Critical social theory and psychotherapy: an analysis of the moral ethos of contemporary psychotherapeutic theory and practice

Donovan, Mary (2011) Critical social theory and psychotherapy: an analysis of the moral ethos of contemporary psychotherapeutic theory and practice. Doctoral thesis (DPhil), University of Sussex.

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Abstract

This study explores the moral ethos of contemporary psychotherapy as represented in
the psychoanalytic and systemic therapeutic traditions. It examines current moral/ethical
debate in the field and presents a detailed critique of the individualistic normative
orientation of this debate; its peripheral status within the discourse of psychotherapy; its
restrictive focus on professional micro ethics; and the eschewing of engagement with
wider macro level moral themes and concerns. The disjuncture between this
individualistic moral ethos and the vigorously relational thrust of wider developments in
psychotherapeutic theory and technique is highlighted. An argument is made for the
reformulation of moral/ethical debate in terms that take account of these relational
developments, which might in turn serve as a catalyst for the realization of what is
arguably their progressive and democratizing potential. The failure of hermeneutical,
post-structuralist and postmodernist influences in recent decades to move this debate
forward and the entrenched modernist/postmodernist divide within psychotherapeutic
discourse are also explored.

Underlying the limitations of current moral/ethical debate is the restricted paradigm of
individual consciousness within which this debate unfolds and which it appears unable
to transcend. In this study the critical social theory of J!rgen Habermas serves as a
touchstone for exploring potential for movement from the paradigm of consciousness to
that of communication as a framework for moral/ethical deliberation. It is argued that
key trends within psychotherapy are already straining towards a communicative ethical
orientation which is implicit in current practice and that the theoretical vacuum around
this subject is impeding recognition of its full potential. Alongside Habermasian theory,
Axel Honneth’s theory of recognition and Anthony Giddens’s social theoretical
perspective on psychotherapy offer key points of reference for the dialogue between
critical social theory and psychotherapy which this study seeks to promote.

Drawing on the work of Habermas and Honneth, it is argued that the underlying moral
“grammar” of the psychotherapeutic encounter may be framed in terms of the struggle
for understanding and agreement and the struggle for recognition. The theme of
reflexivity emerges as an important organizing framework for this discussion and as a
bridge for dialogue between psychotherapy and social theory. It is proposed that we can
helpfully think of significant discursive moments in the therapeutic encounter as islands
of heightened reflexivity in which the full communicative power of language is
potentially unleashed. The study concludes with a view of psychotherapy as a reflexive
resource and potential carrier of communicative reason helping people to develop and
enhance cognitive and emotional capacities that may in turn help them participate in
spheres of discursive communication and move towards genuinely communicative use
of language.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Law, Politics and Sociology > Sociology
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology > HM1001 Social psychology
R Medicine > RC Internal medicine > RC0321 Neurosciences. Biological psychiatry. Neuropsychiatry > RC0438 Psychiatry > RC0475 Therapeutics. Psychotherapy
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 22 Jun 2011 13:06
Last Modified: 14 Aug 2015 15:26
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/6955
Google Scholar:18 Citations

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