Theory and Practice in Therapy

“The world is much more than can be formulated by our theories, but when we approach it with a particular theory it responds in a particular way. Our theories can draw out different aspects of the world.” This quote comes from The Focusing-Oriented Counselling Primer, which I have just finished reading.

“The world is much more than can be formulated by our theories, but when we approach it with a particular theory it responds in a particular way. Our theories can draw out different aspects of the world” (p. 102).

This quote comes from The Focusing-Oriented Counselling Primer, by Campbell Purton (PCCS Books, 2007) which I have just finished. It inspired me in the way that things do when they remind you of the absolute basics of what you experience as true (I say that rather clumsily to avoid using the word ‘believe’, which bothers me with its implication that something is not, in fact, true!)

Purton here is writing in the spirit of Gendlin, the philosopher, therapist and ‘inventor’ of focusing, who emphasises what the postmodern view of the world as a multiplication of various stories tends to ignore — that the world does exist, that “the world is that which is formulated in different ways by the different theories“. (p. 102)

How does this help us in the practice of therapy? To me it is an invaluable insight which, in allowing all theories to be true, stops me wasting my energy on them and directs my attention to what is actually going on in the client’s world, in my world, and between us. That something going on usually corresponds to my theories or formulations of experience, of course, but sometimes it spontaneously formulates itself as, for example, psychoanalytic transference; sometimes it looks like a kind of cognitive script making itself known in precisely these terms. The question is, then, do I waste my time and energy resisting it: “This doesn’t fit! But I’m not a psychoanalyst! I don’t know what to do in this situation!” or do I concentrate on the world which is just manifesting itself in this particular way in this moment?

Concentrating on what is actually going on always seems to be the most efficient way to proceed. It doesn’t divide the world into real experience and artificial theories imposed — it allows me to see how the world works, through specific formulations that I do not need to identify with if they do not fit. Those moments when they do not fit, indeed, are often creative moments. I just need reminding, at times.

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