From Hell to Utopia: How Clinical Psychologists Who Don't Believe in Free Will Experience Delivering Therapy
Brunton, Isabel Charlotte
Background: Both Freud (1921) and Skinner (1971) were regarded as 'hard determinists' who saw human thought and action as determined by prior events, and the idea of free will as simply an illusion. While this belief system clearly impacted on the models of therapy they developed, whether such beliefs also had an impact on their ability to develop qualities of effective therapy, such as empathic and genuine therapeutic relationships, is not known. Furthermore, whether there is something about holding this belief system that could affect therapists’ abilities to attain and nurture such qualities, remains unclear. Research Question: The research study reported here sought to gain some insight into the above question, and into what it is like to deliver therapy from a hard determinist philosophical frame, by asking how clinical psychologists who hold a hard determinist philosophy, experience delivering therapy. Method: The study made use of a qualitative design methodology. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with seven hard determinist clinical psychologists, and interview transcripts were analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). Results: Four super-ordinate themes emerged from the analysis: ‘From Hell to Utopia: How it feels to be a hard determinist therapist’, ‘Hating the sin, loving the sinner: Enhancing the therapeutic relationship’, ‘Free will: A felt vs reflective understanding’, and ‘Therapist as thinker’. Implications: The themes to emerge from the data gave rise to a number of implications and recommendations for practice and further research. In particular, it was recommended that the link between hard determinist beliefs and a perceived enhancement of the therapeutic relationship warrants further research. Furthermore, since the philosophy was linked to ideas about power, self-control, therapeutic models, science, and research, discussions of the philosophy may add valuable contributions to clinical psychology’s understanding of these issues. In addition, a replication or development of this study with a broader range of therapists is recommended, to establish whether the findings reported here can be generalised to therapists from fields outside clinical psychology.