How are we to work with conflict of moral standpoints in the therapeutic relationship?

Abstract

I want to begin by saying that the terms of reference of this series of lectures grated on me, in particular, the word ‘power’. One thing it conjured up was the criticism made by people who say we use our power over our patients to brainwash them, that the psychotherapeutic relationship is inescapably authoritarian, domineering, coercive. This was widely said in the sixties by leftist and feminists and others who sought a therapeutic relationship that was more equal, co-counselling, for example, where the client and the therapist took turns exposing their problems. In my experience, most people who took up that position eventually saw the merits of relatively orthodox psychotherapy, and many have trained in conventional psychodynamic psychotherapy. I asked my partner, who is also a psychoanalytic psychotherapist, what the term power conjured up for her and got an uncharacteristically sharp response. She said, ‘I hate that word. It’s used by humanistic therapists who are afraid of authority, difference and knowledge and want us all to be the same. It’s like saying colour doesn’t matter. They confuse the abuse of power with the use of power. They assume that all exercise of power is abusive.’.

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