Meta-theories

By John Mcleod

If you look at the history of how therapy has developed, it is clear that it comprises a fairly continuous set of arguments around the relative importance of psychological constructs such as cognition, emotion, behaviour, relationships, and biology. These debates are fascinating but in the end have not been very productive, tending to lead to transient fashions and the creation of competing ‘schools’, each of which specialises in one type of process.

Any attempt to assimilate the other processes into one superordinate construct (i.e., its all about neuroscience) can never convince the adherents of competing ideas. What seems to be much more effective, in terms of bringing together insights across the whole spectrum of cognition, emotion, etc., is to find a meta-theory, at a higher level of abstraction from which psychological ideas can be evaluated.

Pluralism is a meta-theory or meta-perspective, taken from philosophy. Pluralism, and its closely allied concept of dialogue, offers a standpoint from which it becomes possible to embrace all psychological constructs. In order to think critically about pluralism, it is necessary to compare it with other meta-perspectives that have been adopted by integrative therapists.  The main ones are: (i) feminism/social justice/relational ethics; (ii) environmentalism/ecology; (iii) religion/spirituality; (iv) science; (v) art/aesthetics/design; (vi) social anthropology/cultural studies.

It can be valuable to think about which (if any) of these meta-theories are meaningful for you, and how they shape and inform your approach as a therapist. Therapist development involves building a personal vision of what you are as a therapist and what you want to achieve over the course of your career. Being aware of your own ‘meta-theoretical’ leanings and affiliations are important aspects of that quest..   

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