reactions sought to key ideas from Cushman's new book

Wed, 20 Mar 1996 11:55:01 -0500 (EST)

I am working on a review of Philip Cushman's CONSTRUCTING THE SELF,
Not being a therapist, I would be interested in how some of you who are therapists, in
particular, react to several of Cushman's main ideas--i.e., (1) His idea of a three-person
psychology, with the associated idea of making use of a simplified version of Heidegger's
concept of the "clearing" in therapy and (2) his claim that modern therapy, particularly
following the lead of Melanie Klein's brand of object relations theory, has unintentionally
come into a state of collusion with capitalism, such that it seeks to assuage the "empty self"
that capitalism has created teaching it to consume emotional objects, identities, etc, thus,
without meaning to, helping to perpetuate and even strengthen the capitalist order.

Cushman does not develop the concept of a three-person psychology in much detail.
Here is one of the key passages on it:

Philosophical hermeneuticists draw our attention to the historical and
cultural and thus to the moral implication and political functions of various
discourses and practices. An awareness of these implications could move
psychotherapy toward adopting a more comprehensive hermeneutic perspective,
which I propose we name "three-person psychology," in keeping with the
current one-person/two person designation. The third player i refer to is the
ever present, interpenetrating social realm. By "three-ness" I intend to convey
that the individual, the dialogic partner, and the historical-cultural context are
inextricably intertwined, that moral understandings are a foundational aspect of
a culture, and that our discipline needs to be concerned with how various
psychotherapy theories affect political structures and activities. By
emphasizing the "givenness" of the cultural terrain and the powerful
psychological processes that, outside our awareness, reproduce features of that
terrain, philosophical hermeneutics demystifies psychopathology and grants a
certain respect and efficacy to persons that is sometimes lost in other terrains.
In other words, hermeneutics argues that there are two types of healers.
One type scrutinizes and owns up to the political consequences of therapy, and
the second avoids that task and pretends that therapy is apolitical. (350-351)

Cushman borrows the concepts of the horizon and the clearing from Gadamer and
Heidegger. He says that gradually he has begun using these concepts in therapy as a way of
combating the unsituated interiority (my term) that he attributes to most contemporary
theory. The following is the last passage on the latter:
The task, in psychotherapy, is to confront our thrownness, discover
experientially and cognitively how we cooperate in constructing the world the
way we do, more fully experience the consequences of that construction,
explore whether we want to continue constructing it, conceive of alternative
configurations, and then develop ways of letting a different world emerge. I
do not mean that this process is solely or even predominantly rational,
calculating, cognitive, or conscious. I do not mean that this process is even
entirely possible--the concept of the clearing implies not only the potential for
change but also the very real limitations of givenness. but perhaps there is also
a place for thinking and choosing, for will as well as feeling; a place for hope
as well as resignation and compromise.

I would appreciate comments. (I'll be in town until Thursday morning and then back
Sunday night; in the interim, I won't have access to e-mail.)

Best wishes,

Rick Clewett