On Saturday night, over dinner at a small French bistro in Islington, Georgia Lepper referred to Freud’s phrase, “the narcissism of small differences”. She meant to include firstly the emphasis on differences among different psychodynamic approach, and the consequent in-fighting there. But as a psychotherapy researcher and long-time SPR member, she was also referring to the way in which all the different major approaches to therapy tend to focus on what makes them distinct rather than what they have in common, which was also a key theme of Peter Fonagy’s presentation to UKCP.
But after reading today about an exchange between a couple of people I know, I find myself growing increasingly weary of attacks by some classical person-centred therapists on people like me, and in this case on a friend who was attempting to equally affirm both classical nondirective therapists and others like me who don’t display sufficient ideological purity. This seems to me to be an example of what Freud was referring to. Increasingly, I believe, it is an attitude that we can’t afford anymore. It is also a problematic mode of being that I also have often fallen into, especially when I had tried to promote PE-EFT by claiming it as a distinctive and unique approach.
But the thing that bothers me the most about the whole debate is how it is conducted almost entirely at the purely conceptual level, without us actually looking at each other’s practice. I want to paraphrase Husserl: “Back to the videos themselves!” I don’t think we should talk about nondirectiveness or process differentiation or client deference without specific reference to recordings of actual therapy sessions.
The Social Anxiety Therapy Development group has started playing each other’s video and audio recordings (so far it’s just Mick and I, but we’re looking forward to others joining in as well). Based on this limited experience, and others that I have had over my career, I want to hypothesize that, among experienced, qualified therapists, when we look at each other’s actual work, we are going to see several things:
-First, we will see much that we recognize in common in each other’s work;But even here I am going to predict that it will usually be the case that our preferred response would have led in the same direction, or in a somewhat different but not necessarily better (or worse) direction. So it seems to me that only rarely will we see a place where what we would have said or done would have been clearly better than what the therapist we are watching said or did; and here we are generally recognizably within the boundaries of our own human fallibility. By this I mean: Perhaps we had something better to say at this particular moment, but someplace else the opposite would likely to be the case. To pretend otherwise is to risk Freud’s narcissism of small differences, and to generate endless fruitless and divisive debate in a time when our energy is desperately needed elsewhere, such as in doing research to justify and improve our practice.
-Second, we will see responses, phrases, even words that we wouldn’t necessarily have thought to use but that might be a good idea to try in the right context;
-Third, we will see and recognize the other therapist’s (or our own) humanness and fallibility;
-Fourth, we will see places where we might have preferred to have said something different.