The Politics of Experience – R. D. Laing, 1967


Title: In search of the others in the fog

Photo credit: Broo_am (Andy B) via / CC BY-ND

R.D. Laing – Penguin Books, 1967

p. 45.  “Psychotherapy must remain an obstinate attempt of two people to recover the wholeness of being human through the relationship between them.

Any technique concerned with the other without the self, with behaviour to the exclusion of experience, with the relationship to the neglect of the persons in the relation, with the individuals to the exclusion of their relationship, and most of all, with an object-to-be-changed rather than a person-to-be-accepted, simply perpetuates the disease it purports to cure.

And any theory not founded on the nature of being human is a lie and a betrayal of man.  An inhuman theory will inevitably lead to inhuman consequences – if the therapist is consistent.  Fortunately, many therapists have the gift of inconsistency.  This, however, endearing, cannot be regarded as ideal.

We are not concerned with the interaction of two objects, nor with their transactions within a dyadic system; we are not concerned with the communication patterns within a system comprising two computer-like sub-systems that receive and process input, and emit out-going signals.  Our concern is with two origins of experience in relation.

Behaviour can conceal or disclose experience.  I devoted a book, The Divided Self, to describing some versions of the split between experience and behaviour.  And both experience and behaviour are themselves fragmented in a myriad of different ways.  This is so even when enormous efforts are made to apply a veneer of consistency over the cracks.

I suggest the reason for this confusion lies in the meaning of Heidegger’s phrase, The Dreadful has already happened.  

Psychotherapists are specialists, in human relations.  But the Dreadful has already happened.  It has happened to us all.  The therapists, too, are in a world in which the inner is already split from the outer.  The inner does not become the outer, and the outer become inner, just by the re-discovery of the ‘inner’ world.  That is only the beginning.  As a whole generation of [people], we are so estranged from the inner world that there are many arguing that it does not exist; and that even if it does exist, it does not matter.  Even if it has some significance, it is not the hard stuff of science, and if it is not, then let’s make it hard.  Let it be measured and counted.  Quantify the heart’s agony and ecstasy in a world in which, when the inner world is first discovered, we are liable to find ourselves bereft and derelict.  For without the inner the outer loses its meaning and without the outer the inner loses its substance.

… When The Dreadful has already happened, we can hardly expect other than that The Thing will echo externally the destruction already wrought internally.

We are all implicated in this state of affairs of alienation.  This context is decisive for the whole practice of psychotherapy.

The psychotherapeutic relationship is therefore a re-search.  A search, constantly re-asserted and re-constituted for what we have all lost, and which some can perhaps endure a little more easily than others, as some people can stand a lack of oxygen better than others, and this re-search is validated by the shared experience of experience regained in and through the therapeutic relationship in the here and now.  

True, in the enterprise of psychotherapy there are regularities, even institutional structures, pervading the sequence, rhythm and tempo of the therapeutic situation viewed as process, and these can and should be studied with scientific objectivity.  But the really decisive moments in psychotherapy, as every patient or therapist who has experienced them knows, are unpredictable, unique, unforgettable, always unrepeatable, and often indescribable.  Does this mean that psychotherapy must be a pseudo-esoteric cult?  No.

We must continue to struggle through our confusion, to insist on being human.”


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