I few months ago I was invited to write a chapter for a book being published on the topic of critical psychotherapy, counseling and psychoanalysis. I’ve begun working on it this week and am at that early stage in writing (for me) where something is emerging, but I don’t know what. The editors of the book, two British psychologists, frame the volume as an inquiry into whether critical psychology and psychiatry are too distant from the therapeutic professions to have an impact—thus, the need for critical psychotherapy, counseling and psychoanalysis.
I see this book as an attempt to bring critical intellectual debate and alternative practices closer together, something I welcome. My contribution will invite readers to move from the critical to the practical-critical, the hallmark of social therapy (first articulated nearly 36 years ago by Fred Newman in his 1978 monograph Practical-Critical Activity). He, and we at the Institute, Social Therapy Group and the broader development community (clearly ahead of our time) have been practical-critical all these years—creating independent (anti-)institutions that support people to themselves create independent (anti-)institutions that help them develop, meet their needs and create new needs. The working title for my chapter is “Relating to People as Revolutionaries: Being/Becoming Practical-Critical,” and I’ve begun it by sharing how we relate to all people as revolutionaries, which means relating to them as social beings engaged in the life/history-making process of always becoming. Relating as anything else—as only products or victims of a sick society, for example—is ultimately accommodating to the world as it is, regardless of how passionately critical and well intentioned it may be.
This book isn’t the only attempt by psychologists and therapists to bring critique and practice together. About 200 people gathered in Norway in June at Beyond the Therapeutic State: Collaborative Practices for Individual and Social Change , organized by Ken Gergen and other social constructionists. Several colleagues with whom I’ve worked in various collaborations participated, as well as my dear friend and colleague Christine LaCerva (director of the Social Therapy Group) who, along with Institute alum and practicing psychologist Pal Carlin, led a workshop. A dominant sentiment at the conference was the urgent need to build a movement.
And this coming week, I’ll participate in the Global Summit on Diagnostic Alternatives sponsored by the Society for Humanistic Psychology, Division 32 of the American Psychological Association taking place in Washington, DC. The goal of the meeting is to develop more humane diagnostic alternatives to the DSM. The invited participants have quite diverse opinions, including mine (seeking alternatives to diagnosis) and come from a variety of orientations and perspectives. I’m looking forward to a very lively conversation!