Monthly Archives: November 2012

Therapy Gem: Reification and Action with Comments on Anger Management and Intervention

Freud’s Study in Vienna

Two Errors in the Application of Psychological Constructs. Since psychoanalysis and psychology first became popular decades ago, the public has absorbed many of their tenets into popular thinking.  Many of those adoptions no longer represent the scientific or exact meaning psychoanalysts or psychologists gave to these terms and ideas.

For example, “ego” means the organization of personality functions which adapt a person’s needs and drives to his or her guiding ideals and/or reality constraints.  These personality functions of self-control, coping, sensation, perception, thinking, judgment, and will, among other functions, help us to satisfy our needs given the realities we face. So “Ego” only means an organized use of these functions in service of satisfying our drives and needs while adapting to 1) our physical and cultural environment, 2) all of our past learning, and 3) our internalized ideals.  “Ego” does not actually refer to any place or thing inside of us.

But since the late 1960s, the term “ego” in common parlance means something quite different, namely, narcissism or egotism, self-absorption.  When we say, “You have a big ego,” meaning something on the order of “You think you are important” or “You are self-centered,” we are almost implying the ego is a place inside of us.

So, many ideas in psychology have become popular, but the precision of meaning has been lost in the translation.  In some cases, the idea has been treated as if the concept represents a real thing.  For example, the term “ego,” as in “Your ego,” implies a tangible structure, a stable characteristic.  Whether people mean by “ego” merely self-absorption or whether they cross a line and treat the “ego” as something tangible certainly is an important discrimination!  As we shall see, the latter is an example of a fallacy named reification, treating a theoretical construct as if it is a reality.

So we have two errors in the popular use of psychological constructs.  First is that the meaning changes from a more precise construct to a more general, imprecise trait or characteristic of people.  The second is the reification of constructs.  That means the constructs are treated as if they were real parts of us.

Note: Before we become psychotherapists, we professionals are members of our culture.  So we grow up using language in these imprecise and sometimes reified ways.  We need to be much more careful in our use of constructs and language.  After all, as therapists, empathy and language are two of our very most crucial tools for promoting change.

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Therapy Gem- Diagnosis By Event: We Do Not Diagnose By What Has Happened

“My 13 year-old son, Carlos James, has reactive attachment disorder,” reported an anxious mother to start the first interview.

The therapist asked, “What makes you come to that conclusion?”

“He was adopted from Columbia.  He never felt bonded to me.  He always seemed to keep a distance from me.”  As she said this, her husband sat quietly at the far end of the couch shifting his jaw in a gesture of doubt.

“Adopted at what age?  From what kind of situation?”

“He was two months old. From an orphanage.  I think it was an okay place, but didn’t have a lot of staff or resources, from what I heard.”

“How was he when you met him for the first time?”

“He seemed okay.  He was well-fed.” [Further inquiry regarded early attachment signs, eye contact, comfort, consolability, timing of milestones.  From the description given, nothing seemed unusual.]

The therapist then asked, “What does he do or not do that makes you think it’s RAD now?”

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