Suffering transaction: a process of reflecting and understanding
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This study examines the transaction of the lived experience of ‘suffering’ in the process of psychotherapy. ‘Suffering’ is conceptualised as having its weight and value transacted between a psychotherapist and his or her client. As a psychotherapist from a family with a disabled member, my fieldwork in a hospital with the parents of disabled children was conducted in Taiwan. The development of our therapeutic relationship was discovered as the process of ‘suffering transaction’: the interaction of lived experience of suffering between my clients and myself. Two clients took part in this study in which eight to ten sessions of counselling or psychotherapy were conducted and transcribed as the research data. The data also included my lived experience, which was made explicit in this field work through records of six sessions of therapeutic supervision and my self-reflective therapeutic diary and research journal. Inspired by Gee’s (2000) work on data presentation, my understanding of client’s stories is represented as poetic form. Reflections from the use of reflexivity explore the inter-correlations of ‘suffering’ between us. The theoretical perspective informing the further analysis of this study is hermeneutic phenomenology and social suffering. The socio-cultural embodiments in language are explored as the hermeneutic horizons of the theme of suffering transaction. Politically, the development of ‘early intervention’ in Taiwan creates as ‘unjust’ context for those encountering medical services, and this shared understanding of the medical bureaucracy influenced the psychotherapeutic encounter. The analysis also explores the influence of Confucian approaches to gender difference and family ethics, and Christian religious beliefs, in relation to the self-identification of my clients in suffering for other. These three horizons indicate that searching for the meaning of suffering is an inter-subjective process that entails taking the responsibility for the ‘Other’ as the symbolic socio-cultural body. The thesis concludes with discussion about the ethics of the therapeutic relationship. I argue that in psychotherapy, both therapist and client are engaged in the Levinasian idea of the primordial responsibility ‘for’ the other. In the context of wider debates about psychotherapy as an ethical practice, I argue that a therapist has the pre-moral position of not only witnessing client’s lived experience of suffering but also being witnessed by the client. This study provides an example in which the context of ‘witness’ is inter-subjectively developed in psychotherapy.