“Essence” Is It A Noun or a Verb?

I am attending a day long seminar today on Narrative Therapy which is a form of psychotherapy in which the patient/client defines the problem which afflicts them in terms meaningful to them and separates themselves from the problem, thus making the therapy relational. The therapist then assists the client/patient in developing their “story” of how the problem entered their lives and the influence it has had. This form of therapy presumes, in a certain sense, that the reality is created by the teller of the story, i.e., the patient/client.

The presenter of the conference stated that this way of thinking about doing therapy is really about changing systems and is a political stand aimed at deconstructing culture.

Rather radical statements, it seems. The presenter would not disagree with that characterization.

He said, “Essence is a verb, not a noun.” This is more than a catchy comment. It is points to his philosophy and his socio-cultural aims.

Essence is a philosophical term reaching centuries back in western civilization. It means that there are somethings constant and constituitive to that which exists. It is descriptive of someone or something in terms of setting limits as to who one is or what something may be, vis a vis the rest of the world without, in another sense, completing the identity of that person or some other reality. For instance, it would say that there is something persistent throughout time and culture that all human beings share that defines them and distinguishes them from animals or plants or inanimate objects.

The presenter today is saying that there is no such essential nature; rather, he would assert that who we are is created by us in our telling and recounting of our life’s story. That is a philosophical assumption he asserts as underpinning the narrative therapy approach. He uses it to deconstruct what he view as oppressive cultural structures, including the Catholic Church, psychoanalysis, and history as told by men.

I find myself thinking that there is a real disconnect between what sounds like a wonderful way to do therapy with people with serious problems in life, a therapy that could free them from futile ways of thinking and ineffective ways of approaching self-understanding…. a disconnect between that and this whole notion of their is no real essence or definition common to us all.

I don’t think psychotherapy is a political activity.

I do think a correct understanding and appreciation of our human “essence” gives us a sense of continuity, stability and community with all our brothers and sisters throughout the world and history.

Essence is a noun, not a verb, say I.

About Deacon Bob

Moderator: Deacon Bob Yerhot of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota.
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