Posted by: captainfalcon | August 15, 2010

Psychotherapy: A Research Program

We are all occasional psychotherapists, insofar as we all periodically attempt to improve others’ affective sets (which are constituted by dispositions, desires, and feelings). We use various means in our efforts to effect such an improvement. They fall under two headings: deliberative and non-deliberative.

The deliberative therapies involve argumentation: we try to persuade another that he has (or doesn’t have) a particular affective element, and that it would be better were he to lose (or acquire) it. Or we try to persuade another of something else – that some evaluation is right or wrong – on the assumption that a change in his evaluative set will cause a change (for the better) in his affective set.

We also use various non-deliberative means – we have them undertake an activity, or we subject them to a regimen (ranging from drugs to music to a run) – on the assumption that there are activities (or practices, or undertakings) the doing of which (or the subjecting of oneself to which) will cause a change (for the better) in someone’s affective set.


What I’ve just written suggests a series of questions, some of which have been explored others of which have been (I think) neglected. The questions include: (1) Are the psychological sets that psychotherapists aim to improve actually constituted by dispositions, desires and feelings? (Do any of those concepts need further explication?) (2) How do we (as opposed to how should we*) decide what element(s) of a person’s psychological set are causing them harm? How do we think of those elements? Are they things with propositional contents? If so, what are their propositional contents, and (relatedly) how do we articulate them (do we use metaphor, abstraction (what type), etc.?) (3) How do we decide what sort of therapy (and what particular therapy) to use? (4) Relatedly, is my typology of the different sorts of therapy from which we select good, or does it overlook certain commonly deployed (sorts of) therapies? Finally, (5) Are there other interesting questions that I’ve neglected to list?

The foregoing series of questions invites an additional series. First, why care? (The answer, I repeat, is that we are all occasional psychotherapists, and, moreover, most of us treat our psychotherapeutic endeavors as something of great importance. Giving advice and consolation is, we think, a significant part of our social existence. Insofar as we want to understand how we operate, then, we should want a good account of “folk-psychotherapy.”) Second, and very finally, has such an account been attempted?

*The normative questions are also interesting, but people move to them too quickly. And answering them is, practically, an exercise in futility, because our actual therapeutic practices aren’t going to radically change (e.g. in response to a methodological objection to psychotherapy tout court).


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