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John Karter, Writer and Psychotherapist

Challenging Received Wisdom

As a writer, whether it is fiction or non-fiction, my use of words has primarily been directed towards subverting received wisdom. Too often we take what we read or hear as 'holy writ', and the more we hear it the more it becomes lodged in our brain as incontrovertible fact. This is the rationale behind advertising, but it also applies to daily brainwashing by the media, whether it concerns politics, morals, love and relationships, or personal image.

If my task as a psychotherapist is to free my clients from their self-imposed prisons, then my wider mission, through the use of the written word, is to release people from the trance of life, which ensnares them and tells them that they cannot think or act any other way. It is, in effect, about turning conventional wisdom on its head.

Words are powerful. Their potential for shaping our world and creating our worldview is frequently underestimated. That is why I am fascinated by the interplay between psychotherapy and words as manifested in the language clients use to describe their situations. In this respect, I align myself with Sigmund Freud, the founding father of psychoanalysis, who described psychotherapy as 'the talking cure'.

How Words Create Our World

When a client comes to me with a relationship difficulty or an emotional problem, it is only through the use of words that he can try to explain what is going on in his world. Looking behind the client's words to analyse what is happening beneath the layer of 'self talk' he has constructed around the issue - which often constitutes a self-imposed prison - is the first step to establishing what he is really experiencing and feeling.

For example, a client might say that he is 'useless' at relationships and has therefore given up on them. By going deeper into what he actually means by the word useless and showing him how his past experiences have coloured his view not only of himself but of the world around him, so that 'useless' has become a kind of identity tag which he hangs round his neck like a lead collar, he can begin to dismantle the walls of the psychological prison he has built for himself.

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