Social Interaction, Social Context, and Language: Essays in Honor of Susan Ervin-Tripp

By Dan Isaac Slobin; Julie Gerhardt et al. | Go to book overview

26 1
THE THERAPEUTIC ENCOUNTER: NEUTRAL CONTEXT OR SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION?

Julie Gerhardt California Institute of Integral Studies

Charles Stinson University of California, San Francisco

How better to pay tribute to Susan Ervin-Tripp than to examine a context heretofore considered recalcitrant to contextual analysis (but see Gaik, 1992; Labov & Fanshell, 1977; Lakoff, 1990, for some exceptions to this claim) and suggest that even here interactive, socially-constructive processes are at play? Thus, in this chapter, we briefly examine some features of the context of the psychoanalytically-based therapeutic encounter where the myth of the "neutral context" -- in which the therapist is said to function as a "blank screen" or "mirror" -- is finally having its day and suggest that far from being neutral, the context is in fact organized around a set of value-laden, ideological assumptions about the nature of mental health in general, and the role of the twin processes of self-investigation and conceptual understanding in particular, as ameliorative processes. In other words, the therapist's belief in the role of "insight" (or "secondary process") as curative functions to establish a very select context which is designed to lead the client to a conceptual understanding of her own unconscious subjective experience.

In reconstructing the source of this deeply entrenched conceptual bias, which, according to Lear ( 1990) reaches its apogee in Freud, Lear ( 1990) locates its origin in Platonic philosophy by reminding us, in anecdotal form, of the aspersions Socrates cast against the renown poets of his day due to their metaphoric, experiential mode of knowledge in contrast to the explicit, conceptual mode favored by philosophers. As Lear points out, "for Socrates, understanding and wisdom require that one be able to express one's thoughts in conceptualized explanations [emphasis added]" rather than poetic metaphors, and he urges us to consider whether psychoanalysis shares this very same "Socratic

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1
The research upon which this paper is based was, in part, supported by The Program on Conscious and Unconscious Mental Processes directed by Mardi Horowitz, MD and Charles Stinson, MD and funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. A more elaborate version of this chapter will appear as '"I don't know": Resistance or Groping for Words? The Construction of Analytic Subjectivity' (Gerhardt & Stinson, in press).

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