3 June 2016
Title: Therapy and the Counter-tradition: The edge of philosophy
Editors: Manu Bazzano & Julie Webb
Publisher: Routledge Date: 2016 Price: £31.99 pp.199
This is an unusual book, introducing us to the ways in which Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Keats, Sartre, Rousseau, Camus, Deleuze, Mzerleau-Ponty, Irigary, Wittgenstein, Buddhism and many others relate somehow to psychotherapy. All these people are described as “natural accomplices in offering inspiring, bold and colourful narrative on the enigma, grandeur and ambiguity of being human”.
The book starts off with an enthusiastic blast on Nietzsche from Manu Bazzano. But as it goes on, it gets more and more convoluted and wordy, and in the end becomes virtually unreadable. At any rate I found it hard to read, and I am pretty familiar with Nietzsche - and Hegel, who he also quotes.
The next chapter is about Kierkegaard, and is by John Lippitt. This is very different - clear, lucid, readable, and a very attractive take on Kierkegaard, filled with a real understanding of what he is on about. This is worth anyone’s attention who is interested in the human condition.
Then comes a lovely chapter by Diana Voller, on John Keats and his notion of ‘negative capability’. This is a very important idea in therapy, meaning the abandonment of all ideas of certainty. To be unsure is the utmost wisdom for any therapist, and Voller deals with this issue with great care and subtlety.
Chapter 4 is by Nick Duffell, and deals with D H Lawrence. Again he makes the link with therapy, this time not quite so convincingly, in my opinion.
The next chapter is by Subhaga Gaetano Failla, an Italian, and is all about Blaise Pascal. This is brief, and a bit poetic, and I could not really see the connection with therapy, or indeed philosophy.
Then comes a chapter by Julie Webb, all about Judith Butler, who is of course much more up to date than any of the others mentioned so far, and is a feminist of some fame and standing. I found this chapter more relevant than any of those previous, and worth reading, even though quite challenging.
In the next chapter, Richard Pearce examines Jean-Paul Sartre. This is, I would say, an excellent chapter, which gives a real sense of what Sartre is saying and its relevance to therapy.
Then we come to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, examined by Federico Battistutta. I did not find this very helpful, or very relevant to therapy, and I am not sure why it was included.
And now, a chapter by James Belassie about Albert Camus. I found this too short to be really useful or informative. Six pages does not really enable us to come to terms with a profound writer like Camus.
In Part 3, Bazzano tackles Gilles Deleuze, again a more recent writer. I found this a bit confusing and not very helpful.
And now we come to Maurice Merleau-Ponty as described by Paul Gordon - at last someone directly relevant to therapy, and much discussed in existentialist circles. This I found really relevant, and useful, well worth a read.
Chapter 12, by Eugenia Lapteva, is quite different. It is quite original, and starts off with the words: “Today, if you were to enter the word ‘selfie’ into the hashtag bar on your Instagram account, you or may not find yourself quite as astonished as I was to discover that there are nearly two hundred sixteen million photographs with the hashtag selfie posted on just one social media app.” She goes on to cover a wide range of thoughts, quoting Derrida, Blanchot, and others in a very modern way - although I could not see much relevance to therapy in any of it.
In the next brief chapter we are with Federico Battistutta again, this time talking about Luce Irigaray. He focuses on her later work, where she becomes deeply interested in Yoga and Buddhism. Again I did not find here much of interest to the therapist.
And so to Part 4, where we meet Ludwig Wittgenstein, with the help of Julie Webb again, who does make a real effort to say things that are relevant to the therapist. I liked it when she said: “Puzzlement seems to me to be a kind of wonder that is continually making anew, and it is this attitude that keeps me engaged in my work as a therapist; an attitude, which I feel is also an acknowledgement, of the wonder that I exist at all, not as a series of problems to be solved but as flesh and blood in the process of becoming human.”
Next we come to Schopenhauer, as seen by John Mackessy. This is one of the longer chapters, and the author really does make an effort which pays off, to show the relevance of this philosopher to the therapeutic mission.
And so we return to Wittgenstein, this time specifically related to Buddhism and to psychotherapy. It was well worth while to return to this writer, it seems to me, and this chapter is certainly relevant to the therapist.
The final chapter is by Devang Vaidya, and is all about fate.
To sum up, this book has much fascinating material in it, but is probably not to be tackled by the faint-hearted. It is very uneven, both in the length of the chapters and in the depth of the thinking. It was nice to see a book about therapy which was not dominated by the psychoanalysts: several of the writers here call themselves humanistic or person-centred.