1st Edition

Therapeutic Ethics in Context and in Dialogue

By Kevin Smith Copyright 2021
    108 Pages
    by Routledge

    108 Pages
    by Routledge

    The standard view of psychotherapy as a treatment for mental disorders can obscure how therapy functions as a social practice that promotes conceptions of human well-being. Building on the philosophy of Charles Taylor, Smith examines the link between therapy and ethics, and the roots of therapeutic aims in modern Western ideas about living well.

    This volume builds on a complementary volume (The Ethical Visions of Psychotherapy), to explore therapeutic conceptions of human flourishing. Smith illustrates how therapeutic aims implicitly promote ideas about a good life, even though therapists rarely tell their patients how they should live. Taylor’s history of the modern identity provides a framework to examine the historical and cultural origins of therapeutic ethics. Utilizing Taylor’s work on practical reasoning and ethical debate, Smith considers the prospects for dialogue between the divergent ethical visions promoted by different psychotherapies.

    A key text for upper-level undergraduates, postgraduate students, and professionals in the fields of psychotherapy, psychoanalysis, theoretical psychology, and philosophy of mind.


    1. Sources of Therapeutic Ethics and the Prospects for Dialogue
    2. Therapy Against Ethics and the Ethics of Therapy
    3. Therapeutic Ethics and Charles Taylor’s History of the Modern Identity
    4. From the Ethics of Therapy to Ethical Dialogue

    Appendix: Charles Taylor for Therapists: A Brief Introduction




    Kevin R. Smith is Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychology at Duquesne University, USA. He is a psychotherapist in private practice in Pittsburgh, USA, and supervises the psychotherapy training of psychiatry residents and doctoral students in clinical psychology. He has published papers on psychotherapy and phenomenological psychology.

    "A pleasure to read from start to finish, this short book is packed with interesting insights and arguments. A compelling case is made for thinking of psychotherapy as a set of social practices in Taylor’s sense, shaped by ideals whose capacity to empower and give meaning to life often escapes notice. By making these ideals explicit and placing them in the history of the modern identity, Smith helps us to see what’s fundamentally at stake in psychotherapy and in disputes between the various schools. Smith cuts through the fractious polemics typical of those disputes and points the way forward to a more constructive debate." -- Nicholas Smith, Professor of Philosophy, Macquarie University, author of Charles Taylor: Meaning, Morals, and Modernity

    "How can we better understand psychotherapy’s ethical visions when therapies—drawing on particular pictures of human flourishing—deny that therapy involves ethical visions? In this very perceptive book, Kevin Smith links psychotherapy’s ethical visions to the intuitions and stories told by therapist and client, to therapists’ gentle interrogation and "improvement" of clients’ ethical visions, and to the history of Western thought, in which Euro-American psychotherapy’s contemporary ethical visions are rooted, visions rooted so deeply and implicitly they may not even be recognized as ethical. To address the diversity of extant ethical visions, he encourages a deep level of respectful, open-minded conversation among differing views. Therapeutic Ethics in Context and in Dialogue provides invaluable resources for the crucial task of developing richer, more sophisticated understandings of therapeutic ethics." -- Alan Tjelveit, Professor of Psychology, Muhlenberg College, author of Ethics and Values in Psychotherapy

    "All too often our contemporary landscapes, be they international, national, social, ethnic, or professional, are torn asunder by relentless divisiveness and claims of rightness and superiority. Among the varied approaches to psychotherapeutic efforts, while the diversity of disciplines could well foster mutual learning and maturation, far too often the advocates of these models collapse into divisiveness and competitions that impoverish our opportunities to learn from one another. In these two volumes, Kevin Smith places ethics at the heart of these professional debates, examining and critiquing the values that divergent models of psychotherapy hold, both explicitly and implicitly, arguing that each represents a practice that promotes a particular vision of the good life. As a psychotherapist often drawn quite passionately into taking sides in these theory wars, I found in Smith’s book a quiet, deeply resourced perspective that allowed me to take a more reflective stance with regard to both the differences and the commonalities of contemporary models of psychotherapy. These books will be of great value to practitioners, researchers, scholars and teachers who value the reflective practice of the art, the science, and the philosophies of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy." -- William F. Cornell, author of Self-Examination in Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy

    "Kevin Smith’s work is essential. Every single practitioner of psychotherapy should be familiar with Smith’s message, and should be aware of the issues it raises for their work, every moment of every day. Psychotherapy, Smith tells us, is not a technical exercise in the amelioration of problems. The aims and conduct of psychotherapy are not adequately described or measured in the terms of evidence-based practice. Every aspect of psychotherapy, from the way problems are defined to the means by which they are addressed, is an expression, often inadvertent, of what we believe makes life good. Psychotherapy of every variety is a social practice, and like all such practices, it promotes an ethic. Whether they are used to thinking of their work as an ethical endeavor or not, all psychotherapists spend their entire professional lives influencing those with whom they work to live in certain ways and not in others. Psychotherapists are far too little aware of what is, after all, the very (ethical) ground under their feet.

    Smith’s two books should be assigned in every psychotherapy training program, and should be required reading for those who have finished formal training, regardless of their theoretical orientation (yes, I do mean to include the entire spectrum, from psychoanalysis to CBT) or the profession of its matriculants. Psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, counselors, clergy, psychiatric nurses, marriage and family therapists—all really do need to think through the issues presented here." -- Donnel B. Stern, Ph.D., William Alanson White Institute, author of The Infinity of the Unsaid