The study by Abrams & Loewenthal (2005) focuses on the interpretation of the notion of responsibility within philosophical and therapeutic perspectives. The title of the study clearly conveys the theme of their research and delineates the professional field that they were focused on (counselling psychology and psychotherapy). The abstract of the paper identifies the purpose of the study and the assumptions of the authors, while also justifying the importance of their research. The research question is formulated rather broadly as “what is responsibility?”, while the authors were particularly interested in its relation to the counselling practice and psychotherapy. The study is purely theoretical as it is based on existing theories and does not involve experimentation. Abrams & Loewenthal (2005) employed discursive analysis of post-modern perspectives of responsibility in their relation to counseling and therapy. They applied the theories of Baudrillard, de Saussure, Heidegger, Foucault, Levinas, Derrida and other post-modern philosophers to the notion of responsibility, posing interconnected questions to guide their discussion in a hermeneutic manner. They subsequently analyzed therapeutic perspectives on responsibility in collation with the post-modern perspectives. The method of the authors is totally relevant and productive for the research of such an abstract and philosophical notion as responsibility.
The problem that Abrams & Loewenthal (2005) focused on is certainly significant for science and for the life of humanity at large. While extensive research has been done on responsibility, this concept is still ill-defined and thus warrants further research. The particular difficulty, identified by the authors, lies in the presence of multiple philosophical and therapeutic perspectives on the assumption of a coherent “I” and “Other”. There are significant contradictions between the utilitarian and moral imperative understanding of responsibility, as well as between the perspectives of senses and reason. The conceptual framework of the authors is that responsibility can be described from various philosophical perspectives that may not be reflected in counselling practice. This conceptual framework is totally relevant to the topic and research question posed by the authors. The discursive nature of the study does not imply conclusive and accurate results. The main finding of the authors is that there is a significant contradiction between therapeutic and post-modern philosophical perspectives on responsibility. While in psychotherapy ethical and moral values are mostly imposed as universal social constructs, post-modern philosophers regard them as issues in the intimacy of Being that are developed in self-evaluative moments. Psychotherapy as ethical practice should be based on heteronomy, i.e. relation to the Other, rather than egocentrism. Instead of providing definite answers, the authors concluded their article with the thought-provoking question “…what is ethical about therapy and analysis?” and the suggestion that “our responsibility lies in the laughter of Being” (p. 83).
The study by Abrams & Loewenthal (2005) raises important questions about responsibility, which is a multifaceted phenomenon that enables different interpretations. Our own understanding of responsibility is inseparably connected with our views on morality and power. The most interesting point in the study for me was the interpretation of responsibility by post-modern philosophers. Most of these thinkers were engaged in profound deconstruction of the concept of morality, which rendered prescriptive notions irrational and essentially contradictive. They made the assumption that the whole concept of value might be flawed and thus could not be used to form meaningful patterns. Based on the theory of Baudrillard, it can be suggested that each new system of ethical and moral values is a reference to the previous value set and the creation of something new is virtually impossible. This way, the endless change of codes of ethics and standards of responsible practice is merely elaboration of meaningless differences, which is a sign of our preference for equivalence rather than ambivalence. The theory of Foucault also implies that there are no clear solutions in ethics because values are formed in creative and communicative process, which is driven by reflection. It is interesting that the authors considered the opportunity of psychotherapy being essentially irresponsible, due to the increase of egocentric professionalization in therapy. Taken from this viewpoint, psychotherapists and counselors are self-interested people who rely too much on available systems and solutions, without sincere interest in their clients. If the post-modern perspective dominated in psychotherapy, they would not even divide a person into mind, body and spirit, because it might foreclose their otherness. As the authors put it, psychotherapists should serve as midwives in the birth of their clients through constant dialog: this is a creative process that may not have any relevance to ethics whatsoever. Definitely, this conclusion would not be supported by professional psychological organizations and institutions, but it is useful for psychotherapists to rethink their values and, most importantly, the sources they come from.
In their study, Abrams & Loewenthal (2005) contrasted the therapeutic notion of responsibility as a set of moral principles with the philosophical concept of insubstantial responsibility that is constantly in the process of formation, preceding and largely pre-empting any framework. In the overall, the study is itself written in the post-modern style and poses more questions than answers. Still, with the help of this study, I realized that my own understanding of responsibility and ethics is largely informed with external theories, not with my relations or experience. The study thus makes it clear that well-defined and seemingly rational systems such as codes of ethics do not provide all the answers for psychotherapists as they should be primarily driven with the particular relation they have to Other. This goal necessarily requires sincere interest in the client, which should be more important than professionalization and self-betterment.
- Abrams, E., & Loewenthal, D. (2005). Responsibility and Ethico-Moral Values in Counselling and Psychotherapy. Existential Analysis: Journal of the Society for Existential Analysis, 16(1), 73–86.