Whitaker on “Social Therapy”

I’m reading Whitaker and Malone’s 1951 book The Roots of Psychotherapy, an early attempt at a general theory of therapy. Whitaker was a psychiatrist who started working with families in the very early days of the family therapy field. It’s a good book, though not an easy read.

My favorite of his ideas so far is that of the social therapist. He says that since everyone has troubles, and everyone has some capacity to help others through troubles, everyone is a potential “patient” (therapists still called their clients “patients” back then), everyone is a potential “social therapist,” and every interaction between people has the potential to be therapeutic.

What causes a potential “patient” to become an actual “patient,” and go ask a professional therapist for help is a failure of that person’s social-therapy community to help with their troubles. That, and the “patient’s” overcoming their own fear of change and their fear of the stigma our culture places on getting therapy.

Whitaker also tackles the sticky question, “What is a cured patient?” and concludes, “In short, the patient gets access to other human beings and, incidentally, enters the community as an adequate social therapist, no longer so concerned with himself that he cannot get and give therapy to others in a social setting.” (p. 79)

[First published on Nathen’s Miraculous Escape, October 30, 2010.]

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