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Psychotherapy and "ethical sensibility": towards a history of criticism

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This paper makes a case for what it understands to be the ethical imperative underwriting the need to revisit select historical criticisms of psychotherapy. Three broad areas of historical criticism seem particularly pressing in this respect: socio-political critiques, feminist critiques, and concerns over the potentially abusive nature of the transference. The first set of arguments concerns a series of speculations over how psychotherapy may act as an instrument of social control, as a de-politicizing and potentially 'pathologizing' vehicle able to implement normative (or ideological) socio-political values through its clinical procedures. The second set of arguments focuses on psychotherapy's gendering potential, that is, both its construction of gender and its reiteration of patriarchal power-relations. The third focus of the paper brings to the fore questions of the frequently sexualized nature of the psychotherapeutic interaction, particular with reference to the transference. The paper concludes by suggesting that the problems thus posed cannot simply be eradicated; the most appropriate response, by contrast, is that of a broadening ethical sensibility of the potential impact of such issues and their 'thematic variants' upon clients.

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