Relativism

For many years during my study of long-term psychodynamic psychotherapy, I worked with a group who were committed to the idea that only their type of therapy was effective, and everyone would be able to achieve an optimal experience of consciousness if they pursued this type of therapy for many, many years. For much of my time with this group, I also subscribed to this belief. Now, having looked around, and thought about it a great deal, I think exclusivity and dismissiveness are important problems in thinking about what is therapeutic.

Originally having been trained as an anthropologist, I have grappled for a long time with the conflict between relativism in response to differences in people and the idea of universal values. In other words, when visiting another culture, should we take the stance that each culture (or each person) should determine for itself what is appropriate, “good,” or right? Or should we take the stance that some things are right or good for everyone?

It is the same with psychotherapy: Should we take the stance that one type of therapy is best for everyone and every concern, or should we take the stance that different people benefit from different kinds of psychotherapy for different problems?

It seems obvious at first thought that diversity in people requires diversity in response, but what if there really is a “best” way to develop ourselves and other ways are band-aids? Are we denying people the opportunity to grow into their best selves if we don’t recommend what we think is the best means of development, even knowing that not everyone has the interest, motivation, or capacity (financial or logistic) to pursue it?

About norasblog

I am a psychotherapist with a private practice in downtown Chicago.
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