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Questions and Answers About Psychotherapy |
HE practice of medicine and the practice of psychology
have evolved from two different traditions. The practice of medicine evolved
as masters passed on to their students various oral traditions about healing
treatments and remedies. It didnt even matter if anyone knew why a
treatment worked; all that mattered was that someone could say, In
these circumstances, this treatment seems to work. If
an extract of willow bark relieved a headache, then so be it. Only later
would scientific inquiry be utilized both to find new treatments and to validate
old onessuch as discovering in willow bark the chemical we now know
Since oral lore
decisively linked the illness with the cure, medical treatment then, as now,
therefore depends on diagnosis. First the
symptoms are carefully identified, and then the
curetraditionally associated with those particular symptomsis
works on entirely different principles. Unlike medicine with its traditional
history of effective remedies, psychology began by looking for problems that
could be treated with known scientific principles. Such was the early
psychological clinic started by Lightner
in 1896, when Witmer applied abstract psychological
principles to solve educational problems.
Hence the tradition
of psychology is to use scientific
to investigate known psychological procedures to determine how effective
they might be in treating a particular symptom. Essentially, every time someone
comes up with a new psychotherapeutic idea, it must be investigated with
scientific research to determine if it works in general as well as other
treatments generally work.
Failure to recognize
this difference between medicine and psychology leads to a massive confusion
about the role of diagnosis in clinical
if someone is depressed, we might, in a particular case, diagnose it with
nosology of Major Depressive Disorder, Recurrent,
Severe Without Psychotic Features, With Melancholic Features, With Full
Interepisode Recovery, Superimposed on Dysthymic Disorder. But what does
this tell us?
A physician might
say, OK. Its major depression, lets try an antidepressant
Fair enough. After all, if someone breaks his leg the treatment doesnt
hinge on why he broke his leg.
To be fair,
lets acknowledge the field of medicine called wellness
which steps beyond traditional medical treatment and does look at some of
the whys of illness and treatment.
But a psychologist
has to ask why. Yes, but why is he depressed? And
in answer to this question the diagnosis tells us nothing.
Real psychological diagnosis, therefore, is not the naming
of the disorder, its the naming of the Why of the
symptoms associated with the disorder. Real diagnosis
emerges from within the treatment itself. It comes from talking about your
life, listening for
conflicts, and interpreting
Its a bit like defining a hole by marking out the contour of its rim.
First you determine whats thereor to be more accurate in speaking
about a hole, whats lacking. Then the work focuses on what the lack
signifies. You have to look
at your lifeespecially your past. You have to recognize all that
youve done and all that youve failed to do. Then you can begin
to make peace with the lack, to listen to what it tells you unconsciously,
and to adjust your life to accommodate it.
care and insurance companies nuts. Just like our culture in general,
they become nervous around ambiguity and mystery. They demand the outward
appearance of legal
like most everyone else, theyre quite willing to settle for illusions,
such as diagnoses, that give the appearance of truth. It keeps them
If, for one reason or another, you manage to get a
psychological diagnosis, you really have to be careful, because if a diagnosis
becomes a matter of
it can be almost impossible to give up that identity in order to find true
All of which
brings me to a final point about searching through past events in order to
make a diagnosis. Remembering the past is of no value in
except in recovering any emotions from the past which were never properly
voiced and which therefore keep you from having open and
interactions with others.
during the psychotherapeutic process you will experience many
emotions that are similar to the emotions you
felt as a child. Disappointment. Anger. Confusion. Feeling misunderstood.
Feeling devalued. Feeling abandoned. Many different eventssome of them
just chance occurrences during psychotherapy (for example, a key to the restroom
not in its proper place; a session cancelled because of the
psychotherapists illness; etc.) and some of them deliberate therapeutic
interventions by the psychotherapist (for example, charging you for a missed
session; an interpretation of a dream that touches
a truth you dont want to hear; a calculated decision not to respond
to your e-mail message; a declined invitation to your wedding or graduation;
etc.)will trigger these emotions.
process is technically called
So, when you
feel an emotion in psychotherapy, the therapeutic task will be to name it
as an emotion and understand it as an emotionnot get
caught in it as if it were your helpless destiny. For if you get caught in
it, you will feel like a victim and will blame the
psychotherapist for your pain, and the entire therapeutic process will feel
like judgment and criticism. Then, in deep bitterness, you will want to
get away from the psychotherapy
just as you wanted to get away from the original emotions as a
therefore, isnt necessarily a matter of discovering
its about learning how to function capably and
honestly in the present. To go about that process,
one works with emotions, wherever they come from. Historical events can fall
where they want.
Well, then, do
you still want a diagnosis? Then open up the DSM-IV and pick one.
The real issue
in regard to healing is not the diagnosis but the ability to retire the diagnosis
for the sake of health.
So ask yourself,
What is more important? Having the diagnosis, or being free of
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Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D. All rights reserved.
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