon as a volunteer, monitor and also a scientific initiation fellow, “a project like this brings out the importance of the public university for education and science. It is not only the guarantee of quality higher education but also living proof that, in Brazil, science is developed within our universities. Being part of Lapsicon gave me the opportunity to learn what it is like to be a researcher today in Brazil, what an academic career is. Lapsicon made me want to be a teacher, scientist, and researcher.”

Psychology student Daniel Cavalcante, currently an intern at the SPA and a scientific research fellow at the laboratory, adds to the chorus: “I see that the public university is the greatest national exponent in scientific and technological production, as in no other environment. UFF transforms not only my life but that of my colleagues and the people who use its products and services to the community,” he emphasizes.

Maria Stela Campos, also a master’s student in Psychology with experience at Lapsicon, has a similar experience to that of Thalles and Daniel: “participating in Lapsicon allowed me to recognize myself as a researcher, which in my view goes beyond academic training. It is a project that also crosses my personal life.”

For the laboratory coordinator, Thalles, Daniel and Maria are not simply students: “they are my research partners”. According to her, contrary to what many think, “the profession of the psychologist is anchored in scientific principles. The student is not there to reproduce knowledge; this he already did at school. He is there to produce knowledge. This is the scientific initiation scholarship. This is the outreach grant. This is the monitoring grant. These are the tools that the university offers for the production of scientists. I call my students scientists in training.”

Passionate about her work and psychology, Claudia says she doesn’t see herself doing anything else in life: “If there’s one thing I don’t regret, it’s insisting on a profession that my family at the time said would not work. And I said: ‘it will work.’ I went to university at a terrible time in the country that was prior to political opening¹. I attended my master’s and doctorate all the time believing it was possible. I think this is what I convey to my students, ‘is possible.’ They, in turn, transmit this to patients,” she concludes.


Photo credits: Pixabay


¹ Period corresponding to the end of general Ernesto Geisel’s presidency (1974-1979) and the ruling period of general João Figueiredo (1979-1985), known as responsible to the “opening” process from a military dictatorship (1964-1985) back to democracy. [Learn more]

Recent Stories

Open call for articles to MDPI Sustainability Journal

Open call for articles to MDPI Sustainability Journal

The growing anthropic influence on the dynamic and natural balance of the planet and its currently changing climate has been reported in a large amount of the modern scientific literature, converging to the consensus that the impacts in the physical, economic and...

Skip to content