Biomedicine, psychotherapy, and YOU: Subjectivity in mental health

Plan Author

Iain Haukka, 2018

Fields of Concentration

Sample Courses

  • Course: Research Methods in the Social Sciences
  • Course: Psychotherapies
  • Tutorial: Intercultural Health and Subjective Well-Being
  • Tutorial: Neuropsychology and the Anti-Psychiatry Movement

Faculty Sponsors

Outside Evaluator

  • Dana Walrath, medical anthropologist and writer


The purpose of my first paper is to discuss a broad set of technologies, understandings, and modalities surrounding the concepts of mental health, well-being, and selfhood in order to promote a more comprehensive and meaningful examination of mental health. The second component of my Plan constitutes a personal, rather than purely academic, exploration of some of the topics and themes discussed in my other two papers. In my final paper, I argue that by reframing the therapeutic relationship or therapeutic alliance as a pivotal center around which the process of psychotherapy revolves, it might be possible to resolve some of the conceptual dilemmas inherent to the conceptual practice of this field.


Early on in my education at Marlboro I had begun to explore the literature on psychotherapy and found many of its central assumptions and guiding foundational principles unsatisfactory. Frequently, I encountered seemingly valuable and even profound meditations on the nature of suffering and healing, only to run up against universalizing and ultimately dogmatic assumptions about what it means to be human soon afterwards. Of course, they only appeared essentialistic and dogmatic to me because I found them to be incorrect. Had I been making this same mistake all my life, based on my own assumptions?

Close reading of source material related to some of the most influential models of psychotherapy developed in the last 50 years, however, reveals some supportive insights which may illuminate crucial aspects of the healing relationship in therapy. Using a comparative approach emphasizing the process of change, measured by attendance to the therapeutic relationship, reveals that emotions and feeling are central to lasting personality change. This is not to say that approaches inherent to biological psychiatry and behavioral science (which typically de-emphasize individual selfhood) need to be abandoned; rather, that there is space for psychotherapists of any orientation, medically oriented or otherwise, to understand and facilitate the individual subjective experience of the client or patient.


I remember reading way, way, way too many books. In fact I didn’t feel like I knew exactly what I was writing about until it was nearly finished. One of my senior-level Plan tutorials involved two other graduating Plan students that semester. The focus of the tutorial was feedback on Plan writing, and most of the feedback came from the students. It was a very mature and efficient tutorial in that regard, not unlike what most of us will probably be experiencing in grad school, I imagine.