Saturday, November 2, 2019

The Harvard Treating Couples Conference: Dramaturgical Problems in Self-Presentation and Reluctance




A paper given November 2, 2019 at the Harvard Treating Couples Conference:

Mistakes in Couples Therapy: 
Dramaturgical Problems in Self-Presentation and Reluctance

I’ll start with two categories of mistakes: One involves personal and professional insistence; the other, supervision.


To do the work I’m interested in, I want to know what really matters to people: I want to understand what they intrinsically value.  I want them to consider where their integrity really counts. And given the particulars of what they are troubling each other about, I want them to be able to acknowledge what they know is not all that important. Are they arguing the proper way to fill the dishwasher; does it really make a difference if the toilet paper unrolls from the top or from the bottom?  (Yes, I know it matters, it should unroll from the bottom.) Since they are going to keep score anyway, it should be more about the vital signal than the noise. 

I want everyone in the room to ask if their concerns are essential to their well-being; where, if they don’t take a stand, they’ll feel abused or violated. This need be clear enough to figure out where they have common ground, where they can appropriately compromise and have some wiggle room.  The devil is always in the details. Does the position they take allow their engagement to proceed? Is it a deal breaker or a game changer?

Working with couples, I need them to attempt to be honest with each other. An empathic honesty that respects their vulnerabilities.  (And that’s not easy). How open are they willing to be with each other and with me? What openness can they tolerate? What would be sadistic to reveal? In contrast, what serves intimacy if held back?

I want to know if they honestly feel their actions reflect their claimed values and self-assigned status. And when their actions don’t, how they account for that. 

Central to the working with couples is understanding what they expect and demand from each other. How well do they understand the roles they cast for themselves and their intimate companion? Do they adequately fit the part? Have they thought this through?  Consider the dramatic difficulty when actors are poorly cast for the parts played: frustrations, disappointments, and conflicts poorly staged. It is rarely a satisfying performance.

My life as a psychoanalyst has taught me the flexible policy of valuing the significance of what a person communicates over their manner of communication. I’m not primarily interested in helping couples communicate better. I might try to be helpful there but it’s a secondary concern. For the moment, I’ll not say more about improving communication but mention why I use the term “policy”.  Policies are principles we follow until or unless we have reason enough not to. Policies are not laws to insistently follow, come hell or high water. The “unless clauses” are important. We improvise with the exceptions.  It is a mistake to approach most things with rigid insistence. It’s akin to rolling with the punches, especially when punching above your weight. Rigidity fractures. That’s the first mistake to avoid. Don’t treat your favorite theories and therapeutic rituals as the gospel truth, written in stone. Don’t assume you have it sufficiently figured out. That’s above your weight. This goes for personal aspirations and claimed values, too. After I’ve made a carefully composed interpretation, clients often tell me “yes, but it’s more than that….” They sense my perspective is too narrow to capture their circumstance, and what it means to them. In a manner of speaking, “it is always more than that”. Even when working with the facts at hand, we never have them all. And even working off the same page, we find our perspectives differ on meanings and significance. 

The fundamental mistake, akin to failures in empathy, involves the competence to accurately recognize the varied perspectives that fit any circumstance and the ones that practically speaking, aren’t serviceable; ones that don’t fit or might, but not very well.

Perspective on perspective is key. This brings up another reminder:

The second mistake is to go it alone. We need a peer to talk through our work. A trusted and competent companion who knows us well; knows where the bodies are buried. This is mutual. We accurately recognize each other. We’ve revealed and demonstrated our vulnerabilities, strengths, and shticks. You need someone like this your entire career. Someone who can challenge your perspective. This is not the evaluating supervisor of your training years. This is the person you can talk over your work, have a drink with, and write it off on Schedule C.   

Keep these themes in mind as I proceed.  In some ways it can be summed in the wisdom of those great moral thinkers, Donald Rumsfeld and Sarah Palin. His, “You go to war with the armies you have” and her refrain, “how’s that working for you?”  We should appreciate what happens to treatment plans in the fog of a couple’s war. 

“The fog of war” is a segue to some practical realities:  The dilemmas of the therapist’s actual status in their client’s world –– and the therapist’s and client’s actual values. The values that actually influence what transpires. Since I’ve already given reference to the IRS, I’ll employ the image of keeping “Two Sets of Books”.  One open to inspection; one hidden from view. Your clients have them and you do, too.

I liken couple’s therapy – for that matter – all psychotherapy, consultations, and supervisions, as improvisations that hinge on negotiation in the form of a moral dialogue. What I mean by moral dialogue involves good faith attempts to be open and clear about our actual values in play, how we actually appraise each other, and given those appraisals, what we are prepared to take seriously. Unless the partners and work are taken seriously, nothing much is likely to change.  And, unless they have an accurate understanding of what the other is really up to, whatever they take seriously is likely run aground. 

So, I have mentioned two connected themes: The revealed values we take seriously and how seriously we take each other. The therapist-couple triangle involves both. Both require attempting authenticity and mutual, accurate understanding. 

Let’s turn to the cast of players:

For the therapist: How well-cast is the therapist for their role with this particular couple?  I run clinical seminars with doctoral trainees where we focus on supervisions and case formulation.  There’s a common group of mistakes made when the supervisee, correctly or not, believes the supervisor expects them to speak in the supervisor’s voice –– a voice more seasoned, older, differently gendered, what have you –– than the one the trainee can get away with.  (I’m not sure that the actual supervisor felt their trainee should talk like them, but the trainee didn’t feel free to explore how it would work in their voice). 

Here the distinction between implementation and significance matters. We want trainees to speak authentically in their voice. When supervising, we may have a game plan in mind, we believe we know what we’d like to see accomplished, but we might not give the trainee the breathing space to think about how the therapeutic goal can be implemented many ways (if it can at all). To have a chance at being successful they’ll need to do it their way. The improvisational therapeutic drama is “character driven”. One size does not fit all. I’ll say more about this shortly. 

Couple therapists interpret, coach, and serve as referee.  They need to be credible playing those parts.

Here’s an image or memory.  Perhaps yours. It is certainly one of mine. I teach students in their mid-twenties. Imagine you’re that age: mid-twenties, single, no kids, no mortgage, just massive student debt. You find yourself facing a late middle-aged couple, your parent’s age, empty nesters but with financially dependent children, struggling with decades of resentment and commitment, facing a just revealed and maybe repeated infidelity.  And they find themselves with you.  Or, consider the issues of supervising this young therapist. 

As they do their jobs, I want supervisees, all of us really, to have these questions close at hand. 

1. What do I evoke in this couple and what do they evoke in me? What versions of this are being played out now?

2. Given my obvious personal characteristics, what are they likely to think I am eligible to do and able to accomplish? When I talk, will I be taken seriously, or will I be dismissed?  (Two more policies: Don’t fake authority and avoid giving advice. Rely more on variations of “help me understand?” Ask for clarity, ask how they understand what the other is saying. Young and old are eligible to ask for clarity, and to indicate how they understand what is offered.)

3. Given my less obvious personal characteristics, what will take more time and effort to demonstrate or establish?

4. What about myself do I need or appear to need validated? (Here, the counter-transferences can intrude).

5. Are the circumstances of the work validating or degrading for each individual? Am I sitting with volunteers, or is participation mandated, forced, or coerced by one or the other of the couple? Coerced relationships invite resistance, insolence, and resigned compliance. And some people are practiced at shining you on.

It is a mistake not to remain alert to these questions.  Always important:

6. What am I unable to hear or address? Does my defensiveness or intolerance look like dismissal, avoidance, or disgust? Is my defensiveness or intolerance degrading and invalidating?


Let’s move from the status dynamics of the therapist and couple, to the psychodynamics, the defensive insistence and avoidance, of each player.  

For the couple

Some basic questions: Who are they to each other? What do they actually know and value about themselves and each other? What are they willing to reveal? What are they able and disposed to change? What perspective do they have on aspiration and what can realistically be accomplished? 

Fundamentally: Given their promises and attempts to change, do they act with good faith? What gets in their way? To illustrate I’ll employ the image of “Two Sets of Books”.

Here’s the “two sets of books”. (Therapists have them, too. That’s why we need an intensive personal analysis and on-going supervision. We need to know ourselves from multiple perspectives.)

The two books I have in mind is the one easily opened, and the other, a hidden volume we are reluctant of reveal to ourselves or anyone else.  The second book presents thorny problems for the couple’s therapist. Negotiating in the manner of moral dialogue involves showing the cards in your hand, none deliberately up your sleeve. Nonetheless, in real play, some are often defensively hidden. These are wild cards that can throw everyone for a loop. You suspect them when something unexpected is triggered. More is at stake than meets the eye.

Let’s look at the first book.  The one opened on front stage. Here, we become acquainted with what each person finds relevant and tolerable to reveal: we learn obvious details, motivations, and props; the first approximation why the couple has come to see us. 

In early meetings, it can be difficult to sort out realistic aspirations from those not in the cards. Individual meetings might fill the gaps. But good luck, even then. And here’s where your peer-supervisor can help sort out yours.

In the open first book, the first act is played. The open book is composed of what our clients are aware of, can think through, and, at least in their own minds, are able to consider. In this first volume there is likely an index the players are reluctant or refuse to disclose. They know they are holding back. They conceal or lie out of self-interest. Perhaps they’ll talk to somebody about these chapters, but not in front of their significant other. The content might never be revealed, it might never feel safe enough.  Offering a few individual sessions might help. It might help to provide an opportunity to more privately confront the question of what might be relevant but not safe to reveal.

Let me say a bit about insistence.  Some personal issues are insistently hidden, while others, revealed or not, are held dear.  All motivational values are not of equal weight. In the first book are flexible priorities open to negotiation, along with those held tight, believed fundamental and intrinsic to what we need honored to be us: where our personal identity, our sense of integrity is always on the line for us to respect our image in the mirror. Tread lightly here.To the observer-therapist, the need to maintain the integrity of these priorities can evidence both sound and/or neurotic character: admirable or problematically narcissistic. 

It’s the therapist-couple’s negotiation with this first text that most of our work is done.  Mistakes are made when this content is not adequately assessed. Beyond therapist errors, when important lies are maintained, or worse, gas lighted, the work suffers without much the therapist can do. The first book might be open, but it requires an “I to Thou” empathy to be edited, revised, and understood.

And then there’s the second book. Because of the second book, the hidden ledger, mistakes, difficult to diagnose and remedy, occur. This is the content we reluctantly know, but try, best we can, to conceal and avoid. This is the domain of reluctance. In his psychoanalytic classic, Free Association, Anton Kris identified reluctance as a dynamic motivational category conceptually apart from real unconscious resistance –– reluctance is not unconscious repression but active suppression.  Our unconscious motivations cannot be reached in ordinary introspection. The stuff we are reluctant to think about can, but mostly isn’t. (In couple’s therapy, good luck ever confronting and working through unconscious resistance unless you’ve got years to play with.)

To maintain self-esteem, to keep face, people hide what they can’t tolerate, manage, or allow others to judge. One way or another, like it or not, our significant others are judgmental. They have the status to affirm or degrade our worth. With those from whom we need love, we can be unwilling to reveal these reluctances, this stuff we self-condemn and approach with fearful vulnerability.

This reluctance produces denial, conscious self-deception, and bad faith. Its content is filled with under-examined, immature, and under-socialized motivations. This is the stuff that bollixes self-regulation and intimate social engagement. Hidden and only reluctantly considered, it is not adequately practiced and exercised in ways that enhance competence. Some of these issues are acquired when we were very young, as family members under the sway of our particular parents. Never adequately mastered, they leave the impression of unresolved childish concerns. Regardless how they are acquired, these are trigger points. What we are unable or refuse to adequately consider, haunted, we tend to continue to engage with incompetence.

Some summary thoughts and an example more aptly explored in individual sessions:  

I’ve sat with people who tell me they don’t understand their transgressions because they take themselves to have a “strong moral compass.” It should be no surprise that the subject is sex. (If not sex, it tends to involve money or violence.) When caught, they act bewildered, maybe panicked, and claim their action was out-of-character, a result of seduction or coercive pressure. Except for those truly coerced, they give lip service to ideals they say guide them while not acknowledging what they’ll do when sufficiently tempted. And when the offense is repeated, they act bewildered that it has happened again.

Some claim they don’t want out of their marriage, that they love their spouse and family. I believe them. Some feel distress only when caught and tend not to feel much guilt even when sheepishly they say they should. Others become preoccupied, fear loss, and are afraid of destroying their families and hurting their spouses. Often enough, they deny understanding how they got involved in this in the first place. I’m not talking about the people who betray their vows, want to get away with it, and know damn well if sufficient opportunity occurs that they’ll go for it. They are not fooling themselves even if they make excuses or claim innocence. They know they are lying.

Here I am interested in self-deceptive people who don’t know they’re lying to themselves about their role. They’ve “two sets of books,”.  I may even tell them that. One ledger filled with the ideals they say count heavily, their “moral compass,” and the second, hidden from inspection, opened only reluctantly but carrying greater motivational weight.

The hidden ledger contains intentions that are denied but nonetheless remain in play. These motivations can’t be self-acknowledged without unmanageable guilt, anxiety, or shame. With sufficient temptation, these motivations become a loose cannon, not secured by other considerations.

All this is made worse when their actual deliberative powers are diminished; “it was the alcohol speaking.” Protesting they weren’t looking for it, they won’t admit their disposition to notice transgressive opportunity and an aptitude to find it. Acting from denied motives, it’s
unsurprising if the outcome is bungled and unfortunate.

Versions of this common drama are presented as out-of-character by the perpetrator but given enough time they seem in-character to the audience. Their significant other might see a pattern denied.

The “return of the repressed”, the repetition compulsions, the “I don’t know what got into me” and “the devil made me do it”, establish a through-line of trouble. If truly unconscious, almost never resolved. But it is a mistake to assume these motives looking for opportunity are actually unconscious; and not themes, problematic through-lines of discord, that if the therapist offers sufficient safely, empathy, and careful judgment – and gets the timing right – might be negotiated. Some awful, shameful motivations are just that, and need to be renounced. But sometimes they look a bit more like the proper way to load the dishwasher.

Given the power of the hidden motivationally significant second ledger, sometimes only individual therapy will bring it to light. Then the thorny dilemma: what to do about that. Can it be brought back to the couple’s session? What to do if it can’t? Some secrets can be worked around, some are or should be deal breakers. Here is another judgment the therapist cannot properly escape. 

This takes me back to peer-supervision. Therapists need to be very self-aware of what they find troubling to acknowledge, their own triggers and avoidances.  They need to recognize what compromises they will accept and when they are engaging in unacceptable collusion. Nonetheless, we need to be paradigms of tolerance. Our self-awareness and tolerances are foundational therapeutic competences, and our fiduciary responsibility. To cook, we’ve got to stand the heat. To do our jobs, we need to appreciate how we look as referee, coach, facilitator, confessor, normalizer. This is very hard without a trusted partner in crime.  Someone we share both sets of books. Someone who knows us well, someone empathically willing to call us out. And then hoist a beer to our failure and success. 


Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Harvard Couples Conference: Status Dynamic/Psychodynamic Impediments in Couples Therapy


Below is the abstract of what I'll be presenting Saturday, November 2, 2019 at the Harvard Treating Couples Conference at the Hyatt Regency Boston Hotel in Downtown Crossing.

I've posted the talk: Mistakes in Couples Therapy: Dramaturgical Problems in Self-Presentation and Reluctance


Some Status Dynamic/Psychodynamic Impediments in Couples Therapy

A short list of issues:

1) Therapist insistence on rules rather than policies. (Rules are like laws. Policies are procedures to follow unless there is reason enough not to.)
2) Inadequate assessment of a) what the couple collectively and individually want; b) what they have the potential to achieve; c) their unrecognized/unmanaged reluctance and resistance to negotiate.  
3) The therapist not knowing they are miscast for the rolls they attempt to play. The therapist misunderstanding their place and their corresponding eligibility to train, interpret, and referee the couple’s negotiation. 

In my work, I'm mostly interested in facilitating an empathic moral dialog and negotiation. This requires the couple, and me, to identify the weights we place on what is actually significant to us –– who we are to each other and where our integrity is affirmed or violated.  Assessing this is an area mistakes are made. The stumbling blocks include unconscious self-deception along with what we are consciously reluctant and/or unwilling to share. Assessment and negotiation require sharing evidence that each partner can realistically appreciate the position of the other. What values are flexible? What values are hidden? Does anyone fear change and/or revelations that would violate something essential? 

Regarding aspirational claims, reluctance and unconscious resistance: The “two sets of books” dilemma. One set holds the values claimed and spoken while the other holds hidden and disclaimed but motivationally significant values and urges.  The motivations people are reluctant to self-acknowledge resist negotiation and tend to remain under-socialized, “immature” and “triggering”.

As that great moralist Donald Rumsfeld put it, we go to war with the army we have. Like it or not, we negotiate, set boundaries, accommodate, and establish treaties with the actual players and their real assets, liabilities, blind spots, and unresolved secrets.  I sometimes notice therapists stick too closely to rigid aspiration, theory, and procedure at the cost of pragmatics.

References:

Kris, Anton (1982). Free Association. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Schwartz, Wynn (2019) Descriptive Psychology and the Person Concept: Essential Attributes of Persons and Behavior. Cambridge, MA:  Academic Press-Elsevier

Schwartz, Wynn (2013) The Parameters of Empathy: Core Considerations for Psychotherapy and Supervision. in Advances in Descriptive Psychology, vol 10, Ann Arbor, MI: Descriptive Psychology Press.













Sunday, February 24, 2019

Two Talks on Social Justice and Some Dilemmas for Deliberation

At the midwinter meeting of the SOCIETY FOR THEORETICAL AND PHILOSOPHICAL PSYCHOLOGY, MIDWINTER MEETING in NASHVILLE on MARCH 1-3, I'll be discussing two works-in-progress, "Sanctioned Transgression or What Turns Conservatives and Fundamentalists Reactionary?" and  "Social Progress and the Just Choice" and a presentation on Descriptive Psychology and The Person Concept.

Below are my notes for discussion:
The first talk: 

Sanctioned Transgression or What Turns Conservatives and Fundamentalists Reactionary?

NOTES TO CONSIDER:

Dirt is essentially disorder. There is no such thing as absolute dirt: it exists in the eye of the beholder. If we shun dirt, it is not because of craven fear, still less dread or holy terror. Nor do our ideas about disease account for the range of our behaviour in cleaning or avoiding dirt. Dirt offends against order. [...] For I believe that ideas about separating, purifying, demarcating and punishing transgressions have as their main function to impose system on an inherently untidy experience. Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger, 1966

A hallmark of community is the affirmation of ethical, moral, and aesthetic standards on acceptable behavior. As we go about our various roles, we engage in multiple communities where our perspectives are informed by codes that identify what counts for good standing and for the transgressions that confer degraded status. 

People spend their days in multiple roles done the way they do them. The contingent relationship of personal characteristics, roles, and community creates a status dynamic of actions played with degrees of interdependence, complementarity, inhi­bition, and antagonism. What’s acceptable and tolerated in one context can be taboo in another.

“Sanctioned transgression” legitimizes or calls into question what was previously deemed “dirty” and undermines the power to publicly degrade and enforce exclusion. There is no longer an unquestioned legitimacy in enforced condemnation that previously unified a community through stifling contact with "impure" conduct.  The dogs are let out and the freak flags fly. Transgressors celebrate publicly and parade in pride. And someone gets their face rubbed in it. 

What turns conservatives and fundamentalists reactionary? One answer is an uncanny and confused confrontation with the sanctioned transgression of race relations, enfranchised gays, uppity women, and gender benders allowed and encouraged to come out of the shadows.  Sex, gender, race, and family relations have always been subject to religious and state attempts to limit what people are permitted to feel and do. Sanctioned transgression concerns enhanced social or legal protection for behaviors and relationships a dominant group previously kept forbidden. When legal protection is sought and offered for these transgressions, taboos become less hidden, even celebrated. This doesn't sit well with the deeply defensive. It is especially problematic when it evokes a person's avoided, suppressed, and repressed urges now openly exhibited in others. Freud called this a source of the uncanny that evokes the return of the repressed. It should come as no surprise that anxious dread surfaces in people unprepared to manage these feelings; nor is it a surprise these feelings are treated as a provocation to assault the source of threat. To sort some of these matters out, Descriptive Psychology’s theory-neutral Judgment Diagram can identify domains of experience a person 1) can easily evaluate and reconsider; 2) that are motivationally significant, but deeply problematic to acknowledge; and 3) that are motivationally significant but unavailable to ordinary cognizance. These domains of circumstance and experience involve different weighing of a person’s hedonic, prudent, aesthetic, and ethical perspectives. 

Some Empirical Considerations: 

Big 5 “Openness to Experience” negatively correlated with socially conservative views:

Adelheid A.M. Nicol, Kalee De France, (2016) “The Big Five's relation with the facets of Right-Wing Authoritarianism and Social Dominance Orientation”, Personality and Individual Differences, 98, 320-323
Abstract: 
Recent research suggests that Right-Wing Authoritarianism (RWA) and Social Dominance Orientation (SDO) constructs are actually multifaceted. We studied the underlying personality structure of both RWA and SDO by examining their facet correlates with the Big Five personality dimensions. In a sample of 406 participants, Openness and Conscientiousness appear to be the most important personality correlates for all RWA facets, thus supporting findings conducted with the RWA total measure. Unexpectedly, for the two SDO facets and SDO total scale, Openness was the most important correlate, followed by the anticipated significant relation with Agreeableness. The SDO and RWA facets were differentially correlated with the Big Five, suggesting that they may not have the same latent structure. These results suggest that some accuracy may be lost when using only the total RWA and SDO scales and that research should explore the similarity and differences in which the facets correlate and predict other variables.

Conservatives are easily disgusted:

Yoel Inbar, David A. Pizarro & Paul Bloom (2009) Conservatives are more easily disgusted than liberals”, Cognition and Emotion, 23:4, 714-725
Abstract:
The uniquely human emotion of disgust is intimately connected to morality in many, perhaps all, cultures (Rozin, Lowery, Imada, & Haidt, 1999b). We report two studies suggesting that a predisposition to feel disgust (“disgust sensitivity”) is associated with more conservative political attitudes, especially for issues related to the moral dimension of purity.In the first study, we document a positive correlation between disgust sensitivity and self-reported conservatism in a broad sample of US adults. In Study 2 we show that while disgust sensitivity is associated with more conservative attitudes on a range of political issues, this relationship is strongest for purity-related issues—specifically, abortion and gay marriage.

 Indoctrination makes matters worse:

In contrast to liberal/critical education, indoctrination renders people especially vulnerable to reactive stances against sanctioned transgression since the indoctrinated are handicapped in an openness to experience and an empathic toleration to behaviors they believe transgressive. Religious indoctrination of dependent children is a prime suspect.

• A person is indoctrinated when self-compelled to act on an ideology. 
• Indoctrination provides its Members with a World, Language, Statuses, and Institutional Social Practices. Its Choice Principles explicitly or implicitly prohibit examining or accepting serviceable alternatives. Awareness is restricted. Accordingly, indoctrination narrows the acceptable domain of cognizant and deliberate action. 
• Indoctrination establishes a domain of taboo in which alternatives are presented as impure, dirty, shameful, wicked, vile, etc. Contact with taboo results in contamination. Contamination is grounds for an explicit or implicit Degradation Ceremony. 
• Indoctrination can be seductive to the young and attractive to those seeking spiritual fulfillment. When indoctrination initially forms a worldview, it provides a required guide to how things are and what to do about them. The young seek guidance. For the spiritual seeking “ultimates, totalities, and boundary conditions” (Shideler, 1992), there is promise of answers.
• But over time, people usually encounter critiques of their views and practices. Serviceable views and practices are usually held fast since they continue to work and are valued without conflict. But if unserviceable views and practices are questioned or confronted, it can create a crisis of faith that evokes coercive enforcement. When coercion is applied, it is met with resistance or resigned compliance. 
From: Wynn Schwartz, Descriptive Psychology and the Person Concept. Chapter 7, Culture and Community. Cambridge, MA:  Academic Press-Elsevier, 2019.


And the times they are a-changin':
Changes in American sexual behavior

Jean M. Twenge, Ryne A. Sherman, Brooke E. Wells (2016) “Changes in American Adults’ Reported Same-Sex Sexual Experiences and Attitudes, 1973–2014” Archives of Sexual Behavior45:7 (1713-1730)
Abstract:
We examined change over time in the reported prevalence of men having sex with men and women having sex with women and acceptance of those behaviors in the nationally representative General Social Survey of U.S. adults (n’s = 28,161–33,728, ages 18–96 years), 1972–2014. The number of U.S. adults who had at least one same-sex partner since age 18 doubled between the early 1990s and early 2010s (from 3.6 to 8.7 % for women and from 4.5 to 8.2 % for men). Bisexual behavior (having sex with both male and female partners) increased from 3.1 to 7.7 %, accounting for much of the rise, with little consistent change in those having sex exclusively with same-sex partners. The increase in same-sex partners was larger for women than for men, consistent with erotic plasticity theory. Attitudes toward same-sex sexual behavior also became substantially more accepting, d = .75, between the early 1970s and early 2010s. By 2014, 49 % of American adults believed that same-sex sexual activity was “not wrong at all,” up from 11 % in 1973 and 13 % in 1990. Controlling for acceptance reduced, but did not eliminate, the increase in same-sex behavior over time. Mixed effects (hierarchical linear modeling) analyses separating age, time period, and cohort showed that the trends were primarily due to time period. Increases in same-sex sexual behavior were largest in the South and Midwest and among Whites, were mostly absent among Blacks, and were smaller among the religious. Overall, same-sex sexual behavior has become both more common (or at least more commonly reported) and more accepted

A Theory-Neutral Psychodynamic Appraisal/Judgment Diagram

(From: Wynn Schwartz.  Descriptive Psychology and the Person Concept. Chapter 4. The Judgment Diagram, Some Categories of Cognizance, and the Unconscious. Cambridge, MA: Academic Press-Elsevier, 2019.)

Cognizant-Empathic-Compassionate appraisals and reappraisals of injustice can be compromised by feeling offended, triggered,  defensive, or otherwise bothered.





Contact with circumstances in Domains 2 and 3 trigger defensive, under examined, under-negotiated and/or unconscious reactions.

1. Ethical-justice appraisals require or are facilitated by Domain 1, the domain of ordinary "mindful" Deliberate Action (including empathic-compassionate consideration or reconsideration). People can reappraise/change their mind (or not, after weighing their judgment).
2. Judgments are less considered in Domain 2 since thinking these issues through is avoided, under-examined, and rarely negotiated and shared. (Harder to change/reappraise) (A prime target area for psychotherapy; educational normalization: "it's really nothing to be ashamed of"; and legislated protection.)
3. Reconsideration is unavailable in Domain 3 (the classic repressed unconscious) where consideration is unthinkable/intolerable.



And the second:

Social Progress and the Just Choice


NOTES TO CONSIDER:

A person is paradigmatically a deliberate actor. People act in affirmation or reaffirmation of their core values, can consider their choices and change their minds. This includes their position on the rights and plights of others. 

1) The hypothesis of progress: A maxim: A person will not choose less behavior potential over more. This creates a tension toward emancipation.


Inevitable emancipation is founded on two basic ideas. The first is that people act persistently to maintain or improve their position and the second is that the possibility of an ethical perspective is inherent in Deliberate Action. A person can choose to be fair or not and can learn about the plights and desires of another person and decide how to respond given their appraisal of both party's status.






My hypothesis: 
Within a pluralistic democratic society, a structure that resembles a noisy upward trending wave describes the social progression of the disenfranchised.  The Y axis represents the society's toleration or acceptance of an increased or redistributed set of rights and the X axis represents historical time.  An upward, flat or downward midline is possible, but the overall trend is an upward slope given that gains in behavior potential persist. The relation between progression and reaction is irregular. At no point on the wave is there any assurance of the direction the curve will take next. This is the uneven ascending curve of emancipation. People hold on to their gains as best they can despite expected adversity. This is the behavioral logic that supports Martin Luther King's premise that, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." 

2) What interferes with “Justice as Fairness” (and makes it difficult to get behind Rawl’s veil)?

Three themes to consider:
1. What’s good for the goose may not be good for the gander. One person’s status maintenance may involve another person’s status suppression. (Conflicts in identity politics based on idiosyncratic group desire; anxiety evoking encounters; actions conceptualized in compelling moral/ethical terms: for example, abortion as murder and/or the destruction of an innocent soul vs. the removal of unwanted or harm producing fetal tissue.)
2. What’s good for the goose that’s also good for the gander. (Universal enhancements, across the board fairness.)
3. Issues that when “adequately” considered, the gander should not be disturbed by gains for the goose. (The problem of identifying legitimate stakeholders and how much skin they actually have in the game. The problem of triggers and grievance entitlements to social/self-concepts. Domain Two and Three "trigger issues" with gay marriage are a paradigmatic example. Issues that should not really matter to me, but they do.) 

Contact with circumstances in Domains 2 and 3 trigger defensive, under-examined, under-negotiated and/or unconscious reactions. Negotiation-as-moral dialog requires good faith attempts to reveal to all stakeholders the values and weights in play. This requires disclosure of all relevant issues. Domain 3 is unavailable for introspection and Domain 2 undermines honest clarification.


Some further reminders:
A community responds to its member’s recovered, expanded and/or re-distributed eligibility through implementation, refusal and/or coercive reaction.

Eligibility gained will persist unless there is sufficient coercion or degradation to restrict or undo the gains. Gains may be lost due to an inability to practice the gains.

 (“The mind, once expanded to the dimensions of larger ideas, never returns to its original size.” Oliver Wendell Holmes.  “How ya gonna keep ‘em down on the farm, after they’ve seen Paree?” Young and Lewis).

Eligibility gains can be restricted in actual social practice without being forgotten or devalued.

When opportunity can be taken it will be unless there is a stronger reason not to.

Lost opportunity remembered or rediscovered may be sought and may be retaken.

When possible status gains are sought there will be a corresponding dynamic in eligibility.  Where the social redistribution of eligibility is at issue there will be grounds for conflict. A rising tide raises some boats but sinks others.

Other Problems:
Socrates. Stop. Now we must tell what there is in this that is faulty and lacks art, must we not?
Phaedrus. Yes.
Socrates. It is clear to everyone that we are in accord about some matters of this kind and at variance about others, is it not?
Phaedrus. I think I understand your meaning, but express it still more clearly.
Socrates When one says “iron” or “silver,” we all understand the same thing, do we not?
Phaedrus. Surely.
Socrates. What if he says “justice” or “goodness”? Do we not part company, and disagree with each other and with ourselves?
Phaedrus. Certainly.
            Plato, Phaedrus, 263a

The multiple meaning of social justice:
1) equal access to basic liberties and the fair distribution of goods and opportunities (Rawls, 1971, 2001).
2) recognition of difference and elimination of oppression across institutions, including the family (Young, 1990)
3) achievement of a threshold level of fundamental human capabilities, the development of which is necessary for the exercise of agency (Nussbaum, 2011)
(From: Erin Thrift and Jeff Sugarman, (2019) “What Is Social Justice? Implications for Psychology” Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology.Vol. 39, No. 1, 1–17)

And what about a Kantian concept of persons –– all persons –– being of unconditional worth, possessing a socially constructed position above “cost” and an inherent “dignity”. If that is our position how do that idea justice? 


These themes are further addressed in Empathy, Inclusion, and Moral Dialog or What Gets in the Way of Negotiating Social Justice? Part 1. and in What Gets in the Way of Negotiating Social Justice? Part 2. Unequal Voices and Hidden Agendas, and in the initial posting, Freedom (An Outline).












Tuesday, July 31, 2018

DESCRIPTIVE PSYCHOLOGY AND THE PERSON CONCEPT

Here's why I've been absent:


The volume starts with an orientation to Descriptive Psychology and then turns to the fundamental concepts of “Individual Persons”, “Intentional Action”, “Language and Verbal Behavior”, “Community and Culture”, and “Reality and Real Worlds”. It ends with an examination of empathy as the practice that makes people humane, and an Afterword on satisfaction and the construction of a person's world.  The first sixty pages are available as a sample from Google Books

From the Preface:


Inauspiciously, I started graduate school skeptical about my field of study –– clinical and experimental psychology.  As an undergraduate, I was impressed by the reasonably designed experiments described in my psychology classes, but the personality theories taught read like warring theologies. And what made it worse, the more scientific they sounded, the less I recognized anyone I knew. Where was the person in the theory? Not alone, I remember one of my professors saying, "with so much horseshit around, there must be a pony in there somewhere". 

Other than refinements in experimentation and the acknowledgment of failures to replicate classic studies, not much has changed, except, too often, rebranding practices with the prefix 'neuro'. Clinicians, if they bother with theory at all, still align as partisans of faith. Even today when my students interview for training sites they’re asked if their orientation is psychodynamic, cognitive-behavioral, or humanistic.  To quell their anxiety, I suggest they answer they’ve a psychodynamic and social-learning appreciation of relationships, and a set of cognitive-behavioral tools, they empathically apply.  Some hear this and relax, intuitively feeling it expresses what they actually try to do. I’d like to offer their intuition explicit coherence.

What gives a subject matter coherence and integrity? Once a subject matter is identified –– in our case, the behavior of persons –– what must it account for, and what manners of observing, formulating, theorizing, explaining, etc., are compatible with the subject or violate its integrity? And, crucially, are there concepts so fundamental to the subject that they must be maintained?  Here’s a first reminder: As a psychologist and a behavioral scientist, all of my professional work is the work only a person can do. This, of course, holds for all of us. 

As a psychologist who practices psychotherapy, my interests center on the behavior and characteristics of people, especially how we come to be the way we are and how we can change. This requires having the concept of a person in the first place. Fortunately, we already do, but it’s mostly implicit. This book is about making it systematic and explicit. Being systematic and explicit provides clarity; and facilitates negotiation about where we agree, disagree, or don’t have a clue. 

My introduction to the Person Concept came early fall 1972 when I read somewhere NASA had asked, "If green gas on the moon speaks to an astronaut, how do we know if it's a person?"  God knows why it came up, but north of Nederland, high in the Rockies warm around a campfire, a classmate said one of our professors had an answer.

I entered doctoral study having read Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and Stephen Pepper's World Hypotheses.  Kuhn taught that when a scientific community encounters a sufficient number of anomalies that do not fit the established paradigm, it is eventually replaced by a new paradigm. From Pepper, I learned the troubling idea that most contemporary personality theories stem from incompatible 'root metaphors' grounded in ancient metaphysical assumptions that the world is a machine, or an organism, and so on.  Working my way through Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations, its end notes especially resonated, ".... For in psychology, there are experimental methods and conceptual confusion." From these texts I gathered that psychologists have significant knowledge and useful practices, but their theories aren't built on a coherent conceptual base.  Fundamental concepts in one theory can mean something quite different in others. Nor, for that matter, do their theories start with a similar appreciation of what is real. One theory's thorny anomaly is another's starting point; an unquestioned given for one is treated as unreal by another.

It still seems that concepts of accountability, choice, reason, and intention –– ideas at the cornerstone of civilization and my practice of psychotherapy –– when taught along with a ‘scientific’ requirement for reductionism and determinism, reside in contradictory intellectual universes. When I read physics, chemistry, and biology, the foundational concepts in one text resemble their use in the others, and when they don’t, that problem is recognized as requiring a shared lexicon; and, if the data requires, an improved paradigm. Psychology is different. Psychology lacks a common lexicon and a comprehensive foundation. And psychology is different in other ways as well. 

Psychology is special.  It has, at least for me, a more interesting problem than sorting out the meat and potatoes of the natural sciences. Psychology must have a place within its domain for the creation and practice of science itself. The physicist, chemist, and geologist do not have to account for their personal interests as part of their subject matter, but the psychologist must. Inescapably, every scientific theory and experiment is someone's theory and experiment. Behavioral science has to account for scientific behavior –– the sort of behavior only persons can do. Fundamentally, behavioral science has to provide an explicit and comprehensive account for the behavior of persons as persons –– and not as if we are something else. 

So, I entered graduate school ambivalent about the discipline, expecting contradictory and barely relevant theory, but with faith I would learn reasonable methods for establishing facts. Sticking close to the empirical seemed a smart way to go.  But being no fan of theology, what was I supposed to do with all those theories? No surprise, I ended up in my chairman's office worried I'd made a bad choice.  Not smiling, he responded, "I suspect you might like Pete's stuff,” and with that I went off to meet the guy pondering the green gas problem. This book is mostly about what I learned from him and the people that formed a community around his work.

Peter Garcia Ossorio introduced me to the job of making explicit and systematic the knowledge and competence of living as a person in a world of people.  He called this discipline Descriptive Psychology. By 1972 he was well into working on the Person Concept, the central concern of Descriptive Psychology.  He told me to start with what I already know about people; to start with what is required to live as a person in the community of others. The work of Descriptive Psychology, he said, was to carefully and explicitly formulate concepts and rules that can systematically interconnect everything we know about people without leaving anything out. He also reminded me, "things that aren't intellectually satisfying tend to be unsatisfactory in other ways as well".  Sharing this aesthetic, I began.  

What I will present here is not the usual fare for the practice of behavioral science. Descriptive Psychology is not psychology in the conventional sense of a comprehensive personality theory. It is not a theory, but instead a pre-empirical conceptualization, a formulation of the essential attributes of persons and behavior that any adequate theory must encompass.  The function of Descriptive Psychology's Person Concept is to provide an explicit, extensive, and systematic analysis and connection of all the 'moving parts' of what we implicitly mean by persons and behavior.  To accomplish this requires a shared lexicon and set of rules, clearly articulated and suitable for coordinating all possible facts regarding people and behavior.  As such, one use of this project is a framework for comparing theories and judging their scope and adequacy. The goal is a map with a place for what is already known with room for what is yet to be found. 

Why not call this a theory? Unlike a theory, a conceptualization of a subject matter attempts to establish its full possible range by identifying what it is about rather than the empirical or historically particular form it takes. The focus is the range of possibility. Finding out what really happens, on the other hand, is the empirical task. But before attempting systematic observation, it is usually wise to have some idea what you are looking for. Descriptive Psychology's mission is this sort of pre-empirical formulation. The job of theory is post-empirical to explain why out of the possibilities only certain patterns occur. Good theory can then be vindicated by predicting new observations that are found and fit.  We then face the dilemma of how to fit our theories together.  Under current conditions, attempting integration can be a fool's errand. 

The continued absence of a shared framework for investigation and practice has resulted in the fragmented state of current psychology and the neurosciences. As an aesthetic judgment, some find this more disturbing than others. Descriptive Psychology was invented in response to those who share this discomfort.  To the extent the Person Concept is well-formed, its explicit conceptualization should sharpen observation and refine our ability to share and integrate what is found.  I believe it has for me. 

What follows is a work in progress.  The essential nature of Descriptive Psychology requires room for significant distinctions yet to be recognized. Nonetheless, what is already built is nuanced, systematic, and entirely interconnected. The Person Concept has complex interdependent component concepts: Individual Persons, Behavior as Intentional Action, Language and Verbal Behavior, Community and Culture, and World and Reality. Tying these together are the transition rules of The State of Affairs System for unpacking and connecting everything. 

Some words of caution. The foundational concepts are interdependent –– resembling aspects of a map –– so grasping them will be easier after they have all been filled in. The reward for effort will require patience.  I have a promise for the practitioner. Descriptive Psychology is a pragmatic enterprise, its success rests on enhancing effective action.  I earn most of my keep in the practice of psychotherapy. Any adequate understanding of persons and behavior necessarily involves an appreciation of how people change.  If this is your interest, this book should hold some value for you. That's my intent. 


A few more words before we begin. I am writing in first person. This book is my understanding, shaped by my interests. As a member of the community that developed these ideas, I believe they accurately represent Descriptive Psychology and the Person Concept.  Still, this is my understanding; and the idiosyncrasies, examples, and digressions reflect my values, practices, and fascinations as an academic clinical psychologist. 





                                                     Table of Contents



Chapter One. What is Descriptive Psychology and The Person Concept?
            Let’s start with people make sense.
            A few remarks on science and what a science of persons should respect.
            The Descriptive Maxims: Behavioral logic and some reminders for well-formed descriptions.   


Chapter Two. Individual Persons, Personhood, and the Problem of Definition.
            Paradigm Case Formulations. 
            Three Definitions and a Paradigm Case Formulation of Persons.
            Deliberate Actions and Intrinsic Motivation.
            What about language and verbal behavior?
            Individual Differences and Person Characteristics.
            Powers 
                        Abilities, Competence, and Skill
                        Knowledge
                        Values
            Dispositions
                        Traits
                        Attitude
                        Interest
                        Style
            Additional Individual Difference and Personal Characteristic Categories.
                        States
                        Capacities
                        Embodiment
            Some Embodiment Theory.
            Through-lines and the Dramaturgical Pattern.
                        Examples of Through-Lines
                        Non-human Through-lines
            Through-Lines and Dogs. Significance in Dog Psychology.
            Some Limitations to a Dog's Through-Lines. 
                        Some implications
            What about other animals?
            The ethics of uncertainty about personhood.


Chapter Three. Behavior as Intentional Action.
            Some Quibbling about Conceptualization and Theory.
            Some Action Vocabulary. 
            Intentionality, Back Where It Belongs.
            What About Robots? 
            Observed meanings, movements, and significance, and some preliminary connections to verbal behavior. 
            We need a common Lexicon.
            At last! The Parametric Analysis.
            The Formulation of Intentional Action (IA).
            The Parametric Analysis of Intentional Action.
                        Identity (I)
                        Wants (W)
                        Some thoughts on empirically identifying or interpreting wants and motivations. 
                        Knows (K)
                        Knows How (KH)
                        Some issues that attend KH deficits.
                        Performance (P) and Achievement (A)
                        Significance (S)
            Significance, Implementation of Significance (Performance), and Some Thoughts about Psychotherapy.                                
            Some Examples and Dilemmas of Significance to the Actor and the Observer.
                        Personal Characteristics (PC)
            A Brief Summary and some Practical Questions for Structured Interviews.
            Some Notational Devices: The Intentional Action Diamond, Agency Descriptions, and Self-Regulation.
            The Actor-Observer-Critic (AOC) Model of Self-Regulation and the Dramaturgical Pattern.
            The Actor and the Drama (All the world’s a stage)                                      
                        Authenticity and the Actor
                        The Observer-Describer
                        The Critic
            Appraisals, Final-Order Appraisals (FOAs), and Altered States of Consciousness  
                        Hypnosis as a Test Case.
            Back to the AOC Feedback Loop.

Chapter Four. The Judgment Diagram, Some Categories of Cognizance, and the Unconscious.
            A Distressing Example and Some Grouping of Reasons.
            The Judgment Diagram Modified for Problems in Social and Self-Regulation.
            A Theory-Neutral ‘Psychodynamic’ Judgment Diagram.
                        Implications and Stray Thoughts.
            The case of Tommy.
            About Ambivalence and Conflict.
            Some Content and Behavioral Logic of the Three Domains 
            Domain One: The world of easy awareness.
            Back to the Three Domain JD and Features of Domains Two and Three.
            Domain Two and Three are ‘Triggered’. 
                        Empirically speaking, what do people tend to avoid and disown?
            Domain Two: Reluctance, bad faith and self-deception.
            Domain Three: Impossible and intolerable circumstances.
            The Logical Structure of Defensive Distortion
                         The Unthinkability Model
            Transference and Resistance can be features of both the Unthinkability and the Insistence Model.
            An example and some clinical implications.
                        Demystifying Projective Identification
            On the Interpretation of Unconscious Action and Self-Deception.

Chapter Five. Relationships, The Relationship Formula, and Emotional Competence
            What are relationships?
            The Relationship Formula.
            The Relationship Change Formula
            Emotional Behavior
            Shared and Observable Relations are Required for Naming Emotions. (Sensations Won't Do).                              
            Fear in Action.
            What about love? 
            Steps Toward a Theory of Emotional Competence.
            How is Emotional Competence Facilitated? 
            Anxiety, Depression and Overwhelming Sensation.

Chapter Six.Verbal Behavior, Language, and Linguistic Self-Regulation.
            Ossorio’s Formulation. 
            Verbal Behavior is our Defining Social Practice and How I Earn My Keep.
            What is the function of language and the status of the speaker?
            Formal Aspects of the Place of Language and Verbal Behavior in the Person Concept.
            The Descriptive Account of Verbal Behavior is Pre-Empirical.
            Forms of Life, Social Practices, and some more Wittgenstein.

Chapter Seven. Community and Culture
            Community and Culture.
            A Fifth Major Piece of the Person Concept.
            The Concepts of Community and Culture.
                        Members.
                        Social Practices.
                        Statuses.
                        Concepts.
                        Locutions.
                        Choice Principles.
                        World.
            Culture as a Special Sort of Community.
                        World.
                        Members.
                        Statuses.
                        Language.
                        Institutional Social Practices.
            Choice Principles, Policies, and Values.
            Some Behavioral Logic and Some Dilemmas: More Maxims.
            Degradation, Accreditation, and Rites of Passage: Gains and Loss of Standing.
            Some Effects of Degradation.
            The Degraded Have Reason to React Against the Community.
            The Ceremony Can Be Accepted as the Natural Order of Things (Or as Already Happened). 
            Indoctrination and Degradation.
            Microaggressions.
            General Considerations for Undoing Degradation.
            Accreditation Ceremonies, Psychotherapy, and Values.

Chapter Eight. Reality and the Worlds
            Persons and the Elements of the World.
            What are the Elements of the World? Objects, Processes, Events, and States of Affairs. 
            State of Affairs System Transition Rules. 
            World Construction: The World Found is the One Created.
            A Person's Place in the World Provides Behavior Potential.
            Consciousness, Final Order Appraisals (FOAs), and World Maintenance.
            Consciousness, Imagination, and The Opportunity of the Dream World.
            Worlds Change: Reconstruction of Worlds and Cultures.
                        Loss, mourning, and reconstruction.
                        Cultural and world transformation and reconstruction.
                        Trauma, Resilience and World Reconstruction.
            Monday April 15th, 2013, Marathon Day.
                        Restoration is participation.

Chapter Nine. Empathy in Practice: A Demonstration of Some Person Concepts
            What do people mean by empathy?
            Theory of Mind.
            Mirror Neurons.
            How is empathy described in the work of major psychotherapy theorists?
            A very brief history of the concept of empathy.
            An example from psychotherapy.
                        Tommy Revisited.
            Empathy and Empathic Action.
            Empathy, Paradigm Case Formulation (PCF), Paradigmatic Social Practices Formulation (PSPF), and Parametric Analysis (PA).
            A PSPF of Empathic Action.
                        An Example and a PA.
            A Practical Checklist of Empathy Reminders.
            The IA Parameters and Some Reminders for Psychotherapy.
                        Identity.
                        Wants and Values.
                        Knowledge and Knowing.
                        Know-How and Toleration.
                        Significance, Through-lines, and the Development of Character.
                        Personal Characteristics.

Afterword and Summary: Satisfaction and the Construction of Worlds or, At the End of the Day, How Does It Feel?

Appendix One: Ossorio's Status Dynamic Maxims, Behavioral Logic, and Reminders for Proper Description. 

Appendix Two. A Glossary of Descriptive Psychology Concepts Compiled by Clarke Stone.

References.