Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Learner Therapist (67) … My enduring ignorance and patient progress

Torrey Orton

Dec. 9, 2015

Wholes and bits

The whole person is the object of therapy, as is the case for all kinds of learning. What comes broken into pieces is therapeutic techniques, learning contents and learning processes, as if readied for piecemeal consumption. Our learning theories tell us things must be chunked, parcelled and presented.

What’s hard to preserve in the passage of the bits is the wholes. The whole person, the whole of the subject, the whole of the practice… anything whole in the moment perhaps. A first challenge to my deeper engaging this situation is my ignorance across many domains and levels of human activity. There are so many things relevant to effective living which I do not and never will know deeply. These ignorances spring from aspects of myself which were never strong – the mathematical arena for example, the related natural sciences and their associated engineering applications.

I know they exist and that they matter, but I am constitutionally unsuited to engaging them with any hope of a real grasp arising from the effort. And, I don’t have that much time anyway.

Action for a change

What I can, and do, do is this:

·         Pay attention to those domains and levels which are clearly both important to whole persons and beyond me (and perhaps beyond them, too, in varying configurations).

·         Choose a few of them to pay persistent attention to – follow them at different levels of presentation: daily news, monthly news and annual review level (but in standard educated reader publications - the best of X for year 2016).

·         Be on the lookout for signs of the chosen domains in everyday life. This should occur unconsciously as a result of the persistent attention chosen interests.

·         Develop specialty interests in the domains which you follow closely enough to be able to lead a conversation among non-experts about the nature of that enterprise / issue / domain and its importance for you, us, and them now and into the near future, but especially how it feels important to you – the kinds of feelings it elicits.

·         Find and maintain a suite of colleagues with specialisations in those areas of interest to me that are beyond my likely competence. Engage on the periphery of activities and projects which are driven by specialists. For example follow target domains in different cultures, easy to do these days by subscribing to web versions of major papers daily and get notifications of preferred subjects direct. Many foreign language majors have English editions – e.g. Le Monde, China Daily, etc.

(I learned this technique living and teaching in Beijing in the early ‘80’s when wanting to learn to read Chinese and understand their view of education. I discovered that the Guangming Ribao (the ‘intellectuals’ daily) carried a regular column of matters educational. I stayed with that pretty much for two years. I could read the then current education commentary by the end, though very little about specific subjects or courses.)

Domains and levels of interest for action

So, what are some candidates for must-know domains and levels for the next 5-10 years with testably high impact on the lives of our patients (and ourselves!)? Try these for now:

Domains of action:


1-      The Artificial Intelligence / Enhanced Performance* industries

2-      The life extension business – to the century as normal and the planets as possible by artificial starts (IVF, etc.) and hangings on (replacement parts, etc.)

3-      Climate changes and other acts of gods

4-      Macro (the degradation of democratic practices in the chief democracies) and micro (local violences) political disintegrations

5-      Loss of concrete public language* for expressing and discussing experience (the prominence of spin across everyday life)

6-      The commercialisation of everyday life and the sanctification of productivity. (The only measure of worth is money and its surrogates (stuff)


Levels of understanding:


7-      What’s normal now? (from the impacts of the preceding,  and their interactions)

8-      Dilemmas / paradoxes* (gains are losses and losses are gains?)

9-      Boundaries – defining the spaces which domains occupy exclusively

10-   Evidences* – the ‘facts’ and ‘values’ which constitute the substance of life.

These domains and levels can also be seen as the context for everyday persons’ lives which provide perspective on their purposes, conduct and achievements. Elsewhere I will offer some approaches to checking for their influences in the course of therapy. One implication of these domains and levels is that some parts of much therapy will have to be concerned with “tools and skills” for helping patients get their power back in domains and levels which are inescapably present to us all.

*These are my current favourites.

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