Passionate about Pluralism
Why am I passionate about pluralism? Why does it mean so much to me?
If pluralism was a particular clinical technique, I’m sure I could really care about it; but I don’t think I’d ever feel the deep passion that I do for the pluralistic approach that we’ve been developing in counselling and psychotherapy. Why? Because it is more than a clinical method or therapy, but a particular way to approach the therapeutic field and human beings more generally. One that is rooted in an ethics of care, compassion, and a prizing of difference and diversity.
To really understand pluralism, you have to go back to its ethical and philosophical roots. Isaiah Berlin’s value pluralism is a great place to start, or William James’s A pluralistic universe. What these philosophers describe is a way of understanding ‘reality’ that is open, flexible, and dialogue-based: That doesn’t hold on to any fixed or definitive truths. It’s not saying that there isn’t a reality, but that different people have different understandings of it and we need to be careful to prematurely impose one truth over all. And that’s because, at the heart of pluralism, is a deep and abiding care for others: that we don’t just stamp our own version of reality on them. So that means listening to others, attending to them, welcoming their views and engaging in dialogue with them–all the while also holding and valuing our own views on things.
Pluralism isn’t relativism. It isn’t saying everything is all of a mush and that nothing really matters. It does hold that there are different positions, and some may be ‘better’ than others. But it advocates, in many circumstances, a deferral of judgement: that we hold our truths lightly. We allow for a space in which new views, understandings, and perceptions can be let in. And pluralism can also be ‘militant’ when the valuing of difference is under threat. It strives to understand monolithic, anti-pluralistic voices (like racism or totalitarianism), but it’s more than willing to stand up to them and protect that space in which difference can thrive.
So why does any of this matter to counselling and psychotherapy? First, because it seems to me that those principles of pluralism are a brilliant basis from which to develop our relationships within the counselling and psychotherapy world. It’s a way that I, as a mainly person-centred/existential therapist, can engage with colleagues from the CBT or psychodynamic world that feels ethical and constructive. It means that I’m meeting them in a manner that is consistent with my wider ethics. Second, and perhaps more importantly, it’s a way of engaging with my clients that also feels along the right track. It’s an expression of that deeper stance towards how I want to relate to others. And, third, it’s about aligning my work as a therapist with the kind of world that I would like to see emerging: one in which we all have more care and compassion towards each other. It means that, at every moment of my therapeutic or supervisory work–however small and transitory–I am contributing towards the kind of society that we can all more fully thrive.
Maybe, ultimately, that’s why I feel so passionate about pluralism: because it aligns my work in the therapeutic field with my deeper values. It means that what I do, day to day, has meaning and purpose for me. It feels part of a greater whole: a deeper, more fundamental direction. That also runs through my passion for person-centred therapy, or existential therapy, or research; but somehow, for me, ‘pluralism’ captures what it is that I most deeply care about: a willingness to engage, respectfully, with otherness and to celebrate that difference and diversity.