Thursday, May 01, 2014

Socrates and the Psychotherapist

I know this is not my normal fare but I thought I would share this dialogue I wrote between Socrates and a psychotherapist.
Socrates: I see you have found time to come to the Agora today!
Psychotherapist: Yes, one of my patients cancelled today and I thought I’d get some fresh air—perhaps hear you engaged in one of your amusing debates with one of the youth of our dear city.
S: I assure you I am not trying to amuse anyone.  I am, however, aware that some find my cross-examinations amusing.  Perhaps since it is early and no one else is around I could ask you to help me understand what it means to be a psychotherapist.
P: Socrates, don’t take me for one of your youths—you know perfectly well what I do.
S: I assure you I do not.  I know people come to you because they suffer in some way that a regular physician cannot cure.  I know you engage in some kind of talking cure, but I do not, I assure you, know what a psychotherapist is or does.
P: It is quite simple—you almost said it yourself.  While a physician heals the body, a psychotherapist heals the soul.
S: Do you mean that somehow through talk you heal your patient’s soul.
P: Yes, precisely.
S: How does this cure work?
P: We talk until we develop a relationship, until he feels safe to divulge his inner most thoughts and feelings.  We work together through dialogue so that he can come to a self-understanding so that he can take responsibility for his own being and feel free to choose the life he wants—ultimately, to be happy.
S: This is fascinating.  Perhaps there is something I can learn from you after all.  But you’re not going to get away that easily. 
P: Very well, I expected no less from the great Socrates.
S: I assure you I possess no greatness.  So, you say you heal the soul.
P: Yes.
S: And, of course, you would never bring harm.
P: Yes, of course, never.
S: Now, you claim understanding is necessary for healing.
P: Yes.
S: Who must understand? You or the patient?
P: Both of us, I suppose.  It is a cooperative process—we work through dialogue as I said before.  I try to understand the patient’s understanding and this helps him understand himself.
S: That sounds rather complex.  I am not sure I understand what you just said, but I will proceed with my questions nonetheless.
P: Proceed.
S: How do you understand your patient?
P: Well I must ask him questions.
S: But how do you ask him questions?
P: Now the tables have turned and I do not understand you.
S: How do you know what to ask?
P: I listen, I try to find some lead, some opening; I am open to him; I use my intuition; I pick up hints.  For example, if a patient tells me his heart hurts, he has gone to the doctor and no physical ailment has been found, I ask him to tell me more about his pain:  when it hurts; how it hurts; where it hurts; are there times when it doesn’t hurt.
S: Why?
P: I assume his pain is a kind of metaphor—that his figurative heart hurts because of some “heart-breaking” situation.  I want to know what that situation is.
S: Are you always right?  Are your questions always on the mark?
P: No, of course not.  It is hit or miss.  But the better I get to know the patient, the better my intuition gets.
S: So understanding, in a sense, begets greater understanding.
P: Yes, precisely.
S: But here lies the problem.
P: Now I am confused.  Just when I think we have arrived you claim the journey has just begun.
S: What is more helpful to the patient: more or less understanding?
P: Why more of course.
S: So any lesser understanding, any pre-understanding, any pre-judgment could in fact be harmful.
P: I don’t follow.
S: Anything less than the greatest cure must contain some amount of harm.  The very process of your talking cure is harmful even if it is so less and less.
P: Now I’m really mixed up.
S: Do you ever fully understand your patient?
P: No, that is impossible.  The patient is infinitely more than I can know.
S: So you must, by definition always harm your patient.
P: I would prefer to look at it as incrementally bringing the patient closer and closer to health.
S: But this healing—in its fullest and most radical sense—is and can never actually be accomplished.

P: No, I suppose not. 


Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said...

Socrates: but perhaps you give up too hastily?

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said...

P: How so honored sir?

S. What you say reminds me of an idea

P. Which one?

S Of an imprisoning cave. Would you say that the person who does not understand is akin to a person in a cave? One who thinks he sees light when in reality he sees shadows on a wall?

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said...

P Please explain further, like the charmer your words snared me. What is this cave of which you speak?

S. Has a Dr of the leg healed when he helps the lame man walk?

P. Surely

S. And the man who has indigestion. Has the Dr healed him when he can eat once mor?

P. Yes.

S. So the sick man is a form of prisoner imprisoned by his disease. The Dr who heals the sick man frees him from his imprisoning disease?

P. Of course

S. The foot Dr frees his patient from imprisoning lameness the stomach Dr frees his patient from indigestion?

P. Yes, that is exactly what the Dr is a liberator.

S. And what of the eye Dr does he liberate his patient from blindness?

P. Like all liberating Dr's he does liberate from blindness.

S. You sir are akin to the eye Dr. As the Eye Dr heals the eye of the body from blindness to light of the body, you heal the eye of the soul from blindness to its illuminating light.

P. But what is this illuminating light to the eye of the soul?

S. As I said, it is akin to a cave.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said...
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