Self-governance, psychotherapy, and the subject of managed care

Internal Family Systems therapy and the multiple self in a US eating-disorders treatment center

by Rebecca J. Lester

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“The self” has seen a surprising resurgence in recent anthropological theorizing, revitalizing interest in whether and how it can be studied ethnographically. These issues are brought to the fore by a newly popular psychotherapy technique, Internal Family Systems therapy (IFS), as practiced in a US eating-disorders clinic. There, clinicians and clients negotiate tensions between this model's understanding of a multiple, refracted self and managed-care companies’ insistence on personal responsibility. In considering the moral and pragmatic work of IFS in the clinic, a new critical anthropology of selfhood illuminates the vectors through which economic and political commitments become imbricated in the self. They do so in ways that resist both psychologism and subjectivism while holding them in productive—albeit sometimes troubling—tension.