My comments on qualifications and credentials, thus far, might lead readers to assume that I equate expertise with having the 'right' credentials. While it would be correct to say that I am dismissive of anyone who represents their credentials in a deceptive manner and that I am suspicious of anyone who flaunts easily obtained credentials, I do not regard any particular set of credentials as an assurance of expertise.
I have known Masters level therapists who do very good clinical work. These are people who diligently pursued challenging training and supervision well beyond what was required to earn basic Masters level credentials. I have also known many fundamentally opaque and incurious psychologists who are incompetent, destructive psychotherapists and human beings. Clearly, these psychologists were able to complete the requirements for doctoral degrees without ever seriously challenging themselves to see, hear and understand themselves and others in ways that extend beyond an automatic, self-serving, and ultimately banal perceptual framework. As one of my former supervisors put it, these clinicians are 'deaf.' They are deaf to themselves and they are deaf to others.
For these therapists, the mind of the patient can never be more than the therapist’s immediate, automatic perceptions. In their most destructive incarnation, these 'deaf' psychotherapists treat all communication as consciously generated products with singular meanings that are immediately self-evident. Typically, they resist further exploration of meanings, regardless of whether they are prompted to explore alternate hypotheses by patients, peers or their supervisors.
The representational nature of language itself is not even a consideration in the 'work' these therapists do. They are impervious to any awareness of subjectivity and they proceed as if there is a one-to-one correspondence between language and some self-evident metaphysical reality.
When I try to imagine what the phenomenological experience of the deaf psychotherapist might be like, I imagine some sort of conceptually blunted inner state that, in some respects, resembles what I suspect may have been the phenomenological world of early homo sapiens. 'Deaf' therapists have no room for conscious awareness of layered, multiple meanings, nor is there any awareness that meaning is first and foremost subjective in nature, influenced and constrained by the biologic and formal properties of the observer, the past experiences of the observer and the relative position of the observer to the observed. They are also unaware that the interpretation of meaning is easily skewed by both self-serving motives and defensive intrapsychic operations.
Among these deaf therapists, if there is ever any nod whatsoever given to subjectivity, it inevitably comes in a form that relegates the patient's consciousness to the status of a distorted subjective world, while the therapist exists as a pristine, objective observer of that world. Psychoanalytic notions like countertransference and applications of intersubjectivity to psychotherapy exemplified by the work of Robert Stolorow are an anathema to these deaf psychotherapists.
Although the neural substrates of language and symbolic thought are both present and realized in their use of language and in their cognitive activity, these psychotherapists possess only a dim secondary awareness that language and cognition are subjective, representational and symbolic. The expression — 'the lights are on but no one is home' — seems an apt metaphor here. I have sat through countless supervisory meetings, looking into the glazed over eyes of students and peers who were absolutely at sea when discussion turned to subtextual and symbolic elements of the patient’s or the therapist's words. I often wondered if these therapists and student therapists were capable of understanding books, poetry, plays and movies beyond the most simplistic manifest levels of interpretation.
While there are many occupations that do not require much in the way of hearing, psychotherapy isn't one of them. Yet, it is often those who are least capable of and most allergic to hearing who pursue training as psychotherapists. And, it is exactly this type of person who most often eschews depth and meaning in his or her education and training experiences, while favoring the accumulation of credentials as symbols that — paradoxically — do not correspond to any genuine internal capacity or competence. Rather than reflecting competence, credential mongering usually reflects an ability to employ symbols as if they are 'real' things to be acquired — as if credentials are wholly meaningful unto themselves.