17 June 2007

Decentering Therapy

Filed under: Psychology — ktismatics @ 4:54 pm

Continuing the trajectory of the last two posts, I’m thinking therapy ought to work like this…

Do not reinforce the center. I presume that most people regard their rational consciousness as the center of the self. I would not support this false centrality by continually reflect back statements the client makes with “you feel that…” or “you’re wondering…” or “when did you first…” By holding up a mirror an asking the client to comment on what s/he sees, I’m implicitly colluding with the client’s structural assumptions.

Do not fill the center. By offering interpretations, diagnoses, treatment plans, etc. I place myself at the center.

Do not destroy the center. By refusing to respond to the client’s conscious rational verbalizations, by responding in a seemingly irrelevant fashion, or by criticizing or undermining what the client has to say, I actively attempt to undermine the client’s center. In doing so, however, I’m again filling the center with myself. I can conceivably accomplish this coup d’etat, but to what end? I’ll just have to sabotage my own centrality, or allow the client to do so, which would just result in an endless exchange of placeholders.

Acknowledge the function of rational consciousness. Even if the intent is to decenter it, perhaps even to reduce its structure to that of a thin membrane, rational consciousness is a critical apparatus. Respond to the client’s verbalizations without drawing undue attention to the rational selfhood that generates the thought and speech.

Acknowledge the function of security. The client relies on the center to provide a reliable but immobile base. Forcing consciousness to fill this role is to burden it with goodness and “squareness,” while simultaneously freeing, marginalizing, and corrupting the unconscious and the passions. Is it important to deny or to undermine security? I don’t think so. Security needs to be loosened up in the structure, disconnected from conscious rationality and moved away from the center. Dislodged from the center, security becomes an important consideration in its own right, along with its dark shadow, insecurity, which is always also present at the unstable center.

Actively attend to the other strands that weave the structure together. Security/insecurity is one strand; reason/passion is another. We’ve discussed others in this blog. Hegel’s master/servant dialectic points to the importance of interpersonal power and recognition. Creation as a motive force is counterpoised with mimesis and its attendant manifestations in competition and rivalry. Continuity/rupture. Sorrow and loss, not just as a trauma but as a way of engaging the world.

Follow the strands as they traverse the entire structure. Don’t focus solely on the client’s subjective response to these strands. Explore also how they affect the client’s interpersonal interactions, work, politics, religion.

Follow the strands as they traverse the client-therapist relationship. Don’t ignore or deny transference, and yet don’t make it the centerpiece of therapy. Include it in the conversation as another nexus in the decentralized structure where the strands intersect. This implies a related point…

Decentralize the therapeutic process. Don’t center it on the client, or even on the interpersonal relationship between client and therapist. Instead let therapy traverse the structure freely, tracing all the interconnections and disruptions. Client and therapist agree jointly to engage in an intense and strange interval, with the content and process of that interval determined largely by the client. But if the therapist is to decenter the structures, then it should be acknowledged the structure traverses everything, from the intrapsychic terrain of the client to the transeference-countertransference process to the larger cultural forces in which we all are embedded.



  1. There is an assumption that the structure and the immobile center are a large part of the client’s problem and need to be dismantled and then reterritorialised in a more flexible way.

    But is that all there is to the ‘client’ and to therapy with this client? I don’t mean that in a limiting sense!

    By ‘freeing up’ the client through the therapeutic relationship is there any guarantee that at the end of the process the client will be ‘better’ and how could one objectively determine that?


    Comment by samlcarr — 24 June 2007 @ 4:40 am

  2. I’m trying to shift focus away from the self as center and shift it onto the larger processes and structures in which the self engages. Self as being in the world and being with other people, rather than self as pure being — this is consistent with Heidegger’s ontology. Then there are the links between inner desires and affordances in the world that pass through the self-as-membrane. And there are the skills and values and interests by which the self transforms the world and shapes realities. These are the intended correctives for a self that is lodged at the center of the world.

    I’m not sure what “better” should be. I used to make a living by measuring health outcomes, which I think is a good undertaking generally. However, I’m not proposing a practice that specifically aims to reduce symptoms or increase well-being. I’m not even sure the health paradigm fits with what I’m proposing. I have some sense that success ought to be judged in terms of the interpersonal process as it shapes up dynamically, rather than on the achievement of a desired goal. I’m frankly not even sure whether I’d want to suggest to the clients that what goes on in therapy would have any assured impact on their lives outside of therapy. Therapy as the joint creation of a heterotopic reality that is its own reward? Maybe.


    Comment by ktismatics — 25 June 2007 @ 8:45 pm

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