Effects not Causes

Effects Not Causes

Someone reminded me the other day about the line that Jean Francoise Lyotard took. In fact she’d once found a t-shirt with it summarised on the front (I’d like to know what was on the back): effects not causes.

Psychotherapy becomes a peculiar thing when it is invested in looking for or at causes. It becomes far more speculative than it needs to be.  Whether or not we believe that something might be ‘unconscious’, hopefully we might agree that if something is unconscious it can’t be pointed at.

real, fake, neither

Real, Fake, Neither

Polarisation makes it easy to tell the news, I imagine: real or fake? But we must keep hold of ‘neither’. In neither lives the nuance which makes life beautiful, and it’s where we might find something approximating the truth. In neither I’ve found passion, glory and the truly sexy.

This reminds me of a conversation I had the other day. In neither we find what’s special. If we say neither then we have to ask: then where? And if we can’t honestly say real or fake (or whatever it is we decided to oppose) then where else do we go but the great unknown. Scary, but it’s a recipe for a life worth living, perhaps.



I remember a training session where a psychologist delighted in telling me how straightforward his conversations with his clients were. ‘Your psychoanalytic language is pretty hard to get to get to grips with, pretty hard to understand,’ the trainer told me.

I agreed. ‘But I don’t usually talk about it with my clients,’ I told him. He looked surprised and I realised the thing he’d decided to talk to me about was something he didn’t actually have any experience of. ‘Then what do you say to them?’ he asked. ‘I don’t know,’ I told him. ‘Whatever there is to say. I mean, do you know what you’re going to say to me next?’ Unfortunately he did. He decided to get back to training me and gave me and the rest of the class some psycho-educational material about shame.

As he went about his business I felt more and more disengaged. Listening to someone describe shame as if it is a financial commodity, a mineral or whatever, something that has limits and parameters that are easily put into words is a depressing experience.

I’m reminded about all of this because I recently saw a client for the first time and spent much of the time helping him find a way to describe how he felt that wasn’t circumscribed by the psycho-educational (psych-ed) material foisted on him by the treatment centre he’d spent some time at. We got there eventually: the two of us in a room talking about how things were, right then, as opposed to how they might be if we kept calling on the glossary of, in the case, addiction.

Psych-ed can be helpful. We all like to know something about how we feel what we feel, think what we think and do what we do. In my experience, though, it usually gets in the way of someone’s life feeling improved. Knowledge can feel powerful … but how powerful it is depends on your relationship with it. I know how parliament works, but I can’t, for example, stop Brexit. My knowledge of parliament possibly even makes me feel worse about it.

Psych-ed can split you off from yourself. Schiz-ed. An unhappy soul can become a tortured unhappy soul because facts can end up given you nothing more than insight. What might help more is to cope with not knowing.

I could launch into a list of reasons why I think psych-ed weighs in on the side of an unhealthy therapeutic relationship (beginning with how the therapist is the one who always knows best, and facts, psych-ed facts, become incontestable). I could suggest  a way of understanding life that doesn’t rely on psychological, genetic or social models.  I could confess to my horror at some of the philosophical and logical confusions I have seen in most forms of psych-ed, and how these arose from as a need to make the unknowable … knowable.

But I won’t say any more than that.

Everything in life needs to be contested, some things are beyond words until you get to poetry, and psychologists are very rarely ever poets.

Before you ask what something means find out what’s happening. A green light might mean you’re better off not standing in the middle of the road wondering what’s going on.

The Top of the Ride

The Top of the Ride

I was thinking about what Freud called The Death Drive after reading a book by Michael Eigen about Psychic Deadness. The last time I went on a roller-coaster I found the most intense moment was when my car reached its highest point, before it started to descend. That was years ago: I’m not one for that kind of thing. I like intensity but I don’t want the illusion I might die.

There’s a point you can push any kind of pleasure to, and your desire may try to lead you further, to have more of it, to have too much.  That’s when the fun combusts, though. That’s when relationship ends, trouble begins, the machine catches fire … when the hunt for pleasure slips whatever might contain it and catastrophe beckons. Deadness lies ahead, ever pressing. Life doesn’t have the kind of rails and brakes a rollercoaster does if you take it beyond a certain point.

It’s all about love, I suppose. You need to be able to get angry to stop that descent. You need love and anger if you want to have intensity.

Coming Down to Earth

How dreams might help me steal a march on apocalypse.

I remembered this morning how, when I was very young, I used to worry about being obliterated by space debris (meteors, out of commission satellites and so on). Not only me but everybody I loved – and somehow this led me to think about degradation: PhDs being taught as if they were undergraduate experiences; psychotherapists who qualify without having read anything apart from secondary texts; newspapers riddled with mistakes and quirks that make the old-fashioned Grauniad (sic) seem like a work of perfection … and other stories of things falling apart.

These are some of the things that worry me. I read them, and many other things as a sign of degradation, a general fraying of the fabric of life. There are other things I worry about which might seem less esoteric, but I care about small things. I see changes in small things as a sign of shifts elsewhere, shifts in things that might be so large I cannot really comprehend or them or take them in: the ways in which we love each other, for example, or the ways in which we treat people who don’t have jobs or money.

Those things appear to change in ways that might seem easy to point at and to act on politically (with minimal results) but the part of the change that really matters seems to be protected or hidden so that all I can make of it I have to do by inference or reading through tiny pieces of debris I encounter.

The debris of degradation: what PhDs, psychotherapists and newspapers have shown me.

This might amount to the ways in which scholarship and thinking are devalued in favour of time gains in the name of professional advancement, validating information in the eyes of dominant intellectual groups, and following ideas that are supportable or fundable by bodies linked to industries or organisations that never declare their investment in being shielded from thinking that problematises what they do … which might explain the shrinkage of psychoanalytic and Marxist (where Marx has been read by people like Althusser or Adorno) approaches in favour of humanist ones – ones that assume all can be known.

Or it could comprise the insecurity and unexplored laziness of psychotherapists who don’t read a thinkers’ ideas in her or his original form (perhaps in translation), but who follow the lead of a secondary thinker instead without ever querying why they’d let that other individual do their thinking for them – or where that kind of deferral might lead in their own work.

It might be the lack of care and attention, the set of assumptions, the compromised sense of enquiry and the poor relational sense suggested to me by a journalist who doesn’t write out acronyms in full the first time they use them.

There’s a danger in all of this of my wanting to retreat to another time, or if things are degrading, like meteors passing though the atmosphere, to somehow go higher again. Of course that isn’t possible. But if we keep paying really close attention to the things that matter to us, so our ideas of ‘the world’ are as complex as possible, not complicated but complex (subtly opening out into more opportunities for understanding and action that doesn’t miss the mark, similar to the way I hope I might suggest something to a client in a psychotherapy session) the future might at least be less degrading.

We are, however, coming down to earth. Dreams of the future are failing us.

Looking back at my childish fantasies of extinction I see one of the ways I was perhaps more in touch with life then, than now. Our species suffers from a delusion that improvement is always possible or desirable, and that it is somehow a route towards something usually referred to as happiness. As a child I realised there are no happy endings.

We are falling to earth and approaching extinction. Climate change will see to that if a meteor doesn’t first. Life between now and then, in the fearful shadow of extinction (because so much of our behaviour is driven by a fear we have yet to realise), needs to be attended to in ways we are starting to withdraw from. What can we do rather than continue to lose ourselves? We need to re-learn how to pay attention to ourselves, and to each other.

I suppose something will eventually be revealed. That’s what apocalypse is about: maybe showing us the things I have described here as hidden, revealed only in debris, the broken off parts of bigger things that somehow make it to earth. Apocalypse and revelation come together, though; and anyone thinking about them then will surely only have been consumed by sadness.

Is it possible to steal a march on apocalypse? In dreams, perhaps.