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Sauvayre, P. (2009). Psychotherapy's Lost Interlocutor Review of Psychotherapy as a Human Science, by Daniel Burston and Roger Frie, 2006, Duquesne University Press, 326 pp.. Contemp. Psychoanal., 45(4):566-570.

(2009). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 45(4):566-570

Psychotherapy's Lost Interlocutor Review of Psychotherapy as a Human Science, by Daniel Burston and Roger Frie, 2006, Duquesne University Press, 326 pp.

Review by:
Pascal Sauvayre, Ph.D.

What an odd title.

Isn't psychotherapy supposed to involve the careful application of scientific findings, not be a science in itself, as the title implies? Presumably, one can apply the relevant research without ever doing the research or the theory construction on which the practice is based. A practitioner is therefore first and foremost a technician. Her knowledge of underlying theory can be minimal, and the truly skilled technician can select and apply the most effective technique—even when the research may be equivocal—without ever worrying about underlying theory. I recently heard the director of an advanced training program, in psychoanalysis no less, trying to sell his program to prospective applicants by making the following point: “Theory, shmeary. Here, we teach you what to do when, and how. “For Burston and Frie, that kind of seemingly atheoretical pragmatic eclecticism is a naïvete or ignorance they wish to dispel. For them, theory and philosophy are embedded in the very fabric of psychotherapy, and it is imperative that we uncover the often unacknowledged or underappreciated theoretical and philosophical assumptions that permeate everyday work.

Another odd feature of the title: what is a human science? Although we can refer to separate sciences according to their subject matter, are they not all based on common methods and principles that do not discriminate on the basis of the object of study? But for the authors, who borrow this well-established distinction from the German language, there is, indeed, a qualitative difference between the natural and the human sciences, not just in the methods they use, but in the very principles that make them “scientific.

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