5 June 2007


Filed under: Ktismata, Psychology — ktismatics @ 11:35 am

In my Psychotopia post I wondered about what sort of place my therapy practice should occupy. Most practitioners set up in a nice office; their task is to cure, repair, restore, coach, or otherwise normalize their clients.

Suppose your psychological model isn’t about healing the sick or restoring function or getting people in touch with reality. What if instead you emphasize difference from the norm as something to be cultivated, if you regard normalcy as largely a social convention, if you propose that multiple realities can coexist in the same space and time? Suppose psychological symptoms point not to individual illness but to gaps and overlaps in alternate realities, and that the counselor’s job isn’t to relieve the symptoms but to serve as a tour guide in exploring these gaps and overlaps.

Certainly the physical setting can connote either normativity or difference. More important to me is identifying the position the site and the practice occupy inside reality. I’m thinking about a practice that opens reality up for the client. Instead of helping the client “get in touch with reality,” as if reality was some objective and unitary world, I want to help the client explore the possibility of seeing and creating alternate realities, alternate ways of making sense of the world and the self. Together, the setting, the praxis and the practitioner operate as a portal, a means by which the client can pass from one reality into another.

The practitioner stakes no claim to the intrinsic superiority of any particular reality. The practice is a place for experimenting with alternatives. The realities explored in the practice might be confined to the practice, with practitioner and client jointly investigating them during the sessions without ever extending them to other people, places and times. The experimental realities explored in the practice will likely be partial realities, focusing intensively on specific themes, sources of meaning, desires and affordances, interests and values, relationships and conflicts.

Through experimentation with alternate realities it becomes apparent to the client that his or her subjective experience of the world can become different. Through explorations in the portal, the client also comes to recognzied that the “normal” reality of our culture is a largely a matter of habit and consensus: it too could be other than what it is. The phenomena of the world can be embedded in many alternative systems of meaning.

The practice is a heterotopia, functioning on the margins of normal reality. But leaving the heterotopia and returning to the world isn’t the same as leaving a fantasy world and returning to “the real world.” Nor do we need to subscribe to Baudrillard’s contention that there is no reality, that all the options are mere simulacra of a reality that doesn’t exist. The world is crisscrossed with limitless numbers of realities, only some of which have ever been actualized. To pass through the portal is to untangle the strands of meaning from each other, loosening the matrix of a particular reality from the phenomena of the world. The strands can reassemble and reattach themselves in a whole variety of ways. One particular reality may prove more salient and compelling than the others, and so the client passes all the way through the portal, allowing this particular reality to cover the whole world, allowing him/herself to participate fully in this reality. The portal has opened itself outward into difference.



  1. The times that I have had the opportunity to take a long held belief and expose it to the possibility of being understood in different ways, i.e. that I took the belief into another reality and found that it was different, I found very, very releasing. I felt like if this is different and I never saw it before, what else do I think is same-old-same-old that could be different too? Freeing, playful. Powerful.

    But this is not easy to do, so to have a guide seems essential. I believe others would benefit from the experience.

    Meilleurs voeux!!


    Comment by bluevicar — 5 June 2007 @ 12:33 pm

  2. I agree and for me probably I can trace three stages in my exposure, the first was definitely evangelical Christianity, it integrated a worldview for me for a number of years. Then after coming to India, I suddenly found that there were other valid ways of being a Christian. Liberation theology (philosophically Marxist, dialectical) made a lot of sense in the context of extreme poverty with the riches being in the hands of very few and with justice giving way to patriarchy. Finally, still interestingly within the broader folds of Christianity, the emerging movement and philosophically now, a more postmodern understanding or approach…

    It’s the same old world – or is it?


    Comment by samlcarr — 5 June 2007 @ 1:25 pm

  3. Your thoughts on practice seem to be coming together nicely at this point. I like it. I’m interested to hear your thoughts in the coming months/years on how this “hermeneutical” form of practice works itself out with “real” clients.


    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 5 June 2007 @ 1:47 pm

  4. vic –

    I’m glad the idea works from your experience. I suspect that a lot of different kinds of counseling pursue a similar trajectory, though they use different language to describe it and may envision different mechanisms of change.


    Comment by ktismatics — 5 June 2007 @ 3:09 pm

  5. Sam –

    It’ll be interesting to see whether beliefs end up being a focus of a practice like this. Mostly I expect it will come in on some of the issues we’ve discussed here and elsewhere with respect to desiring to do good versus repressing the desire to do bad. I.e., is belief a territorializing or deterritorializing force, is love the new law or does it do away with the need for law? For most people there are internal conflicts and unformulated experience related to morality, guilt, repression, and so on, which seems to be the main focus of religion for most people. But then there’s the new hedonism where you “ought” to pursue as much happiness as you can — so morality and prohibition might be more confused than ever when you feel guilty for not indulging your pleasures.


    Comment by ktismatics — 5 June 2007 @ 3:20 pm

  6. Jonathan –

    Thanks, I think it is coming together. Kind of building components now, based on readings and ideas that we’ve been covering for the last 2-3 months. More to go before hanging out the shingle.


    Comment by ktismatics — 5 June 2007 @ 3:21 pm

  7. Some set of ideas seem needed to bring things together for each individual. I’ve seen mine change over time but the need to keep things integrated, somewhat in agreement and consistent is one of those things that I really wonder about. is this a fundamental need? Could one live just as well with disparate or even contradictory ideas for different things?

    For better or worse, I’ve always preferred to try for some level of internal-external consistency but is this good or bad? Perhaps it has been stifling ‘who I really am”!


    Comment by samlcarr — 5 June 2007 @ 6:04 pm

  8. “hanging out the shingle”? Please translate. You somehow managed to translate “mowin’ what yer’ growin’,” but where does “hanging out the shingle” come from!?

    And Sam…Dr. Carl says “God is a lobster.”
    I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on that.


    Comment by Jaosn Hesiak — 5 June 2007 @ 6:36 pm

  9. Hanging out a shingle = putting up a sign on your office door indicating that you’re open for business.


    Comment by ktismatics — 5 June 2007 @ 9:01 pm

  10. That’s an interesting article Jason. I’m not at all sure that I can make complete sense out of it but there certainly is a link between the growth of PoMo thinking and globalisation. An interesting parallel discussion is with what to do with all the different cultures that are now being forced to be closely intertwined.

    The interplay of mathematical infinity with the philosophical and the scientific is also an interesting debate that is going to go places, but where? Planes (classically 2D) are ‘made’ of points. Points, by definition, have no dimension… Planes of meaning seem to arise out of concordant horizons of meaning, and it looks as though the way we understand those planes is undergoing a fundamental shift.

    It is a fascinating time to be alive!


    Comment by samlcarr — 6 June 2007 @ 7:15 am

  11. The exchange between Jason and Dominic on that linked post is sort of entertaining. Dominic’s link to an article by Badiou on Deleuze is dense but informative, pointing out some features in Deleuze that I’m not so fond of. There’s something that links Deleuze and Gadamer and Stern vis-a-vis Badiou and Derrida and Lacan, and I think it’s continuity versus discontinuity. Maybe I’ve been getting a little too continuous; today’s post is a move in the other direction.


    Comment by ktismatics — 6 June 2007 @ 2:37 pm

  12. Glad to hear we provided some entertainment, lol.


    Comment by Jaosn Hesiak — 7 June 2007 @ 1:26 am

  13. I loved Dominic’s last comment, like he’d disciplined the children… don’t make me come back in here! And if I hear you call Badiou a pomo again, I’ll have to take my belt to you.


    Comment by ktismatics — 7 June 2007 @ 9:12 pm

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