Psychotherapy and the ideal of freedom

Ben Skolnik (2005)

This paper is a doctoral dissertation about the relationship between the psychotherapeutic endeavor and the ideals of liberty and autonomy emphasized in the ideal of human freedom. Written from the perspective of a psychodynamically-oriented internship level graduate student in clinical psychology, the paper attempts to address and explore the conflicts and consonance between these two belief systems, and to question the possibility of being both an ethical and effective psychotherapist, on the one hand, while embodying the values of freedom and liberty on the other. The discussion occurs in the context of an acknowledged constructionist epistemology on the part of the author, and attempts to address how one is to be effective as a therapist while remaining mindful of the inherent limitations of knowledge and of the right of people to make their own decisions about the constructs and conceptual premises they wish to have guide their own lives. Different conceptions of power are addressed in both general terms and specifically in the realm of psychotherapy, with special attention to the contributions of French philosopher Michel Foucault. The inherent problem of solipsism is addressed, and an attempt is made to consider whether and how it is possible to be both reflective around these issues and pragmatically useful to people in distress. The use of dialectical thinking and deconstruction of the sort advocated by French philosopher Jacques Derrida are considered in this connection. Structurally, the paper takes the form of a gradual narrowing of focus, beginning with broader philosophical considerations regarding the nature of truth, knowledge, and power, and gradually narrowing toward the specific question of the maintenance of and respect for the client's freedom in the domain of psychotherapy. In the interest of this exploration, the paper includes an extensive literature review, theoretical analysis, and reflexive process on the part of the author. Finally, it involves the examination of a published psychotherapy transcript, in an attempt to bring the theoretical postulates of the dissertation to bear on the analysis of an actual therapeutic encounter.