Friday, January 2, 2009

BPSDB - Therapy as an alchemical process

Here's some supremely nebulous tosh, among other things illustrating that peer-review on its own can easily be an empty charade. It's by no means clear what is being asserted here, and it's even less clear what reasons are being given. Here, to start with, is the abstract:
In psychology, we can look at human beings either in their thing-like aspects or in their person-like aspects. One of the best places in which human beings can be studied as persons is in the arena of psychotherapy. Unfortunately, the prevalence of schoolism has meant that the findings of different schools of psychotherapy have not been integrated or indeed brought together in any way. But if we can take a wider view, we can see that there is actually a common path which therapy takes, which is common to all the schools. This paper is an attempt to outline this path. In doing so, I have found the fullest statement of it to be found in alchemical writings, but I have also found that as far as it goes, objective empirical research finds the same set of phases, and this suggests that alchemy may also be right about what goes beyond the orthodox research. It is rare to find something which unites the interests of the researcher and the practitioner, but here we have something which promises to do just that.
Ah, right. A generous reader might suppose that some serious metholological or maybe even metaphysical point is being made with the thing-person distinction. Nope. I looked in vain in the paper for any significant content being given to the putative distinction. The same point goes for other pseudo-distinctions drawn along the way, such as between understanding and explanation. Sigh.

The main positive claim seems to be that if you take a nebulous and vague enough conception of the therapeutic process you find it analogous to a nebulous and vague conception of medieval alchemy.

So, for example, therapy begins with the "Materia Prima" which is "what needs to be worked on, and is the most important and mysterious substance of all" (Oi! You at the back! Stop sniggering!). Presumably 'substances' are more like persons than things. Or not. Maybe things are like cheese, and persons are like dragons. Or something. Buggered if I can tell, and I've read this, and a pile of psychotherapy literature, and more renaissance neo-Platonist bullshit from primary texts than most.

And so it continues, for a series of stages.

Suppose that it really was the case that suitably vague conceptions of the therapeutic process and alchemy were in some sense analogous? So the f**k what?

The paper doesn't say. One tempting response is given by Wodehouse:
"Very good," I said coldly. "In that case, tinkerty-tonk." And I meant it to sting. (Right Ho, Jeeves - 1934).
It's also worth pointing that that other things being equal being found to stand in some relation of analogy with a false, superseded, bollocks theory (to the extent that Alchemy was a 'theory' at all) is hardly good news. At least not to anyone who cares about whether her beliefs are true.

Maybe the real analogy is that peddlers of bollocks to the gullible can still turn patients into gold, even if hardly anyone (and nobody with a clue) takes substance alchemy seriously.

John Rowan (2001). Therapy as an alchemical process International Journal of Psychotherapy, 6 (3), 273-288 DOI: 10.1080/14698490120112129


Neuroskeptic said...

I like how he starts out by denouncing "schoolism" (he's too cool for it, clearly) but then he ends up sounding an awful lot like Jung.

Then again a lot of bad psychology sounds like Jung.

Doctor Spurt said...

Indeed. Among other things Freud got right, was a robust secularism, and utilitarianism. As a behaviourist myself, I can often find ideas of use that (I'm told) are in Freud. In Jung and followers of Jung, on the other hand, I find mostly temptations to physical violence...

k4t434sis said...

I do believe that anything such as alchemy and metaphysics don't have any effect except on account of the practitioner to "believe" in the processes involved. The technique doesn't have to work in reality in any quantitative way; it just has to have an impact on changing the mindset because of the ritual.
By the way Freud treated like 3 patients his whole career and unsucessfully at that, so I wouldn't take him too seriously.

Doctor Spurt said...

That's not really fair on Freud, who reported on a large number of cases, often in considerable detail. I'm no 'Freudian', but he's at the very least interesting enough to be worth attention.

k4t434sis said...

This is true. I guess I just see him as more of a voyeur than working therapist.