There are many psychologies, many explanations for human behavior. Every personality theory offers an interpretive system, a set of categories, labels and explanations. Each posits some theory of the dynamics of the psyche’s desires, hopes, beliefs and expectations. Most theories attempt to weigh the relative contributions of biology and/or social experience. Norms and ideals set standards of human flourishing, against which diagnoses are made, and toward which therapies aspire. The schema guides counselling conversations toward whatever is the desired “image” of a well-functioning human being. In Robert Roberts’s (1993) words, the personality theories are “alternative spiritualties” offering “rival ‘words’ about human nature.” They “mean their ‘words’ to be taken to heart, to shape our souls, and their therapies are potent methods for planting their ideas in us so that we may grow in the shapes that they ordain”. Just as there are many philosophies and many religions, there will always be conflicting personality theories.
Psychotherapy is not a neutral, technical expertise. Counselling practices and strategies are designed to facilitate change in beliefs, behaviors, feelings, attitudes, values and relationships. A Counsellor’s worldviews shape the observations and descriptions of what is happening around a client, and so they guide the conversational interventions. One cannot intend to help another change without some ideal for human functioning, usually explicit, and easy to tease out when implicit. Ideals assert criteria of good and evil, true and false, significance and irrelevance, however much practitioners may recoil from acknowledging both the moral nature of their conversations and the omnipresent influence of “suggestion” expressed in their questions, comments and silences. The more thoughtful practitioners know that they are doing “pastoral” work, and recognize that moral values and worldview assumptions come into play in every human interaction.
Freud (1916) points out that the therapist “plays the part of a effective outsider; he makes use of the influence which one human being exercises over another.” What takes place is an “educative process,” a remedial “after-education” under the guidance of an authoritative and caring expert who strategically intervenes in another’s life. Something similar could be said about any counseling school. Even purportedly “non-directive” counseling simply does these same things covertly.
Any successful counselee learns to see with new eyes, converts and is nurtured. Secular psychotherapy is “pastoral work” done by “secular pastoral workers,” as Freud provocatively put it. This is not mentioning the other equally important aspects of the system in which psychotherapy is practiced and the zeitgeist and popular culture in which certain psychologies emerge.