POIESIS AND THE ART OF THERAPY
Our understanding of psychotherapy has traditionally focused on the interplay between theory and technique. As is often the case, a gap emerges in practice between these two concepts. The persistence of such a gap may suggest that our conventional schema for understanding the practice of psychotherapy obscures a more basic and immediate engagement in the therapeutic encounter. The pre-Socratic sense of poiesis (literally "bringing-forth") offers a more accessible way to understand what occurs in the activity of psychotherapy.
In its broadest sense, poiesis refers to a bringing-forth, the "bursting of a blossom into bloom," as Heidegger described it. In contrast to a technical proficiency, poiesis is associated with the artful skill of master craftsmen who use their practical and embodied knowledge to work with their craft to bring out its best qualities. It is the craftsman's skill that facilitates an opening that clears the way to see meaningful distinctions and determine what is worthwhile. By recognizing the uniqueness of each situation, the craftsman is able to create each craft by revealing its most desired possibility of being.
Within the domain of psychotherapy, therapists work with their patients to open a space from which new possibilities may emerge. Poiesis, however, engenders these possibilities not merely, as our conventions dictate, by making the unconscious conscious, generating new narrative meanings, and unveiling universal truths, but also by skillfully working with the patient to bring forth his or her own possibilities of being-in-the-world. Through the process of therapy, patients develop resonance with particular experiences of the self that emerge as having meaning and value out of the array of possibilities that are considered in the space of therapy.
Herein is the artistic act of psychotherapy. Art can be said to organize and focus meaningful possibilities to reveal that which is significant. In this manner, we can construe psychotherapy as the art that works to bring-forth that which matters most with respect to the patient's own possibilities of being. In other words, the process of psychotherapy aims at bringing-forth a more authentic life, which is always at play within the therapeutic encounter.
This more ontological view of the activity of psychotherapy can be understood as an emergence and refinement of a poietic dimension of life. Just as the therapist engages the poietic through psychotherapy, so too the patient cultivates his or her own poietic style that ultimately transforms how the patient sees and experiences the world.
Mark McKinley, Psy.D.
Impulse Potential Space Editor