Tuesday 11 October 2011

Psychotherapy, Education and "free"

Donald Winnicott dedicated his last book "Playing with Reality":
"To my patients who have paid to teach me"
Psychotherapy has rarely been free. Increasingly, education won't be either.  But then again, 'free' is only an illusion - it is probably the wrong word: are things any less 'free' when they are funded from general taxation?

But what funding from general taxation does do is to create a level playing field where income and social position does not affect your life-choices. There are obvious economic reasons for doing this: not least that the talent and creativity in any society is likely to be amongst the many underprivileged, rather than amongst the few at the top. But more than that, individual talent and creativity is rarely truly individual: people of all abilities and backgrounds and socio-economic groups are inter-dependent. 'Selection' misses the point; cohesion is more fundamental - and selection can work against cohesion.

Education and psychotherapy are closely related. They both concern cultivation of capability. The psychotherapist and the educationalist works to develop inner-worlds and rebalance the relationship with the outer world: HarrĂ© has said: "learning is a change in positioning" (I got this from Christine Redmond) - and that means the change in what HarrĂ© calls the 'storyline' (inner world) of the individual producing changes in their utterances, and ultimately changes in their social circumstances.

But there are obvious differences between psychotherapy and education. Whilst the capability which is cultivated by each amounts to a cultivation of individual identity, the focus of that identity cultivation is directed in different ways. Education directs attachments to the outer-world of discourse, books, knowledge and skilled performances. Psychotherapy directs focus towards the inner-world - the attachment to ones' own mind as a move towards individuation. There are interesting exceptions of course: Family therapy is much more like education in that it is more externally-directed, as are other Batesonian psychotherapeutic ideas like Neuro-linguistic Programming. But in a way it doesn't matter - whether the focus is on outer-world attachment or the inner-world, the result is a respective complementary impact on inner/outer dimensions of experience.

But there are further differences within education itself. Arts courses often have a dual focus, drawing attention to the outer-world of discourse as much as they do to the inner-world of interpretation and experience. This, I believe is the true value of the arts. Science courses are often deficient with regard to the inner-world of experience. They rely for their attachments on similar kinds of minds with similar predispositions to attach to the sometimes cold and abstract formulations of their material. Students studying these may indeed be disposed labour with cold attachments in the expectation of financial rewards for their studies which might not be so forthcoming for artists - but that is another dimension of their storyline (and possibly a source of psychic difficulty later on). For an artistic mind, cold attachments can be rather alienating.

But what of the cost of it all? Looked at as a process of psychic development, money appears to be an irrelevance - it is merely a means for living out ones life. But the realisation of the irrelevance of money is itself a stage of development towards a psychically-balanced attitude. This point was made very strongly in an excellent post I saw on "why educational start-ups don't succeed": http://avichal.wordpress.com/2011/10/07/why-education-startups-do-not-succeed/. Those who have education see it as an investment; those who don't see it as a cost. In other words, those who have it can see the psychic and practical benefits of it. But the challenge is to encourage those who don't. The thrust of this post is that educational businesses should concentrate on price, not quality.

I'm not sure about that. It seems to be a recipe for educational pathology.

With education funded by general taxation, the cost of education was not an issue for those without education. With explicit and high fees for education (whether those fees are payable as 'tax' later on) the cost of education will become a psychological barrier for those who do not have enough insight into the benefits that education can bring. The only people who will have that insight will be the ones who already have education. Cheap education without quality is a very high risk venture for people who are already overburdened with the risks that impaired capability produces.

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