by Velleda C. Ceccoli Ph.D. on January 14, 2013

Recently I was interviewed regarding the aftermath of trauma and its impact. I was asked about memory and whether people’s recollection of traumatic events is accurate and factual. This got me thinking about facts and reality, are they the same? Does a fact constitute reality? The word fact comes from the Latin factum originally meant to describe an action, either brave or evil, but in its current use is defined as a truth, a reality, a thing known for certain to have occurred or to be true. A thing that can be verified. So it would appear, at least in terms of current definitions, that facts and reality are one and the same.

But are they?

In speaking to the fact checker, who called me once the journalist I had spoken to had gathered her facts, I was told that as a fact checker his job was to make sure that what I had said happens to trauma survivors really happens to them. He was calling many trauma experts to get the facts straight. Fact checkers spend their time making sure that facts are real and can be verified by others. I would hate that job. As a psychoanalyst I know that ‘facts’ can often not be verified, that reality is subjective and spans many narratives, that there is not one objective truth but many personal, complicated and idiosyncratic truths. That, as T. S. Eliot wrote: All significant truths are private truths. I know that fact checking has nothing to do with psychotherapy and psychoanalysis, which is not to say that truth and reality are not part of my profession and work. While patients often come into therapy with a need to have their lives heard and their “facts” verified and acknowledged, my job is to make room for the exploration of multiple possibilities- each with its own voice, and information, feelings, thoughts and language. Space for multiple narratives of the same event considered and reconsidered anew. Space to question the “facts” and flesh out their personal meanings. The only facts that I deal with as a psychoanalyst are present in the lived experience of my patients and my experience of them. A fact checker would hate my job.

What I have found in the many clinical hours I spend with my patients is that reality always involves a dense and personal theater, populated by our relationships and interactions with others, which shapes the situations and events that we encounter and then becomes the very fabric of our history and experience. Not one truth but many. No single “facts” but rather a myriad of interpretations. Why? Because lived experience is complex and multifaceted. Because no matter how thoughtful and insightful we may be, there are always areas of unexplored possibilities and realities to human experience. Because our lives are made up of many ‘facts’ that begin to shift and change as we put them into varying experiential contexts. Because our humanity cannot be captured in ‘facts’, it requires multiple, ongoing narratives, and even those fail to capture the process of being and becoming oneself let alone the process of living a life.

One of the most useful “facts” about psychotherapy is that it provides the space to think about other possibilities and interpretations of the ‘facts’ of one’s life, and by doing so, begins a personal process of re-evaluating and re-contextualizing lived experience – adding information, weaving emotions and feelings with thoughts and memories, providing new language(s) and words so that ‘facts’ can be known and integrated afresh. So that they become meaningful and ours.

It is true that I often gather informational facts from a patient. I take a history of their lives. I continue to add information to this initial biography, editing, adding, going beyond the “facts” through our relationship and what develops between us – what I come to experience with my patient as their truth. This is what we work with. Together we enter into a collaboration whose aim is to understand lived experience and the impact of personal history on events, all the while knowing that many possibilities abound and any one particular narrative excludes many others. The reality that we work with in treatment is a personal one that over time becomes shared in its experiential meaning.

Facts are, after all, information that is agreed upon by many. People give meaning to facts and in so doing make them real. And it is the human factor in psychotherapy – the relationship between analyst and patient – that creates meaning and expands facts into life stories that reflect the complexity and reality of human experience.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jon January 2, 2015 at 8:58 PM

I rarely comment, but this topic is something that I’ve ruminated on for a while. It’s an easy rabbit hole to fall in and your observations were very refreshing and welcomed.


Ursula Devaney March 18, 2013 at 9:51 AM

I really liked this article. I think you captured the complexity and reality of the human experience. I work as a volunteer in our local Rape Crisis Centre in Sligo, Ireland. It is great to be able to read you thoughts, thank you for sharing.



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