Sorry, But Your Form of Psychotherapy Just Died

Well, some might say so. A New York Times op-ed piece today essentially about the clash between science and religion, titled: “The Neural Buddhists”. In parts of the article, you could substitute ideas relating to “psychotherapy” or “psychotherapists” — particularly for those operating from an psychoanalytic psychotherapy perspective — where you find ideas pertaining to “religion”. In general, psychology is torn between those that take the neuroscience view of the mind, and those that are more interested in subjective experience. Some of that struggle, from the point of view of those focussed on subjective experience, is exemplified here:

Over the past several years, the momentum has shifted away from hard-core materialism. The brain seems less like a cold machine. It does not operate like a computer. Instead, meaning, belief and consciousness seem to emerge mysteriously from idiosyncratic networks of neural firings. Those squishy things called emotions play a gigantic role in all forms of thinking. Love is vital to brain development.

Another quote from the article explores some of the subjective experiences of being human, particularly the sense of self:

First, the self is not a fixed entity but a dynamic process of relationships. Second, underneath the patina of different religions, people around the world have common moral intuitions. Third, people are equipped to experience the sacred, to have moments of elevated experience when they transcend boundaries and overflow with love.

Here, substitute “mysticism” with psychotherapy. Substitute “orthodox believers” for psychoanalysts, psychodynamic therapists, or even therapists in general:

In unexpected ways, science and mysticism are joining hands and reinforcing each other. That’s bound to lead to new movements that emphasize self-transcendence but put little stock in divine law or revelation. Orthodox believers are going to have to defend particular doctrines and particular biblical teachings. They’re going to have to defend the idea of a personal God, and explain why specific theologies are true guides for behavior day to day. I’m not qualified to take sides, believe me. I’m just trying to anticipate which way the debate is headed. We’re in the middle of a scientific revolution. It’s going to have big cultural effects.

The point about a scientific revolution and its cultural effects is well worth noting, and not to be underestimated. The pendulum has swung so far to the direction of scientific reductionism that certain aspects of subjective experience are neglected. There’s a lot more the op-ed and takes just a minute or two to read. Check it out, here.

Kalea Chapman, Psy.D.


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Clinical Psychologist practicing in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles, California.

2 thoughts on “Sorry, But Your Form of Psychotherapy Just Died”

  1. Actually, to be honest, I’d say that MANY aspects of subjective experience are ignored… to the point that more “scientifically-based” therapies like CBT try to blindly apply a set of fairly rigid treatment concepts, and if they don’t work the therapists either declare you as untreatable or doggedly persist in applying the methods, believing that they MUST work since all those studies have shown they must.


  2. I’m sure you don’t want to hear this but it seems to me that science is becoming a little more Jungian. This could have been written by him:
    “First, the self is not a fixed entity but a dynamic process of relationships. ”
    So could everything else. This is old news. Jung was writing about this in the 50’s but it was not based on empirical evidence. “Psyche IS matter and vice-versa”. It’s a scientific revolution that happenned years ago.


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