Theory versus Understanding in Psychotherapy

John M. Heaton


In the 20th century psychotherapy is supposed to have made huge advances; these
advances have been made under the banner of theory - psychoanalysis, analytic
psychology, Kleinian theory, object relations theory, Lacanian theory, Rogerian
theory, cognitive psychology and so on all have a theoretical base.Psychotherapists
are divided into many schools and the name of the school usually depicts the theory
that defines it; and the practice is supposed to derive from the theory. The theories
are mostly modelled on those of the natural sciences; having a theory is supposed to
give the school a badge of scientific respectability. Now much of the Philosophical
Investigations is devoted to exposing the conceptual confusions that are involved in
creating a 'science of the mind'; for such an undertaking presupposes a picture of
mental states and processes and the notion of a mental apparatus all of which
Wittgenstein is concerned to undercut. The 'anatomy' of the mental apparatus, for
example, is absolutely central to psychoanalytic theory; it is what the theory is
about. To quote Wittgenstein: '..we may not advance any kind of theory. There must
not be anything hypothetical in our considerations. We must do away with all
explanation, and description alone must take its place. And this description gets its
light, that is to say its purpose, from the philosophical problems. These are , of
course, not empirical problems; they are solved, rather, by looking into the workings
of our language, and that in such a way as to make us recognise those workings: in
spite of an urge to misunderstand them (Wittgenstein 1958 §109). I want to show that
there is a way of thinking about psychotherapy which avoids theory and follows
Wittgenstein's advice, so I will first give a brief example and then go on to discuss
it and contrast it with the psychoanalytic approach.


philosophy; 20th century philosophy; Wittgenstein Ludwig; theory; understanding; psychoanalysis; symptom

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