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  • Metaphysical Resources for the Treatment of ViolenceThe Self–Action Distinction
  • Alexandra Pârvan (bio)

Metaphysical care, violent offenders, psychotherapy, Augustine

The commentaries by Warren Kinghorn and Giuseppe Butera provide me with the welcome opportunity to reaffirm and briefly address a concern that lies at the core of my work in recent years. It regards the lack of a metaphysical perspective and consequently metaphysically informed interventions, or what I recently came to term 'metaphysical care' (Pârvan, 2015), in psychological and medical treatments when there are identifiable metaphysical assumptions at work both in clinicians and treated persons that affect the treatment and the well-being of both. In the original article, this is exemplified in the failure of both psychotherapists and people affected by violence to operate with a metaphysically grounded self–action distinction which they both need, as it has therapeutic effects for clients and therapists, and which they both ineffectively seek to establish on purely psychological or/and moral grounds. The main questions raised by the commentators are: 1) How is the self-action distinction that I propose different from existing therapeutic methods of distancing self from behavior (Kinghorn, 2017)? 2) In what does or should the distinction consist (Butera, 2017)? 3) Do I need Augustine for it, and reversely, does therapeutic work with Augustine's ideas need it (Kinghorn, 2017)? and 4) Does not Aquinas offer more (Butera, 2017)?

Regarding the first issue, no psychological therapy operates with a metaphysical view of the self taken as the human being. The self–action distinction cannot be established from a purely psychological perspective because, taken psychologically, both self and behavior are defined in terms of functioning, which means in terms of a way to act; consequently, self is behavior, and it can only be distinguished from one kind of behavior or another. The distinction, thus, is not between categories of being but kinds of doing. To illustrate this with reference to acceptance and commitment therapy (because Kinghorn wonders how it differs from my metaphysical approach): the self is distinct from unwanted behavior or [End Page 265] avoided psychological contents when it observes them or as an observing self. When the self no longer behaves like that, it is no longer distinct from its productions, and in fact, it no longer exists as an observing self. Moreover, this noticing self is a wise self, it is the self of mindfulness, the self that tames its cognitive and emotional contents and actions and lives in harmony with them all (Hayes, Pistorello, & Levin, 2012). The condition of existence for the many psychological selves is a way of functioning, such that the question about 'what the self is' collapses in 'what the self does.' Metaphysically, the self is not wise; it just is in a way fundamentally distinct from the one in which all its productions (from psychological contents to actions), unwanted and wanted are, as their existence depends on the self.

Incorporating in the treatment of violent people a perspective on 'what the self is' besides purely psychological views on 'how it functions,' generates distinct ontologically informed interventions (Pârvan, 2014) and provides metaphysical care to both clients and therapists (Pârvan, 2013). The latter is needed because psychological and ethical frameworks necessarily identify violent individuals as dysfunctional and morally flawed human beings, and therefore do not help either therapists or clients to value (non-conflictually and thus effectively) the latter's self, which is an essential requirement for both therapists' practice and clients' change. In consequence, clinicians either struggle (just as their clients) with an ethical dilemma that deeply affects them as human beings and professionals and cannot be solved ethically, or fail to actually cherish their clients as human beings and hence to properly care for them (Mason, Richman, & Mercer, 2002). A metaphysical view of the self helps both therapists and clients to identify that which is valuable in clients on grounds that are not moral or psychological and, therefore, are neither self-conflicting nor in conflict with psychological and moral assessments, thus facilitating therapeutic alliance, work, and change.

This brings me to the second question, which is best answered by a quote from Augustine. One should...


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