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HYPNOTIC NATURE OF THE TREATMENT ROOM
written by: Stanley Wilkin
This article will consider the viability of the many psychotherapeutic methods on the market. In newspapers, journals, on the internet, there is a profusion of advertisements for people to train as psychotherapists (I am using the term to cover counselling as well) or undertake therapy. Its achievements, rarely tested, are glowingly itemised. This article analyses the nature of psychotherapy employing directly or indirectly theories of perception.
Whatever shortcomings psychotherapy has, and there are many, in the present state of understanding of human nature, it must be preferred to the often barbaric and dictatorial (certainly historically) methods of psychiatry.
I will demonstrate that psychotherapists base their approach upon structured treatment environments that seek to impose and embed perceptual positions upon clients, ignoring and denying other equally valid positions. Psychotherapy functions not as a system of tested knowledge, but through the narrow, sometimes fanatical, pursuit of subjective, supposedly intuitive, insights based upon thoroughly examined but untested theories.
In order to better illustrate the above points, I will refer to 'being', a term for the fluid, discrete, dynamic nature of individuals in interaction with the discrete nature of other individuals, groups or institutions.
The client meets the therapist in a room, which may resemble an office or more closely a place of treatment with books of analysis of one kind or another. Usually there would be something to indicate the function of both room and therapist. The therapist normally determines sitting arrangements and whether or not there is eye contact. Similarly, the therapist determines how much vocalisation occurs in the room. Rarely, is a room large. In fact they tend to be relatively small with little to distract from the intended purposes. The therapist determines how long each session will last. Some therapists employ time to frustrate clients, stopping a client in full flow, for them to begin where they left off next session.
Any client nowadays consulting a therapist will clearly understand the processes. The therapist is a healer, a professional, a member of a group who has acquired accreditation and thereby is considered both intelligent and responsible. The personality of the therapist fits into a number of parameters. The client is the member of the room who requires healing, but is also a student and acolyte. The therapist has access to training and knowledge the client has an awareness of but little more than working knowledge of therapy. Psychodynamic clients usually had knowledge of psychodynamic theories and techniques, invalidating any empirical proof obtained.
The above processes encourage learning and provide a perfect environment for hypnotism. The client is cut off from the outside world and is in space which has a singular purpose. Within the period of therapy the client assumes a different way of relating and of being. The active, able or failing individual that exists in the eternal world beyond the therapy for a limited period has no true existence. Dissonance ensures. The learning process results from the exclusivity of the room and shared definition of what occurs there.
Perceptual psychology provides insight into the above processes through understanding of class room learning environments. Students entering a class/lecture room or hall enter a place of learning and expect certain events to take place. While in the room they will memorise in one way or another what is given to them by the teacher/lecturer. Everything that occurs within the room is part of the learning process. They are conditioned by the familiarity of the room and the objects in the room to learn in a linear fashion. They may question the lecturer, but only as part of the learning process. Whatever is provided in the room becomes 'information' that needs to be consumed by the student. It becomes knowledge. Whatever the lecturer says is knowledge. It is a form which embeds a world-view in the learner.
In the therapeutic environment, everything that occurs there becomes treatment and involves a healing process, the therapist the guide and shaman. The therapist assumes a powerful position, theatrically controlling the environment.
Suggestion/hypnosis/symbolic effects of training
The therapy room can be viewed as a womb; for it is there that the client is symbolically recreated. The therapist is therefore the mother. The processes are creative. But this reconstruction of 'being' within the therapy room carries dangers. One of these is the subjugation of the client's being based upon their existence in the eternal world. The closed nature of the room, exclusion of outside stimulation and outside references, encourages the client to become suggestible. The therapist's authority increases the client's susceptibility.
The therapist perceives the client as 'ill' or requiring 'healing.' The therapist sees themselves as a 'healer', as 'healthy' as a student and investigator of psyche. They occupy the active, vigorous position while the client occupies the passive, receptive, suggestive position. Within the therapy room, the therapist has the stronger more coherent world view, which he/she assumes the client must adopt in order to become similarly aware or healthy. The therapist is a teacher. Within the room, the therapist controls reality and being. They become dangerous or pointless to the client if their awareness is flawed by subjectivity.
Training serves, amongst other things, to eliminate subjectivity from the therapeutic processes. The therapist is normally trained to become a receptor, but this is an illusion. The therapist's training inculcates a number of beliefs, both personal and professional, about themselves which are rarely properly tested. They might, for example, inculcate powerful ideas such as they are more aware than others of how people think and act. That their professional status has somehow imparted magical qualities. Objectivity is impossible, as by undergoing training and other professional processes, the therapist assumes group subjectivity, which is as fixed as individual egotism. The therapist is a product of their training, one which espouses particular world-views. Within the therapy room, the client's many sources of training, an equally creditable perception of reality, are ignored.
The therapist is trained to cleanse their mind of preconceptions and projections onto the client, but their training encourages processes of preconception and projection. They learn an understanding of human behaviour that is culturally based, which provides just another interpretation amongst many of why humans act and think. The therapist's reconstruction through training encourages the tyranny of another worldview.
In client-centred therapy the therapeutic process concerns interaction between therapist and client. While this is thought to encourage a dynamic which allows the client's emotions and relationship conundrums to be examined there is a lack of empirical proof that it serves any useful purpose. Further the artificial nature of the therapeutic environment and the power-discrepancy between therapist and client militates against this. The therapist assumes the professional mantle, in consequence believing thereby that they are better than those they deal with. The behavioural therapist's controlling techniques in contrast, while successful to a degree, verge too often towards client abuse.
There are a number of myths that proliferate in therapy that inform therapy, therapist and client. The belief, common to psychotherapy, psychoanalysis, and client-centred therapy, that a client must go deeper and deeper to achieve release, catharsis and 'health.' Deeply hidden memories and the feelings attached to them must be reached and drawn out from the mind's recesses. This belief prevails although evidence suggests that traumatic memories are easily accessed and that exploring the attendant emotions provides temporary relief but does not then affect behaviour. There appears to be confusion here between the function of memory and that of feeling. Although feeling plays a part in the retrieval of memories, these tend to be autobiographical in nature and often close to the surface of the client's consciousness. As therapists obtain their sense of being from clients, and pay mortgages etc. through them, going deeper may simply mean longer.
Childhood as a separate place, where later difficulties have their genesis, is also a myth. Different cultures have a different understanding of childhood. For some it means the child functions within the community, helping that community. In Western culture childhood is perceived as a place of victimhood, of development, and a stage prior to functioning fully within the community. People are encouraged to brood on this early part of their lives, rejecting the developmental importance of other periods. It is perceived of as a time of complete receptivity, of innocence, not a period where a child might victimise others and engage in competition. This concept of childhood owes much to Dickens as well as Freud and Klein. It is a fantasy.
The nature of the healing process involves the myth of therapeutic omnipotence and of therapeutic intuition. The omnipotence is assumed from the therapists medical connections. In our society doctors hold a position of extreme trustworthiness and are respected for their intelligence. In fact most doctors are little more than engineers or mechanics, capable of remembering large amounts of information. A therapist often assumes the mantle of a medical professional, claiming the authority ascribed to doctors in general. But they have few claims to scientific rigour.
The therapist functions by remembering their training, often long and demanding, or through empathy. The empathetic leaps are situated in the imagination of the therapist and depend upon apparent, often contingent, association. An example of this is an article, 'To Resist Is To Exist' (2006) written by two psychotherapists, I came across concerning mental health problems amongst Palestinians. The article asserted that Palestinians remained psychically whole through resisting Israeli aggressors. Now this is a good idea, combining existentialism and psychotherapy. Unfortunately the intuitive logic employed by the writers insists on the victimhood of Palestinians (victimhood is very important in therapeutic understanding of mental disturbance) without any historical basis in its truth. A number of commentators throughout the Islamic and Western worlds have also pointed out that Palestinians stay in the past and do not develop their economy and society, placing the blame on Israel. To develop their society would mean accepting the legitimacy of the Israeli state. In other words, the matter is complex and any understanding and solution requires the synthesis of several points of view.
The rights and wrongs are not here my concern, but the nature of therapeutic intuitive logic is. The writers came from a single dynamic and imposed it upon a complex situation. Therapeutic intuitive logic goes from A to B, and back again to A. Dependent upon largely subjective insights, it ignores or disdains other equally creditable evidence. It imposes upon reality, rather than deconstructs it.
Knowing little of history, economics, sociology, the writers clearly do not believe that such factors affect human nature or behaviour. If they believe anything it is in the genuine reality of victimhood and of childhood responses to trauma. The writers in fact 'unconsciously' (or not) view the Palestinians as merely children, unable to affect their own futures. Whole sections of reality are cut off from them, ignored or dismissed as irrelevant to understanding human psyche. All knowledge resides in their own psyche, composed of individual experience and training. Their authority as trained psychotherapists of repute lends credibility to half-baked ideas.
The client's being is subverted and reduced through the therapeutic environment, which concerns the therapeutic experience and has little to do with obtaining insight into individual psyche. Commonly, therapists recognise no other psychic dynamics affecting clients. Not only those itemised above, but principles, integrity, morality, sensibility. The client assumes something of the therapist's being and outlook. There in fact is no other clearly observable dynamic.
Lectures tend to focus on the designated subject matter. The intention is for the learner to imbibe a certain knowledge framework. The end result is normally passing exams. The class room or lecture hall is structured to allow for psychological and educational embedding. The therapist's treatment room serves the same or similar purpose. Such environments work through suggestion and control, but equally through the exclusion of other matters. Entering through the appropriate door for treatment or a lecture, the client or student opens themselves up to the process.
A therapist excludes other perceptions but also hundreds of years of all other forms of knowledge. They exclude the client's intellectual and developmental counter-experiences. The therapist is by definition, semi-educated, that is having knowledge of one subject to the exclusion of others.
Although therapists claim knowledge of human nature, their reasoning is both logically and intuitively flawed, constructed as it is upon subjectivity. Their training, certificates, working environments underpin their credibility and authority. But that has been so with quacks down the ages.