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Richards, B. (1986). Psychotherapy and the Public Domain. Brit. J. Psychother., 3(1):42-51.

(1986). British Journal of Psychotherapy, 3(1):42-51

Psychotherapy and the Public Domain

Barry Richards

This paper is an attempt to raise some questions about the relationship of psychotherapy, or rather of psychotherapists, to the ‘public domain’, that is to politics in the broadest sense of the whole field of debate, conflict and decision concerning social ends and choices, from residents' associations to foreign policy. Before embarking on this discussion about psychotherapists though it is necessary to sketch out something of the more general conceptual field within which these questions are to be raised.

The existence of a ‘public domain’ is premissed upon the separation of ‘public’ and ‘private’. That separation deeply structures our life-space; in some form it is probably to be found in all human societies (Elshtain 1981). Its present form seems to be in large part a feature of industrial capitalism and its removal of the sphere of work from that of home. With this split goes the separation of instrumental and worldly relations from affective ties, and of individual workers' outward performances from their inner sense of purpose and value (see for example Zaretsky 1976). These separations are many-sided and complex and their history contentious.

The present significance and value of the public-private distinction are also in contention. A theme of ‘Sixties’ radicalism was that ‘the personal is political’, by which it was usually meant that the distinction was somehow false or superficial. This assertion generated some important insights into the societal meanings of personal distress and its connections with social relations of class, gender and race.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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