Ethics, ontology and peace

By Tom Andersen

 

The editor of New Therapist has asked me to speculate on what are the key challenges facing the practice(s) of therapy in the coming century, how those challenges ought and are most likely to be met, and who the thinkers and practitioners are who (ought and) are most likely to lead us into a new century of therapy.

The additions in italics and brackets are mine, and I want at first to clarify how I understand what I am to speculate on.

I see two kinds of therapy, the first gives priority to the philosophy of ontology and the second gives priority to the philosophy of ethics. Ontology is occupied with questions like: What is it? For instance, what is a human being? Or what is the problem? One could say questions that call on explanations and understanding of something ,"out there". Ethics are carried by what connects people; that which is between us, for instance, language and conversations.

The first [ontological questions] can easily be technical as the therapist observes the other and does something to the other, for instance, solves a problem. The second [ethical considerations] tend to be collaborative, where both parts - the other and the therapist - first of all protect each other's integrity and values.

I must admit that I personally prefer to be part of the second kind.

The key challenge will first of all be to keep therapies of both kinds included, that one kind does not control and marginalise the other kind. I am afraid however, that our society, which increasingly welcomes the perspective of control and money, will favour the first kind of therapy.

I see one possibility, namely that the discussion about what the therapies ought to be in the next century includes all relevant perspectives: those of clients and their relatives, the therapists, the bureaucrats, the politicians, the control agencies, and maybe also others. They could all sit in the same room in a collaborative effort to search through every perspective to find answers to the question: What ought therapy to be?

My fear, however, tells me there will be a fight between the perspectives, rather than peace and collaboration, and that the perspectives of some, for instance, the clients and their relatives, will be marginalized, even excluded.

Martin Luther King said: "Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice".

I will remind myself of those words when I try to take part in the work of peace that therapy is.

 

Further reading

Keeping his words: An interview with Tom Andersen. New Therapist 2, July/August 1999, 20 - 24.

Andersen, T. (1992) Reflections on Reflecting with Families. In McNamee, S. and Gergen, K. (eds) Therapy as Social Construction. London: Sage.

Andersen, T. (ed) (1991) The Reflecting Team : Dialogues and Dialogues About the Dialogues. New York: Norton.

Tom Andersen is a Professor of Social Psychiatry at the Institute of Community Medicine, University of Tromso, Norway.

 

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