Academic journal article Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy

Narrative in Views of Humanity, Science, and Action: Lessons for Cognitive Therapy

Academic journal article Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy

Narrative in Views of Humanity, Science, and Action: Lessons for Cognitive Therapy

Article excerpt

The role of narrative constructs in philosophical views of humanity, science, and action is presented and contrasted with more familiar constructs that influence cognitive therapy. In terms of philosophical views of humanity, the view of human beings as rational animals is contrasted with a novel view emphasizing humanity's unique storytelling nature. In terms of the philosophy of science, apositivistic, somewhat realist view is contrasted with a constructivist view in which narrative plays an essential role in explaining how theory succession takes place. In terms of the philosophy of action, partitive, ahistorical accounts of action are contrasted with a more holistic, historical view, one which necessitates narrative to account for actions intentionally oriented to the realization of an agent's desires. The turn toward narrative in each of these areas also provides lessons concerning innovative ways to conduct cognitive therapy. In concluding, it is suggested that further investigation of narrative processes in cognitive therapy can broaden and deepen our understanding of the representational process undergirding adaptation and change.

In the theory of cognitive therapy, the identification, assessment, and modification of the way in which an individual represents his/her experience is considered crucial. This is as true and obvious for Ellis' rational-emotive theory as it is for Beck's theory of cognitive therapy (see Mahoney & Freeman, 1985, for other theoretical statements). This theoretical focus on cognitive representations provides the rationale for the application of specific sets of techniques in clinical practice, such as the therapist's active attempt to elicit and challenge what are seen as the client's habitual biases in perception and thought (McMullin, 1986). Change the biases (e.g., through the correction of faulty logic, inference making, or attention) and the probability that new experiences and behavior can be initiated is increased.

Linkage of the theory and practice of therapy to views of the clients' cognitive representations incurs an intellectual debt, namely, the detailed specification of the form and content of cognitive representations. That progress in alleviating this debt will be slow is evident from the amount of controversy in cognitive psychologists' discussion of the "language of thought": current knowledge of the 'mind' does not allow an unambiguous delineation of its formal structure (e.g., Fodor, 1975; Schiffer, 1987). Nonetheless, there is often appeal to models of representations (e.g., the theory of schematic representation) in formulating the theory of cognitive psychotherapy.

In addition, models of knowledge acquisition in the empirical sciences and in logic are often cited as exemplars of processes at work in or exploitable for cognitive therapy. Reference is made to practical empiricism and to the logic of deductive and inductive inference as models in terms of which client and therapist can proceed to assess, correct, and transform clients' cognitive systems. Such appeals, as with the appeals to particular theories in psychology, advocate specific views that are, in fact, vying for survival in their own disciplines: there are, after all, a number of theories of knowledge acquisition in science and logic. How can such choices between alternatives debated in these other fields be justified?

As Burke (1966) noted, such advocacy can only be justified on the basis of "internal necessity" or "consistency." That is, justification is determined in terms of the borrowed concepts' family resemblance to the concepts comprising the antecedent terminological framework. In this regard, theorists of cognitive therapy have been exceptional, in that they have tried to develop consistent and more or less comprehensive views of human functioning, views that can motivate particular selections and uses of concepts from other fields. Thus one can note a laudable consistency in notions spanning different levels of abstraction and intellectual focus. …

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