The artistry of psychotherapy

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Some consider psychotherapy to be an application of science, but others claim it is an art. Although the science of psychotherapy demands evidence-based practice, the artistry of psychotherapy requires an aesthetic sensitivity. The therapist-as-artist subjectively senses its form and contributes to its creation in relationship with the client, who, doing a corresponding piece of artistry, also contributes to its process. As such, Gerald Corey, in his survey of psychotherapeutic approaches, stated that psychotherapy “is a process of engagement between two people, both of whom are bound to change through the therapeutic venture. At its best, this is a collaborative process that involves both the therapist and the client in co-constructing solutions to concerns …"

Corsini and Wedding, in the 8th edition of their book surveying a number of approaches to psychotherapy, claimed that any form of psychotherapy is a learning process that concerns the way people think, feel, and act. They considered psychotherapy to be a method of learning. As such, psychotherapy is intended to make people think differently (cognition), to make them feel differently (affection), and to make them act differently (behaviour).

Psychotherapy entails a unique pairing. That is, the process and the experience are not identical and transferable between one therapist and another, or between one client and another. While manuals can delineate procedures leading to uniformity of practice, no two therapists using such manuals will conduct themselves in exactly the same way, every time, for each and every client.

There is a way in which one person draws another out, turns another on, turns another off, or sends another into retreat. It is not that such a person intends to do something like this to the other; it is a by-product of the way they interact with one another, in the specific settings in which they find themselves, and with the specific extra-therapeutic factors that affect each one of them. For psychotherapy to work there must be “chemistry” between the therapist and the client; they must “click” with one another. They must establish contact and build a relationship.

People tell their therapists things they would never tell anyone else, and that is the way it’s supposed to be. The therapist is the trusted confidant, but not just that; the therapist is trusted for his or her ethical stance (being trustworthy as a person with altruistic values) and for his or her competence as a professional (as a psychotherapist).

The word "psychotherapy" is a compound formed from two Greek words: psych and therapeu. Psych means "soul”. There are two Greek words associated with curing or healing, and one of them is found in the compound — therapeu, meaning "heal" or "cure”. On that basis alone the compound refers to a process that heals the soul, with “soul” being a more general term that in many places is best translated as “person”. There was another word that would indicate mind (nous); so, it is probably best to retain the more general sense of person for psyche and allow the association of mindfulness with psychology to emerge at will. The other Greek word that is worth considering is iaomai. While therapeu originally meant to serve a superior, and to cure that person of various ills, iaomai was the more direct word for healing, and its result was a person who became hugis, or healthy or whole. Iaomai included healings and cures from physical and psychological ills. Thus, the implication in the compound "psychotherapy" is that the therapist serves the client for the purpose of healing that person and rendering him or her healthy, sensible, and of sound mind.

With these things in view consider Jesus as psychotherapist. For some that would be an oxymoron, because they consider psychotherapy and religion to be opposite one another, with no place available in religious thinking or practice for psychology — the study of the soul. Obviously, I am not one of those people. Consequently, I often see scripture through the eyes of a psychotherapist, through the eyes of someone who has listened to the way people really are, the secrets they keep from others, and as someone who has witnessed the anguish they experience in trying to live among other people as well as the exhilaration and excitement they experience on the occasion of an intimacy.

Jesus sat down with a woman he met at a well outside a dusty town in Palestine. He asked her for some water and then he told her that she was living with a man outside of marriage and had been married several times before. She was astounded, and she ran away to the townspeople saying, “Come see a man who told me all about myself”. Now, the point here is not that Jesus, as psychotherapist, exercised omniscience and knew facts about his “client” that she had not revealed. The interesting thing to me is the effect of being with Jesus. She described Him as a man who told her ALL ABOUT herself. Her experience was not the level of the facts of her life, as a category description of how many times she had been married. Her experience was that Jesus had gone to the kind of person she was, and with just a few facts stated openly between them, she got in touch with who she believed herself to be — as a person. Jesus had touched her soul.

This, to me, is the privilege of being a psychotherapist. I am involved in touching people’s souls, and there is healing in that. Research on psychotherapy has shown that significant healing comes directly from the quality of the psychotherapeutic relationship. This is contact between two people AS PEOPLE. This is not one person playing a professional role in order to do something helpful to the other one. On the other hand, no psychotherapist is omniscient, and so there are skills involved in promoting the self-revelation of the client. With such increasing awareness, people learn more about what they do and how they do it, and there is a beauty to this process — a good form to it that can be promoted, perceived, and appreciated. In fact, a skilled psychotherapist will do just that, bringing together the science of psychotherapy with its artistry.

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Published Jan 8, 2013 at 10:11 am (Updated Jan 8, 2013 at 10:10 am)

The artistry of psychotherapy

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