This panel explores how both therapists and anthropologists can and do make sense of unexpected or unwelcome developments in the consulting room, and what these perspectives might contribute to cross-disciplinary debates about whether, how and why people can change.
Many forms of psychotherapy are premised on the notion that the language spoken and social relationships fostered in therapeutic encounters can transform the ways in which patients imagine, and thereby act in, the world. And yet every time a patient meets with their therapist, such claims are put to the test. While some encounters proceed as textbook exemplars of the therapeutic traditions that inform them, many do not. Sometimes, they fail outright. On other occasions, they unfold in unexpected ways: engendering transformation, but not of the kind, to the extent, or in the manner that the therapist might have anticipated. Since psychotherapies are often inspired by psychological models that have also proven influential amongst anthropologists, ethnographic studies of therapeutic encounters that do not proceed as anticipated have the potential to make vital, critical, contributions not just to the field of psychiatry but also to anthropological theory. This panel thus explores how both therapists and anthropologists can and do make sense of unexpected or unwelcome developments in the consulting room. It invites papers that explore what therapists' handling of 'the unexpected' reveals about the emergent regimes of therapeutic governance in which they operate, that track how therapists' understandings of their practices' efficacy evolves in the wake of unexpected interactions, that debate the potential merits of such emergent emic perspectives for anthropological theory, or that develop etic explanations of the therapeutic unexpected which constitute original interventions into cross-disciplinary debates about whether, how and why people can change.