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Accepted Paper:

Therapeutic harm and the limits of language: struggles with complicity in mental health care  
Fiona Wright (University of Cambridge)

Paper short abstract:

This paper considers a therapeutic approach to psychological crisis that views language as potentially harmful, and struggles with its own complicity in the perpetration of that harm.

Paper long abstract:

If acting through complicity can be understood as a form of taking responsibility, while reckoning with one’s role in doing harm, as I have previously argued, what happens when that doing of harm is sensed in the use of speech and language that is a ubiquitous part of human communication? In this paper I consider this question in the intimate, intersubjective therapeutic domain, specifically as it is mobilized in response to psychological crisis. With reference to my ethnographic research on a therapeutic approach being introduced in the UK that distances itself from diagnostic language, clinical hierarchies, and psychoanalytic interpretations, I explore the avoidance of certain kinds of therapeutic speech and knowledge practices as an encounter with their complicity in psychological harm. Where my interlocutors emphasise the healing force of silence, embodied attunement, and communication through the repetition of the other’s words, I trace their forging of the therapeutic as a space and practice that attempts to recognize, and thus to avoid, the harm that subjects may do each other merely through using speech and language. This form of care for those experiencing psychological distress thus echoes the Levinasian idea that attempts to know and to represent the other through the use of language is in itself a form of violence, and that communication always entails some complicity. I argue that the ways in which this therapeutic approach considers harm as integral to intersubjectivity reflects a cultural politics that discloses but also struggles with complicity as a form of responsibility.

Panel Mora02a
Complicities: politics and ethics at the edges of responsibility I
  Session 1 Friday 2 April, 2021, -