Academic journal article American Journal of Psychotherapy

Trace and Transference: Therapy in a Post-Structuralist Era

Academic journal article American Journal of Psychotherapy

Trace and Transference: Therapy in a Post-Structuralist Era

Article excerpt

As leader of the deconstruction movement, Jacques Derrida has had a profound effect on modern thinking. In this article, the author applies Derridean concepts to psychotherapy. Using the concepts of trace and différance, identity and therapeutic relationships are described. Transference and countertransference are regarded as traces, resulting in a breakdown of the therapist/patient dichotomy. Using the Derridean notion of "play" and "dissemination" opens psychotherapeutic options that allow the patient to explore how meaning is derived in his/her life. Questions of how feelings and behaviors are constructed are also examined. In summary, a deconstructive therapeutic approach results in an array of freedom and possibilities.


In 1966, Jacques Derrida delivered a reading at The Johns Hopkins University of his essay, titled "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences." Although the focus of the conference was on structuralism, Derrida's lecture questioned many of its tenets by his method of "deconstruction." Since then, deconstruction has examined feminism, politics, art, and many other intellectual areas.

It is possible to apply deconstruction to psychotherapy to illuminate how meaning is derived during the therapeutic process. A second potential application is the examination of the therapeutic relationship within a deconstructive construct, specifically examining transference and countertransference. By engaging in the Derridean notion of "play," freedom and possibility become the products of psychotherapy. Thus, deconstruction offers many insights into the psychotherapeutic relationship, which can be beneficial for both patient and therapist.

Deconstruction is a term applied to the way Derrida read and analyzed texts, and it is quite difficult to define. Derrida classified deconstruction in terms of what it is not. Deconstruction is not a thing, nor is it a concept. An illustration of this principle is that, "all sentences of the type 'deconstruction is X' or 'deconstruction is not X' ... a priori miss the point" (Kellogg, 2001, p. 326). When pressed for a definition, Derrida replied that, "deconstruction takes place; it is an event that does not await the deliberation, consciousness or organization of a subject" (Kellogg, 2001, p. 326). Instead of being concerned with the meaning of a text, deconstruction is concerned with how meaning is derived through linguistic, sociopolitical, and religious pretexts. Instead of accepting a more commonly understood idea or thought, Derrida preferred to explore marginal alternatives of meaning. He investigated how the privileged position achieved dominance. To accomplish this, Derrida sought portions of a text that might lead to many different interpretations, ultimately making the text undecipherable. Derrida's reading of Plato's essay, Phaedrus is an example of this tactic (Derrida, 1981). He notes that the word pharmakon can mean "remedy," but it can also mean "poison." This discrepancy between the two opposing meanings renders the text undecidable, resulting in many interpretations as opposed to one dominant definition. In summary, deconstruction "is an analysis that focuses on the grounds of that system's possibility" (Derrida, 1981, p. xv). Deconstruction is thus naive in that it does not favor one position;, the purpose is ambiguity and open-endedness.

Many scholars have already applied concepts of deconstruction to psychotherapy. T. Byram Karasu (1996) undertook a deconstruction of the various psychotherapeutic theories in his book, Deconstruction of Psychotherapy. By noting the commonalities incorporated in all forms of psychotherapy, Karasu undermines the power struggle among the differing theories. Like Jerome Frank, who focused on universal underlying themes that are common to all therapies, Karasu suggests that these commonalities are more important than the theory itself. He ends his analysis by calling for the "last therapist," who is able to overcome the confines of structured theories (Karasu, 1996, p. …

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