Saturday, December 13, 2014

A Call for Papers for the 37th Annual Meeting of The Society for Descriptive Psychology


A Call for Papers


Last year's program and conference abstracts can be found here: The 36th Annual Meeting of The Society for Descriptive Psychology.

Why Descriptive Psychology? 

“Had the social construction of psychological science been different in the 1950’s and 1960’s there would have been no need for a separate discipline of Descriptive Psychology. However, in fact there was such a need and in fact Descriptive Psychology was evolved. …..

However, by far the most important precondition for Descriptive Psychology was a deep and pervasive dissatisfaction with the then current psychological theories and psychological ‘science’, and with the philosophical views for which they stood proxy. There was much to be dissatisfied with then, as there still is now.....

Subjectively, points of dissatisfaction form a fluid and endless parade. It is a matter of essence and entirety and not merely fine points or particular issues. However, a sample of more or less discrete areas of dissatisfaction is presented below as “A Budget of Problems”. The point of these is not to draw up a full bill of particulars or to prove a case (even these brief sketches run the risk of tedium), but rather to indicate the kinds of issues that might be involved and to suggest the degree of commitment to a viable alternative that a concern for such issues might engender. 

1. Psychological theories portray persons in ways that are not merely limited, but highly distorting as well..... 
2. Psychological theory and method are clearly almost entirely non-empirical, yet no satisfactory account of this fact has been available..... 
3. Both psychological theories of methodology and psychological theories of behavior are inadequate to provide a rationale for clinical practice..... 
4. There is no general theory in psychology that is not fundamentally inadequate to account for language as a form of behavior.....
5. Finally, there is a whole set of intractable truth issues associated with traditional theorizing.....”  Peter G Ossorio

Edited and abstracted from Ossorio, P.G. “An Overview of Descriptive Psychology” in K. R. Gergen & K. E. Davis (Eds.) The social construction of the person. New York: Springer-Verlag.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

What is Reality?


What is the reality of our world? What is its composition? Is it found or created? What are its limits? What is the connection between our behavior and our world(s)? The early Wittgenstein and the late Peter Ossorio worked it out this way. They said a lot more, but this is a good place to start: 

1.     The world is everything that is the case.
1.1   The world is the totality of facts, not of things.
1.11  The world is determined by the facts, and by these being all the facts.
1.12  The totality of facts determines both what is the case, and what is not the case.
1.13  The facts in logical space are the world.
1.2    The world divides into facts.
1.21  Something can be the case or not be the case while everything else remains the same.
2.      What is the case-a fact-is the existence of a state of affairs.
                     Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 1922

A1.  A person requires a world in order to have the possibility of engaging in any behavior at all. 
A2.  A person requires that the world be one way rather than another in order for him to behave in one way rather than another.
A3.  A person’s circumstances provide reasons and opportunities to engage in one behavior rather than another.
A4.  For a given person, the real world is the one which includes him as a Person, and as an Actor, Observer-Describer, and Critic.
A5.  What a person takes to be real is what he is prepared to act on.
A6.  A person acquires knowledge of the world by observation and thought.
A7.  For a given person, the real world is the one he has to find out about by observation.
A8.  A person takes it that things are as they seem unless he has reason enough to think otherwise. 
A9.  A person takes the world to be as he has found it to be.
                        also keep in mind:
D11.  The world is subject to reformulation by persons. 
                                   Peter G Ossorio, Place, 1998 

                        and about knowledge:

Information is a difference that makes a difference.
                        Gregory Bateson, Steps to an Ecology of Mind, 1972


Descriptive Psychology's concept of World consists of the concepts and facts concerning the Objects, Processes, Events and States of Affairs (OPESAsthat have a place in Behavior. These are the distinctions, the elements, we act on. I have a telephone (an object) that starts (an event) ringing and goes to voicemail (a process) that I avoid (a state of affairs).  All of this is real. 

No single element of the OPESA is enough to make up a World. The entire package and the relationships are required. Relationships and elements that have a place in behavior are all essential aspects of the World, mine or anyone's.  Descriptive Psychologists are not alone in thinking this way. We are in the large company of pragmatists. 

In A Short Course in Descriptive Psychology, I provide a brief introduction to the Person Concept: the interrelated, interdependent concept that links together the meaning of Individual Person, Behavior, Language, and World. In that entry, I say a bit about individual persons and behavior. In Language, Influence and Self-Presentation, I write about language as symbolic verbal behavior; something always involving social practices framed by the participants' status as appraised by actor and observer. 

Here are remarks about the Descriptive concept of World and Reality and its empirical manifestation as a person’s Real World.

The concepts of world and behavior are interdependent since meaningful distinctions are those that can, in some manner,  be acted on.  In this way, the world is a social construction. Social constructions are neither random nor arbitrary since they are bounded by the possibility of effective action. The limits of the world are the limits of behavior. The limits of behavior are the limits of the world.

Descriptive Psychology recognizes the distinction between everything that is actually the case in contrast to what could possibly be the case (in this or any other world). The limits on the possible are boundary conditions. The Real World is the single whole that contains a place for the person (as Actor, Observer, and Critic) and all that is in that whole, no matter how large or small. Reality, on the other hand, is used to refer to what worlds could possibly be the case given the boundary conditions. Here's a kicker: we can't possibly know all those boundary conditions. As Ossorio put it, "We have limitations. And one of our limitations is that we don't know our limitations."

Descriptive Psychology is essentially pragmatic. Not just anything goes. The distinctions that make up a person's world must be useful, must make a difference in behaving one way or another.  If you distinguish X from Y, but I can't in any way employ X differently than Y,  then, at least for me,  there is no practical difference between X and Y.  Making and acting on distinctions requires sensitivity and competence. Some people are in a better position to notice and act on a difference. Perhaps you can see it but I can't. 

The different ways a person can act on X and Y is the informational value of X and Y.

A person's Real World is the full set of empirical or historical elements (OPESAs) that informs their Behavior Potential. This includes the possible elements they might consider, imagine, discover or invent.  Considering or imagining might not result in discovery or invention. Ideas often don't pan out, but still have the status of a wondering. What we wonderpractical or not, matters to us.  Still, since action is key to meaning, competence and effectiveness are fundamental in evaluating a person's knowledge. This is reality testing. Knowledge is vindicated by the action it facilitates. Knowledge of the world requires that we are in a position to look around, think, and act. 

This pragmatic point of view is less focused on truth and more by a concern with effectiveness and competence. ("I don't care so much that you say it's true. What I want to know is can it get you three in a row?" or perhaps, "The proof is in the pudding.")


The World Found Is The One Created


Inherent in the world as a social construction is the possibility of its destruction, maintenance, and reformulation. The world is both discovered and created. It is found and invented. The improvisational encounters of people and circumstance set the stage for world transformation. The limits cannot be determined a priori. We discover, invent, and create the world, our world, though our action and interaction. 

As an overarching guide to behavior, Cultures, by framing ways of life, define their member's shared worlds. As cultures change, the world of its members change accordingly. 

Every world is someone's world.  No one's world exists in solipsistic isolation. Meanings are created publicly, through social practice. Worlds, like languages, have the logical requirement of the potential to be shared. But since effective action requires knowledge and competence, not every world is completely sharable with everyone. A person has to be in an appropriate position, must have the requisite status, to engage in the actions that validate a world. Without the necessary math, I remain blind to the world of physics. Without some sense of soul, I am numb to the experience of the spirit. 

These distinctions are embodied in the Descriptive concept of Status. A person’s status is their place in the world.  Here, status means more than a conventional concern with rank and prestige, although these notions are features of a person’s overall status.  At different times, under varied circumstances, some aspects of a person’s status are more relevant than others. Consider the sergeant who directs the march in lockstep, but looks like she's herding kittens when she attempts to get her kids up and ready for school (although you'd not be surprised to see something similar in the way she does both). 

The Descriptive concept of status bears resemblance to the ecological notion of niche formulated by G. Evelyn Hutchinson.  Hutchinson’s niche is an “n-dimensional hyper-volume” consisting of all of the relevant resources and environmental circumstances relevant to an organism’s way of life. Peter Ossorio’s “status” and Hutchinson’s “niche” define the boundaries of a real world. They both concern behavioral context, possibility, and constraint.



A Person's Status In The World Provides Behavior Potential


Ossorio's concept of status is fundamentally concerned with Behavior Potential, the Intentional Actions that are possible given someone's personal characteristics and circumstance.  Since people are individuals capable of Deliberate and non-Deliberate Intentional Action, the world is the context of opportunity and choice, constrained by a person's competence to act effectively with what they encounter.   


Consider, the etymology of the word "world" comes from the Old English "worold" roughly meaning “the age of man”, "a long time" or “the course of one’s life”.  The world is what we find and create in living our life. 



The World Provides Relationships 


What we find, what constitutes and becomes our world, follows from our personal characteristics and circumstances, our place. This, in turn, may alter our personal characteristics as our relationships change, accordingly.  In Ossorio's 1976 lectures on Personality and Personality Theory, Peter talks about status and the relationship of a person to his world while addressing the question of where our behavior potential comes from.  He had just finished talking about the Relationship Formula, having said elsewhere: "It has been perfectly clear to most people most of the time that human behavior is a function of a person's relationships and of a person's place in the scheme of things" (Behavior of Persons, 2013). 

The Relationship Formula sets out the logic of what a person acts on: "A person will do X unless...". Unless clauses are particularly important.  






Here's Ossorio speaking:

Recall the relationship formula that we went through—that a person's potential for behavior depends on his relation to the things around him. And the heuristic example is the geometric relations between my being here and things in other locations in the room.
Then we extended it to not merely geometric relations but human relations, that things are possible if you have a friend than if you don't have a friend. Things that are possible with a friend may not be possible with a stranger, or vice versa. Things that are possible if you mistrust somebody will not be possible if you don't. So all of the kinds of relationships you have with the people in your life will provide you the opportunities and give you the reasons for anything that you might do.
Except, of course, we have to include not merely people, but non-human objects. I commented that dealing with things in terms of relations can get very, very tedious, in fact unmanageably tedious. I gave the example of all of the things in this room, and all of my relations to every single one of them, and then all of the relations of any one of them to any one of the others. I said we have ways of handling that kind of thing, namely, we have what amounts to a map. In this room, we place different objects in different places, and once we do that, their relations to each other are determined, and we don't have go to through this long, long, long list of my relations to everything in the room; and then its relation to everything in the room; and then its and its and its and its and its. Instead, we have a very parsimonious way of getting at that whole set of things simultaneously, simply by talking about the location, the place of a given thing in a given domain. I said that notion of place, if you extend from geometry to human relations, is the Descriptive notion of status. A person's status is simply his location, his place, within some domain, and if there's no specification, that domain is simply the whole world.
That notion of status is what corresponds to Being-in-the-World. It's simply your place in the world, where place is considered not as geometry but as the network of relations, of opportunities, of possibilities, of pushes, pulls, etc., that come from being related to the world and the things in it in just the way that you are.
That's where your behavioral potential comes from.


The World's Transformation Involves Its Elements, Operations, And Relationships


Ossorio also provides rules for the Reality Game. In the The Behavior of Persons he defines the basic reality concepts and provides transition rules for their composition and interrelations. 


State of Affairs System Transition Rules

1. A state of affairs is a totality of related objects and/or processes and/or events and/or states of affairs.

2. A process is a state of affairs that is a constituent of some other state of affairs.

2a. So also is an object, so also is an event, so also is a state of affairs.

3. An object is a state of affairs that has other, related objects as immediate constituents. (An object divides into related, smaller objects.)

4. A process is a sequential change from one state of affairs to another. 

5. A process is a state of affairs that has other, related processes as immediate constituents.  (A process divides in related, smaller processes.)

6. An event is a direct change from one state of affairs into another.

7. An event is a state of affairs having two states of affairs (“before” and “after”) as immediate constituents.

8. That an object and/or a process and/or an event and/or a state of affairs has a given relation to another object and/or process and/or event and/or state of affairs is a state of affairs.

9. That an object or a process or an event or a state of affairs is of a given kind is a state of affairs.

10. That a process begins is an event and that it ends is a different event.

11. That an object comes to exist is an event and that it ceases to exist is a different event.



A Final Analysis And Reminder


Joe Jeffrey summed it up for me this way, "What kinds of things are there in the world? Objects, processes, events, and states of affairs. Everything you ever see in the world, as you look around you, will be one of those. What are concepts? Distinctions people can act on."

And that's the whole kit and caboodle.

And how does the world seem? Greg Colvin tells this story: After my first undergraduate class with Pete, he left on sabbatical and I was left trying to make sense of What Actually Happens, sitting for hours in the library where the single manuscript was available. When Pete returned I told him, "I just don't get this Reality concept. And of course he said, "Let's take a walk." All I recall of the walk is him taking a pencil and asking me, "What is this?"
"I dunno, two pieces of wood pressed around a graphite core, rubber and a metal band to hold it together."
"It's a pencil, damn it."

I write about world construction, destruction, and restoration in the entries, Freedom (an outline)Play and Therapy, and Trauma, Resilience and World Reconstruction.  

I try to make sense of what it is to be satisfied with one's world in Satisfaction, Narcissism, and the Construction of Worlds.

The Person Concept and the its components, Individual Person, Behavior, Language, and World, is explicated in Peter Ossorio's (2013) The Behavior of Persons. The 2013 paperback includes C.J. Stone's index, not found in the 2006 hardbound edition. The State of Affairs System and transition rules are found and elaborated there.

Ossorio has written about the problems with traditional Ontology and further elaborated the State of Affairs System in his 1996, "What there is, How things are" .

Special thanks to C.J. Stone, Joe Jeffrey and Greg Colvin for their help in refining my understanding of these concepts. C.J. reminded me of Ossorio's statements in Personality and Personality Theories.








Monday, October 13, 2014

Introduction to Psychodynamic Theory: Paper Assignment

This is the paper requirement for second year Doctoral Candidates at The Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology who take my section of “Introduction to Psychodynamic Theory”.  The point of the assignment is for students to integrate theory and practice. I am especially interested in having students think about and describe how their self-presentation is a key factor in their work.

Introduction to Psychodynamic Theory: Paper Assignment

You will be required to write two papers, nine to twelve pages in length, please not longer. The first will be due mid semester and the second, a few days after the last class. Grades will be based on both the quality of the writing and the appropriate use of description, concepts, and theory. The second paper has an additional requirement noted below. Note the hyperlinks that will take you to relevant content. 

Your task is to describe a clinical case. Attempt the following: I know you will not have all the information I am asking.  Don’t make anything up. Don’t be clearer than the available information allows. Be very clear about the status of the information you have. Backup your formulations with relevant clinical data from your relationship with your client and your understanding of your client's history. Respect what is ambiguous and uncertain. If it is ambiguous and uncertain, qualify what you say accordingly. If you speculate, say that that you are speculating. Your developing expertise requires a clear and honest acknowledgment of uncertainty and ambiguity. We never have the whole story but we always have enough to describe and act.  Clinical action, like everything else, has a degree of uncertainty. Your job requires you to improvise with the available information. This is what psychologists do. This is part of our essential expertise. We are experts at uncertainty. Psychotherapeutic engagement involves a trained and tolerant "mindful uncertainty".

Remember, if a description is adequate, little or no explanation may be necessary.  The devil is in the details.  Be detailed. Write in first person since this is your understanding. Provide appropriate reference to the course literature and lecture content. An absence of reference will weigh against you since I want evidence that you are actively considering the course content.  

I want you to provide a clinical formulation that begins with a clear and nuanced description in ordinary language of a person you are or have worked with. How well do you know this client? Tell me at the start how often and how long you have worked together. Describe your client so that I can see him or her as you do. This description should be followed by a developmental history that highlights the facts that seem relevant to understanding your client's clinically relevant opportunities and dilemmas. Following the developmental history, I want a description of the nature of your encounters with this person. 
           
I am not especially interested in the DSM diagnosis but you can comment on this if it is relevant to your interactions and understanding of your client.

The initial description should note the key status markers of age, birth order, gender, race, ethnicity, education, economic status, and physical presentation including grooming, manner of dress, attractiveness, and any other significant status or presentation marker. This description should also include what you see as the person’s significant values and motives and their relevant knowledge base and skills.  Assets and liabilities should be apparent from the description including the nature of your client's intelligence and their ability to use language in making sense of themselves and their worlds. 

The developmental history should focus on life in their family, school, and other key relationships.  To the extent relevant and available, information regarding infancy, childhood, adolescence, early adulthood, and later periods should be offered. Note significant stresses, traumas, losses and opportunities taken or missed. This history should include details relevant to your formulation especially as it pertains to styles of relatedness and defense, patterns of trust and intimacy, hopes, anxieties and fears, life dreams, disappointments and accomplishments.

Why is this person in treatment or being assessed? 

Describe a problematic behavior and your thoughts on its significance. This description should indicate features of what your client wanted (W), recognized (K), and knew how (KH) to do in the problematic circumstance, what they actually achieved (A) and the significance (S) of this action for the client. The W, K, KH, and S are your understanding of what your client was doing from their perspective. How is the significance of the behavior in question “in-character” or “out-of-character”? Is the significance of this behavior part of a “through-line” that organizes what is in-character? Keep in mind that the significance of their behavior from their perspective may differ from its significance to you. If you believe they have significant  motivations that differ from what they are able or willing to acknowledge, describe this and note whether you think they are reluctant or unable to acknowledge these motivations. See Bad Faith, Self-Deception, and Unconscious Motivation: Restrictions in Effective Choice and On the Interpretation of Unconscious Action and Self-Deception for a guide in understanding and describing this unconscious or defensively avoided content.

Interaction brings out different versions of our possibilities, of our behavior potential. What was evoked in your interaction? What personal attributes were engaged as you interacted? Did the relationship bring out strengths, vulnerabilities? 

With this in mind, I want a description of the nature of your relationship to this client.  Begin with a description of how this person sees you. Try to address the following:

Can they identify with you? What is the significance of your real world status and presentation to your client? How is your age, race, ethnicity, speech, gender, attractiveness, and social class relevant to how you are heard, understood and appreciated?   What do you have in common that facilitates or impedes therapeutic engagement? What do you not have in common? What informs, restricts or enhances your eligibility to effectively interact? How does the way your client see you shape the manner they work with you (and you, them)? Are there elements of competition or attraction in play? 

Themes of working alliance, transference, counter-transference, and role responsiveness should be illustrated with examples. Difficulties in empathy and appreciation should be noted.  If there have been previous therapies, indicate how this earlier work effects what your client expects from you.

Finally, given your formulation, I want you to discuss possible treatment goals, strategies, and limitations.  Be realistic especially regarding the actual limitations of time and resource. What is ideal versus what is available should be considered. Keep in mind that your client may have goals that are different from what you wish and if so elaborate.  This is especially significant to the extent your client is a volunteer or partner in the treatment.  Remember, coercion elicits resistance and/or resigned compliance. Mandated clients are different from those that can fire you.

The Second Paper

For the second paper provide, in addition, a formulation from the theory vantage of  Drive, Ego, Object-Relations, and Self with reference to how these inter-related themes are manifested in your client’s relationship with you and others. This formulation is secondary to clear description and must refer back to an observational or developmental/historical base.  

Accordingly, the second paper requires a summary of key "driven" motivations, urges and appetites, both conscious, reluctantly conscious, and unconscious (drive), and how these drives or urges are defended, satisfied and represented, including the possible presence of primary process thinking. The client's key defenses, adaptations and assets should be described (ego) as well as other key values and motives that are not "driven" such as major prudential, moral/ethical and aesthetic values (ego). Impulse control skills and affect toleration are part of this. Conscious and unconscious relational and body generated fantasies that provide toleration and strength or that provoke guilt, shame, anxiety, desire, and/or inhibition should be elaborated (object-relations). The client's sense of self, including self-esteem, cohesiveness, and authenticity should be described.

In summary, you might do well to follow this structure:

1. Describe your client’s appearance and presenting problems and note how often and for how long you have seen him or her.

2. Provide the information you have regarding your client’s developmental history.
3. Clarify a typical problematic intentional action pattern and its significance to both you and your client. 

4. Write about the nature of your relationship with your client and what you evoke in each other. 

5.  (Second Paper) Describe your client from the interrelated perspectives of drive, ego, object-relations, and self.

6. Indicate what the therapy is attempting to accomplish, your goals, the client’s goals and outcome. 

Edit carefully, it is a good idea to have someone read what you have written before I do.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Language, influence and self-presentation: Lessons for the young therapist.




Z may participate in one way rather than another (choose certain options rather than others) as a way of letting C know what kind of person Z is.
If C has a given relationship to Z, C’s behavior potential is different from what it otherwise would have been.  Peter Ossorio, Place


Beyond the words themselves, what I say makes the difference it makes because I said it, and how I am appraised by you.  You could utter the same words with a very different result. What I represent to myself and to you informs and limits our influence on each other.

Consider, “I’d expect her to say that, but coming from you, it means a lot.” Or,  “She’s in no position to ask that of me.”

This is so intuitive that you might wonder why I am making this point explicit. Partly because I want to say something about the relation of language to social roles and self-presentation, and partly because there are times we seem to forget.  We might make the mistake of telling someone how we’d express something and expect they can do the same. Or, give the impression we'd like them to say it the way we did.  They then wonder how in hell that could work for them. Or worse, they parrot our speech with unfortunate effect. 

This reminder of the connection of speech to the speaker is especially important in psychotherapy and supervision, but it is just as relevant in teaching and parenting. It’s a general requirement for appropriate engagement in any venue. 

Take a question my psychotherapy students, typically in their twenties, might face. What is their credibility, what can they effectively say working with a late middle aged couple coping with disappointments in their marriage, struggling with their adult children, while silently questioning whether to remain married? Imagine my students watching a videotape of my intervention with this couple.

As a man in my sixties, married more than once, a father, a professor sitting in a well appointed office at a fashionable address, what I can get away with saying to this couple is different from what my students can.  I have both the wear and tear and a much nicer office. I speak from experience. Of course, so do my students, but as young adults they necessarily present themselves differently than I do. Even as they attempt the role of “professional” or “psychologist” they manifest a voice and an authority that differs from mine.  

At some point my students, informed by psychodynamic theory, bring up transference, counter-transference, role enactments and the “real relationship”.  They mention the “inter-subjective field” created between or among the participants. They become attuned to the nuance of what we consciously and unconsciously, deliberately or automatically, evoke in each other. They sense the couple has accepted me as a paternal or avuncular peer and allow me to speak in that fashion. My students notice that the couple treats my humor, funny or not, as a matter of shared respect coming from shared experience. 

I listen to my students' understandings of unconscious and out-of-awareness aspects of therapy.   I am glad they notice and wonder. But then I underscore that initially the most significant features of their therapeutic interactions will involve responses to their readily identifiable personal characteristics. What first meets the eye and ear counts, not just as things get started, but carry over until people know more about each other or have reason enough to change their minds about what they first assumed. First impressions count in establishing trust, the boundaries of disclosure, and the creation of agendas. At this stage of life, I look the part. Many of my students and trainees don’t. 

If my students find themselves working with a similar couple, with people more like their parents than their peers, what are they in a position to do?  They need to know their place. So, I remind them of two things. First, I ask them to speak authentically in their own voice, youthful but trained to understand and help. Second, since some correctly doubt they are old enough to have credibility, I remind them to wait, time will take care of that issue.  

I remind my students that simply requesting their client’s help in understanding their predicament can go a long way toward being helpful. “Can you help me understand what I need to know?” is both informative and respectful. Asking,  “How might I be of service?” works, too. This allows the client to frame the engagement. And it reveals a good deal about how the client sees their therapist's skills and eligibilities. It's a good idea to know on what footing we start.

What I want my therapy students to understand is that their intervention, even the one I may be modeling, needs to be performed in a manner that coherently follows from their actual personal characteristics and place in their client’s world. My way of speaking is probably not a good fit for them. Words, sentences, and utterances are only a part of what gives verbal behavior meaning.  Since I am paid to teach them “talk therapy”, this is central in my lesson plan. 

Therapeutic engagement involves an improvisational assimilation of the therapist and client’s interaction. How people fit together depends on who they actually are. When the fit works and authentically connects the participants, it is almost invariably satisfying. 

A bit of background to the lesson I teach:

Language, the symbolic verbal behaviors we share, provides at least four functions, and more. We speak to identify, to describe, to evoke, and to enjoin or instruct. “That’s an apple.” “It’s red and round”. “The taste reminds me of my mom’s apple pie.”  “To keep the tart, crisp, sweet flavor, be sure to cut it with a very sharp knife.” 

What we identify indicates what we notice as significant to consider. This can be very telling since it shows what we think matters. The way we describe provides evidence of our intelligence, sensitivity, nuance and perspective and who we take our listener to be and what we believe our listener can comprehend. The way we describe, the stance we take in speaking, can be especially accrediting or degrading and will serve as one measure of the therapist’s empathy. It is hard to underestimate the significance, the impact, of the status we assign ourselves and our listeners, wittingly or not, when we speak. What we evoke is a matter of what the message and messenger brings to mind. Here transference and counter-transference weigh in. And the value of our instruction will follow from whether or not we are viewed as a trusted source. 

When we speak, our stance can affirm or degrade, validate or invalidate the parties in dialog.  This will largely result from what the speaker is seen to authentically represent. You’re not the boss of me, unless you are. Who are you to pass judgment? (Unless, of course, I recognize or am made to succumb to your authority, your honor.)

So with this in mind, I ask my students to consider the significance of their initial presentation to their clients.  I ask how their age, race, ethnicity, speech, gender, attractiveness, manner of dress, and social class might be relevant to how they are heard, understood and felt. This is often difficult since if done awkwardly it might feel like stereotyping and dismissed as abusive, intrusive and politically incorrect. But they should know in their heart of hearts that stereotyping can fill in the blanks before a more adequate understanding is achieved. 

In a seminar on supervision with fourth year doctoral students, our initial sessions are often spent considering how therapy and supervision can be affirming or degrading. In discussing how our job involves identifying and validating the values and competencies of those we work with, I point out that it works in reverse, too. The client or trainee also validates or invalidates their therapists and supervisors. We look to see how we are seen in each other’s eyes and measure our worth accordingly. How we see the status and authenticity of those who see us determines the weight we give their appraisals. To be a therapist, it matters if my client sees what I am doing as an authentic offering of therapy.

So I want my students to keep in mind these questions and reminders.

1. What do I evoke in different people and what do they evoke in me?  What version of this is played out?

2. Given my easy to observe personal characteristics, what am I actually seen as eligible to accomplish?

3. Given my harder to observe personal characteristics, what will take time to demonstrate or establish? 

4. Is the frame of engagement validating or degrading and of what? Is my client a volunteer, on more or less equal footing with me, or is their participation coerced? (And remember that volunteers decide if it is worthwhile to continue and coercion invites resistance or resigned compliance).

5. What do I need or appear to need validated about myself? Am I acting this out in my selective focus on the issues I identify as significant, or through competition, argument, coercion, compliance, seductiveness, one-upmanship, or something else?

6. What can I not tolerate hearing? Does my defensiveness or intolerance look like dismissal, avoidance, or disgust? Is my defensiveness or intolerance degrading or invalidating?

7. I ask them to keep in mind that some things we say or do are not easily forgotten, forgiven or undone and will guide further encounter. Expressions of desire and disgust are especially hard to undo. 

To be continued.



For more clarification and exploration of the Descriptive concepts of Individual Person and Behavior, please turn to A Short Course in Descriptive Psychology.  I work on the concept of degradation in the entry, Degradation Ceremonies in Everyday Life. And for a brief introduction to my understanding of the practice of psychotherapy, I have written, Mindful Uncertainty: What is Psychotherapy?

The therapist’s authenticity-in-action is a requirement for any brand of what constitutes effective psychotherapy. Anthony Putman’s work, Being, Becoming and Belonging is well worth your reading as a guide to authenticity’s non-mysterious meaning.

I also looked at these issues in Presentations of Self and the Status Dynamics of Psychotherapy and Supervision, American Journal of Psychotherapy, Vol. 62, No. 1, 2008



On the Descriptive Psychology of language:

Language is one of the four basic concepts of Descriptive Psychology’s Person Concept, interdependent on the other fundamental concepts of Individual Person, Behavior, and World. Language is Verbal Behavior expressed in the following pragmatic formulation:

Verbal Behavior =  < Concepts, Locution, Behavior as Social Practice >

The formula explicitly ties the meaning of language to its use.  Concepts are distinctions that have informational value. They represent distinctions that make a difference in behavior. Concepts are operating tools for our varied and irregular actions. They vary the way that tools in a tool chest vary. They are created and employed to do different things: To correspond in one way or another to all the things we do. Locutions or  utterances are expressed in speech or other symbolic form and correspond to or represent the concepts. The Behavior is the Social Practice where the uttered concept is employed and validated through shared social use. This is similar to Wittgenstein’s point that language is not private, that the meaning of a concept follows from its use in what he called language games. And, remember, we have all sorts of games we play in all sorts of different and irregular ways. We need a vast array of concepts along with a complicated grammar to get at the objects, processes, events, and state of affairs that constitute our World or Reality (the fourth fundamental feature of the Person Concept).  See, What is Reality?


Saturday, August 16, 2014

Program for the 36th Annual Meeting of The Society for Descriptive Psychology

I'm President-Elect of The Society for Descriptive Psychology. My job is to organize this year's conference in Golden, Colorado, October 23-26.  Here's how it looks.

Program for the 36th Annual Meeting of The Society...: The Society for Descriptive Psychology The Society for Descriptive Psychology is a Community exploring the Person Concept...

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Satisfaction, Narcissism, and the Construction of Worlds

or, at the end of the day, how does it feel?

For the clarity that we are aiming at is indeed complete clarity. But this simply means that the philosophical problems should completely disappear.
The real discovery is the one that enables me to break off doing philosophizing when I want to. -- The one that gives philosophy peace, so that it is no longer tormented by questions that brings itself in question. Ludwig Wittgenstein (Philosophical Investigations, 133)

But he, Herzog, had committed a sin of some kind against his own heart, while in pursuit of a grand synthesis.
What this country needs is a good five-cent synthesis. Saul Bellow (Herzog)



What is it to be satisfied? What kept Herzog and Wittgenstein in torment?

Sitting at my table facing Poucha Pond, it’s a mid July morning on
Chappaquiddick. My wife is reading while our dogs doze and sniff the humid Atlantic air. The saw-grass that bounds the property hides a weathered plastic blue bulldozer and orange dump truck. I miss my kids.  I’ll write a bit more and then take the Jeep to Wasque. Maybe the storm last night improved the fishing. There is nowhere I’d rather be, nothing I’d rather be doing.

A woman I know, entangled in her family’s affairs, complains constantly about the endless tasks she angrily undertakes. Few people would have the focus or competence to manage what she toils at daily. “When will I get back to my life?” she asks.  When her week finally ends, she doesn’t look forward to the next. 

Both of us are deliberately engaged in activity that significantly expresses our particular personalities. She’s certain she’ll get the job done. It will be unassailable, with every document examined, understood, and in place.  Nearly perfect.  Me? I’ve no guarantee I’ll catch anything.  

Both of us can state our intentions with an important difference. For the moment, I’m comfortable and have no further aim in sight.  She’s not. I'm unsure what I'll be doing later, except that I'll want to edit this so it might be clearer to you. Knowing her, by early evening she'll be absorbed in her body's painful tensions and want relief. She'll take for granted no one will understand or really help. Her pain will frustrate her.  She'll go to bed more angry and determined than when she first awoke.  

I am describing two different patterns of intentional behavior that underscore a through-line of satisfaction and dissatisfaction. Intentional behavior is an expression of our values, knowledge, and competence. The weights we give these values, our motivational priorities, correspond to what we want to accomplish in any given circumstance. What we actually do depends on what we recognize and know how to perform given the conditions at hand. This is all organized by the the significance of what we are trying to achieve. We may be only more or less aware of this significance, but it will establish a pattern, a through-line, central to how our worlds feel. 

All of us, in our own way, live our lives engaged in the social practices of our communities. Our actions express our personal characteristics and our participation in the institutions and communities that constitute our culture, our way of living.  What we create and value, we find here. This will be the source of our satisfactions. 

Not everything we accomplish provides satisfaction. Much of what we do is instrumental, done because it provides access to something else we want. We work in the coal mine for money and fuel. We need to buy groceries and pay the rent, but we’d do something else to keep the lights on if we could. 

Some of what we do is intrinsic, done just for the doing. We do it in expression of our core values, hedonic, prudent, ethical, and aesthetic. Successful performance that expresses this is satisfying. 

How does this work? Hedonic pleasure speaks for itself. The prudent or self-interested enhancement of one’s place in the world should be a source of satisfaction (or, at the very least, relief). 

Ethical and aesthetic actions are especially significant since they are deliberate and involve the recognition of choice in a way not required when simply seeking pleasure or behaving with prudence. The ethical choice of “the right thing”, done for the sake of justice and fairness, can be its own reward. 

Aesthetics involve the appreciation of how things fit together, how they make sense. The artistic, scientific, conceptual, or social engagement with beauty, truth, rigor, elegance, objectivity, and closure is profoundly satisfying for those who are competent to engage in such pursuits. 

Some of our values are complementary and work well together. Some are relatively independent or non-contingent. And some of what we want conflicts and antagonizes in unsettling ambivalence. Life is complicated. 

The weights we give our values, core and peripheral, are fundamental to what we take as opportunity and dilemma. We build our worlds this way and are satisfied or dissatisfied with what results. 

Satisfaction is rarely achieved by accident. Authentic accomplishment requires competent participation. This is a matter of choice, of selection, and is deliberate. 

Here is the gist of my thesis: Recognizing a sufficient link between the instrumental and the intrinsic and having sufficient faith the connection will hold is vital for satisfaction. I also think it is an aspect of general happiness. Feeling satisfied accompanies an instrumental act when we know it has a significant connection to something we also value intrinsically.  This connection can be a self-aware appreciation or simply felt. I am going to follow this idea because it will clarify why some people are generally happy and some are not. I know people who can’t find this connection and I know people who defensively resist where the connection leads. They are generally unhappy people. 

When I am sufficiently satisfied and see this as my good fortune, I’ll probably feel happy. But not all satisfactions bear good fortune, coming as they may in the wake of a tragic or ironic undertaking: settling a score, paying off a debt, finally making it right, going down swinging. 

Again, my thesis: The feeling of satisfaction ties the instrumental to the intrinsic and is a function of the awareness of the tie. Mindful recognition of how the instrumental connects to the intrinsic is fundamental in establishing satisfying and unsatisfying through-lines in people’s lives. I suspect a life lived without sufficient recognition of this connection will be depressive, anxious, frustrating, and narcissistic. It may also involve a sense of helpless repetition, a feeling of being compelled to do things again and again without satisfying closure. 

It complicates matters that connections are not always recognized and felt. The connection is there, its significance to the observer clear, but the actor is defensively unaware. Some refuse the price of insight when it brings more guilt, shame, sadness, or anger than they can bear. In avoidance of these bad feeling, a person may compulsively and unconsciously repeat a performance, devoid of satisfaction or closure.  If unaware of an action's connection to something of compelling and intrinsic significance, it becomes especially difficult to renounce the act, or choose a more adequate implementation. Under these conditions, desire feels futile, meaningless, becomes a sort of shadow boxing. Nothing solidly connects or ends.  

Ultimately, the significance of doing something rests on its intrinsic foundations: hedonic, prudent, ethical and /or aesthetic. When an act is performed with awareness of its connection to something’s intrinsic significance, it provides some sort of satisfaction. The experience of satisfaction is a motivational aspect of the awareness of this connection, whether the act is intrinsic or instrumental.  Satisfaction is the feel of the connection. Some satisfactions provide closure and some provide reasons to do it again.

My friend, Anthony Putman, takes this further. He writes that the experience of a certain satisfaction, what he calls ultimate satisfaction, holds a person’s world together. A person’s world has at its foundation intrinsic social practices.  People construct their worlds from what they find and can do. Every world is someone’s world, and someone’s shared world.  Worlds involve a community’s practice. 

Some practices, that Tony calls ultimate practices, affirm the particular coherence or sensibility of a world; to engage in these practices is an affirmation of that world. This makes it all the more vital for the instrumental to be tied to the intrinsic.  Creating a well-formed formula is one of these ultimate practices for a mathematician, but the ritual of selecting and sharpening a number four pencil can provide satisfaction as an instrument of that act.

(Notice I am distinguishing the varied worlds where a person participates from a person's overall status in their “world of worlds”. Tony writes about a mathematician’s ultimate satisfaction in recognizing the elegance of a proof. He’s felt it himself. But every mathematician participates in more than just the world of mathematics. We all engage in varied and irregular roles in the institutions and communities that make up our worlds. Still, worlds have some sort of coherence.  They fit together the way a person's life fits together. In some way, it all connects. This is not to say that this coherence will necessarily be seen and felt. It may not feel to people that their worlds make sense, separately or together. As Peter Ossorio pointed out, we can't count on this to be simple. The terrain of a world varies irregularly as does the relations among worlds. This is why we have and need complicated grammars and varied sets of conceptual tools to sort this out.)

Tony writes: 
Every community has a shared world that makes sense to its members. The sense it makes is particular to each community’s world. This “making sense” is inherent in participation in the community’s core practices.

Every community has a set of ultimate practices, participation in which affirms their world and is accompanied by ultimate satisfaction.

Ultimate satisfaction is a strong basic human need. Persons are powerfully, inherently motivated to seek it.

The specific experience of ultimate satisfaction differs from community to community. Its importance to maintaining the community and its world does not.

In short: ultimate satisfaction holds the world together.

Knowing how to regularly participate in the core practices that provide ultimate satisfaction seems wise, perhaps spiritual. I appreciate the wisdom of those who do.  I suppose this is why I find spiritual practices daunting. The late theologian Mary Shideler described the spiritual as the domain of totalities, ultimates, and boundary conditions. A synthesis or feel for the totality requires a stance and perspective beyond my reach. It would be pretentious for me to say I even try. 

Spiritual practice requires, I think, an appraisal of the totality of worlds.  There are philosophers, theologians, adepts and disciples who attempt explication and entrance to this totality, wanting to know its awesome dimension. Can you grok it? I can't.

Spinoza’s state of beatitude, suggesting recognition of God’s love and understanding of the whole is, I gather, this type of experience beyond my means.

I’ve stopped trying to imagine the Zen state of Satori involving the wholeness of dissolved paradox and attachment.  

Perhaps more accessible is Aristotle’s practical wisdom, a version of eudaimonia, described in his Nicomachean Ethics as an effective comprehension of how friendship, pleasure, virtue, honor and wealth fit together.  This seems closer to what is reasonably possible for many fortunate but more ordinary lives. This practical understanding requires acting on the intrinsic practices of the good. This, I can attempt.  It more resembles Tony’s concept.

Tony’s ultimate satisfaction is situated in the core practices of particular communities and their worlds. This less than grand synthesis is achievable and perhaps vital, at least for some. 

Tony’s ultimate satisfaction, if I understand what he is saying, has a limited and reachable scope. He's hypothesizing a basic human need to participate and feel how things fit together. This is an aesthetic recognition even if it also involves pleasures, self-interests and just pursuits.  To call ultimate satisfaction a basic human need implies that if not met, pathology will result. I think this helps us understand some of the pathologies of narcissism. 


But perhaps he's overstated it as a universal need. I question Tony's claim that "Ultimate satisfaction is a strong basic human need. Persons are powerfully, inherently motivated to seek it." I think to say persons are "powerfully, inherently motivated to seek it" overstates its place in the lives of most people. I think it makes more sense as a desire for a sort of optimal satisfaction for those who both know and want to seek it. For these folk, if not achieved, their worlds may feel fragmented, empty or broken. Norman Normal doesn't know what he's missing, but Wittgenstein and Herzog painfully do. What brings sufficient satisfaction for Norman may be insufficient for those on a more demanding aesthetic quest. 


But if Tony is correct, he is pointing to a pathology of ordinary life and providing a key to the diffuse pattern of malaise that is frequently part of banal existence. 


The problem is that although unmet needs will result in some degree of pathology, what is needed is not always known. The needed must in some way be known for it to be intentionally sought. 


What, then, are the implications of an absence of “ultimate satisfaction”? Will the center not hold? How does the absence of sufficient satisfaction affect a person’s experience of themselves and their worlds? What happens when a person cannot see how their actions connect to what they intrinsically value? What if they almost never feel the connection? Or, alternatively, what if their sense of the intrinsic is underdeveloped or underutilized, an insufficient mix of the hedonic, prudent, ethical and aesthetic? Some of these values are harder to develop than others. I suspect that ethics and aesthetics fall into this camp. 

There is an underdevelopment of aesthetics and ethics in the narcissistic character. Instead, compensatory hedonic and prudential concerns fill a void and become the foundation of their worlds. Despite the narcissist’s apparent pursuit of beauty and perfection, an intrinsic appreciation of aesthetics seem less core to what they are about. Their quest seems mostly compensatory, a matter of self-interest. Beauty and perfection are salves applied to their questionable self-worth, providing needed attention and admiration, trophies valued for purposes of display. 


A poverty of ethical behavior is often how the narcissist gets diagnosed in the first place. A version of the Diagnostic and Statistical manual describes the narcissistic personality as exploitive, lacking a “moral core”. They act out an aggrieved entitlement where self-interest trumps intrinsic concerns with justice and fairness. 

Most developmental explanations of malignant narcissism begin with a child who has been damaged by inadequate parental empathy and an over or under indulgence that meets the parent's needs more than their child's. Akin to Maslow's recognition that survival needs have to be met before optimal growth can occur, the narcissist is constantly hungry for attention and affirmation, vulnerable and exploitive in attempting to satisfy a self-interested craving.  

Some narcissistically damaged people have talents and appearance that provides them considerable hedonic and prudential success. They crave and celebrate what they possess and appear untroubled by what's underdeveloped. But most narcissists are not so lucky, won't achieve celebrity, fame or fortune. They know misery, instead. 

Are there limited satisfactions clung to in lieu of optimal satisfaction?  Might someone seeking ultimate satisfaction, but failing to competently achieve a workable insight, enact a pattern of frustrated action, a repetition compulsion, or the problematic satisfaction of an addiction?  One's reach might exceed one's grasp.

The woman I mentioned at the start of this entry has very little she experiences as done for its own sake. Mostly, she acts from an unresolved ambivalent duty to her dead parents, who never understood nor loved her enough. Her childhood involved trauma and the absence of adequate parental empathy. All this is complicated by her hostile and competitive relations with her siblings, better loved and more disabled than her. She works hard and constantly to gain the love and respect it is too late to achieve from her mother and father. Instead, she is haunted by a confusing ambivalence and unappreciated duty. She has no time for play and no one she really wants to play with. Fortunately, what saves her from total despair is her highly developed sense of ethics. This and her considerable intelligence may see her through if she can separate from her compulsive enactments of hostility, fear, and guilt. She wants to “return to her life” but her inability to find valued intrinsic connection to what she feels she is required to accomplish leave the end of each day a disappointment. This is her life, a world that hangs together as disjointed tasks disconnected from a fuller appreciation of their significance. Her dead parents will never provide what she intrinsically values and can’t find.  For now, a fuller realization of the meaning of her action is too painful for her to tolerate. The connection of the instrumental to the intrinsic is either unavailable or too much to bear. Unconsciously and defensively she is stuck in the instrumental. 

I know I can’t connect it all together. Wittgenstein saw method and conceptualization pass one another by.  Herzog, his grandiosity finally passing, stopped writing his never-to-be-sent letters and made ready for dinner with Ramona, thinking he’d light candles because she was fond of them.  I didn’t catch a damn thing today, but for a good 30 seconds, thought I’d hooked the biggest fish of my life. I needed to tighten down the drag because my line was running out faster than I could reel. But then the jerking became a steady pull east with the current. Afraid something would snap, I flipped open the bail, saw what had hit, and released a log floating a few feet under the surf, 70 yards out. The guys around me laughed but I didn't lose my lure.  


Anthony Putman's exploration of  his concept of "ultimate satisfaction" is found here: "Tony Makes Sense of..."

About the center not holding: an exchange between Richard Helms and Richard Nixon, The Second Coming.

And for the intrinsic funk of it, Lee Dorsey on the instrumental: Working in the Coal Mine.

Remember Norman Normal (He looks a lot like you).

And we know this empirically "Liking Work Really Matters"


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Adaptation in Evolution and Behavior

Adaptation in Evolution and Behavior: A brief conversation among Descriptive Psychologists. 

Adaptation in evolution and behavior are not the same. One is selective, the other selected. 
A week or so after posting, “ Playing for the Fun of It….”, the italicized paragraph below was added. I argued that play is intrinsic and involves action and personal characteristics not accountable by evolution.  

There is a difference between explanations proper to evolutionary theory and those within the domain of Intentional Action. The difference is whether science accounts for the actual behavior of persons.  

Organisms evolve through selective adaptation. To survive, organisms adapt to the changing circumstances of their worlds. Behavior, as purposeful action, maintains and expands the organism's world. These statements have different implications. Selective adaptation drives a statistical process, a number's game of whom is left standing to reproduce. Behavior involves performances of personal significance, intrinsic and instrumental, selected for their significance. These are very different notions that may not dovetail. The significant might not be adaptive, but then again, it might. 
And then I asked some Descriptive Psychology friends to comment. Here’s their response.

CJ Stone:

Instant reaction: organisms have worlds? Not in the Descriptive Psychology sense. I'd be happier with organisms adapt to their changing circumstances. Behavior maintains and expands the organism's behavior potential.

Aimee Yermish:

I would be very very careful about the word "adapt."  

In biology, the term is understood to mean a process that happens on its own, not as an intentional action on the part of the genetic material.  It's a mathematical process that happens over the course of generations.  

In psychology, it's an intentional action, to adapt to the demands of the environment.  It's a cognitive/emotional/behavioral process that happens over the course of seconds to years.

Wynn Schwartz:

As a former zoologist, the way you are using “adapt” is what I meant. Am I being ambiguous?

Aimee Yermish:

I know we're both recovering biologists.  My concern is that many non-biologists don't really grasp that evolution is not an intentional process, and the word "adapt" is precisely a reason for much of the misconception.

Wynn Schwartz:

Hmm, interesting. Help me with some other locutions. Adapt means an active intentional process? I wouldn't have thought it does but I can see your point. Thanks.

Anthony Putman:

Might be reasonable to see biological "adapt" as an ex post facto concept -- if an organism in fact survives, whatever characterized it was an adaptation. It doesn't adapt and then survive -- it survives and thus adapted. This explicitly contrasts with behavioral adaptation in which the action is intended as an adaptation to the situation. The time vector moves in opposite directions.

Aimee Yermish:

That still sounds too teleological for me.  Evolution has no purpose.  It's just a mathematical process.  We impose meaning on it post facto, but that's not what the organism was trying to do or what "evolution" was trying to do.

Anthony Putman:

Aimee, that's what I was suggesting. Although I would say evolution is better thought of as an algorithm than a mathematical process (which may be what you meant….)

C. J. Stone:

I think that's exactly Tony's point. The orgs are just living their lives. Evolution is our concept, not theirs; and we can only see it after their lives are over. "Mathematical process" is our concept, too.

I am reminded of all the shipwrecked people who cried out to the gods to be saved. We never hear from the ones where it didn't work.

Joe Jeffrey:

Tony's point, and Aimee's, are well taken.

One way to talk about evolution is that the entire concept is ex post facto: a reconstruction of how (biological) things came to be the way they are. This included adaptation, all statistical models, evolutionary "trees", and the famed evolutionary "niches": we say a kind of plant or animal (or archeobacteria or whatever) occupies a niche when we see it surviving, and we then re-describe the set of circumstances as a niche. But people in general think of evolution as a process leading to a goal, with humans at the "peak" of evolutionary development, the "end product of millions of years of evolution." Wrong. Only in the sense of, "We here now can now look back and see the chain of events that led to the current state of affairs." But that's all we can say.


As for adaptation: psychological adaptation is, paradigmatically, equally non-intentional. Normally, we look at someone's behaviors and re-describe what we see as the person adapting to their circumstances (physical/social/psychological/whatever). But that's our re-description of what happened, not their intention. Further, there is no such thing as the social practice of adaptation. In the non-paradigm case, a person looks at their circumstances and says, "OK, I now face a change in my circumstances, so I better figure out some new way to live, or some new way to maintain aspect "A" of my life." And if they succeed, an observer may say, "OK, they changed their ways to adapt to their new circumstances." But calling that a "process of adaptation" is misleading.





The various concepts of behavior as Intentional Action are clarified in the posting, A Short Course in Descriptive Psychology.