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Bacon, R. (2000). Face to Face: Therapy as Ethics by Paul Gordon. Constable, London 1999, pp. 190.. Free Associations, 8(1):180-187.

(2000). Free Associations, 8(1):180-187

Face to Face: Therapy as Ethics by Paul Gordon. Constable, London 1999, pp. 190.

Review by:
Roger Bacon

After a century of psychoanalysis and an explosive growth of the associated psychotherapies, two critical problems still bedevil the whole enterprise: first, there is the problem of authority and justification. By what right does anyone practice psychotherapy, set themselves up to face people in often extreme distress or suffering and suggest that they have to some kind of valid understanding, response or solution?

The second problem is how can psychotherapists be helped, trained or even coerced to behave properly—towards patients, towards each other, towards the discipline itself, and towards the wider society.

By “properly”, I mean ethically. That is, with care, attention, civility, restraint, absence of exploitation or revenge and, above all with a capacity to retain a focus on and respect for what others—whether patients, colleagues or the wider world—are saying.

These two areas of difficulty might seem, at first sight, quite distinct, but in fact they interact in a number of interesting ways. For a start, the ways in which psychotherapies justify themselves—the explanations and descriptions they offer of themselves—often contain encouragements and legitimations for what can be quite appalling standards of personal or collective behaviour.

While psychoanalysis, in most of its myriad incarnations, has undoubtedly been the worst offender in this respect, in fact any grandiose, semi-philosophical or psychological form of speculative thought can do the job just as well. All that is needed, on the one hand, are a sufficient number of tautologically-linked propositions or presuppositions such that the theory can be self-justificatory and thus immune from external critique or test. If these propositions can also suggest that all other ways of understanding are or can be rendered invalid or inferior, so much the better.

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