Status Dynamics and Psychotherapy

Wynn Schwartz / Presentation

I am a teacher, provider and supervisor of psychotherapy trained in classical psychoanalysis  and in Descriptive Psychology’s status dynamics. Both psychoanalysis and Descriptive Psychology  are fundamental approaches to people. Psychoanalysis provides a theory driven and empirically  informed method whereas status dynamics is a pre-empirical formulation of basic maxims  that guide a competent explication of behavior. Status Dynamics as an organized body of reminders  potentially provides conceptual access to any and all behavior and as such is logically prior  to a coherent psychoanalysis or any other theory of persons and psychotherapy. I supervise non psychoanalytically trained students and I practice both a recognizable variety of  psychoanalysis and psychotherapies that do not resemble Sigmund Freud’s but clearly follow  from what I learned from Peter Ossorio. I am not eclectic even though my psychoanalytic work  involves an application of descriptive psychology. A basic competence with status dynamics, concerned with the formulations of intentionality,  the practical syllogism, the states of affairs relations of stability and change, enable me to describe.  Being able to describe is fundamental in doing psychology. As Wittgenstein reminds us, "If a description  is complete what is left to explain?" Since everything lies open to view there is nothing to explain.  (Wittgenstein, 126., 1953).  I think that Ossorio’s Place (1998), his fundamental compilation of status dynamic maxims,  is among a small handful of the most useful documents that has been produced in psychology.  In my day to day work as a teacher, supervisor and therapist I use status dynamics:

  • As the neutral language to teach comparative psychotherapy.
  • In case formulation and supervision.
  • As the structure of reminders for my practice of psychotherapy.
Status dynamic formulations of case and intervention are, in my experience, readily understandable  in working with psychotherapists of any persuasion. Ossorio’s recognition that  understanding persons is grounded in competence, rather than a particular knowledge,  allows for an infinite variety of skilled formulations and interventions.  This is a crucial point. The range of possible competent therapeutic interventions is infinite.  This is not to say that anything goes. The recognition of the open range of well chosen actions  that could constitute a therapy is an essential reminder for the therapist who "knows how"  to act psychotherapeutically and for the supervisor of students of various backgrounds.  Just as Descriptive Psychology provides a check on the logical adequacy of personality theories  and case formulations and furnishes a format for comparing theories, the maxims serve  as an ideal "middle ware" allowing students of the different schools of therapy  coherent access to each other’s actions. Since status dynamics are an organized pre-empirical body of reminders, they can serve as conceptual tools for formulation and intervention for anyone who has achieved the status of  psychotherapist regardless of that person’s beliefs, traditions, or other commitments.   One can be, as I am, a descriptive psychologist who sometimes practices psychoanalysis or a psychotherapist whose only school of identification is Descriptive Psychology.  This last category, the descriptive psychotherapist,  hangs on the concept and status of psychotherapist, which is a culturally specific  status that needs explication. I need some help here. I am not ready to offer a paradigm case formulation of psychotherapy  or of the psychotherapist but I want to talk about some of the issues that are embedded  in the social practice of psychotherapy. But let me also remind you that historically  the most available model of the psychotherapist has been some sort of psychoanalyst  (and I would include the students of Carl Rogers ).  What is the status "psychotherapist" concerned with?  Psychotherapists are those who are recognized as competent providers of psychotherapy  and psychotherapy involves the attempts to remedy psychopathology. Ossorio has provided an  atheoritical formulation of pathology, a deficit model, that uses as its defining formulation  the following: "When a person is in a pathological state there is a significant restriction  on his ability (a) to engage in deliberate action and, equivalently,  (b) to participate in the social practices of the community." (Ossorio, 1997, p.10).  This formulation acknowledges that psychopathology involves a reduction in behavior potential  such that a person’s status in community is significantly restricted (and, as it usually looks,  stereotyped or type cast as hysteric, obsessive, narcissistic, borderline, etc.) .  With this formulation in mind, Ossorio goes on to say that "In the Descriptive Psychology  style of psychotherapy...methods and techniques are explicitly designed to increase behavior  potential and are based on universal status-dynamic principles."(Ossorio, 1997, p. 49) . In line with this deficit model, Ossorio uses Harold Garfinkel’s degradation ceremony (Garfinkel, 1967)  as a powerful teaching tool in clarifying a vast array of pathology.  My first attempts at understanding psychotherapy made use of this formulation and  offered that negotiation and moral dialog were the principle tools of the psychotherapist  who might attempt to undo degradation in a variety of accreditation ceremonies (Schwartz,  1979). Today I want to explore a little more the social practice of psychotherapy and the special status  of the psychotherapist. To the extent that I have it right, all psychotherapists worth their  salt should recognize a kinship with the formulation I’ll offer. After speaking a bit about the  psychotherapist I want to say something about the supervisor of psychotherapists since it is  principally in supervision that the status of a person’s behavior as therapeutic gets  accredited independent of whether the therapist’s client or patient gets better. To anticipate, psychotherapists aid in patient’s attempts to increase their eligibility  to act deliberately and supervisors accredit their supervisees as those who are eligible  to provide such assistance. Cognizantly knowing or not, all competent psychotherapists and  their supervisors make use of status dynamic principles but only in Descriptive Psychology  are they systematically articulated. Finally, I will demonstrate that psychoanalysis as a  form of psychotherapy involves a stylized application of status dynamics with the particular  goals of increasing an undefined behavior potential, a liberation through facilitating maturation,  insight, and toleration. The bias toward the values of self knowledge, freedom of association,  toleration and maturation are the politics that inform the particular theory and treatment  if it is an authentic psychoanalytic one. What I will do, making liberal use of the work of George Klein (1976),  is state the paradigm beliefs that identifies the psychoanalytic community and  develop an ordinary language formulation of those beliefs. Those of us who think of ourselves  as psychoanalytic will recognize the common lore. The ordinary language formulation is  Freudian psychoanalysis without Freud. I like keeping Freud in but I understand the reasons many don’t. Psychoanalysis as a method of treatment has as its fundamental goal the achievement of increasing the  analysand’s freedom of association accomplished by facilitating the analysand’s "free associations"  (Kris, 1982) through an analysis of transference and resistance. The analyst requests that the analysand  speak with utter honesty and then tries to help both people understand and confront why such a request  leads to a  particular pattern of failure (Schwartz, 1988). The therapist who is committed to "the  Descriptive Psychology style of psychotherapy" attempts to aid the client’s attempts  to increase behavior potential or eligibility. I would argue that with some slight differences  in emphasis, notably around a focus on emotion versus affect, increases in behavior potential  and freedom of association amount to the same thing. Descriptive Psychology has offered an  analysis of emotion as non deliberate intentional action and psychoanalysis has explored affect  as experienced or warded off sensation. Psychoanalysis worries about a person’s self access and  toleration of feeling in a way similar to the descriptive concern with eligibility and action in  community.   Psychoanalysis has attributed a particular stance as essential to the status of psychoanalytic therapist.  Roy Schafer (1983, p.3) described what he calls "the analytic one of Freud’s greatest creations."  This is a stance designed to increase the analysand’s safety by fostering a sort of "breathing space"  to facilitate the possibility of both free association and its analysis. This stance involves a  highly stylized skill requiring personal characteristics of neutrality, the avoidance of either-or thinking,  the attention to transference and resistance, and in keeping an eye on the goal of being helpful.  The analyst attempts to remain in an empathic relation to the analysand in the hope that such a  relationship will increase the odds of developing self understanding, toleration, and a desired maturation.  From the perspective of the actor-observer/describer-critic model of self regulation,  the analyst is a highly attuned critic in monitoring the intrusion of counter-transference  and on judging whether his or her behavior is conducive to maintaining breathing space for both parties.  This is why analysts are so skilled at keeping their mouths shut. Descriptive Psychology is less articulated in the personal characteristics that identify the  psychotherapist but in so far as the accreditation concepts highlight one paradigm of psychotherapy,  and require that the therapist is competent in moral dialog and negotiation, there are certain general  standards that follow. In principle, the only requirement of the descriptive therapist as accreditor  is that he is a competent representative of some valued community but, as I will illustrate,  to accomplish the job of negotiation and moral dialog he must also be empathic and skilled  at the logics of intentionality. I am limiting my discussion of the descriptive therapist to  the negotiation and accreditation model for a particular reason. Although the tools of status  dynamics provide coherent access to the full range of ways of changing behavior, including behavioral,  rehabilitative, and punitive methods, for political and ethical reasons, I refuse to dignify  any method of treatment that is coercive or deceptive as psychotherapy. Negotiation and moral  dialog are fundamental to a psychotherapeutic enhancement of behavior potential and respect the  patient as agent throughout the process of negotiated change. Let me clarify a bit about what I have in mind when I talk about moral dialog and negotiation.  In an earlier work (Schwartz, 1979, p.144.) I stated that
a methodology useful for enacting  accreditation can be found in the related social practices of moral dialog  (Arendt, 1958; Cavell, 1969; Pitkin, 1972) and negotiation (Ossorio, 1970).  The practices set the stage for status change and acceptance. Although the mere successful  practice of moral discourse and negotiation can be therapeutic, the achievement of such an  encounter between therapist and client has no guaranteed end. The specific issues,  complex and sometimes obscure, must still be accurately identified and dealt with,  and this is not ordinarily easy to accomplish. What makes the concepts of moral dialog and  negotiation especially attractive  for paradigms of therapeutic exchange is that both concepts directly involve mutual encounter.  Moral dialog is an activity by which involved persons attempt to accurately reveal their positions,  while negotiation concerns practices of calibrating those judgments through appeal to shared standards.  Negotiation is thus conducted on the presupposition that both individuals have the competence to make  judgments about the matters at hand, and that both persons wish to act with a common attention to the  relevance of what they say.
Concerns with moral dialog and negotiation bear family resemblance to the concerns of the analyst.  A key difference being the that analyst is fundamentally a value and significance describer and creator,  cautious about self disclosure, whereas the descriptive therapist as accreditor must be  recognized as a representative of a valued community and is a value and significance provider,  trainer and affirmer. Both analyst and descriptive therapist are concerned with an empathic exploration of intentionality  and it is to this common ground that I will briefly turn. Intentionality, after all,  is the concept that allows both parties to recognize each other’s values, knowledge, and skills,  and must be understood in order for an appropriate appreciation of agency and responsibility  to develop (Schwartz, 1984). The descriptive therapist must empathically recognize the patient’s values and status if there  is to be negotiation and be especially attuned to the patient’s recognition of the therapist’s status.  Similarly, the analyst must be empathic in order to make the analysand’s unconscious actions cognizant  and in so doing be in position to usefully analyze the transference and resistance interactions. So what is empathy and its bearing on intention? Here, I think, are the keys to what identifies  good therapists of any stripe. Let me tell you what I mean by empathy. We recognize the other as  empathic with us when we feel that they have accurately acted on or somehow acknowledged  in stated or unstated fashion our motivations, skills, and knowledge, but especially as  they appear to recognize the significance of our actions in a manner that we can tolerate  their being recognized. Empathic recognition is not intrusive, overwhelming, sadistic, or  otherwise abusive of the vulnerability that such recognition might create especially if what  is recognized is potentially shameful or guilt provoking. This recognition of the vulnerability  that comes with recognition is what gives so much of good psychotherapy a sense of intimacy and  is central to what analysts require of the "tactful" interpretation or of any other intervention. We can be empathic because we recognize each other’s intentional actions as intentional actions  including those that the observed has reasons for claiming or disclaiming. When we interpret behavior  as unconscious and do so therapeutically we acknowledge the person’s reasons for acting and disclaiming  that action and we do so with tact because we know what the other can tolerate. And there are many ways  to do this. Accurate empathic interpretation can take an infinite variety of forms without ever being  random or arbitrary: it just must fit. The analyst is especially concerned with an empathic interpretation  of transference and resistance. Interpretation of the transference is a particular way of acknowledging  the context or learning history of the actions that the analysand directs toward or  performs in reference to the analyst. The analysis of the resistance acknowledges the  understandable ways the analysand consciously or unconsciously defends his view  (and particularly his criticism of the transference analysis). Analysts and descriptive psychologists make use of the distinctions of motivation,  knowledge, skill, performance, achievement and, especially, significance in their everyday practice. Analysts and descriptive psychologists recognize the conservative  nature of personal characteristics and the dynamics of state and status.  Therapists in general are attuned to these distinctions with a critical eye and ear to what  can be tolerated and used for desired change. This is especially the case when the intervention  takes the form of a confrontation. What makes confrontation different in a good psychotherapy from what is often the case in other social practices is that it is empathic, that is, informed  by what the person confronted can bare. Earlier I stated that therapists who perform "accreditation ceremonies" must be representative members of some valued community. But they generally also rely on the additional status of doctor, healer, or other community acknowledged role that accredits them as ones who are eligible to listen, talk, and act in special ways. This is not a trivial point. J. L. Austin (1975) developed the concept of "the performatives" to identify those language acts in which the saying is essential to the doing of an action as in, "I now pronounce you husband and wife," uttered during appropriate circumstances by a duly sanctioned person. A person’s status provides significant aspects of meaning to what is said and allows certain statements to become performatives. If, during couples therapy, I look to my clients and say, "I now pronounce you husband and wife", I might be making a joke but I will not be performing a marriage. But if, on the other hand, I look over to them as I sit in my chair behind my couch and say, "you are both reenacting scenes from your childhood in which you felt rage when you made frustrated attempts to get close to your  mother and father" then, whether or not I am correct, I will usually be taken seriously since such  statements are the sorts of things psychoanalysts say and say in a manner where such interpretations  are taken seriously. Psychoanalysts have that eligibility. "Psychoanalyst" or "psychotherapist"  is a special status that confers eligibility to act in ways that in other social contexts would seem  rude, strange, or inappropriate. Credentials count. Now what about supervision? I have suggested that the therapist must create a safe place,  what I like to call breathing space, in which the therapist and client can work. Similarly,  it is the job of the supervisor to foster that kind of context for the work of supervision  so that the therapist can examine and perhaps reveal what she has been doing with her patients  in a manner that allows an honest exploration. Not an easy task, since so often novice therapists  feel guilt and shame about the uncertainty which they reveal when they reflect on their interventions. The competent therapist does not have to be overly deliberate in her work, she simply knows how to do it.  When she is in supervision, however, she is called upon to deliberate about her actions.  The supervisor attends chiefly to the clarity of the therapist’s descriptions and critically to whether  the described interventions are helpful. Given the usual status asymmetry between therapist and supervisor  and given the therapist’s general desire to be a full member of the supervisor’s community, supervision  has inherently the potential structure of a degradation or accreditation ceremony with all the attending  issues. Good supervisors know this and know how to foster circumstances in which they can perform their  function. Given the legal liability that supervisors share with therapists, it is crucial that the supervisor  acquire an adequate description of the supervisee’s work. Supervisors want their supervisee’s patients  to improve and they don’t want to be sued for their supervisee’s mistakes. The creation of a safe place  requires competent recognition of the status dynamics that apply to the supervisor-supervisee relationship  and this is why, in part, that an understanding of status dynamics provide the essential tools for supervision,  at least in my practice. And, as I said earlier, the neutral or atheoritical form of the status dynamic maxims  allow the supervisor access to the intelligibility of the supervisee’s descriptions regardless of the  theoretical orientation that one or both parties might embrace. Let me tell you some about what I have embraced and what I believe all psychoanalysts  recognize as the core or their practice and theory. George Klein, in his Psychoanalytic  Theory: a study of essentials (1976), attempted a non metapsychological unfolding of  psychoanalytic clinical theory which he deliberately presented in an ordinary language fashion  with a focus on psychoanalysis as concerned with intentionality as opposed to drive or instinct.  R.S. Peters and Wittgenstein provided the philosophical critique of psychoanalysis that Klein took to  heart in a fashion that bears resemblance to my reading of Ossorio’s early concerns. With this in mind  let me describe my elaboration of Klein’s work and its expansion given other principles of psychoanalysis  that can be extracted from the object relations work of Donald Winnicott and the self psychology of Heinz Kohut.  But let me remind you: this makes the particular sense it does to me because I am a Descriptive Psychologist.  My elaboration is presented in Ordinary Language Essentials of Clinical Psychoanalytic Theory.