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David G. Butt, PhD

Associate Professor, Linguistics, Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW, Australia



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Paper

045 – Turbulence at Heart: What a Linguist Learned About Language from the Psychotherapist's 'Grammar of Empathy'

Paper Session 2, #3 - Turbulence at Heart: What a Linguist Learned About Language from the Psychotherapist's 'Grammar of Empathy'

Sunday, November 29

2:10 PM - 2:30 PM

Room: Heritage Ballroom

Primary Presenter(s):

David G. Butt, PhD

Associate Professor, Linguistics, Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW, Australia

In over 10 years of collaboration between psychotherapists working with the 'Conversational Model' (CM: Meares 2005) and Systemic Functional linguists (Webster 2015), the central purpose of our research (including an NHMRC project) was to make explicit the modes of talk which brought about change between traumatised patients (BPD) and their therapists. From the point of view of the linguists, the core language principles that emerged aligned in name and function with clinical ideas which themselves have drawn increasing emphasis from practitioners in the CM (Meares 2012; and Meares et al. 2012). These principles might be referred to as 'cohesion' and 'construal in context'. These terms, as findings, are outlined in this talk.

The methods of analysis in the research included the detailed comparison of critical transitions in patient and therapist interactions, using transcripts marked by therapists for clinical significance (although with the potential to be construed in different ways). Details of this method are illustrated through examples (Butt, Moore, and Henderson-Brooks 2012).

What concerns me most in this talk, however, is the degree to which the linguist's view of language was itself renewed within a biological and Pragmatist framework of the "self" (Meares 2012).


Learning Objectives:

  • Adopt a new perspective on linguistic evidence in psychotherapeutic discourse, in particular with respect to the central concepts of the Conversational Model of Psychotherapy. For instance the word 'grammar' is usually associated with prescriptivism; but here it is used as a means of evaluating the consistency of choices made by patient and therapist, and the way a conflicted self may develop a wider meaning potential both within the stages of a particular consultation and across a series of interactions. The 'grammar' of empathy is a metaphor for the moves a therapist makes to open up these meaning spaces.
  • Participants, even as students, will be able to introduce into their clinical work some aspects of textual comparison which can be quantified and invoked as evidence of the semantic 'drift' in an interaction. Such 'drift' can be graphed, and subject to explicit debate and interpretation.
  • Examine the central notion of the duplex "self", as argued by William James, and reconsider the role of grammar in constructing the mental pathways (the semiotic resources) for James's ME/I distinction. James himself used grammar as a means of setting out his insight and this approach offers students and experts a fresh angle on a difficult concept.