Thursday, April 25, 2013

Trauma, Resilience and World Reconstruction

When the stresses of life are ordinary and manageable, most of us feel we have it together. We have a cohesive sense of ourselves and the world. Things are in place and we understand how they connect. But under the strain of trauma, this cohesiveness may be replaced by a feeling of fragmentation and anxiety, nothing safely fits right. The world is disrupted, suddenly dangerous and unfamiliar, and a dissociation, a spaciness sets in replacing the usual order and sequence.We startle and don't exactly know where we are or what is happening. For a time, we look to ourselves and others as out of character.

Trauma disrupts, cuts and entangles the through-lines that organize the drama of our lives. The patterns we were following, the improvisations we could enter are torn. Flexibility ends and for a time we are stuck. We need these through-lines to be reknit, restored, maybe rerouted. Our sensible and navigable world requires reconstruction.

When the trauma has been imposed by malevolence, the desire for justice, revenge and retribution appears and is confounded by the helplessness left in the injury's wake. 

How do we get it back together? What are the parameters that define resilience and reconstruction after catastrophe and trauma?   What is involved in the different ways we respond?  Sleep helps,  finding time to retreat and regather is a good idea, love and work help restore meaning. Seeking community is vital. 

For some, a return to the normal is rapid, hours or a day does the trick. But for others, especially if a previous vulnerability, a vital unresolved injury is touched, it may take longer, at times, much longer.  Our sleeping dogs we thought put down wake up and howl.

The problem with reconstruction, of being made whole, naturally involves the extent that our relationships, social practices and memories are entwined with the damage and the loss.  How significant is the damage to the person's basic values, knowledge, and skills? The basic questions of significance and extent are fundamental. How extensive and how important is the damage to the person's status, eligibility, world-view and self-concept?   

In one way or another, everything in a person's life is connected to everything else. These connections create a dynamic. Some aspects of our lives, some of our attributes, are in active conflict, others may be complementary or relatively independent, but a change in one aspect creates a change throughout a person's life, in some cases to the extent that our actions no longer appear to be our own. 

After significant damage and loss we often ask, out loud or through action, what can I still do and what must I do now? When we grieve we ask, what can I do with this terrible gap in my world? What is left to value? Who can I still depend on? Who can rely on me?


Adversity elicits resilience to the extent a person's remaining attributes are sufficient. We would like to believe that adversity makes us stronger but we know all too well it often makes us mean, depressed and anxious. Resilience involves the remaining values, knowledge and competence a person and community can bring to bear on the reconstruction.We assess what remains intact, what wasn't damaged. Is there enough we still value to have faith in the potential to regrow without undo distortion? Will there be anything left to notice besides the scars?

I have been sitting with a lot of people grieving or in mourning. In some cases, the distinction between mourning as a temporary state or as a more ingrained status is blurred given the time and work required for a person to reconstruct their world. It will complicate matters if they find they need to create a significantly different place for themselves given the vulnerability that came with their previous status. This may take considerable time to accomplish, the amount of time it takes to grow and mature. 

Loss and destruction can be part of a personal drama that unfolds both in reconstruction and as the beginning of something new, an undesired opportunity as well as a dilemma. But it will take as long as it takes.

That said, reconstruction is reengagement

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Brothers Tsarnaev


One of a psychologist's jobs is to be an expert at identifying uncertainty, on knowing that things are, at times, precisely unclear. Today, I turned down a CNN interview request. They asked me to comment, in a four minute session, on the "dynamics of the relationship" of the Tsarnaev brothers. I spoke with the producer about the ethics of a psychologist talking about the nuances of a relationship only known through the media. It is hard enough to know what's going on with the brothers I do know. 

Beyond the horror, an important and reasonable question seems to haunt the public and the media. We all know that people do not willingly choose a bad position to replace a better one. People make choices that in some manner reflect what they believe will enhance their position even if it is hard for an outside observer to see how this is the case. 

So what happened with these brothers?  It appears that the younger brother was in good standing in at least some of his significant communities. The older brother seems to be more marginal, at least as the media portrays him. So why did the younger brother follow? Why is it that if I jump off a bridge, I am certain that my younger brother will not follow me? Part of an answer must be that the younger Tsarnaev had something to gain, and that unless he was utterly coerced, he believed that in some way, in his world, he would significantly enhance his standing. This is independent from how it might appear to the casual observer.   But right now, we are all casual observers. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

Toward World Restoration

I need to work on world restoration, on how to reformulate the world after terror has unexpectedly entered.  Restoration is of vital concern to my community. One of my former students and his wife were gravely 
injured and will be changed forever.  My neighbors and clients are in varying states of dislocation.

Much of my time is lived within 2 blocks of the bombs. The main advice I have been able to offer is for people to regain community through discussion. Share what you are ready to share.  I remind myself and others to get the best sleep we can. Sleep, when possible, is the ordinary way we knit life back together.  

Avoid alcohol. 
Alcohol may make it easier to fall asleep but harder to remain asleep. 

My colleagues, Ramon Greenberg and Chester Pearlman, demonstrated that REM sleep aids in self-restoration and in the toleration of anomaly and trauma. Most REM happens in the second half of the evening's sleep. REM sleep helps develop our toleration for the things that we do not already have the competence to handle.

While I type, the next act in the Boston tragedy is underway.

I have been reminding myself to be grateful that most of us weren't psychologically prepared. I would rather be in a state of shock and dislocation than hardened to expect Monday’s events. I am glad that most of us are only prepared to live in a world where terror is an anomaly. We expect to live in a civil place.  Not the world that Monday revealed.

Every world is someone's world.

I want the world around me to be where I notice that the cherry blossoms have just arrived. 


A Boston Globe transcript of an online chat on dealing with the personal aftermath of the bombing can be found here:  Dealing with Grief and Trauma

Regaining Empathy

Empathy involves the accurate communication of an appreciation of another person's ongoing intentional actions in a fashion that the other person can tolerate. This appreciation requires understanding the other person's view of their world and of their place in it.

Empathy is an ordinary feature of life, a natural aspect of the unfolding improvisation of our linked behaviors. We act together from our understanding of what the other is trying to do.

But sometimes empathy is difficult to maintain. When we are preoccupied, when we are stressed, when our circumstances have been significantly altered, we may lose the attuned connection we take for granted.

Regaining empathy requires more awareness of the nature of intention than is usual. But what does this entail?

Intentional action involves what a person wants, what they value and what they recognize as their current opportunities and dilemmas. This is coupled with a sense of whether they have the relevant skills to pursue their goals. Something is at stake, whether trivial or profound.

Since empathy involves a complex package of recognitions, it has a "more or less" quality. When I sense I am being inadequately empathetic,  I might think about the other person's circumstances and ask myself the following questions (or I might even ask them):

1. Given their knowledge of the overall current circumstances, what does this person want and value?  (And do we share an understanding of what the overall circumstance calls for?)

2. What exactly do they recognize in their circumstance relevant to what they want or value? (And do we share a common appreciation of the relevant circumstances?)

3. What do they know how to do, what skills do they possess, given what they see as their current opportunity or dilemma? (And are they aware of having the needed competencies).

4. What is the significance to them of how they behave in these circumstances?

5. What personal characteristics of theirs are involved or expressed?

6. Can they tolerate the way I express what I understand about them?

Adapted from my “The Parameters of Empathy:  Core Considerations for Psychotherapy and Supervision”, The Advances in Descriptive Psychology, Vol. 10, 2013.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Empathy and Trauma

What are you ready to talk about?

Today, Boston is no longer the world we knew and expected.  For many of us it is not the world we know how to fully manage.  We may only know how to do what we have always done and that may not feel enough. We grieve the loss of life and limb and our loss of security.  Some of what we might not be ready to do is to talk. We might not know the words that can contain what we feel.

Monday, few of us believed we lived in a world where we would be expected to deal with terror. So now many of us are stunned, overwhelmed and don’t quite know what to do. We are having trouble managing our helplessness and our loss and we show this in our individual ways.   But when we are ready most of us will want to share. Trauma can be most terrible if felt alone.  But being required to speak before it feels safe can make matters worse.  Practice empathy.

Empathy, as I understand it, is an ordinary feature of life where we demonstrate our understanding of the significance of each other’s actions, emotional states and personal characteristics.  But it is not simply an accurate understanding.  Empathy involves an appreciation of our vulnerability. Our vulnerability may include our capacity and desire to share what we are feeling or have gone through.

So wait but be available. Ask each other if you want to talk but respect the integrity of not being ready or willing to speak.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Monday April 15th, 2013, Marathon Day

I was coming out of Trader Joe’s, hungrier than interested in the Marathon, rounding the corner of Bolyston and Gloucester, when the first bomb went off. The smell of gunpowder, some sort of black powder, moved up the street when the second exploded and then I started running. My office is around the block. Three children, who minutes before were cheering their mother, huddled with their dad frightened and confused on my steps. The best I could offer was cold water and then their mom came running down the street more concerned about her children’s fear than her own injury.

In the midst of this I had the weird thought that black powder is local.

Tonight the Boston sky is painfully beautiful.


It is almost a year later.  I remember the smell of gunpowder and blood. 

A cop who came up to me two days after the bombing and said he was getting so much love he felt like a firefighter. 

Clients from the suburbs, worried it was going to be more difficult than usual to park near my office.  

The Southwest Corridor dog park where we gathered during curfew in small defiant affirmation that our dogs still needed to play.

The liquor store on Columbus that opened before curfew ended, acknowledging they needed the business and we needed to drink. 

The dissociation, shock and gentle comfort my neighbors offered each other.  

I remember anger at those who wanted to help, but mostly wanted connection to the story. The feeling they wanted to colonize our experience, and my guilty recognition of my own excitement. 

We remain civilized.  The same neighbors who wanted to tear those brothers apart remain overwhelmingly opposed to state sponsored murder.  Boston Strong! 

April 21, 2014   a very fine day.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

On the Interpretation of Unconscious Action and Self-Deception

People generally make sense to themselves and to others. Misunderstandings are the exception rather than the rule insofar as ordinary social practices involve a coordinated unfolding.  In the absence of significant pathology, behavior is effective more often than not.  We usually find a way to get along and we hardly think about it at all. I am taking exception to the misguided notion that our behavior has significantly greater unconscious motivation than the motives we self-recognize and could report if we wanted to. Still, as I illustrate in the note on "Bad Faith, Self-Deception and Unconscious Motivation", there is self-deception and motivated avoidance. Often enough, as Freud put it, this leads to symptoms, anxiety, and bungled actions.  I get paid to sit with people and confront this dilemma. Here are some thoughts and policies I try to follow:

The interpretation of unconscious activity in clinical psychoanalytic practice or any other reasonable endeavor resembles the dilemmas of gathering and presenting legal evidence and the problems of building a case.

1. If I say you are acting unconsciously, I am saying things are not as they seem to you.  I may also be saying that your reasons for acting are different than what you claim.

2. To interpret an action as an unconscious performance is to begin a potential argument or negotiation subject to all the problems of polemics, authority and persuasion.  A good case can be rejected, and a bad case can be accepted. The social or personal value of the interpretation of unconscious activity is to clarify a meaning or pattern that the actor has reason not to see.  This is inherently contentious. The claim that an action has significant unconscious meaning begins with a disagreement about what the relevant players take to be the significant “facts”. For something to be "dynamically" unconscious, the therapist believes that the client has defensive reasons not to see what the therapist sees especially in relation to the client's motivations or reasons for action.

3. Since there is no pipeline to the truth, the therapist can only build a case by assembling evidence that the relevant states of affairs are not identical to the claims of the client.

4. It is a maxim that people take it that things are as they seem unless they have sufficient reason to think otherwise.  This is the reminder that from the observer’s perspective, if a situation calls for actions that from the actor’s perspective are unthinkable, intolerable or require motives, priorities or skills that the actor does not have, the actor will see and do something else instead.

5.  Clinicians are in position to observe, describe and critique behavior.  Part of the purpose of making “the unconscious, conscious” is to allow the client to see patterns of behavior that are not recognized as particular patterns by them. Patterns of unconscious behavior that show up in significant personal relationships are part of what psychotherapists mean when they use the concept of “transference” and "resistance". Accurately or not, transference involves treating someone as someone else. The actor engaged in transference has automatically seen something as something else based on some "family resemblance". The actor engaged in resistance has some personally significant reason not to recognize some problematic state of affairs. Unconsciously enacted behaviors are not in the ordinary sense deliberate and lack the flexibility available in cognizant and deliberate action. The recognition of alternative meanings opens the potential to act differently. 

6.  The expert status of the clinician can create the illusion that the evidence he or she gathers points to truth rather than possibility.  Actual expert status should require an appreciation of the nature of the evidence, the stance of the clinical “witness”, and the vulnerability of the client “judge”.  What the therapist believes in good faith is happening may not be what is happening. Uncertainty should be acknowledged and is a requirement of the "good enough therapist."

7.  Psychological clinicians should be experts at acknowledging ambiguity and uncertainty and as practitioners of possibility rather than truths.  Since insistence on the part of the client may be a sign of unconscious defense, the clinician is careful not to insist on the validity or necessity of an interpretation they offer. The therapist models non-insistent inquiry. 

8.  Making a good case is not an arbitrary practice. The problem is deciding what is relevant evidence and how to present it honestly and empathically . Tactfully, the clinician should appreciate what is at stake for the client in maintaining or dropping the unconscious defense.  Is the gain worth the loss?

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Uneven Structure of Social Progress (why marriage equality was inevitable)

“A Person will not choose less behavior potential over more.”  Peter G. Ossorio

 “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

Adapted from Freedom (An Outline)

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

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

3.  Eligibility gains can be restricted in actual social practice without being forgotten or devalued by the disenfranchised.

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

5.  Lost eligibility remembered or rediscovered may be sought and may be retaken.

6.  Social progress involves a change in a community member's eligibility reflected by changed practices, statuses, and choice principles  (and in extreme cases, a significant change in the community’s world). Changes in eligibility can lead to changes in powers and dispositions: "Hey! I like this thing I've never been allowed to do!"

Changes in eligibility may create new dilemmas of choice that in turn may provoke a new or enhanced awareness of ethical and aesthetic opportunities and dilemmas.

7.  The recognition of a new set of possibilities in a community leads to some members participating in and furthering the changes, leads some members to act against the changes and attempt to maintain or restore the old order, while having no impact on how some members lead their lives.

The recognition or experience of new opportunity elicits pressure toward social progress and reaction as a general tendency since people may now insist on the expanded or enhanced eligibility to continue with the new opportunity.

An empirical claim and a hypothesis:  

A structure that resembles a noisy upward trending wave describes the social progression of the disenfranchised with the Y axis representing a community’s toleration or acceptance of increased or redistributed eligibility and the X axis representing historical time.  An upward, flat or downward midline is possible but the overall trend is an upward slope given that gains in eligibility 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.

("Sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes the bear eats you." Preacher Roe)

Things are getting better, getting better all the time.

"...more people live under elected governments today than any time in human history."  Barack Obama, 5/28/14

And how Marriage Equality and the reactionary response looks in March 2015 from the NYTimes: Gay Marriage State by State (A charting over time).  And how what's good for the goose might offend the gander. "Freedom of religious expression" as a reactionary response: Indiana, using religion as a cover for bigotry.

And today, June 26, 2015, The Supreme Court of The United States declared in a 5 to 4 decision that same sex marriage is a right. 

And, of course the reactionary response: illegal defiance on same sex marriage.  And a counter argument, Bannon’s Worldview: Dissecting the Message of ‘The Fourth Turning’

Bad Faith, Self-Deception, and Unconscious Motivation: Restrictions in Effective Choice

A person's power and disposition to make effective choices reflects their appraisal of the relevant circumstances.  Beyond choices that are objectively unavailable, people engage in the world with the additional blinders of what they are reluctant to examine and what they find intolerable or unthinkable to know. As a psychoanalyst, part of my job is to help make the unconscious conscious. Sometimes I accomplish this, but more often what I actually attempt is to make it safe enough to tolerate examining what my client is deeply reluctant to examine and negotiate. This requires considerable empathy from me and courage from them.  They have their good reasons to be defensive. 

Bad faith, self-deception, and unconscious motivation restrict a person's ability to see their world with clarity and make informed choices. Action is compromised when a person's vision of their overall circumstance is defensively restricted. Ethical and aesthetic judgments that require or are enhanced by deliberation are undermined when relevant options are unacknowledged. Undoing self-deception in the service of enhancing judgment is vital when ethical concerns and matters of fairness or justice are at stake. Pleasurable opportunity and prudent restraint are also undermined when a person's recognition of choice is unnecessarily restricted. 

Here's a map of bad faith, self-deception, and unconscious motivation.




The overall circumstances of a person’s self and world provide the opportunities and dilemmas that are the context for judgment and behavior.  Appraisals of opportunity and dilemma motivate and guide behavior.  The known overall circumstance, the behavioral context, provides a complex domain of sub-circumstances.  An overall appraisal takes into account, more or less, the appraisals of the sub-circumstances. The final appraisal that guides behavior may be a result of careful deliberation or a response that follows an immediate impression.  Emotional behavior is usually associated with a person’s immediate impressions but can also be the reaction to a deliberately considered or delayed appraisal.

An individual’s motivationally weighted Hedonic, Prudent, Aesthetic, and Ethical/Moral perspectives intrinsically guide what a person will seek or recognize as opportunity and dilemma and will provide fundamental reasons to do one thing rather than another.  Briefly defined:  Hedonics refers to the ordinary pursuit of pleasure including the visceral pleasures.  Prudence refers to self-interest and self-protection. Aesthetics involves the mixed categories of beauty, elegance, truth, rigor, objectivity, closure, and the like.  A person’s ethics and morals concern their appraisal of fairness, justice, “the level playing field”, “the golden rule”, and the like.  Action often involves complex recognitions and reasons. Compromise and conflict are unsurprising and often inevitable.

Ethical and aesthetic appraisals require the ability to engage in Deliberate Action, i.e., the potential to make a choice. Ethics and aesthetics require the potential for renunciation. Hedonic and prudent motivations only require that the actor recognize some desired goal whether or not choice is involved. The actor’s personal characteristics are shown in how they weigh hedonic, prudent, ethical, and aesthetic reasons for action.  These motivations may be independent, complementary, antagonistic, and so on.

In making a judgment, the actor as self-critic can attempt to renounce or reorder self-recognized motivational priorities. Non-acknowledged priorities are not open to deliberation and are problematic when the self-regulation of those values is critical to the person’s wellbeing and place in the community.

Communities commonly find unregulated hedonic and prudential behavior, especially sexual or hostile manifestations, problematic and attempt to regulate them accordingly. Motivations for sexual and hostile behaviors are often problematic for some people to recognize in their own action.  What is problematic when not adequately regulated becomes especially problematic when it is cannot be acknowledged.

Here's a dynamic framework for the transformation of what a person finds unthinkable into thinkable or intolerable into tolerable.  This is the behavioral logic of defense:  What is unthinkable does not have a place in a person's knowledge of themselves and their world. What is intolerable does not have a place in their values or competencies. They can't think it and they can't manage it but they have to do something about it. 

It works like this:


Adapted from Peter Ossorio’s Persons, 1995


1. The empiricist principle. A person finds out about the real world by observation. The observer will have a range of specific concepts and personal characteristics that will limit his observation.

2. For a given observer, the real world is the one that includes him as an observer. (For no one is the real world a place where they have no place. This is a formal constraint. For no observer is the real world one that would leave him in an impossible position. (A person’s vantage point concerns the range of that person’s possible observations, descriptions, and critiques).

3. If a situation calls for a person to do something he can’t do, he will instead do something he can do.


If, for a given observer, O, the real world is such that it would leave him in an impossible or intolerable position, he will not see it that way. Instead, he will see it as a world that does have a place for him, and he will act accordingly.

A second observer, P, who sees the world differently from O and knows it, can count that difference as O’s distortion of reality. 

P can account for O’s distortion by reference to some real condition that O would find unthinkable (because it would leave him in an impossible or intolerable position) and therefore be unable to behave with respect to it.


1. Among such unthinkable real conditions would be that O’s behavior was a particular behavior or that it had a particular motivation or significance (hence unconscious motivation).

2. Because the derivation above is a statement of logical constraints, the conclusion and the phenomenon is non-voluntary and automatic (hence one can speak of mental mechanisms).

3. Because the effect of the logical constraints is that the person continues to function more or less effectively when otherwise he would be unable to function, one can speak of the mechanisms as preserving realistic functioning or as ego defensive.

4. The second observer, P, could establish a taxonomy of the kinds of distortions O was engaging in.  If the distortions were explained by the operation of mechanisms, the taxonomy could be identical to that for ego defense mechanisms: denial, repression, projection, reaction formation, etc. 

On the dilemma of interpretation of unconscious motivations: On the Interpretation of Unconscious Action and Self-Deception.


Thursday, April 11, 2013

On Indoctrination and the Shunned

"Not to be absolutely certain is, I think, one of the essential things in rationality." Bertrand Russell

The Descriptive Psychology Study Group spent time examining the consequences of the practice of religious shunning. Specifically, we wondered what happens to a person who has grown up in a community that maintains fundamentalist or totalitarian ideals and then is degraded, removed or shunned. What do they have left that they can still do? What other communities are they in a position to join? What psychological states follow their removal from community? What will define their resilience? At the heart of this inquiry is the concept of indoctrination. Indoctrination is a special form of enculturation at odds with the liberal and the cosmopolitan. Indoctrination is antithetical to freedom and liberation.

1.  Indoctrination informs and restricts.  The significance of indoctrination is found both in the knowledge and practices advocated and in the enforced blinders to other relevant practices.

2.  A person is indoctrinated when self-compelled to act on an ideology.

3.  Indoctrination provides knowledge, appraisal and belief without adequate acknowledgment of serviceable alternatives.

4.  Indoctrination establishes a domain of taboo in which serviceable alternatives are presented as unserviceable (impure, dirty, shameful, wicked, vile, etc.). Contact with taboo results in contamination.  Contamination may result in an explicit or implicit degradation ceremony. Degradation ceremonies involve an attempt to demonstrate how a person is not "one of us". 

5.  Indoctrination involves explicit or implicit sanctions prohibiting the examination and acceptance of serviceable alternatives.

6.  Indoctrination establishes a social contract that narrows the acceptable domain of cognizant and deliberate action.  

7.  Indoctrination occurs with and without apparent coercion.

8. “Get them while they are young.”  When indoctrination initially forms a worldview, indoctrination is experienced as a necessary guide to how things are and what to do about them.  Coercion is recognized when a person is able to see it could be otherwise but is prevented from acting on that recognition. Coercion can come from self or other.  (Freud's 'superego', a system of primitive morality, is a psychoanalytic concept offered to explain how early religious and sexual indoctrination can occur without deliberate instruction.  The restrictions come from how the child is allowed to live. The parental power to inflict and restrict the child's exploration constitute one mode of automatic cultural indoctrination.)

9.  Over time, people may encounter evidence of the adequacy or inadequacy of their knowledge, appraisals and beliefs.  Serviceable beliefs supported by the valued community are usually held fast. Unserviceable beliefs require coercive enforcement. 

10. When coercion is recognized it is met with resistance and/or resigned compliance.

11.  A person’s world as revealed and maintained by their actions will include the products of indoctrination along with other non indoctrinated knowledge, appraisals and beliefs. A person's actual experience of life may elicit the recognition of contradiction and absurdity without the person having the competence to effectively sort these matters out. Personal conflict with accompanying anxiety and guilt are unsurprising byproducts.

12.  The products of indoctrination often appear insistent, rigid, and unexamined.

13.  Insistence and rigidity are in the service of keeping the unexamined, unexamined.

14.  Examination of the process and the products of indoctrination elicits resistance. It is difficult to examine and negotiate what is accepted as a fundamental restriction, choice principle, and way of life. It may not be safe to go there publicly or privately if one's good standing within community is at stake.  

14 a.  To the extent that indoctrination serves as a guide to a community's significant social practices, members of the community have significant reason to maintain those practices as a map for successful action within the community.

14 b.  Social practices and choice principles central for maintaining community membership are particularly resistant to examination and change.

15.  A community has intrinsic reasons to prevent their members from examining the social practices involved in their indoctrination.  Questioning the established forms of child rearing are particularly resistant when children are considered the property of the family-within-community. 

16.  A community member’s rejection of doctrine may be treated as the rejection of community. The affected community may react to preserve its integrity.

17. A community may enact a degradation ceremony in any of its forms in response to a member’s examination and rejection of their indoctrination.

20. Since “a person requires a community in order for it to be possible for him to engage in human behavior at all” (Ossorio, maxim E-1), the loss of community will correspond to a loss in behavior potential.

21. Loss elicits depression, anxiety, and the need to develop new social practices to compensate for the loss.

22. Serviceable new social practices may or may not be available to replace those lost when indoctrination is rejected. The consequences that follow from the rejection of indoctrination are partly dependent on whether the indoctrination facilitated or impeded the establishment of the values, knowledge, and skills needed to join other communities.

23. The psychotherapist understands the effects of indoctrination and is careful not to practice it.  

A kindred theme is taken up in The Degradation Ceremonies of Everyday Life and in a related publication: "Degradation, Accreditation, and Rites of Passage" (Psychiatry, vol. 42, 1979)

These themes are further explored in Freedom (An Outline).

Religious indoctrination backed by the power of the state  remains a fact that keeps the freedom to explore one's beliefs dangerous.

And then there are cults. Here's Seven Signs You're in a Cult.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Play and Therapy


“On the seashore of endless worlds, children play.” Tagore misquoted by Winnicott

“Thought, language, now appear to us as the unique correlate, picture, of the world. These concepts:  proposition, language, thought, world stand in line one behind  the other, each equivalent to each. (But what are these words to be used for now?  The language-game in which they are to be applied is missing.)”  Wittgenstein

“The play’s the thing.”  Shakespeare

From Peter Ossorio’s Place, 1998/2012:

A1. A person requires a world in order to have the possibility of engaging in any behavior at all.

D11. The world is subject to reformulation by persons.

E1. A person requires a community in order for it to be engage in human behavior...

E7. When a person is in a pathological state there is a significant restriction in his ability to participate in the social practices of the community.

F4. If C has a given relationship to Z, C’s behavior potential is different from what it otherwise would have been.

F5. If C makes the first move in a social practice, that invites Z to continue the enactment of the practice by making the corresponding second move. (Move 1 invites move 2.)

H5.  All the world’s a stage (Shakespeare).

A Person is an individual whose history is, paradigmatically, a history of Deliberate Action in a Dramaturgical pattern.” Peter Ossorio

People have the roles of actor, observer and critic, and these roles are a necessary feature of being a person among people and engaging successfully in the social practices of our communities.  We are socially and emotionally competent when successfully doing what comes naturally, when we spontaneously and effectively do the done thing in our shared improvisational performances. We know how to play along. Usually, playing along is managed with no more than tolerable strain. If the strain is too much, people may come looking for psychotherapy.

“Psychotherapy has to do with two people playing.  The corollary of this is that where playing is not possible then the work done by the therapist is directed towards bringing the patient from a state of not being able to play into a state of being able to play.” Donald Winnicott

Play is ambiguous.

1. Play is an essential aspect of psychotherapy revealing an actor’s world maintenance and attempts at world expansion and reconstruction. We play with what we have and with what we want (and with what we want to avoid). We imagine. Imagination incorporated into play expands the world.

2. World maintenance defends against coercion and contraction of the actor’s desired status in his or her scheme of things. World maintenance is a product of successful action verifying that a person’s values, knowledge, and competencies effectively establish the distinctions and boundaries of the person’s world.

People do not choose less behavior potential over more.

Some of what people do involves claiming or asserting their place in the world. Status claims successfully made tend to persist and are defended when they involve importantly held values.

(World maintenance feels “natural” or “in character” to an actor. The actor spontaneously does what comes naturally. But the actor in a psychotherapeutic drama may need or want to change status given the problematic nature of their circumstances. Significantly changing one’s world may involve acting in ways that feel awkward, unnatural or out of character, actions that involve the role of critic. The critic moves with Deliberate Action, i.e., recognizes or considers options. If practiced successfully and sufficiently, awkwardness brought about by critical intervention can vanish.

3. A person’s actions in the world are limited by what they find motivationally relevant and thinkable, and what they know how to do and can tolerate.  People are guided by what they find significant. People respond to what they recognize as opportunity and dilemma. People worry or are anxious when they doubt their competence to deal with what they take to be opportunity or dilemma. Toleration and competence usually go hand in hand. People generally tolerate what they believe they can manage effectively.

What the actor avoids as unthinkable, intolerable, or behaviorally irrelevant, an audience may view as pointing to pathology or as evidence of unfortunately restricted or distorted social practices. What the actor finds “out of bounds” or “off the stage” may be seen as relevant context from the vantage point of the outside critic.

4. What is intolerable is what violates a person’s significant values or requires competence, skill, or know how that the actor lacks, especially when that person believes, correctly or not, that they are without the relevant competence, etc.

Actors may incorrectly evaluate their relevant state of affairs including their actual powers and dispositions.

Actors may think they know how to develop increased or new competence and recognize this about themselves. This knowledge makes an absence of present competence more or less tolerable.  (“I don’t know how to play this game, but I believe I can learn the moves.”)

5. A person may want (or need) to act on what they believe they cannot competently manage and this sets the stage for worry, anxiety, fear, panic and depression. When a person values what they cannot competently manage, anxious hostility may result when provocation is also present, anxious envy when inequity is also recognized, agitated depression when loss is also significant, and so on. Mixed emotion and mixed mental states involve a mix of recognized relevant circumstances. The “mix” may involve complementary, antagonistic, conflicted, and independent elements. Emotionally complex states follow from a complex recognition of circumstances that the actor thinks demand immediate response.

6. From an observer's perspective, the domain where the actor’s self-assigned and self-recognized status differs from what the observer attributes to the actor may correspond to the actor’s “dynamic unconscious” i.e., may involve motivations that the actor does not or cannot claim as his or her own. A person may be unaware of how they actually weigh their reasons for acting on circumstances and/or they may be reluctant to acknowledge the truth.  Self-deception can serve world maintenance but at the cost of a restriction in the potential for Deliberate Action.

What is unthinkable to the actor (what the actor is unable to conceptualize as self-relevant) is different from what the actor is reluctant to acknowledge, but both may look to the observer as involving self-deception or unconscious motivation.

But on interpreting the unconscious: who is to say who is right? Given that there is no pipeline to the truth, interpretation can only involve building a case that may be accepted or rejected regardless of merit.

In making a judgment, the actor as self-critic can renounce or reorder self-recognized motivational priorities. Non-acknowledged priorities are not open to deliberation and can be problematic when the self-regulation of those values is critical to the actor’s place in the community.

Communities commonly find unacknowledged sexual and hostile behavior problematic. Whatever is problematic when not adequately self-regulated is especially problematic when it is also unacknowledged.

7. Skill at improvisation is a central feature of health. Improvisation requires the acknowledgment and the acceptance of each participant’s behavior incorporated into the moves of other relevant participants.

8. Psychotherapy as an improvisational drama expands the thinkable and the tolerable by enacting the already thinkable and tolerable and then creating new versions and options given the safety to improvise without penalty. (“Let’s imagine, let’s pretend.”  “Have a do over. Take a Mulligan.”)

What the actor finds painfully reluctant to acknowledge may be easier to consider if playing with the idea is not penalized.

Play counts by not counting.

The therapist has the option of playing with the unthinkable and the intolerable through deliberately dosed communication that get across a problematic idea while minding the consequences of taking the lead. When opening up intolerable or unthinkable themes, the therapist’s job includes keeping it safe enough to do so. If it proves not safe, the therapist needs to be mindful that the therapeutic relationship now has elements of a potential degradation ceremony.

9. Deliberate and authentic degradation ceremonies are not part of play, although mock degradations might be. Accreditation ceremonies, accomplished or imagined, are part of play. Simply playing together is a mutual accreditation of shared community. Accreditation of eligibility, accomplished or imagined, expands behavior potential including the potential to imagine the change. Effectively imagining change is change. Play is magical in this regard.

10. Therapists mindfully attempt empathic neutrality, knowing that they will frequently fail to maintain such a stance. (Therapists, having their own values, know they are seldom neutral. Instead, they are careful about how their values and judgments are expressed. Therapists are attentive to how the appearance of their judgment shapes the ongoing improvisation. They bite their tongue).

11. Failures that produce a crisis intensify the drama.  A crisis is an opening for significant world expansion or reconstruction if successfully negotiated in the service of an enhanced relationship and a corresponding world reconstruction. Recovery from crisis is a significant accomplishment and an accreditation of a shared relationship that persists through change and strain.  Conflict and loss are inevitable given the multiplicity of motives and lead to crisis when it becomes clear that there is no simple way to proceed. Finding a new path is the job of therapy.

Paul Russell called this “the crunch.” Successful recovery from the crunch builds resiliency.

12. Psychotherapies using the concepts of “holding environment” and “transitional object phenomena” (Winnicott), and “self-object phenomena” (Kohut), deliberately involve social practices that create a safe place to expand a status otherwise defensively maintained.  Such play involves improvisation. The therapist shows that when it is safe, defenses are options rather than necessities.

(We may call this the playground and the playtime).

13. The “holding environment” is maintained by the therapist’s attention to the client’s safety, comfort and competence while facilitating a toleration of what is uncomfortable. (“You can take it.” “I’ve got your back.”)

Psychotherapy is guided by polices  and bounded by laws. Polices guide and suggest. Boundary conditions concerning potential therapist and client violation serve to maintain the place where the therapeutic policies are practiced. Such proscriptions appear as laws. Laws have coercive power and restrict and inhibit “acting out” or acting in ways that endanger the therapy. Laws bind improvisation. Laws insist.

Empathic confrontation and play are employed against “insistence” that a person’s world or status has particular limits when those limits unfortunately restrict or inhibit that person’s actions. Some restrictions may be fortunate. See “laws”.

14. Insistence protects the “done thing” and is a pathological defense when the done thing is pathological. The “done thing” may be an ordinary feature of common social practice, for better or for worse. Insistence is often unexamined when it feels like a natural feature of ordinary culture (e.g., in religion, shared prejudice, stereotyping, gender relations, taboos and so on).

People are members of multiple, diverse, and overlapping communities. Insistence on the “done thing” may appear pathological when a shared life space involves members of different communities with different values or when members of a common community recognize that the community’s choice principles are unfortunately restrictive. When the done thing is brought to question, hostile reaction to raising the question is to be expected.

15. “Open or free play” offers an antithesis to insistence. (“Hmmm, the monkey bars, the swings, or just kicking up dirt clouds?”)

16. The unthinkable and the intolerable are boundaries of spontaneity.

Play therapy is liberating. Play therapy invites both free association, i.e., verbal behavior that attempts utter honestly, and freedom of association, i.e., the freedom to attempt new social practices.

17. World expansion is facilitated by an empathic (and sympathetic) relationship.

(It is good to have a partner in crime).

World expansion is at times transgressive.

18. Empathic confrontation of insistence can “relax” boundaries. (“I'm coming along side. Yes, I see what you see and I see why you see it this way. But consider this alternative, just think about it, since there is no need to do anything else for the time being.”)

19. Psychotherapists are informed and limited by the statuses they maintain. These understandings and limitations have an inhibiting and socializing function, for better or for worse.

Psychotherapeutic behavior reflects professional judgment regarding limit setting, boundaries, directive and nondirective responses, and so on, for better or for worse.

20. Psychotherapeutic conversation attempts to symbolize or instantiate new actions and new social practices, which in turn facilitates further behavior potential given the freedom and potential safety of just thinking about it and talking it over.

Thought can be of what is not the case.  Ludwig Wittgenstein essentially an experimental kind of acting.... Sigmund Freud

21.  Psychotherapeutic dialog is empathic and intimate. Intimacy involves a shared appreciation and care of the other’s vulnerability. Empathy involves an accurate understanding of the significance of the vulnerabilities represented in a manner that the other can tolerate.

22. The therapist as self-object and transitional object allows and facilitates improvisation through mutual incorporation of the other’s moves (transitional object phenomena) and the provision of safety and support (self-object function) for actions that the actor previously found unthinkable or intolerable. Final-order appraisals (reality testing) of the limits and utility of the new action may be suspended during play.

The self-object doing the job of critic maintains an empathic stance and attributes to the actor a status or behavior potential that is an expanded or more serviceable version of the actor’s ordinary self-status assignment.  The self-object is sympathetic to the actor’s desired achievements and vulnerabilities. (This is the heart of both cognitive behavior therapy and psychoanalytic interpretation.)

The therapist as self-object communicates primarily through interpretations of the significance and further potential of the actor’s performances. The therapist’s interpretative comments uttered with supportive intention are close to the actor’s current awareness and toleration.  The self-object functions to provide safety and support for the new behaviors that occur during the new improvised performance, the shared practices developed during therapy. This might look like “baby steps”; it might also look like encouragement, reassurance, or buttressing.

Interpretation during play is effective when it becomes part of the ongoing improvisation. Its worth is demonstrated when new practices are informed by its message.

23. Self-Objects and Transitional Objects are actual other people or imagined other people. The illusion of support can be supportive.

24. Since improvisational play involves each player incorporating the other player’s moves, the person with the greater freedom and ability is in a good position to demonstrate how the other person's actions can appear in new form given the manner in which the "more advanced" actor's improvised response elaborates or expands on the "less advanced" actor's previous move. The therapist secures the practice stage and supports her client's expanding potential.  This may look like modeling, coaching, imitating, bantering, daring, containing, limit testing, cheerleading, and so on.

The therapist provides the client with an alternative observer and critic perspective (without desperation). The therapist avoids desperation as best he or she can. Knowing how to cool desperation is a fundamental therapeutic competence. Play cools desperation when available as an option. The therapist keeps an eye open for this option.

In the real world it turns out, from time to time, that therapist and client exchange positions.

Every difficult therapeutic and intimate encounter is an opportunity for significant world maintenance, reconstruction, or expansion. Therapists and clients maintain and reconstruct each other’s worlds as they successfully improvise and negotiate the existing terrain. Therapists and clients expand each other’s worlds as they mutually develop serviceable new social practices.

Therapeutic change is often against the grain, rarely smooth.

Therapists get paid to work against the grain; it is the hard part of the job.

Therapeutic work is hard. It concerns the difficult.

The hard work pays off when the actors find themselves playing.

25. When life is good we dance alone and together, even when awkwardly or painfully learning the steps.

Life is sometimes hard and that is why we have growing pains.

Growing pains provoke growth and are an affect produced in growth’s wake.

26. Play should be fun. Competent play is. Surf the wake.

Freedom (An Outline)

What follows is an investigation into the status dynamics of freedom, choice, and liberation, with some implications for political action, psychotherapy, social progress and the reactionary response.

Why mix the political and the therapeutic? I make my living as a psychologist. This is the world of practice I know best, but it is also relevant in my roles as parent and citizen. Psychotherapy is performed within a community and involves, consciously or not, the values and standards of the various communities of the participants. For better or for worse, therapeutic acts necessarily involve a person’s place in community.  The goal of the psychotherapies that I respect acknowledge this fact and attempt to address unnecessary and unserviceable restrictions in a person’s power or disposition to love, work, and play while fostering an enhanced recognition of how a person’s actions effect the lives of others. This is political since it concerns the rights and plights of being a member of various communities with differing agendas.  Since this involves choices with social consequence that can involve justice and the distribution of resources, psychotherapy has an inherent ethical value.

The social consequence of political action involves the distribution of power, justice and the attendant potential for coercion. It matters who establishes and controls the agenda and how it is negotiated. 

What follows is a work-in-progress on the behavioral logic of some of the dilemmas of freedom and liberation: 

Part 1.

Two initial definitions. Freedom involves the power and disposition to choose.  Liberation is the expansion of choice from constraint.

1. Freedom is constrained by the choices possible (the choices both recognized and actionable).  The circumstances of the world constrain. 

2. Choices are restricted by a person's circumstances as shaped by their values, knowledge, and competencies (and by their disposition to defensive shame, guilt and anxiety).  A person’s powers and dispositions can be shaped by coercive power, by a restricted agenda, and by the acceptance of a “natural order of things” (Steven Lukes).

3. Communities have average expected choice principles that most members employ to maintain good standing.  Choice is guided by what is taken to be “the done thing”. Repression, indoctrination, and social coercion may further restrict choice when choice is seen as a threat to community. A person's world involves communities with different agendas and choice principles. A person is always a member of multiple communities. This naturally causes conflict.

4. Some definitions: A person’s eligibility to act corresponds to their behavior potential, which corresponds to the range of their freedom.  A person’s behavior potential is the range of actions they can perform. A person’s full range of eligibilities, their full behavior potential, is their status.  A person’s status corresponds to their world (comparable to the ecological concept of “niche”).  A person’s world is defined by his or her behavior potential. “The world is all that is the case.” (Wittgenstein).  The world is limited by the possible actions a person can perform including the actions involved in recognizing the world.

5. A person’s world and a person’s status can expand or contract in a manner that corresponds to significant changes in a person’s powers and dispositions.

6. The person’s world is more or less stable in a manner that corresponds to the stability of a person’s powers and dispositions.

7. A person’s actions maintain the range of his or her world.

8. People protect their turf.  When they appear not to, that calls for explanation. People protect their turf from erosion and incursion. (A conservative policy).

9. Radical alterations in the range of a person’s world correspond to significant changes in a person’s behavior potential.

10. A person may attempt to expand the range of his or her world (enhance their eligibilities and opportunities).

11. A person does not knowingly choose less behavior potential over more behavior potential (and situations where a person appears to do so require explanation).  People make choices that from their perspective maintain or enhance their status. 

12. Status or behavior potential is not given up without having a stronger reason to change than to persist.  Reasons to change may be coercive.   Coercion directed toward status gains or maintenance may involve attempted degradation. (See, Degradation Ceremonies in Everyday Life.)

13. Coercion elicits resigned or malicious compliance, resistance, or refusal.  Malicious compliance may be satisfying but is risky. It may be hazardous to all concerned.

14. Resigned compliance may correspond to the experience of depression.

15. Resistance or refusal may be in the service of maintaining status against constraint.

16. Resistance or refusal may be in the service of maintaining the eligibility for Deliberate Action (i.e., actions that involve the recognition of options including the option to refrain from a specific action).

17. Deliberate Action establishes or enhances the potential for an Ethical and Aesthetic prospective since Deliberate Action requires the possibility of both choosing and renouncing options. Choice and renunciation are intrinsic characteristics of ethics and aesthetics.

18. Resistance and refusal may be in the service of maintaining a person’s world and sense of integrity.

19. One person’s status maintenance may involve another person’s status suppression.

20. Effective choice requires recognition of actual behavioral options.

21.  Transference, prejudice (prejudgment), and certainty may reduce the recognition of choice. Transference involves an unexamined or unconscious set of assumptions about the other that may produce inappropriate or non-serviceable certainty.

22. The renunciation of choice is different from the non-recognition of choice (although the resulting performance may appear the same, it will have a different significance to the actor).

23. Certainty does not require deliberation.  Uncertainty may be an opportunity to decide what to do.

24. Recognizing uncertainty expands possible options but carries risk.

25. False certainty increases the likelihood of a bungled outcome.  (Consider the Dunning-Kruger effect.  Non-mindful ignorance correlates with overly certain presentations and bungled achievement. Being ignorant of one’s restricted knowledge may lead to the illusion that what is claimed as known is all that is the case.)

26. People take it that things are as they seem unless they have reason to think otherwise.  Things may seem correctly or incorrectly certain or uncertain.

27. Correct or incorrect recognition is a pragmatic issue.  The question we can answer:  Can the way it seems be used effectively?

28. Recognized uncertainty may lead to the following concerns:
What do I want in this situation?
What do I recognize or know about this situation?
What do I know how to do in this situation?
How will I perform in this situation?
What will I achieve in this situation?
What is the significance of this situation to myself and

These questions correspond to parameters of intentional action.

29. Uncertainty is more or less tolerable.  If intolerable it will be met with defense, inhibition, anxiety and/or premature resolution.

30. When recognizing an uncertain outcome and given sufficient self-recognized competence, opportunity and threat can be seen as manageable.

31. In the absence of sufficient self-known competence, both opportunity and threat will evoke anxiety, avoidance and/or defense.

32. In the presence of sufficient self-known competence, threat is connected to opportunity and the expectation of possible mastery, with corresponding new or enhanced values, knowledge, skills, and significances as reflected in new (or novel) performances and achievements.

Part 2.

Psychotherapy, Empathy, I-Thou relationships, and Personal and Political Struggle

1. Psychotherapy and political liberation are concerned with the recovery, expansion (or redistribution) of eligibility and behavior potential corresponding to an expanded (or redistributed) thought, imagination, and world.

2. A person’s eligibility may be more or less recognized to the point of not being recognized at all.  (Similarly, one can be more or less mistaken about what eligibilities apply).

3. Psychotherapy and political change involve significant uncertainty in what will be achieved.

4. Psychotherapy and political liberation concern recovery or expansion (or redistribution) of eligibility without certainty of achievement or social response.

5. A person meets the opportunities and dilemmas of psychotherapy and the creation of new or more effective social practices with acceptance and/or resistance.

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

7. 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.

8. (“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).

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

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

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

12. 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.

13. An individual’s particular and weighted Hedonic, Prudent, Aesthetic, and Ethical values intrinsically guide what that person will seek and recognize as opportunity and dilemma and provides fundamental reasons to do one thing rather than another.  Briefly defined:  Hedonics refers to the ordinary pursuit of pleasure.  Prudence refers to self-regard.  Aesthetics involves the mixed categories of beauty, elegance, truth, rigor, objectivity, and the like.  Ethics, the concerns with fairness, justice, “the level playing field”, “the golden rule” and the like.  Action often involves multiple reasons for action. Compromise and conflict are unsurprising.

14. Ethical and aesthetic recognitions and actions require the eligibility to engage in Deliberate Action whereas hedonic and prudent recognitions and actions only require that the actor can engage in Intentional Action. Ethics and aesthetics require the potential for choice and renunciation.  Hedonics and prudence only require the recognition of opportunity or dilemma.  It is a matter of personal characteristics how any actor will weigh the hedonic, prudent, ethical, and aesthetic reasons in any given circumstance and how these perspectives may be independent, complementary, antagonistic and so on.

15. Expansion or change in hedonic, prudential, aesthetic, or ethical choice may correspond to a dynamic change in the weight and significance of other intrinsic reasons for action. For example, expanded opportunities for hedonic gratification may result in new prudential, esthetic, and ethical dilemmas. New opportunities are also potential grounds for new conflict.

16.  Social progress involves a change in a community member's eligibility reflected by changed practices, statuses, and choice principles (and in extreme cases, a significant change in the community’s world). Changes in eligibility can lead to changes in powers and dispositions: "Hey! I like this thing I've never been allowed to do!"

Changes in eligibility may create new dilemmas of choice that in turn may provoke a new or enhanced awareness of ethical and aesthetic opportunities and dilemmas.

17. The recognition of a new set of possibilities in a community leads some members to participate in and further the changes, leads some members to act against the changes and attempt to maintain or restore the old order, while having no impact on how some members lead their lives.

The recognition or experience of new opportunity elicits pressure toward social progress and reaction as a general tendency since people may now insist on the expanded or enhanced eligibility to continue with the new opportunity.

18. Community members with low power statuses often pay careful attention to the eligibilities of locally relevant members with high power statuses and to the opportunities and dilemmas that are relevant to both parties.  (Similarly, the peasant is in position to appreciate an enhanced $10 stove.   All else equal, the peasant is in an appropriate (privileged) position to find or invent such a stove).

19. A social/political community has members whose various social statuses may be independent, interdependent, complementary, antagonist, contingent, and so on.

20. Local and general (state legislated) interests may be independent, interdependent, complementary, antagonist, contingent, and so on.

21. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Theodore Parker but usually attributed to Martin Luther King

22. An empirical claim and a hypothesis:  A structure that resembles a noisy upward trending wave describes the social progression of the disenfranchised with the Y axis representing a community’s toleration or acceptance of increased or redistributed eligibility and the X axis representing historical time.  An upward, flat or downward midline is possible, but the overall trend is an upward slope given that gains in eligibility 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 ascending curve of emancipation. People hold on to their gains as best they can despite expected adversity.

23. Various disenfranchised communities may be at odds and in conflict over any enhancement, creation or redistribution of opportunity or eligibility.  What’s good for the geese may not be good for the ganders.

24. A community’s reaction to the liberation of its disenfranchised members shows its true colors. Hidden, disguised, and latent reactionary tendencies awaken in response to the newly enfranchised exercising their expanded status. 

25. The psychotherapist is an agent of status gain when psychopathology is understood to involve the inhibitions and disabilities in the potential to engage in Deliberate Action and in the valued social practices of the community.

26. Empathy and versions of the I-Thou relationship are central and ordinary stances for the psychotherapist and intrinsically require an appreciation of the client’s uncertain eligibility.  Empathy involves both accurate recognition and tolerable representation of the significance of another person’s wants, knowledge, and competence. Empathy requires knowing that the other is only somewhat known (i.e., an appreciation of uncertainty regarding the other).

27. The psychotherapist is prepared to be wrong and to revise his or her understanding.  Empathy and negotiation are basic in understanding and revision.

28. Empathy and negotiation involve an appeal to shared values and creates and respects an I-Thou relationship.

29. Mutual I-Thou relationships expand the world. Mutual I-Thou relationships are open to discovery, revision, and surprise.

30. The psychotherapist is open to surprise and ready to honor new eligibilities and social practices.

31. The psychotherapist demonstrates empathy by appropriately engaging in new social practices initiated by the client or co-constructed in the therapeutic encounter.

32. People engaged in new social practices may acquire new values, knowledge, and/or skills with accompanying new significances.

33. New social practices change the community and enlarge the world.

34. To the extent that the potential for Deliberate Action is enhanced or expanded there may correspond an enhanced or expanded recognition of Ethical and Aesthetic opportunities and dilemmas.

35. Political action involves the negotiation, legislation, or other attempts at enforcing the assignment and distribution of eligibilities, social roles and corresponding social responsibilities.

36. Political action may involve the claim of being both a representative member of the community and eligible to accredit or degrade other members.

37. A person’s standing in the community determines their eligibility to accredit or degrade others.

38. Political action involves status assignments and the creation, distribution and/or redistribution of eligibility.  Degradation and accreditation ceremonies are paradigm examples of political action.

39. Political action may have as its goal both liberation and suppression.

40. Politically significant status assignments that assign, distribute, or redistribute eligibility may be developed in negotiation but are enforced through implicit or covert coercion. “Political power flows from the barrel of a gun” (Mao).  State power substantially rests on the potential for coercion.  (Love may be all you need (Lennon)), but the withdrawal of love may be enforced through restraint or other coercion).

41. Status assignments and status claims that realign relationships and eligibilities within a community are paradigmatically political when they also describe eligibilities that may be enforced through coercion or other actions of the state.

42. There are many social vanguards beyond the conventional political activist, including the psychotherapist as an agent of individual liberation.

43. An individual’s liberation from constraint creates a community member with an expanded perspective.

44. The liberated member’s use of a new or expanded perspective is uncertain.

45. The psychotherapist who welcomes and facilitates liberation is tolerant of uncertainty.  Psychotherapeutic change may be experienced as both threat and liberation for all parties involved.

46. The good enough psychotherapist is secure enough to do the work.

47. The psychotherapist as liberation agent is concerned with establishing and maintaining (or enforcing) a relationship that fosters an expansion in the client’s behavior potential by treating the client as eligible to engage in actions beyond those the client currently owns.

48. The psychotherapist as an agent of suppression treats the client as a patient who is only eligible for restricted participation in the community.

49. The psychotherapist as local politician represents the client but performs his or her role as a member of various communities that necessarily overlap with the client’s. What the client wants as enhancement of eligibility and opportunity may be independent, complementary, antagonistic, etc., to the therapist’s concern with his or her own status. When the therapist’s and client’s opportunities and dilemmas are independent or complementary there is an absence of conflict.  Analytic empathy and neutrality facilitate the awareness and the negotiation of conflict.  Neutrality and other nonjudgmental stances involve careful (care with) judgment rather than an absence of judgment. There is no absence of judgment since all parties to an interaction have their own values.

50. The good-enough psychotherapist maintains self-awareness of his or her personal and political values especially as they may correspond or conflict with their client’s values.  The psychotherapist takes care to deliberate when conflicting values are at stake. Unexamined indoctrination is especially problematic and important.

51. Since Deliberate Action carries with it the potential for ethical concerns, the psychotherapist in facilitating an expanded or enhanced eligibility for Deliberate Action, potentially expands the ethical domain for all relevant parties.  Similar expansion is a potential in the esthetic domain.

52. Expanded or enhanced eligibility for Deliberate Action corresponds to an expanded or enhanced potential for empathy.

53. Psychotherapy that increases ethical and aesthetic perspectives as a consequence of an expanded potential for empathy increases sensitivity to the rights and plights of others.

54. People may or may not be in a position to recognize or articulate their own rights and plights.

55. Psychotherapy focused on the liberation from repressive personal or social constraints attempts recognition and confrontation with the plights and potential rights of the client. (The plights include but are not limited to symptoms, inhibitions, anxieties, and depressions but also the acceptance of grand victim narratives, racism, sexism, ageism, classism, ideology, religion, and so on.)

56. Attempts to exercise potential rights may involve a corresponding potential for conflict.

57. Should social practices based on ethical and aesthetic perspectives follow from psychotherapy, those practices may become a feature in political action with resulting status dynamic effects on new and/or redistributed eligibility.

58. Since ethical and aesthetic perspectives might not be shared within and between communities, conflict may result.

59. The liberation psychotherapist facilitates a community whose members deliberately weigh the value of justice, fairness, truth, rigor, objectivity, elegance, and beauty.

60. A community is only more or less in accord given that individual members live in overlapping communities and weigh justice, fairness, truth, rigor, objectivity, elegance, and beauty in a manner that corresponds to their personal characteristics and local options.  Conflict and compromise continue.  Negotiation maintains community with uncertain outcome.

61. Freedom is improvisation.

An elegant collection of behavioral maxims, a grammar for providing adequate psychological description, can be found in Peter Ossorio's, Place, 2012, Ann Arbor: Descriptive Psychology Press