By Malin Fors (Norway)
Malin Fors is the recipient of the 2016 APA Division 39 Joanna K. Tabin Book Proposal Prize for her proposal entitled A Grammar of Power in Psychotherapy. Division 39 and APA Books co-sponsor the Tabin Prize for a first book by a psychoanalytic author. This award competition is offered every other year, with the winner receiving a book contract with APA Books and a $1,000 cash advance on royalties. The Award was given at the Division 39 meeting in Atlanta this spring. Fors’ proposal, A Grammar of Power in Psychotherapy, is about power relations and intersectionality in psychotherapy. The book will be in stores in spring 2018. Fors’ description of her book proposal follows.
In this proposed book I offer a grammar (using the term to imply the unconscious structure of thought, as contemporary linguists have used it) for how external societal power issues inevitably enter the therapy room and affect the psychotherapeutic dyad. I stress some general factors concerning how social power issues may influence the therapy partnership and increase or decrease the “normal” asymmetrical/tilted relationship, regardless of what specific societal dimension is most significant in any particular relational context. This integration includes, for example, dimensions of race, gender, class, sexuality, age, and ability. My aim here is to integrate contributions from different human rights fields into an intersectional grammar about relative privilege and non-privilege in psychotherapy.
I find it instructive to think in terms of four paradigmatic situations of relative privilege in the clinical psychotherapy situation and address unique therapeutic challenges in these different core therapeutic dyads of relative privilege. I integrate theory about the dynamics of privilege from different angles of vision and theoretical traditions, including Freud’s thoughts on the narcissism of minor differences, Parens’ distinction between benign and malignant prejudice, Young-Bruehl’s concept of privilege as a social defense, attachment theory, contemporary theories on microaggression, Layton’s thoughts on privilege as a dissociation or detachment from vulnerability, Butler’s work on gender melancholia, Eng’s and Han’s Butler-inspired concept of race melancholia, and Akhtar’s division of prejudice into six levels of manifestation. I connect these concepts to empirical studies showing that privilege and power tend to make people act selfishly, become self-oriented, feel entitled, and become less connected to others.
Finally, I discuss relevant clinical topics, including voluntary and involuntary self-disclosure, visible and invisible similarities between patient and therapist, problems with essentialism and cultural competency, overidentification with the patient, fear of overidentification with the patient, choosing whether or not to address privilege, counterresistance and unexplored shame in the therapist, political interpretations, political correctness, privilege blackout, masochistic competition, and homoerotic countertransference. Because I write about very subtle phenomena and nuances of power dynamics, I have chosen to talk about this issue in a more self-disclosive way than might be common. Showing authentic examples of challenges is for me an intentional, honest way of exploring the topic. Many case studies describe therapeutic successes and highlight the therapist’s awareness of power dimensions. In this book I want to include my mistakes, as I try to flesh out more fully the dimensions of power and to explore the shades of relevant dynamics.
Malin Fors, MSc, Clinical Psychologist, Psychoanalyst
Finnmark Hospital Trust
District Psychiatric Center
Vest-Finnmark, Hammerfest Norway
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