A Little Bit Of Bakhtin - From Inside To Outside And Back Again

Hepple, J., 2010. A Little Bit Of Bakhtin - From Inside To Outside And Back Again. Reformulation, Winter, pp.17-18.


This article is designed to be a ‘bite-sized’ and hopefully digestible summary of the themes we explored in a workshop on this subject at the 2010 CAT conference held at Hatfield. I am indebted to Rachel Pollard for allowing me to explore some of her readings of the work of Mikhail Bakhtin and particularly for her provision of an unpublished paper (Pollard, 2010).

CAT, at its core, has a deeply relational heart. At a recent workshop in Chichester I heard Tony Ryle describe the primary purpose of CAT tools as being to encourage/guide the therapist to stay on the relational rails; to remain in dialogue with the client. It is an understanding of the nature of this dialogue and the concept of a dialogic self that Mikhail Bakhtin has so richly added to CAT’s diverse theoretical base.

For Bakhtin, dialogue is a joint activity that is unfinalisable, indeterminate and ever-unfolding. Any particular moment in a dialogue is simply that: the current state of play – a work in progress. Any dialogue in therapy, between client and therapist, is a unique evolutionary process of shared understanding that is grounded in the time and space particular to the client and the therapist and the signs they are using in the ‘in-between’. Thus, all of the context of the persons of the client and therapist is fundamental to this process: social, cultural, historical and developmental. Above all, there is a meeting, in a context of two real, three-dimensional people.

For Bakhtin (and particularly as developed by Holquist, 2004), this process of dialogue in our lives and in therapy is the way in which we develop a sense of our self – a dialogical self that is similarly unfinalisable. It is but a short step, then, to recognise that in CAT the relationship between client and therapist is the pre-eminent tool that can result in therapeutic change. This is well recognised, as I’m sure you know, and I hope that an exploration of the concepts of ‘outsideness’ and ‘insideness’ in the rest of this article will add to your understanding, and your therapeutic choices, in your future work with clients.

A key Bakhtinian idea is ‘outsideness’ or ‘excess of seeing’ of the ‘other’ (in this case the therapist) in relation to the ‘I’ (the client). I cannot describe it better than Bakhtin himself:

“This ever-present excess of my seeing, knowing, and processing in relation to any other human being is founded in the uniqueness and irreplaceability of my place in the world”. (M. Bakhtin, 1990, p.23)

Bakhtin calls this excess of seeing:

“the bud in which slumbers form, and whence form unfolds like a blossom… in order that this bud should really unfold into the blossom of consummating form, the excess of my seeing must ‘fill in’ the horizon of the other human being who is being contemplated, must render his horizon complete.” (M. Bakhtin, 1990, p.24-25)

Rachel Pollard adds:

“As therapists, part of our task is to invite clients to find outside perspective in relation to the events in their own life, both past events and imagined, feared or hoped for future events.” (Pollard, 2010, p.13)

It is clear that the CAT tools, particularly the Reformulation, SDR and Goodbye letter, allow the therapist to share their excess of seeing with the client in an empathic and collaborative way. As Bakhtin points out, there is an ethical duty attached to the privileged position of the outsider:

“The most important aspect of this surplus is love… This surplus is never used as an ambush, as a chance to sneak up and attack from behind. This is an open and honest surplus, dialogically revealed to the other person…” (Bakhtin,1984, p. 299)

Outsideness can thus add perspective - an ‘observing eye’ - and it is in this position that the therapist offers the client the benefit of their training and experience as a person and as a therapist. How the therapist experiences the client, particularly in enactments in the therapy, is often a golden opportunity to reflect on how the client is perceived in the outside world.

The joint formulation of this perspective can then lead to recognition and revision. Too much outsideness risks a lack of empathy, however, and an objectification of the client:

“Too comprehensive and early formulation risks leaving the patient feeling disrespected, unheard, misunderstood, oppressed or even manipulated”. (Rachel Pollard, 2010, p. 20)

It can also result in the therapist treating the client as if he were ‘the same’ as him – offering solutions more applicable to the therapist’s life than the client’s – effectively the therapist is then not helping the client to ‘author himself’ but is actually writing an autobiography through the client.

In her recent book (Pollard, 2008) and her latest paper (Pollard, 2010) Rachel develops the idea of ‘insideness’ as a counter-balance to the more established Bakhtinan concept of ‘outsideness’. Insideness is much more to do with the body than the mind. Particularly, the fact that we all have very similar human bodies; the fact that we are ‘all the same inside’.

A major theme in Bakhtin is ‘carnival’ - the opportunity for people to join together in a mood of irreverence, rebellion and subversive humour. Many of the traditional themes of carnival are the shared vulnerability, even grotesqueness, of our human bodies and our bodily functions. These things ground us, bring us down to earth and allow us to join in the ‘transgressive togetherness’ of the ‘joyful anarchy of the body’ (Pollard, 2008, p.169).

Insideness in therapy can thus be defined as:

“Insideness presumes that there is such a thing as common humanity, that there is an essential similarity between any two human beings regardless of how great the differences between them might be…we can potentially know other people from our ‘interior’ knowledge of ourselves”. Pollard, 2008, p206).

From an ‘inside’ perspective, the therapist is more likely to empathise with the bottom role in enactments (empathic counter-transference). Insideness emphasises that we share many of the anxieties and losses of the human condition and, most importantly, that things happen to people that are out of their control (abuse, oppression) and that there is a commonality and solidarity in the identification of victimisation and subsequent survival.

There is a choice, therefore, for the therapist as they move between the inside and outside positions in therapy. The guiding principles must be good timing, balance and an awareness of the ethical duty of the therapist to offer any perspective with kindness and love. It seems usual in CAT to begin more from a position of insideneness, to ‘be with’ the client, experience some of their distress with them and sometimes, through empathic counter-transference, for them. As trust and joint activity develop in the therapy relationship, the therapist typically offers more of an outside perspective to help the client ‘see’ themselves as others might see them. Here the therapist is ‘being to’ the client in the sense of being a real, unique other person who can offer one of many other perspectives.

There are times when a switch from outside to inside or vice-versa is a therapeutic choice that benefits from reflection and supervision. For example, there are times when I feel I have taken the client too fast towards recognition and revision and we may need to go back a few steps to stay with the feelings related to previous abuse and trauma. At other times over-empathising risks a snag of collusion in a stuck and self-defeating victim position that needs the therapist’s observing eye to point out a way forward.

I hope that this brief article has helped you to understand more of the nature of the contribution of the work of Mikhail Bakhtin and the recent reading of his work by Rachel Pollard, in the interest of bringing into dialogue with the broader CAT world some fundamental constructs that underpin the relational heart of CAT.

“The first step in aesthetic activity is my projecting myself into him and experiencing his life from within him…I must put myself in his place and coincide with him…followed by a return into myself…for only from this place can the material derived… be rendered meaningful ethically, cognitively, or aesthetically”. (Bakhtin, 1990, p.25-26)

Jason Hepple, Somerset Partnership NHS Trust

References:

Bakhtin, M. M. (1984) Problems of Dosteovsky’s Pretics. Trans. C. Emerson. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Bakhtin, M. M. (1990) Author and hero in aesthetic activity. In: M. M.Bakhtin, Art and answerability: Early philosophical works by M. M.

Bakhtin, ed M.Holquist and V.Liapulov, trans. V. Liapunov. Austin Texas, Texas University Press.

Holquist, M. (2004) Dialogism: Bakhtin and his world (2nd Edition). London Routledge.

Pollard, R. (2008) Dialogue and Desire. Michael Bakhtin and the Linguistic Turn in Psychotherapy. London: Karnac.

Pollard, R. (2010) Ethics in practice: A critical appreciation of Mikhail Bakhtin’s concept of ‘outsideness’, in relation to responsibility and the creation of meaning in psychotherapy. (In preparation for publication).

Full Reference

Hepple, J., 2010. A Little Bit Of Bakhtin - From Inside To Outside And Back Again. Reformulation, Winter, pp.17-18.

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