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Kupers, T.A. (1986). The dual potential of brief psychotherapy. Free Associations, 1(6):80-99.

(1986). Free Associations, 1(6):80-99

The dual potential of brief psychotherapy

Terry A. Kupers

How are we to assess the social impact of the widespread practice of psychotherapy? Does the advent of psychoanalytic psychotherapy in general, or of brief psychotherapy in particular, represent and/or foster social progress? Does the self-awareness therapy provides foster a ‘get-beneath-the-surface’ critical stance and an enhanced desire for better social relations? Or is the overall social function of therapy to adapt the individual to the social environment? The first prerequisite for exploring such a question is an integration, or at least a parallel discussion, of social and clinical theory — something that, in our age of specialization and medicalization, has just about disappeared from the clinical literature. In exploring this question — as it relates to brief therapy — I will concentrate on the social theory of Herbert Marcuse, Jürgen Habermas and Russell Jacoby, and the clinical work of David Malan, Peter Sifneos and Habib Davanloo.

The critical theorists suggest a dual potential of psychoanalysis, an emancipatory as well as a repressive potential, and a dialectic that involves the two. When they speak of repression, they mean the social rather than the unconscious kind, and they are referring to certain negative aspects of living in a bureaucratic (administered) society of manipulated consumption (Lefebvre, 1971). When they speak of liberation or emancipation, they are defining the terms in relation to a vision they have of a better, post-modern world. Of course, what is emancipatory for society is ultimately so for the individual. But can this be stated the other way around? Does personal emancipation (i.e. from neurotic constrictions) foster social liberation? The question remains open at this point.


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