Festival of reification

I am continuing with my read of Rowan’s very interesting 2010 book Personification: Using the Dialogical Self in Psychotherapy and Counselling. I was particularly impressed with the piece about reification. Reification is that process by which we take a theoretical concept and turn it into a real thing. 

For instance, Rowan mentions the example of Kohut (1984, p55) who had criticised the reification inherent in Freud’s tripartite model. Freud had written in a way where there were such a thing as the ego, and, therefore, there could be no questioning of such a concept, and so no room for Kohut’s idea of the self. Kohut had articulated a concept of self, and referred to “deficits” in it, and this was the central component of self-psychology. Freud, on the other hand, saw superego, ego, id and oedipal conflicts as central to his theory of personality development.

We hear similar stuff every day in psychotherapy circles when people often seek to solve a presenting issue within a few minutes of hearing about a client. Reification is the way in which we can take a theoretical construct such as the schizoid position and start to treat it as if it were a real thing. This is very common in teaching and learning communities where some think they have the truth and often discussions are little more than a festival of reification. If someone said that that there may be no such thing as the schizoid position, anyone who thought it was a real thing would be unable to hear that, or accept it. That would amount to falling into the trap of objectivism.

Whenever there is one view in groups, I am often left wondering what is the opposing view?  Take depression as an example. If we take something like depression as a real thing, rather than as a way of describing certain processes in certain contexts, we run into the danger of embracing objectivism.  This may also be referred to as “the myth of the given” (Wilber 2000, p. 163). I believe that we are on safer ground if we refer to a truth rather than the truth. I like this thinking and critical assessment of psychotherapeutic practice as I need to remind myself every time I am sitting with a client that theory or indeed counselling approach does not represent the truth. I may be a skilled facilitator but not the fountain of wisdom there to provide interpretation.

I agree with Rowan when he says that he likes to question the whole idea of one truth, one true belief, one answer to any psychological question. The answer is always multiple, always provisional, always questionable.