23 April 2007

Becoming a Really Good Other

Filed under: Ktismata, Psychology — ktismatics @ 3:29 pm

I’ve been assuming that a therapeutic relationship is tilted toward the client. The therapist establishes a context of caring and trust for the client; topics of conversation stem from the client’s experiences; the process is intended to enhance the client’s life. And yet I have a sense that to focus too much attention on the client is to locate both the problem and the solution inside the self. If I believe that problems stem from misaligned interpretations between the client and others, then the solution seems to lie in interpretive realignment. This doesn’t mean that the client has to change his outlook; it does mean that the client has to become a more astute interpreter of his own and others’ words and actions. The therapist’s job, then, is to enable the client to loosen up his rigid interpretations so as to be able to see and create alternative interpretations.

Zeddies talks about the importance of the therapeutic relationship in making change possible.

The view that therapist and patient coconstruct meaning and understanding reflects the idea that the material that is recognized as meaningful, how it is discussed, and the understandings reached all emerge from the therapeutic relationship and dialogue… The clinical focus is expanded from that of trying to locate meaning inside the patient to include a thoroughgoing exploration of the relentlessly expanding and contracting relational process between therapist and patient. In this view, there is no strict division between inside and outside, here-and-now and then-and-there, fantasy and reality, intrapsychic and interpersonal.

Zeddies proposes that the relationship is a milieu that facilitates not just understanding of self and other but also the creation of new experience. This seems reasonable. If the focus of therapy is to enhance awareness of misaligned interpretations between people in relationship, what better way to explore the challenges of realignment than in relationship?

The implication is that the therapist’s job isn’t just to realign his interpretive alignments so as to be able to see what the client sees. The therapist also must be the other in the conversation, manifesting an interpretive outlook that is different from the client’s. If the client is to become a more astute interpreter, he must learn to see what the other sees. In therapy the therapist is the other. To bring the client along in the process, the therapist needs to be self-aware of his otherness. He should be able to communicate his interpretations not as expert dispenser of truth but as an other who knows how to communicate his otherness. He should be able to respond to the client’s questions without defensiveness, knowing that the client needs to learn how to ask such questions of the other. Only through the openness of the therapist-as-other can the client gain understanding, realign his own interpretive horizons, and reduce the frustration and alienation of chronically irresolvable misalignment with the other.

The therapeutic relationship can remain tilted in the direction of the client’s problems, experiences, understanding, loosening, realignment. But the therapist can’t just align his interpretive perspective with the client’s in order to offer care, safe support, empathy, and interpretation. The therapist also has to be an idealized other in the relationship. He must be able to recognize how the client responds to him as other, to see the client as the other sees him, to be able to explicate this other perspective with patience and openness. Only by retaining his otherness while also seeing the relationship as tilted toward the client can the therapist offer an opportunity for the client to get out of his own head and to negotiate a creative relationship. The therapist need not become the independent observer nor the client’s double; rather, the therapist needs to become a really good other.



  1. Do you realize that the last two links you have given don’t work for anyone else? They are links to the Google mail that Ron used to send you the article, but they don’t link to the article itself…..philosophically speaking these links are the trace of something, but not “the thing in itself”, the nouma we might say.


    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 23 April 2007 @ 5:04 pm

  2. No I didn’t realize it — thanks. I took the link out, which shouldn’t affect the (in)comprehensibility of the post. Now the trace is erased, but these two comments testify to a lacuna, an excision, a gap, an act of violence, a repression.


    Comment by ktismatics — 23 April 2007 @ 5:24 pm

  3. This perspective is I think a lot more promising because it does give the therapist some different dimensions to be active in. I can imagine someone coming for therapy not because of problems with society or horizons but with some purely internal needs. Working relationally to address the ‘the self’ may be what this person needs.


    Comment by samlcarr — 24 April 2007 @ 7:02 pm

  4. The idea of purely internal needs presupposes that there is an internality to the self. If someone is psychotically disconnected from the outside world I don’t thing there’s any horizon to orient to. Even something like drug addiction is problematic mostly to the extent it adversely affects the addict’s participation in the world. But I do think people can get very skewed perspectives. For the therapist to align his horizon with such a client might offer a sense of being accepted and understood, which is perhaps something this person may never have experienced. But to become aware of the extent to which one’s perspective differs from others would also be helpful. If the therapist can demonstrate the interpersonal gap in perspectives, then take the initiative to bridge the gap, that too would be a good thing.

    I believe that much of traditional therapy locates the client’s problems within the self, whereas I think that’s an artifact of the self turning inward after being frustrated in dealing with the world. Others believe the opposite, that frustration is a projection of an inner conflict. I’m undecided.


    Comment by ktismatics — 24 April 2007 @ 7:50 pm

  5. I think I–perhaps many of us–would benefit from having time with a “really good other.” Someone to listen to me; someone to orient herself to what I am saying, trying to see what I see; someone who understands as I understand. But…and this is important…someone who remains who she is and doesn’t try to become me. In this way, I can benefit from what she sees around the edges of what I show; she can help me to open up my issues, loosen them, in ways I had not thought possible.

    Sure…sign me up for time with the really good other. I think I’ll need at least two hours a week.

    Meilleurs voeux!!


    Comment by bluevicar — 28 April 2007 @ 1:06 pm

  6. I think that’s right. If the therapist aligns perspective with the client too closely to the client, then the client gets a strong dose of affirmation and support, but doesn’t get any practice at doing the alignment. And I agree: it would be great to have someone be honest and self-aware and forthright in the context of care and support, yet without necessarily agreeing with everything I say.


    Comment by ktismatics — 28 April 2007 @ 4:01 pm

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