Academic journal article Psychologische Beiträge

Introduction

Academic journal article Psychologische Beiträge

Introduction

Article excerpt

Psychotherapy has come to occupy a major place in western culture. While in earlier times people turned to the clergy for help when troubled in mind, they now turn to psychotherapists. As depicted wonderfully by Cushman (1995), it has become a part of modern society to an extent where it contributes to the construction of that same society. It is applied to individuals, couples, families and groups. Whatever its focus, its intent is to reduce suffering and promote more effective living. This intent is founded on the assumption that suffering and unsatisfactory living in many ways are matters of the subjective world of the individual. In this regard, broad subscription is given to the psychoanalytic assumption that subjectivity involves conflicts between any of a number of dualities of existence - between biology and culture, reason and emotion, practicalities and idealities, one's own needs and those of others, and so on. It is further assumed that any of a number of hindrances may impede the resolution of conflicts, and hence of suffering. These may be hindrances such as denial, suppression, and repression of awareness of what is involved in conflict, guilt about past actions, dread of future actions, and security from stability however unsatisfying. Within this framework, psychotherapy sees as its task to help people articulate the complex fabric of thoughts and feelings involved in what is troubling them and, through the articulation, to resolve their difficulties. It is assumed that, through the agency of the therapist in collaboration with the agency of clients, the clients' negative feelings, mystification about their experience and ineffective behavior come to change to positive feelings, insight into their experience, and effective action.

Significantly, the theory and practice of psychotherapy do not involve only the subjectivity of those receiving it. They also entail the subjectivity of those conceptualizing its nature and providing it. It is thus open to endless modifications responsive to whatever interests theorists and practitioners bring to it. Accordingly, an interest in behavior leads to behavior therapy, in cognition to cognitive therapy, in existence to existential therapy, and so on. The joint subjectivity involved in psychotherapy make it especially challenging as a researchable activity. How is it possible to approach rigorously, meaningfully and thus compellingly an activity that is inherently so unstable?

Historically, two main avenues of approach to psychotherapy research have been engaged, the one tacitly, the other explicitly. The tacit engagement has been hermeneutic, while the explicit engagement has been natural scientistic. Hermeneutics traditionally has entailed the interpretation of textual material of various sorts that is difficult to understand (Ricoeur, 1978). In a broad sense, the discourse between the person receiving therapy and the one giving it may be thought of as such a text. It is the interpretation of a number of such texts leading to an awareness of patterns of relationships among forms of discourse that leads to an understanding of what is involved in therapy and of its effectiveness. In being a matter of interpretation, hermeneutics takes it for granted that different people engaged with the same text often derive different interpretations. Thus, hermeneutics acknowledges the role of subjectivity in interpretation. Psychoanalysis and its variants are good examples of this approach to inquiry in that the discourse and behavior of the analysand in effect is taken to be a complex text requiring interpretation. Meanwhile, the concept of countertransference takes into account the role of the analyst's subjectivity.

Alternatively, the natural scientistic approach to psychotherapy research draws on research practices in the biological and natural sciences. Thus, the application of psychotherapy is likened to an experiment. Measures of 'variables' (see Danziger & Dzinas, 1997) of interest are taken. …

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