RE: Cushman's book - a review
Wed, 27 Mar 1996 10:08:54 EST

Lois Shawver writes the following about P. Cushman's book entitled
> Cushman, P. Constructing the Self, Constructing America:
> A Cultural History of Psychotherapy. Addison-Wesley
> Publishing Co. 1995.

>In this book, Phil Cushman deconstructs the concept of the self into
>multiple voices as many people do today. I like this new postmodern
>metaphor of the mind containing multiple voices, and I often use it

>To my mind, Cushman wants to say that because the self can be
>deconstructed into fragments, other voices, memories, ambitions, and so
>forth, individual people do not deserve our respect as therapists. Since
>the self as a unified center is a fiction, so the argument goes, then we
>do not need to concern ourselves with our patients' individual desires and
>miseries. And since each person is each constructed in a network of people,
>through the political structuring of our society, what we need to concern
>ourselves with in the therapy hour is the health of this network and its
>political structure.

These points are exemplified by the following quotes:

> Could the culprit be a sociopolitical system that is structured
> in such a way so as to deprive the majority of the population
> of the emotional guidance and security provisions it needs...
> And by doing so [treating client's individual problems] are we
> preventing our patients from understanding the political nature
> of their distress and challenging the political structures that
> cause it? (p. 349)

Then Shawver writes:

>In contrast to Cushman, I believe that psychologists should champion their
>beliefs about social practices in the public forum, not in the therapy
>forum. I believe the fragmented self is as much a fiction as is the
>unified self. Both are constructions of language that highlight some
>aspects of experience and distract from others. Moreover, I believe that
>appreciation of the metaphor of a fragmented self does not require us to
>think of therapy as an arena for political enlightenment and that it is
>better if we do not switch to thinking of therapy as a form of political
>But why do I think this? My difficulty in explaining this is disturbing
>to me. Why do I think that the therapist should not turn the therapy
>session into political indoctrination of a sort that the therapist thinks
>will foster a better world? A simple answer like "it would betray the
>trust of the patient" is not good enough. Its a circular answer. Why
>shouldn't we be utiliarians here and be willng to sacrifice the good of
>the patient for the good of the many? On the grounds that the benefits
>of society will come back to the patient in the long run?
I found Shawver's comments to be quite thought-provoking. I agree
entirely with Shawver's assertion that "the fragmented self is as much a
fiction as is the unified self. Both are constructions of language that
highlight some aspects of experience and distract from others." As we
engage the postmodern debate about the nature of self, we can see the value
of conceptualizing the self in its multiplicity, but we need not throw out
the baby with the bathwater. In my mind, even though it is useful to
conceive of our selves as fragmented, this does not mean that people do not
make efforts to achieve some degree of unity or identity. I believe that
persons function as "coordinators of experience" -- that is, psychological
development is, in part, a process of coordinating the fragments of our
behavior and experience into increasingly integrated stuctures. And so,
within the din of fragmentation, the person as agent can work toward and
achieve some degree of identity. The self is not a random collection of

If we assume that humans are agents who can work toward some stability
of identity even in the context of fragmentation, then we cannot dispense
with "the individual" as a category of thinking. And as such, we must
continue to respect the individual, individual rights, etc. in our moral
deliberation. And this includes the therapy session. Cushman overextends
his case (I have not read him) when he speaks of "the political nature
of [client's] distress". To be sure the client's distress is *embedded in*
political processes, but it is neither defined nor determined by it. To
speak of the "political nature of distress" is as reductionistic as
speaking a singular or unified self or any other single cause. My point is
that we cannot "be utiliarians here and be willng to sacrifice the good of
the patient for the good of the many" because even though the patient's
distress is embedded in political orders, individuals exist and must
continue to be respected (Is this an argument for Kant over Bentham?).

Michael F. Mascolo
Department of Psychology
Merrimack College