Depth Psychotherapy: Beyond the Cookie-Cutter
In recent years, there have been certain strong and notable trends emerging in the field of case studies. Some have been very valuable, but some, unfortunately, have not been for the better.
In many cases what’s on offer doesn’t seem to be anything that really helps people deal with their own personal uniqueness, or the individuality of their lives. Nothing that really helps people to truly feel at home and alive within their own skin.
For instance, cognitive behavioural therapy [CBT] undoubtedly has some aspects that render it useful. By attempting to change peoples’ thought patterns, it does offer a very valid tool for people caught in obsessive thought patterns, or patterns of behaviour. The relief that it provides in this way can be of great benefit to many people. Yet, often, people who go through a course of such therapy are left with the feeling that, at the end of it, there is something important missing.
I believe that this is because of the emphasis in CBT on purely rational thinking. There is an underlying belief in CBT that all that is really significant is the conscious mind, and that, if only the individual can be trained to think about their life situations in a reasonable, rational way, then everything will be OK.
But not everything in human life is purely rational. If rationality were all that we had in human life, our lives would seem dramatically impoverished.
If you have ever been in love with someone, is the manner in which you look at them and think about them purely rational? If you did look at them that way, thinking about that person as just a purely biological entity, for instance, a primate of the species homo sapiens composed of various amounts of certain organic compounds, which interact in various complex ways, would you still be able to love them? Likely not.
Similarly, are you really capable of looking at yourself that way? As a bundle of chemicals, and metabolic and neural impulses? Or as something that is like a variant of your laptop computer? I think that it is much more likely that you look at yourself as a person, as a whole.
Attempts to reduce human persons to bundles of physical processes are nothing new in philosophy and psychology, or for that matter in medicine. They have been going on for hundreds of years. A famous example, which many people find quite chilling is found in the 1971 book Beyond Freedom and Dignity by B.F. Skinner.
Skinner advocates that decision-makers move beyond “outmoded” ideas of human personhood to govern the world with a sophisticated combination of classical and operant conditioning that would supersede such “obsolete” notions as viewing humans as free and autonomous agents and as having human dignity. Thinkers like Skinner are very often trying to reduce human persons to something more understandable and manageable, but they never quite seem to be able to capture the essence of what it is to be human.
In addition, please consider the whole added dimension of the human unconscious. Here is an entire realm of human existence that is never going to be reduced to simplistic notions of goal-directed rationality. And it is in the symbolic material that emerges from the unconscious, found in the realms of art, literature, mythology, and religious expression that the deepest and profoundest expressions of what it is to be human are found. Can these dimensions of life be reduced to causal and rational explanations? Not really. You can try, of course, but only at a terrible cost: the price to be paid is that our very humanity goes missing.
In the words of the famous poet of the self, Walt Whitman, “Re-examine all that you have been told… dismiss that which insults your soul.” When it comes to therapy, it’s essential to find a mode of therapy that honours the richness and intricacy of your own deepest being…
I’d gratefully welcome comments and reflections from readers. Have you had experiences of therapy that really honoured your uniqueness, your freedom and your dignity? On the other hand, have you experienced forms of therapy that have not done so? I’d be very interested to dialogue with you about this important subject.
My very best wishes to you on your individual journey to wholeness,
Website for Brian’s Oakville and Mississauga Practice: www.briancollinson.ca
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© 2010 Brian Collinson