Academic journal article American Journal of Psychotherapy

Status Enhancement: A Further Path to Therapeutic Change

Academic journal article American Journal of Psychotherapy

Status Enhancement: A Further Path to Therapeutic Change

Article excerpt

Historically, psychotherapists have targeted change efforts primarily on clients' behaviors, beliefs, unconscious conflicts, and patterns of interaction with significant others. The present article explores a further, and very powerful, path to change: that of bringing about changes in the client's status.

"Treat a man as he is, and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he can and should be, and he will become as he can and should be." -Goethe

In the field of psychotherapy, our time-honored paths to change have been through bringing about alterations in our clients' behaviors, cognitions, insight into unconscious factors, and patterns of interaction with significant others. In this article, a further option will be presented-that of changing our clients"' "statuses." I shall present the key idea behind "status dynamics" as developed by Ossorio(1-3) and others(4-6) and describe how this idea may be implemented powerfully in clinical practice. In order to convey these ideas as clearly and concretely as possible, and to give the reader the "flavor" of status dynamics, I will begin with a brief case example.

Case 1

Tom, a young, single man, came to therapy depressed and suicidal about his life, and in particular about his "dead end job" as an automobile mechanic. He wanted to do something creative with his life, but felt that this was an unrealistic "pipe dream" and that he was compelled by his circumstances to earn a living fixing cars. In discussing his life and his situation, Tom's therapist noted that he continually described things in aesthetic terms, including the aesthetic value of some cars over others. The therapist suggested to Tom that he seemed like somebody who was and had always been an "artist at heart," and pointed out all of the ways in which Tom reacted to and judged things in his life from an aesthetic perspective. The therapist also began to show Tom that there were ways to be an artist and still be an auto mechanic. One of these ways was to work on fine cars that required "the hands of an artist" to perform at their best. This step was particularly important because it meant that Tom might become an artist without having to make immediate and highly impractical changes in his life.

Tom, who had developed a reputation as a very good mechanic, soon learned of and got a job at a car dealership that sold and serviced some of the best foreign cars. Subsequent to this move, he became substantially more satisfied with his work. The therapist continued to talk about him and treat him as an artist in discussing almost everything that he did. A few months later, Tom somewhat sheepishly and with much hesitation showed the therapist a small metal figure he had made on the metal lathe at work. It was obviously a very attractive piece. As he became more confident of his new status as an artist, Tom began to design larger figures. With some encouragement from the therapist, he decided to see if he could sell some of these figures at an art show. Soon after his first sale, Tom ended therapy, no longer depressed. Over the next three years, he continued to develop his art to the point where he was a regular exhibitor at local shows and galleries. Much to his surprise, he was able to sell many pieces and began to derive a substantial income from these sales. Finding his work as an artist extremely gratifying, Tom ultimately made a decision to give up his job as a mechanic and became a full-time artist.


Status dynamics is centrally concerned with an individual's "statuses" as crucial determinants of the range of behaviors in which he or she is able to participate. The term "status," as employed here, means essentially "relational position." An individual's statuses are thus the positions that he or she occupies in relation to everything in his or her world. In clinical practice, some of the kinds of statuses that frequently come into play include: (a) social and occupational roles (e. …

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