MAKING CONTACT: Uses of Language in Psychotherapy by Leston Havens

MAKING CONTACT: Uses of Language in Psychotherapy

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Havens, eminent psychiatrist and Harvard professor, writes mainly for fellow professionals, but in a clear, disciplined, and occasionally vivid English the passionate amateur will appreciate. The persuasive lesson is about sharpening psychotherapeutic technique through more precise use of language, a form of verbal microsurgery that will be of benefit, he says, to the growing numbers of people seeking help not because of any dramatic symptoms but from a sense of emptiness, purposelessness, or domination. Taking in turn the perspectives of the ""several schools of existential and interpersonal psychotherapy""--and hoping to integrate them theoretically--Havens discovers that each has its characteristic linguistic bent, which is most appropriately used to treat certain types and stages of psychopathology. So, to help retrieve an isolated or lost psyche, the doctor should use imitative or empathetic language: ask a fearful person, ""Where does one find the courage?""; tell a pained one, ""That must have hurt!"" With the patient whose problem is domination, either by himself of others or vice versa, the doctor can establish and maintain an appropriate working distance or a noninvasive closeness through interpersonal speech, mainly in form of declarative sentences: ""That sounds like your father"" or ""She was frightening."" When all the meticulous analysis of technique threatens to dehydrate the text, an illustrative shred of case history welcomingly intrudes. Apologizing in the preface for his ""rebarbative"" terms, and in his final chapter for ""crabbed jargon,"" the author pauses now and then to remind himself and us that even the most skillful technique does not make good psychotherapy all by itself; it just helps. And the rest? Who can say what ultimately makes treatment succeed or fail, but surely who the doctor is in his/her own soul matters. This psychiatrist's sincerity and humanity, at least, peek through in this thorough and thoughtful work.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1986
Publisher: Harvard Univ. Press