Monday, April 30, 2012

Psychotherapy and Metaphysics

A scientist friend of mine recently complained about psychologists and their inclination towards weasel responses. "...and how does that make you feel?" being, probably, the most stereotypical of those.

I think there are two main aspects to this issue.

One is that virtually all schools of psychotherapy are really just codifications of their founders' personal opinions. Those are based on more or less an amount of clinical experience, good intuition, and knowledge of human nature.

Since those schools strive to explain the whole of human behavior, require years of training, and are closely related to people's innermost emotional turbulences, they tend to evolve into quasi-religious metaphysical structures, a.k.a., worldviews.

To put it simply: There is no superego. It's just a construct that Freud came up with when he attempted to explain why people suffer from emotional ailments.

I think this is ridiculously obvious. Per se, it isn't bad either. It shouldn't actually bear mentioning -- except that, more often than not, I have the impression that therapists tend to overlook that fact. When people forget about the metaphysical, constructed nature of their methods' presuppositions, and treat them as fact, problems arise.

On the other hand, we do not seem to have anything better to offer, right now. Judging from my own experience, I submit that psychotherapy -- if it is at all effective -- mostly boils down to unconditional empathy, a safe place to talk about one's issues and face all emotions that might pop up, without being judged or put down. Well, and sometimes a friendly kick in the ass when you're about to shy away from that facing-it-all process. (Of course, I'm not talking about psychiatry here -- that's a whole different can of worms.)

On top of that, there may be a few fancy tricks, such as gestalt therapy's "empty chair", but I tend to consider them supportive acts rather than substantial to the process.

As far as therapy can deliver the aforementioned empathy and a safe place, and the price is somewhat reasonable, I do not have too much of a problem.

But I certainly think that it is important to keep in mind that all the fancy concepts behind the various methods -- TA's "parent/child ego-states", Fritz Perls' "gestalt", Freud's "id/ego/superego" -- are merely concepts that can help you talk about stuff, but at the same time, they may limit your thinking when you start taking them too seriously.


  1. brent.mosher@yahoo.comAugust 14, 2012 at 5:01 AM

    The group therapy I was in was all about the TA child/parent ego states. Useful maybe the first couple of times around. But this was all they ever did. I stopped even thinking about it, as I felt it was not really helpful when constatnly used, and actually could hold you back. I got suspicious that constantly conjuring up a "child" state could reinforce rather than heal neurosis. It also just wasn't getting me anywhere, after the first couple of exercises.

    1. Yeah, I never quite got the TA thing myself. To me, it seems more like a description of existing communication than a tool for changing it.