Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Radhika Santhanam-Martin - Othering Spaces: Uses of Alterity in Psychotherapy Training and Practice

"A hermeneutic approach ... sees interpretation emerging from the shared search for understanding. Unless jointly authored, it is really misinterpretation and misunderstanding. In other words, understandings are not conveyed from one mind into another but emerge from conversation and are thus felt as truthful." ~ Donna Orange, The Suffering Stranger - The Divine Conspiracy, p. 25
Dr Radhika Santhanam-Martin is a clinical psychologist who works in the field of trauma. She has completed a postdoctoral fellowship in transcultural mental health; a PhD in developmental neuropsychology; an MPhil in medical and social psychology; Masters in clinical psychology and Bachelors in philosophy.

The talk below was given at ASI2014: The Politics of Diversity: Pluralism, Multiculturalism and Mental Health at the Advanced Studies Institute of McGill University (June 2-4, 2014, Montreal, Québec, CA).

The talk builds on the recognition that positive (inclusionary) and negative (exclusionary) practices of Othering regularly occur in therapy, and addresses the juxtaposition of the inevitability and persistence of strangeness with our need to be related to the familiar. To illustrate these issues, she uses Donna Orange’s framework contrasting the hermeneutics of suspicion and hermeneutics of trust.

From Wikipedia, a concise definition of alterity:
Alterity is a philosophical term meaning "otherness", strictly being in the sense of the other of two (Latin alter). In the phenomenological tradition it is usually understood as the entity in contrast to which an identity is constructed, and it implies the ability to distinguish between self and not-self, and consequently to assume the existence of an alternative viewpoint. The concept was established by Emmanuel Lévinas in a series of essays, collected under the title Alterity and Transcendence (1999[1970]). 
The term is also deployed outside of philosophy, notably in anthropology by scholars such as Nicholas Dirks, Johannes Fabian, Michael Taussig and Pauline Turner Strong to refer to the construction of "cultural others."
Below, I have included some text from Donna Orange's book, The Suffering Stranger - briefer definitions of the hermeneutics of suspicion and the hermeneutics of trust.

Radhika Santhanam-Martin - Othering Spaces: Uses of Alterity in Psychotherapy Training and Practice (ASI 2014)

Published on Aug 11, 2014

Othering occurs in everyday human encounters and may be playful or violent, normative or transgressive. In ordinary social contexts, othering may be “invisible” yet have profound effects for identity, health, and well-being. The deliberate use of othering is a feature of many forms of psychotherapy, in which people are made to feel like strangers to themselves, social marking and exclusion are made visible, and the initial alienation of the clinical encounter gives way over time to a deepening mutuality. This paper explores the Othering process using a therapeutic-philosophical lens. Building on the recognition that positive or inclusionary and negative or exclusionary practices of Othering regularly occur in therapy and training contexts, we will address the juxtaposition of the inevitability and persistence of strangeness with our need to be related to the familiar. To illustrate these issues, we use Donna Orange’s framework contrasting the hermeneutics of suspicion and hermeneutics of faith. Vignettes drawn from clinical and training settings will demonstrate how Othering processes organize and develop in a network of conversations and how they get enacted and embodied. We argue for the need to hold both these hermeneutic positions (doubt and trust), in order to ethically respond to and respect the face of the Other.
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This discussion of the hermeneutics of suspicion and the hermeneutics of trust is from Donna Orange's The Suffering Stranger - The Divine Conspiracy, p. 26-35


Paul Ricoeur (1913–2005), the most important French philosopher of hermeneutics, contributed a famous distinction in his Freud and Philosophy (Ricoeur, 1970). Believing the field of hermeneutics “at war” with itself, divided primarily between psychoanalysis and the phenomenology of religion, he described what he called a hermeneutics of suspicion and a hermeneutics of faith or restoration of meaning. “Hermeneutics seems to me to be animated by this double motivation: willingness to suspect, willingness to listen; vow of rigor, vow of obedience” (p. 27). The “school of suspicion” included Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud, “the three great destroyers.” By suspicion he meant not so much interpreting down or disparagingly, reading people’s motives as if they were up to no good, but rather looking for motives behind a theory’s claims to meaning: impulses, class interests, will to power. What Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud had in common was “the decision to look upon the whole of consciousness primarily as ‘false’ consciousness” (p. 33). Nevertheless, they were not skeptics, according to Ricoeur, but liberators. More precisely, these 19th-century [1] “masters of suspicion” set out to, in Ricoeur’s words, “clear the horizon for a more authentic word, for a new reign of Truth, not only by means of a ‘destructive’ critique, but by the invention of an art of interpreting” (p. 33). “Beginning with them, understanding is hermeneutics: henceforward, to seek meaning is no longer to spell out the consciousness of meaning but to decipher its expressions” (p. 33). In the case of Freud, we see this method not only in his case studies but most explicitly in his Negation (1925), where he taught us to read every statement of a patient as meaning the opposite of what the person consciously intended to say. With Habermas, Ricoeur was the philosopher most responsible for making psychoanalysts conscious of our work and theory as hermeneutic.

But Ricoeur also made the style of the master of suspicion, including his clever psychoanalyst, clear: “The man of suspicion carries out in reverse the work of falsification of the man of guile” (p. 34). He continued, “Freud entered the problem of false consciousness via the double road of dreams and neurotic symptoms; his working hypothesis has the same limits as his angle of attack, which was … an economics of instincts” (p. 33). In other words, Freud’s hermeneutics, his theory of meaning, assumes that consciousness always disguises and negates the truth. He therefore had to approach the patient via a tangled theory of underlying and hidden motives, what Ricoeur called a “mediate science of meaning” (p. 33). There could be no direct human-to-human contact. The school of suspicion assumes that the interpreter always faces primarily an effort not to reveal but to conceal. The hermeneut needs, therefore, what Ricoeur called a “double guile” in the attempt to outwit and unmask the motivated falsehoods and deception. What the interpreter seeks to uncover will be unconscious or at least latent. The hermeneut need assume not malicious intent but motivated concealment and disguised meanings. “Guile will be met by double guile” (p. 34).

Ricoeur believed that Freud, and the whole psychoanalytic enterprise as he understood it, clearly belonged to this hermeneutic tradition and that this hermeneutics of suspicion made sense insofar as all truth, as Heidegger and other phenomenologists had taught us, is both a revealing and a concealing, that things are and are not what they seem, that every perspective conceals others. He also, with Habermas (1971), believed that psychoanalysis intended to liberate people and, therefore, that the demystification practiced in its school of suspicion was undoubtedly necessary. To be helpful, the interpreter had to be a skeptic and to teach the patient to be a skeptic. Although Frank Lachmann (2008) critiqued such skepticism, he described it well: “One looks underneath or behind a person’s actions to find the ‘real’ motivations. Behaviors that appear kind, generous, or perhaps even an expression of gratitude and appreciation actually conceal baser, unconscious motivations that are aggressive and narcissistic” (p. 4).

It seems to me that Ricoeur was clearly right about Freud. In his Negation (Freud, 1925), he wrote,

The manner in which our patients bring forward their associations during the work of analysis gives us an opportunity for making some interesting observations. “Now you’ll think I mean to say something insulting, but really I’ve no such intention.” We realize that this is a repudiation, by projection, of an idea that has just come up. Or: “You ask who this person in the dream can be. It’s not my mother.” We emend this to: “So it is his mother.” In our interpretation, we take the liberty of disregarding the negation and of picking out the subject-matter alone of the association. It is as though the patient had said: “It’s true that my mother came into my mind as I thought of this person, but I don’t feel inclined to let the association count.” (p. 235)
Thus the content of a repressed image or idea can make its way into consciousness, on condition that it is negated. Negation is a way of taking cognizance of what is repressed; indeed it is already a lifting of the repression, though not, of course, an acceptance of what is repressed. We can see how in this the intellectual function is separated from the affective process. (pp. 235–236)

This view of negation fits in very well with the fact that in analysis we never discover a “no” in the unconscious and that recognition of the unconscious on the part of the ego is expressed in a negative formula. There is no stronger evidence that we have been successful in our effort to uncover the unconscious than when the patient reacts to it with the words “I didn’t think that,” or “I didn’t (ever) think of that.” (p. 239)
Indeed, Freud’s entire dream interpretation method (Freud, 1900) assumes that dreams conceal their true meaning. In general, the patient remains, as does the analyst, an interlocutor who cannot be trusted. Nor does this untrustworthiness yield to a straightforward method like “bracketing” the natural attitude, suggested by Husserl for phenomenologists.
Ruthellen Josselson (2004), who has studied the implications of Ricoeur’s distinction for narrative research, quoted the player king in Hamlet:

I do believe you think what now you speak;
But what we do determine oft we break.
Purpose is but the slave to memory,
Of violent birth, but poor validity;
Which now, like fruit unripe, sticks on the tree;
But fall, unshaken, when they mellow be.
Most necessary ’tis that we forget
To pay ourselves what to ourselves is debt:
What to ourselves in passion we propose,
The passion ending, doth the purpose lose.
Conceding to Shakespeare, Freud, and Ricoeur that we are transparent neither to ourselves nor to each other and that we need always to be attentive to complexity of experience, let us consider for a moment some of the clinical costs of a full-on hermeneutics of suspicion. Above all, this suspicious, skeptical, and deconstructive attitude places us at a distance from our patient, and from our patient’s experience, objectifying the patient and reducing the patient’s experience to categories. Second, my clinical attitude may be teaching my patient to take this same attitude toward himself or herself. Third, if as a clinician I am too committed to the hermeneutics of suspicion, I will be distant from my own experience and skeptical toward it and thus less emotionally available to my patients and in turn more likely to approach them skeptically and with an attitude of veiled superiority.

The hermeneutics of suspicion also, as Josselson (2004) further noted, creates a kind of esotericism: “Nothing is assumed to be accidental … only those who accept the fundamental premises of psychoanalytic interpretative strategies and understand this orientation to reading signs will find these interpretations coherent and intelligible” (p. 14). One must be initiated into the special language and be accepted as among those “in the know,” among the experts. Even in the name of liberation, elites arise—think how difficult to read is the “theory” of many badly needed cultural and political critiques—speaking languages known only among the critics but meant to unmask the deceptions and pretensions of others. Traditional psychoanalysis has been like that, intending liberation but creating its own dogmatic systems and excommunications.[2] As an interpretative system, the school of suspicion directs its attention to the gaps—indeed Freud used these as his most important argument for the existence of the unconscious (Freud, 1915/1953)—inconsistencies, omissions, and contradictions in the patient’s story. The analyst may or may not be personally suspicious and may or may not intend to keep the patient on edge. But theoretically based assumptions that a question conceals a manipulation, that a gift hides a stratagem, that a “thank you” covers aggressive intentions, that expressions of attachment always hide sexual intentions do tend to keep patients at a distance from us. Even more contemporary assumptions based on more intersubjective and relational theories, where the patient becomes our opponent in a game of chess in which we always need to be anticipating the next moves, can encourage a strong hermeneutics of suspicion. At the very least, we see the other as an opponent who aims to defeat us.

Freud thought his theory of the unconscious justified his version of the hermeneutics of suspicion. Though suspicion may not be cynicism and may remain a part of a devoted search for truth, its pervasiveness in psychoanalysis has, in my view, been harmful to both patients and analysts. Taken alone or even predominantly, the school of suspicion is fundamentally pessimistic. It would take more time than I have here to argue for this view, so it must stand as an assumption for now.

Before I turn to the hermeneutics of trust, however, let me say also that I believe the hermeneutics of suspicion, demystification, and unmasking to be both important and unavoidable. This approach teaches us to notice political speech that hides oppression and discrimination. It also remains unavoidable in any psychoanalysis or psychotherapy attuned to complexity and depth in psychological life, where we “suspect” that more is going on than meets the eye. I will therefore most frequently refer, as did Ricoeur, to the “school of suspicion” to signify its pervasive or predominant use. But I will be showing that for a humanistic therapeutics, suspicion must always remain nested within a hermeneutics of trust, where it becomes transformed into the questioning and risking of prejudices within a dialogic process.


Ricoeur originally[3] had somewhat less to say about the hermeneutics of restoration or faith (Grondin, 1994), except to contrast it with the school of suspicion, where he principally located Freud. This school of “rational faith,” in the “very war of hermeneutics” (p. 56), belongs to the phenomenology of religion and seeks restoration of meaning. In Ricoeur’s (1970) own words,

The imprint of this faith is a care or concern for the object [the text or whatever one interprets] and a wish to describe and not to reduce it. … Phenomenology is its instrument of hearing, of recollection, or restoration of meaning. “Believe in order to understand, understand in order to believe”—such is its maxim; and its maxim is the “hermeneutic circle” itself of believing and understanding. (p. 28)
Ricoeur did not suggest that we should abandon the hermeneutics of suspicion for this hermeneutics of faith and restoration but rather concluded his discussion of the two by remarking on our perplexity in the face of “harsh hermeneutic discipline” (p. 56).

My own endeavor, however, departs from Ricoeur’s at this point while making continual use of it. Because I find an almost unmitigated and merciless hermeneutics of suspicion remaining, often unchallenged, both in psychoanalysis and in popular psychology, including tendencies to shame and blame the victim, I am suggesting that we attempt to describe—if not fully conceptualize—a hermeneutics of trust. My project probably would have proved unwelcome to Ricoeur, though I cannot be sure, because he seems not to have been acquainted much with contemporary trends in psychoanalysis. On the other hand, his friendship with Emmanuel Lévinas might have provided some interest in new forms of therapeutic response, as well as a source of the perplexity (always with Lévinas!) he himself acknowledged.

My own sense of a hermeneutics of trust finds its sources in my long reading of Hans-Georg Gadamer.[4] Gadamer scholar James Risser (1997) rightly reminds us that Ricoeur’s version of hermeneutics differs from Gadamer’s, which assumes a common world and seeks to find meaning within what Robert Dostal (1987) called “the world never lost.” A profound sense of belonging—belonging to world, belonging to conversation, belonging to tradition and history—pervades Gadamer’s philosophical hermeneutics:

There is always a world already interpreted, already organized into its basic relations, into which experience steps as something new, upsetting what has led to our expectations and undergoing reorganization itself in the upheaval. Misunderstanding and strangeness are not the first factors, so that avoiding misunderstanding can be regarded as the specific task of hermeneutics. Just the reverse is the case. Only the support of the familiar and common understanding makes possible the venture into the alien, and lifting up of something out of the alien, and thus the broadening and enrichment of our own experience of the world. (Gadamer, 1976, p. 13)
Schleiermacher’s dictum that misunderstanding should be expected has to be understood within the hermeneutics of trust, the hermeneutics in which we accord to the other the chance to teach us. Because we live with others in a common world, we risk entrusting ourselves to conversation with others within it and risk reaching out to relieve their suffering.

Gadamer himself, 20 years after Truth and Method and 10 years after Ricoeur’s Freud and Philosophy, wrote an essay titled “The Hermeneutics of Suspicion,” in which he refused the choice between suspicion and faith that Ricoeur had posed, as Ricoeur himself later did, too. Instead he claimed that all hermeneutics, his dialogic hermeneutics of understanding above all, consists of and depends on participation in a common world:

“Participation” is a strange word. Its dialectic [dialogic conversation in the Platonic sense] is not taking parts, but in a way taking the whole. Everybody who participates in something does not take something away, so that the others cannot have it. The opposite is true: by sharing, by our participating in the things in which we are participating, we enrich them; they do not become smaller, but larger. The whole life of tradition consists exactly in this enrichment so that life is our culture and our past: the whole inner store of our lives is always extending by participating. (Gadamer, 1984, p. 64)
This participatory sense of inclusion and welcome creates a sense that one’s questions and thoughts will be treated with respect and hospitality. A climate and style of trust permeates this hermeneutics. British philosopher and Schleiermacher translator Andrew Bowie (2002) noted that Gadamer’s whole approach can “serve as a reminder that in many situations the detail of philosophical disagreement is less important than the preparedness to see that the other may well have a point one has failed to grasp, and the disagreement may be less important than what is shared by the interlocutors” (p. 2, emphasis added). This attitude, so characteristic of Gadamer, places him as the central philosophical voice of a hermeneutics of trust.

This hermeneutics, further, intends to understand on the assumption that the person—as Shakespeare’s player king says—believes in the truth of what he or she is saying. Scrutiny occurs within an atmosphere of trust. In Josselson’s (2004) words, “We assume that the participant is the expert on his or her own experience and is able and willing to share meanings” (p. 5). To paraphrase Gadamer in his famous 1981 encounter with Derrida (Michelfelder & Palmer, 1989), we count on the goodwill of both participants in the dialogue as we search for meaning and truth. Furthermore, we expect meaning to be both transparent and hidden, both there to be discovered and emergent from the dialogic process.

We need look no further than Freud’s (1952) case of Dora to see the contrast between the hermeneutics of suspicion and the hermeneutics of trust. First, let us note that Dora sought earnestly to get everyone concerned to take her seriously. Still, Freud assumed throughout his account, and presumably throughout the treatment, that everything Dora said meant something else besides what she said it did. (For a splendid example of how things might have turned out otherwise with a different hermeneutic, see Paul Ornstein’s, 2005 imagined reanalysis of Dora.)

The hermeneutics of trust does not presume, of course, that the patient will be able to trust us as therapists or analysts, given the background of betrayal and violence that often brings our patients into our care. Instead this hermeneutics concerns a set of attitudes and values toward our work and toward the suffering strangers who come to us. These attitudes can create a climate in which they may learn—often for the first time—that some parts of the human world are safe to trust and that they can trust their own experience of that world. It is up to the everyday practitioner of this hermeneutics of trust to treat the lost and alienated stranger as one who already belongs to our common world.

At the very least, as Gadamer often said, we listen to the other, expecting that we might learn something and be changed by the other. This critical faith also shares with the hermeneutics of Gadamer an orientation to truth as disclosure, so that being questioned by each other in dialogue becomes our access to what both Augustine and Gadamer called the verbum interius, the inner word “that is never spoken but nevertheless resounds in everything that is said” (Grondin, 1994, p. 119; cf. Gadamer et al., 2004, pp. 421–422).[5] This kind of hermeneutics rests on the assumption that we share with the other, for better and for worse, a common inherited world (Dostal, 1987) within which we attempt to understand whatever we attempt to understand. This is the hermeneutics of trust that I will be illustrating in the courageous psychoanalysts who show up later in this book. It is a kind of faithfulness to the other and to the therapeutic task that links with the ethics of Lévinas that I will introduce in the next chapter.

1. Had he reached back further into history, I think Ricoeur might particularly have noted Niccolo Machiavelli, though perhaps without the same emancipatory intent, except from illusions of benevolence, even one’s own.
2. Once we enter the hermeneutics of trust, this “esotericism” assumes a different aspect: “It has been an irritating fact to its critics and an embarrassment to its defenders that the deeper aspects of the psychoanalytic experience may only be understood through intimate acquaintance with its practice. In other words, we can only know what psychoanalysis is in the same way that we know what it is to be human” (Reeder, 1998, p. 70).
3. See Chapter 2 for his later thinking influenced by Lévinas.
4. A related idea appears in philosopher Donald Davidson’s (1984) “principle of charity,” according to which “if we want to understand others, we must count them right in most matters” (p. 197).
5. Gadamer (1973/1993): “What is stated is not everything. The unsaid is what first makes what is stated into a word that can reach us” (p. 504).
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