… many of the people who seek therapy believe that the problems in their lives are a reflection of their own identity or the identity of others. When this is the case, their efforts to resolve problems usually have the effect of exacerbating them instead. This leads people to even more solidly believe that the problems of their lives are a reflection of certain “truths” about their nature and their character, or about the nature and character of others—that these problems are internal to their self or the selves of others.
… Because the habit of thought that constructs these internal understandings of people’s lives is significantly a cultural phenomenon, many of the problems that people consult therapists about are cultural in nature. The history of this cultural phenomenon has been traced by a number of historians of thought, including Michel Foucault… .
Foucault traced the origin of these internal understandings of life and identity back to the mid-17th century in Western culture. He proposed that this was, in part, the outcome of developments in:
- “Dividing practices" that separated, through the ascriptionorassignment of a spoiled identity, the homeless, poor, mad, and infirm from the general population
- The objectification of people’s bodies through the location of, and classification of, disorders within these bodies
- "Normalizing judgment" as a mechanism of social control that incites people to measure their own and each other’s actions and thoughts against norms about life and development that are constructed withing the professional disciplines
The development of these dividing practices, of this scientific classification, and of this mechanism of normalizing judgment fostered the objectification of people’s identity. In this objectification of identity, many of the problems that people encounter in life come to represent the “truth” of their identity. For example, in the context of the professional disciplines, it is not uncommon for therapists to refer to a person as “disordered” or “dysfunctional,” and in wider culture it is not uncommon for people to consider themselves or others “incompetent” or “inadequate” by nature.
Externalizing conversations in which the problem becomes the problem, not the person, can be considered counter-practices to those that objectify people’s identities. Externalizing conversations employ practices of objectification of the problem against cultural practices of objectification of people.