Why Psychotherapists Shouldn’t be Shrinks
On occasions when people might inquire as to what type of work I do, I’d typically respond that I practice psychotherapy. I often hear the response, “Oh, so you’re a shrink.” My reaction to the term shrink is that I’d rather expand than shrink. Although my comment might be taken as somewhat glib, it really speaks to my worldview and my intention to practice a psychology that is in coherence with this shift; emergence as opposed to reduction.
Psychotherapy, for the large part, has been rooted in an old paradigm of reality, which values reductive thinking and objective analysis. From this perspective, based upon certainty and determinism, we believe that with sufficient information we can drill down to the root causes of an individual’s afflictions. So our focus is often on the cause, hence reductive thinking and the term, shrink. Yet, from this methodology we sadly neglect how to get from here to there and what there looks like. Many people seem to have a reasonable understanding of why they have become who they are. A continued replay of these life events, ad nauseam, without sufficient focus on emergence leaves many people dissatisfied with their therapeutic experience.
Moreover, therapists tend to become steeped in the diagnostic penchant, which limits our capacity as healers and has us treat the diagnosis rather than co-creating new realities with our clients, grounded in a humanistic venture of actualizing new possibilities. Let’s take a look at some of the core tenets of mainstream psychology and how they limit the potentiality of the field.
Traditional psychology, still in lock step with our bio-medical approach, rests its foundation upon diagnosis. In fact, medical insurance requires a diagnosis for coverage. The operating assumption of diagnosis is that objectivity, in fact, exists. In order to diagnose another, we may assume that our subjective interpretations aren’t getting in the way and that objectivity actually prevails. From this perspective we should assume that a dozen clinicians working with the same client would all render the same diagnosis. I can assure you that no such thing would happen. We each see through the subjective filter of our own life experience, colored by our beliefs, thoughts, personal history, prejudices, biases, and our unconscious stirrings.
As therapists we are not calculating automatons (thankfully) but simply educated professionals assumedly doing our best; although perhaps constrained by an outmoded model of thinking. To that end, the field of psychology has not kept pace with the remarkable advances in the emerging sciences. As Jungian analyst Marie-Louise Franz wrote, “A psychology that does not keep up with the advances made in other sciences seems to me to be of little value.”
The instant the therapist shifts from an intuitive, empathic energy into one of a diagnostic clinician, they become immersed in the illusion of separateness. They falsely believe that they can observe without affecting the observed. Just imagine, in the intimacy of a therapy relationship, how the thoughts, feelings and interactions of the therapist impact the clients. The patient moreover tends to become the diagnosis. In the jargon of the therapist, Jane is referred to as bipolar as opposed to stating that Jane has some features of what we have come to call bipolar disorder. Jane becomes the diagnosis. In other words, we see her through the label of the dysfunction that we have attributed to her. The symptom isn’t the problem. It’s simply as a signal to us that this individual is struggling with some aspect of their life.
If you look for the depression in a person you will see a depressed person. In this circumstance you will treat their depression as you have been trained, working with the depression rather than the potential life energy of that individual. Instead, if you see them as a person who has lost their vision of life, bereft without a sense of meaning and purpose and mired in fear and disconnection, you might well enter their life field with hope and support, working toward creating and actualizing a new experience. The different possibility of therapeutic outcomes is very much dependent upon the beliefs and perspective of the treating therapist. The energy of the relationship is more fundamental to the treatment than the consideration of the analytical assessment of the difficulty.
Several years ago I was introduced to a psychiatrist from a neighboring town. He proudly told me that within minutes of meeting a new patient he had them completely diagnosed. I paused, as I considered my response. I offered to him that when I work with someone I try not to fill my head with my own internal summation of their situation, for that would only serve to separate me from the from the unfolding process that we’re about to embark upon.
The more that I think I know, the less present I am to make new discoveries and help facilitate new potentialities. Understanding that I am part of the process, inseparable from the individual that I’m working with, is essential to the energy of healing and transformation. The notion of shrinking one’s life and psyche is clearly reductive and analytic. As such, it is rooted in the mechanistic model of an old scientific paradigm. The harm done is that it de-humanizes the human experience and focuses on what we refer to as dysfunction. If we look for the dysfunction and remain embedded in it with pathos, the path toward emancipation is impeded. This sets up a construct of pathology; which victimizes us unmercifully.