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[PER] Philosophy and psychotherapy: conflict or co-operation?

The long history of philosophy, its continued virulence and increasing popularity suggests that it is a response to deep human needs for understanding and for the creation of meaning.

The permeation of scepticism within the philosophical tradition indicates a reluctance to merely accept any specific meaning. Philosophical thought has sometimes created meta-narratives and sometimes engaged in critique of meta-narratives.

In particular, whether one sees philosophy and psychotherapy as conflictual or co-operative is likely to depend on one's attitude to the meaning milieux of psychotherapeutic theories. If the attitude is that any adopted theory is essentially true in its major aspects and that it has more rather than less universal applicability, then philosophy--in particular epistemology--is likely to be perceived as threatening and too much exposure experienced as an existential and theoretical shock.

This paper attempts to put psychotherapeutic theorising under epistemological scrutiny in ways which challenge essentialist approaches to psychotherapeutic theory and which suggest that unexamined essentialist theorising is likely to be epistemologically untenable.

I have met some resistance from psychotherapists to epistemological challenges and I suspect that a sense of defensiveness has resulted from a perception of threat. Philosophical investigations are not peripheral to psychotherapy but may be marginalised if perceived as threatening.

My view is that psychotherapy and philosophy could have similar and co-operative aims and I take as a fascinating challenge Wittgenstein's notion of 'philosophy as therapy'. It is apposite to state that this paper started life as background reading to a module on the taught element of a doctorate of psychotherapy course. There was no doubt as to the impact on psychotherapists of the challenges arising from a study of epistemology.

Geoff Heath, Philosophy and psychotherapy: conflict or co-operation?, International Journal of Psychotherapy Volume 7(1), March 2002, pp: 13-52.

psychotherapy
philosophy
Wittgenstein
epistemology
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