Tuesday, October 26, 2010

More of "What is this therapy thing?"

In an earlier post, I deigned to criticize “psychotherapy” because it is not an objective science. Really, psychotherapy is closer to art or theology. Allow me now to say where or how I DO find value in therapy.

I have no argument with religious beliefs. (I have a few of my own.) A religious “fact” does not depend on an objective, concrete, scientific basis. Religious facts and scientific facts are two entirely unique categories of phenomenon. People far brighter than me, who study a branch of philosophy called epistemology could doubtless explain it more clearly. For people of average intelligence (like me) allow me to offer this vernacular explanation: I can resolutely say that I love Janaki, but if asked to prove it (scientifically) I can’t offer anything. A beautiful piece of music is not beautiful due to a scientific fact. These are phenomenon of a different sort, horses of a different color.

This is where “fundamentalists” err. They try to migrate a belief (their faith), to the realm of objectivity, the category of concrete facts.

Psychotherapists can make them same error. Therapists err when they fail to appreciate that their cherished theories and belief systems are mythologems. When a therapist fails to view their belief-system or school-of-thought as just one of many possible descriptions of what may be vexing a given patient, they slip into what I view as therapeutic fundamentalism. These therapeutic fundamentalists, overtly or sometimes with greater finesse, try to make their patients life circumstances fit the parameters of their beliefs. For those unfamiliar with the concept of a “Procrustean bed”, allow me to summarize the basics:

In Greek mythology (from which much of contemporary psychology grows) Procrustes was a son of Poseidon. On the way between Athens and Eleusis. he invited every passer-by to spend the night. The traveler would find themselves restrained in a bed made of iron. Procrustes would set to work on them with his smith's hammer, to stretch them to fit. If the guest proved too tall, Procrustes would amputate the excess length; nobody ever fit the bed exactly because secretly Procrustes had two beds.

This story became the basis for the common idea of trying to make a square peg fit a round hole – or vice-versa.

Therapists make a grave error when they try to cram a patient’s situation into the therapist’s theory.

Instead of this method, therapists better serve their patient by letting the patient explain, in their own unique way, what has happened and is happening.  I prefer an appreciative inquiry approach to working with a patient. I try to understand the unique experiences of the patient as well as the patient’s unique descriptions. I ask questions so that I can better understand the patient’s languaging of the patient’s experiences.

In my experience, as the patient explains and helps me to understand, they simultaneously better appreciate, and understand more fully their experience. Often, the patient will understand something well before me. Quite honestly, it is not necessary that I understand -  but it is in the process my respectful and genuine desire to understand - reciprocated by the patients' languaging of their experiences, that patients find the process helpful. In my work, patients are not helped by me imposing my explanations, but by the patient animating understanding through languaging.

(Note: As I am writing (i.e., languaging) this blog column, I am better understanding the process. It is an in vivo example about which I have been writing.)

1 comment:

  1. THANK YOU! I've been on that bed a few times. I wish I lived close to Santa Barbara. Jeannie


As always, your comments are helpful.