Half-heard voices: The human reality behind the great case studies of psychotherapy. Lecture at the Society of Psychotherapy, London, 23 October 2012

Half-heard voices

The human reality behind the great case studies of psychotherapy

Anthony Stadlen

(This was a  lecture at the Society of Psychotherapy, London, on Tuesday 23 October 2012, at 7 p.m.
The following was my programme note.)

Anthony Stadlen is an existential and psychoanalytic psychotherapist, supervisor, researcher, teacher, and convenor and principal conductor of the Inner Circle Seminars. Since 1979 he has undertaken historical research on some of the great canonical case studies of psychotherapy – Freudian, Jungian, daseinsanalytic and existential. His reason for devoting his life to this research was to find fundamental principles on which psychotherapists’ work, including his own, could be based. Einstein said that to understand and evaluate the work of physicists one should attend not to what they say but to what they do. Freud, independently, said the same for the work of psychoanalysts, specifying case studies and  detailed analyses of dreams and parapraxes (mischievements or slips), not theories, as the evidence which an enquirer should examine. Stadlen took Freud’s recommendation seriously, applying it to Freud’s own paradigmatic case studies as well as to those of Binswanger, Klein, Layard, Fordham, Boss, Laing and Esterson. In tonight’s talk, he will describe how his historical detective work – to trace the real subjects of these case studies, their families and social milieux – led him to unsettling findings. While some of these so-called ‘therapists’ appear to have helped some of their so-called ‘patients’, this was often despite rather than because of the therapist’s theories. In other cases, the therapist’s theories so distorted his or her perception of human reality as to offer a paradigm of how not to relate to a client. It became questionable whether there is – or ever could be – a body of ‘theory’ which psychotherapists can ‘apply’ to their own practice. Theory in the original (Greek) sense means contemplation of practice. Practice comes first. The writings, and even some of the theories, of the great psychotherapists can deepen one’s understanding, but can they, strictly speaking, be ‘applied’?

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