In defence of loose ends: Psychotherapy process research in the real world

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New Ideas in Psychology


Understanding what transpires in therapeutic conversations is as complex as the humans who are engaged in them. Inspired by the natural sciences, mainstream research in psychotherapy has taken up a positivist epistemology and strives for quantification and verification to produce evidence of the effectiveness of an approach. This paper explores an alternative foundation for therapeutic practices which has implications for how we do research. First, we present some ideas from process philosophy and dialogical perspectives. In particular we return to the ideas of Henri Bergson who understood change as consisting of interpenetrated continuous and shifting states. In a next step we briefly look into how such ideas have influenced what is referred to as dialogical practices. Such dialogical practices operate through facilitating polyphonic, diverse perspectives that may mediate change in and through an intersubjective process of becoming. Based on this we take another step and make some suggestions for how we may develop research that enables ways of exploring therapeutic conversations as a multi-voiced, interactional and unfinalized process. We offer by way of example a method by which we attempt to integrate a linguistic theory (Systemic functional linguistics) with the dialogical framework and the ideas of Bergson. This paper considers how process philosophy may offer an alternative to the seeking of certainty that occurs in both psychotherapy research and practice, and ideas for making space for the ‘loose ends’ of the inconsistent and the unknown.

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