|| I should not like my writing to spare other people the trouble
But, if possible, to stimulate someone to thoughts of his own.
Philosophical Investigations, p.xe
Postmodern Therapies Tool boxes
click the button to the left to play, in the middle tostop,
and click the button to the right to end sound.
There are over two hundred members of the PMTH community, and we produce thirty or so emails on an average day -- although when we really get hopping, we write over a hundred in a single day.
All two hundred of us read the same email. The group tends to divide itself into speakers and audience, but not too infrequently someone in the audience speaks up to become a PMTH conversationalist.
Our discussions are largely about therapy or therapy related subjects, and, for the most part, we take a postmodern point of view on therapy.
What do I mean by "a postmodern point of view?" I mean, we are not devoted to a particular school of thought as to how to do therapy. Instead, our perspectives tend to be eclectic and evolving. Rather than adhere to a particular model, we are more likely to study an array of therapy schools and then weave them together improvisationally at a particular point in a therapy process, sprinkling the process with some of our own styles and, hopefully, talents, in helping people in their quest for more happier and more meaningful lives.
This kind of postmodern therapy requires the therapist to have a broad acquaintance with a wide range of therapy related ideas. And so, many of us read therapy theory, but even more we talk about therapy theory educating not only ourselves, but also each other. Because different therapists focus on different therapy philosophies, we comprise a collaborative resource for each other expanding our educational base as we ponder the complex issues of doing therapy in this postmodern era.
Recently, for example, a fairly new member of our community, Steven Brody, has been talking about philosopher Ken Wilber and what he has to say about therapy. I think no one has brought up Ken Wilber here before, but we have talked about many other therapy theorists. I suspect we'll talk about Wilber for a while and then go onto other topics, but return to him, letting ourselves be educated but not trapped in any one school.
Recently, we have also been exploring the meaning of 'consciousness,' and Jerry Shafer, (a retired philosophy professor turned therapist) made me promise I would help him access the records of our conversation when he returned from his scuba diving holiday. Shafer has published a book on the topic of consciousness, so he should have something worthwhile to say.
All the while, Judy Weintraub, Steve Brody, Carlos Sanchez and myself were discussing the question of 'responsibility' or 'irresponsibility' and how each of us relate that concept to 'punishment'. We haven't got that one completely figured out, but just a little bit ago David Markham joined the conversation. Maybe he can help us out.
While a number of people on PMTH publish regularly in traditional publishing formats (in books and journals), many of us view our conversation as an important way to communicate with readers.
Email reading has some advantages for readers over book and journal reading. For example, if one teaches through books, the reader cannot ask questions and receive replies from the author. But when we teach each other with conversation, our readers can ask us questions they are likely to receive an answer.
In other words, PMTH can function as a kind of dynamic textbook for the learner and all of us, are, of course, 'learners'.
How can PMTH conversation be a textbook?
It's not like most textbooks. That is, this PMTH text is not written on paper pages and sandwiched between front and back covers. Moreover, students are not required to read this textbook to master the contents.
More importantly, what we study when reading the PMTH conversation is not a single consistent theory with all its parts fitting neatly in place. Rather, we study a diverse body of opinions, sometimes in standing in contrast. I think no reader can make sense of it all except by weighing the divergent ideas on their own merits, buying some of them, changing them, or contesting them either privately, in their own minds, or in their writing.
I believe this kind of dynamic conversational "textbook" helps us avoid indoctrinating each other as well as our students.
Such conversational textbook teaching has the advantage, it seems to me, of fostering our creativity. With this kind of living textbook, the listener does not see the author as a source of truth to master, but rather a source of ideas to learn from and improve on. In such a setting the student naturally becomes at least somewhat eclectic, accepting some points without buying anyone's theory in its entirety. A mood of eclecticism prevails, spiced by expressive opinion and listening, that evolves in the conversation process.
I love this learning process, mostly for the way in which it inspires my own voice, shows me the richness of different points of view but leaves me to reason on my own, does not require me to jump completely into one school or another. It leaves me valuing the inability of any one speaker to get things exactly as I want them. The author's failure is nothing more than my opportunity to explain something that I think that I understand. And, believe it or not, I have come to appreciate my own uncertainty and confusions - because declaring my puzzlement and uncertainty is likely to bring forth ideas on a topic I had not considered.
PMTH seems to me, therefore, a culture that both educates and inspires
creativity -- and what is more deserving of being called a 'postmodern
textbook' than that?
Just think about what such a textbook means for postmodern teaching:
Before postmodernity, the teacher was the classroom's unquestioned authority. The teacher was the person who knew the right answers and who handed out grades. The student was the one in need of information, the one who wrote and spoke only to be corrected. The good teacher always instructed and guided. The good student always listened and absorbed.
The conversation we are modeling offers a different learning model. It is a postmodern learning model in that it does not require the student (in all of us) to master the accepted theories uncritically, and, instead, rewards creative thought and also the expression of puzzlement and confusion that invites new creative thought.
I was thinking of all this when my friend and colleague, Andy Lock, asked me to try to design a course for his new online graduate training program. I was pleased to be asked. Lock is an adventurous intellectual who is drawn to the cutting edge. I like to be included in the circle of projects he creates. But how could I design a course that would escape the model of teacher as authority and students mindless sponges?
Lock helped me out. He came to visit and we talked and talked about how I might do it. He had been a member of PMTH. He knew how the conversation proceeded.
And, finally, the course began to take shape. You can see the final outline and course description by clicking here. If you want to learn more about the postgraduate program that included this course, click here and send a letter of inquiry here.
Then, three of my regular
colleagues kindly agreed to help me teach this course, and so we did.
I often felt unsure of myself, but we were all clear, I think, that our
challenge was to facilitate educational conversation, not provide the students
with our preferred answers. Also, we agreed, that at least for a
part of the course, PMTH would serve as a dynamic conversational textbook.
Our course was called "Professional Development."
Since PMTH was the name given to the conversational community that was
to provide a dnamic textbook for this class, we decided to call the class
community, students, teachers, and guest, PMTH 2.
Val Lewis, sharp witted and postmodern clinical psychologist who participates actively in PMTH conversation.
Thus, including myself, there were four teachers for this postmodern course.
Also, the course included two thoughtful students, Mark Murphy and Wendy Williams. (Yes, it was a small experimental class - remember we are just getting started.)
We also had a guest in the class who visited us online for a few hours and stirred things up, even inspired us. Her name is Karin Taverniers, also a member of the PMTH community, a psychologist from Buenos Aires who speaks no less than five languages.
And so the class proceeded. None of the teachers had taught an online course like this before, but we had all studied and worked together in conversation, and thus had long been creating, incidentally to our conversation, an educational framework.
How did it go? Let me start by giving you a window into the thoughts of the course designers and teachers, and then, let you turn to the column on the right to see what the students actually wrote. You know all the players at this point, and you can, of course, organize your reading anyway you want just by following the subheadings.
But I'll start by providing you with an interview I did with Andy
Lock, the cutting edge psychologist I told you about who made the course
possible. You'll see our recounting of planning the course, and also
our assessment of how it was going (the interview was prior to the end
of the course).
Lois: Andy, it's hard to believe but after all this time we are almost through with the first year of online graduate level courses we were planning - for how long now? Do you remember?
Andy: Lois, you announced this program in PMTH NEWS four years
ago, and we did a lot of work before that just so we could announce it.
Lois: Why do you think it took so long?
Andy: Two things. You need to remember this was a bold idea. I wanted to make sure we had the material there before we started. Some of the contributors wanted to know that we had already started before they began putting the work in. (laughter) There's a catch 22 in there - but we made it in the end.
Lois: It seemed like such a bold idea at the time, to teach a whole graduate program online. But there were other courses online even back then.
Andy: Internet courses were just beginning back then, but I felt they did not enable the online potential of the internet,
Lois: I agree.
Andy: We needed to rethink online teaching for graduate therapy and counseling students.
Lois: You had some amazing ideas back then. I remember being so inspired by them.
Andy: Well, we were trying to build a faculty using the opportunites of the internet medium that no bricks and mortar university could ever afford to put together.
Lois: Why couldn't a progressive university have provided students with similar opportunities in a classroom?
Andy: Cost! I wanted a top-notch faculty and the amount of money that would have been required to bring the faculty I wanted together would have cost an astronomical amount of money! Besides, I would have spent my whole life trying to convince them to move to the bottom end of the world, where I live [New Zealand]. I wanted to release the resources that the internet made possible for an educational program.
Lois: And you wanted to reach students around the world, too, students who would recognize the opportunity of working with people whose contribution to therapy and counseling is noteworthy.
Andy: Indeed! We didn't want to just teach students at a distance but have their teachers at a distance, too. For example, we have a big course on contemporary therapies in the new program. And in this course, a narrative form of therapy is taught from Brisbane (Australia), Solution Focused Therapy from Milwaukee, and Collaborative Language Systems from Houston. The courses are mounted and coordinated in New Zealand and the co-course coordinator, Tom Strong, comes from Canada, and we have some well known contributors such as John Shotter, Ken and Mary Gergen, Lynn Hoffman, Rom Harré. These people are much in demand and they rarely seem to be in the same place three days running. But they can manage to teach in our program, because of internet technology.
Lois: It all seemed to work, Andy. I wasn't sure it would go this smoothly.
Andy: Yeah. But perhaps the most rewarding thing for me, and all of us involved in teaching here, has been the way in which our putting the vision into practice has created a creative spark for our students.
Lois: Oh, I feel that way. The students in my section have done some remarkable work, and the class is only a little over halfway over.
Andy: Mine, too. You know, it's often a cliché that university teachers think that universities are lovely places if only the students stayed on vacation. This year has been, for me, some of the most rewarding teaching I've ever been involved in.
Lois: Who would have thought you could have pulled this organization off. It must have been awful pulling all these resources together, getting the technology worked outˆñ
Andy: On the one hand, yes, but we were inspired. I know that people on PMTH can appreciate that. They have in their conversations a certain animated form of community that has a special feeling for them, an ethical sensibility, and it is that spirit that has animated our program, too, and without that spirit it simply would not have happened.
Lois: So, you really think of this as a collaborative project, don't you? Not just your brainchild that we are helping you enact.
Andy: The idea has brought together a group of people with the nerve to put their philosophies into practice, and they were all part of the planning process. You were part of the planning process. You remember that Lois.
Lois: (laugh) Of course. I remember you flying all over, darting here and there, and stopping off to work with me - and we were inspired, weren't we. I'm still inspired by the project, Andy.
Andy: I am, too. I think we have done very well, teachers and students alike, and it's going to get better.
Lois: I think so, too.
Now, let me also give you some reports from the other teachers:
To Andy, Lois, Val, Brent, Karin, Mark, Wendy: An Appreciation of our
I didn't know what to expect when we started, but I liked Lois' idea that a course in professional development might be hitched to the PMTH conversation. I have always been fascinated by the question of how you teach the "how to" of professions like therapy. There are the lofty highlands of academe, and then there are the "swampy lowlands" of areas like counseling or city planning which Donald Schoen wrote about in his wonderful case book The Reflective Practitioner. And it seems to me that fields like ours demand a personalized relationship that invokes in some way the one we want to teach about.
But how can you achieve this by the remote typewriter known as a computer? No handshakes, no watching of people doing therapy, not even a face to relate to - except for Mark and Val's postings of their pictures. (I would want to see everyone's picture early on if we did the same thing again.)
First, I was fascinated by the way Lois organized PMTH2 - starting with the smallest world by bringing on board the instructors and sharing the architecture of the program invented by herself and Andy Lock.
Next she/we welcomed the participants, and after these two groups milled
about and took a practice run or two, we all debouched into the larger
Getting a sense of Mark was more serendipitous - it was when he became curious about my "spoken writing" and shared his interest in poetic dialogue that we seemed to be on the same wavelength.
My relationship with Val and Brent was different, more like parallel play given our roles, but I loved reading their imaginative posts. This experience seemed journey-like to me, as in the Magic Flute, with ordeals and high spots, but this is just the view of one who likes to think in terms of heroines and pilgrims. I certainly could see Wendy and Mark in both those roles.
You could also say that Lois was the Queen Mother of the North, Andy was the Grand Vizier, Val and I were white witches, and Brent was a wizard-in-residence.
Thanks, all. Lynn
I would like to pay a small tribute to Wendy and Mark, the first two students to offer themselves up to our untried online approach to a collaborative teaching of discursive approaches to therapy. Given that we were all babes in the woods, everyone, Mark and Wendy, showed extraordinary patience with a process that was in a way self-creating as it went, thanks to the individuality of the two students. There were a number of mishaps during this voyage, from computer breakdowns to electrical storms to illness, but the intrepid voyagers hung in there and saw it through. Along the way they were encouraged to shift tack, veer to the right, veer to the left, hang upside down, and stay the course, all the while speaking with their own voices. This resulted in some thought provoking communication and understandings culminating in two essays redolent with originality and with honesty. I was pleased to tag along on this particular voyage, albeit mostly as an observer throwing in the occasional reflection, and in particular to have met the brave Wendy and Mark.
About a year ago, Lois Shawver invited me to participate in an on-line Seminar for a graduate program in Discursive Therapies at Massey University. I knew it would be an enjoyable experience because I have always found Lois to be personally inspirational and motivating, and knowing Lynn Hoffman and Valerie Lewis were joining us meant there would be engaging discussion from a variety of perspectives. As it turned out, we had only two students for the course, Mark and Wendy, but despite the disproportionate number of faculty compared to students, the course didn't feel that way, because, as we had planned from the beginning, the lines between "expert" and "pupil" were purposefully blurred. The lines were blurred, but they were not erased nor could they have been. The structure of any course demands the participants in the drama play their respective roles in the narrative, and so the prescribed, circumscribed roles of teacher and pupil were the roles with which we started the project of the course. These roles were never totally abandoned, but at times we transcended, deconstructed and/or subverted them.
One way to transcend, deconstruct and/or subvert the traditional narratives of student-pupil role play is to discuss the process of the course. In the course, we easily spent just as much time processing the course content as we did reading and commenting on course activities, and that's saying something, considering the course activities were process-oriented. We were doing a lot of processing. That's what you get when you put four therapists together to teach an on-line course. But, of course, the point of processing is to make the normally invisible frame of the course explicit to our awareness and to bring it into the discussion. Doing so granted us a certain degree of play within--and sometimes beyond--the frame; it gave us the ability, for example, to sometimes be more or even less than who our prescribed roles would otherwise have us be.
For example, in the very beginning of the course, we took more than a full week to introduce ourselves and to explore our expectations about relating to each other through the medium of the internet. I remember Wendy was a little skeptical about whether or not she could be in touch with us through her screen, but as it turned out she was very good at conveying herself to us, at least from my perspective, even though I could never put her name to her face. Of course, Lois explained the philosophy of the course and the structure of the course -- mostly her plans which she'd already drawn up before inviting Lynn, Val and I to join the team. But mostly we talked about what it was like for us all to have this experience of four instructors and two students conversing in this strange, new medium, where some of us felt more acclimated than others.
Very soon, Mark and Wendy were thrown into the wild and scattered conversations of the Postmodern Therapies News (PMTH) list-serv, where they observed as much as they could without directly participating and then each wrote a summary of one thread. I don't think Mark and Wendy felt quite prepared for the massive volume of e-mail they were suddenly confronted with, but they did wonderfully and demonstrated keen powers of observation and insight into the on-line behavior of the regular PMTH folk who, as usual, were talking about just about everything under the sun, though mostly about politics. I remember Mark was surprised to find so little explicit discussion of psychotherapy amidst all the chatter, so we went on-line to help bait more talk of therapy, which worked fairly well. In retrospect, we might have talked more about how, at PMTH, we don't always talk about therapy, but we always strive to engage in a style of talking that is thera- peutic. The process matters more than the content, and that was what we were modeling to Mark and Wendy in all our process talk about the course. After they finished their observation of the list, they interviewed a list member and did a number of other activities that Lois had planned, but mostly we continued to talk about the experience itself, propelling the sails of our ship with the gusts of our own wind.
Therapy is often about paying attention to process, the process of the relationships unfolding right there in the room, the process of the explicit and implicit themes of the ongoing conversation, the emotional process as it ebbs and flows with the deeply personal themes under discussion, and so forth. In the traditional classroom, such discussion of process is rare, based on my experience both as a longtime student and now as a professor. Instructors tend to focus on content. Maybe this is more understandable in a geometry class, but in psychology, perhaps less so. I often find it strange that, in the typical psychology course, there is very little discussion about how the concepts addressed in class have any relevance to the events that are actually unfolding right there and then in the interpersonal dynamics of the class. But these are not easy things to talk about, for at least a few reasons I can think of (maybe you can think of others). First, it can feel threatening both to the instructor and to the students, perhaps because process-talk usually happens when things are going wrong, not when they are running smoothly. Also, process talk often involves evaluations of the situation-for example, whether or not a given person likes or dislikes the way things are going-and evaluations can sometimes feel like criticisms, perhaps because they often are. But, perhaps more likely, process talk is difficult because we often do not have the kind of language that allows us to talk about the process of conversation.
One thing about therapy, and especially postmodern approaches to therapy, is that a group of scholars have found ways to talk about the process in a way that helps us to move past the obstacles that prevent process-talk from working in a productive and helpful way. At PMTH, there is a whole discourse, mostly borrowed from postmodern philosophers and some of which are syllogisms, that help us to find ways to talk process in just this helpful kind of way. So, in the course of our on-line class, all that talk of process affording us the opportunity to introduce students to what we think is this helpful world of language about process, and we were able to do it by talking about the process of the course itself.
And, as far as Iˆ‚m concerned, thatˆ‚s just a very useful way of modeling
what it means to be a therapist, or even being a teacher .
PMTH is a closed community for professional therapists, as well as scholars,professors
and graduate students with specialities related to therapy. We keep our
list reserved this way in order to have a special place for people who
are concerned with doing good therapy to discuss their personal issues
about therapy in some depth. We go to other lists to discuss things with
people who don't fit this profile. If you want to invite one of us to a
list you're on, there is a way to do that. Or, if you fit the profile for
membership to PMTH, please consider joining us. Whichever you want, you
can write me, by clicking
Would you like to tell someone about PMTH NEWS? Just fill out the form below and click on the "send" button. The invitation that goes out will include a special link that your friend can click on to arrive at this site.
In addition, yhowever, I want to give a special place, too, to Janus head, where Brent Dean Robbins is the editor. Robbins journal complements the New therapist. Where the New Therapist is up-close-and personal, Janus Head is is deep and scholarly, taking you into the rich discussions that revolve around postmodern ideas. If you are serious about familiarizing yourself with postmodernism, this is a hot journal to read.
So, I hope you acquaint yourself with both. Both stand on our postmodern frontier
The September/October 2002 edition of New Therapist has just been published, selected articles and contents of which can be found on our web site at http://www.newtherapist.com
Entitled The Big Ideas Edition, it covers some applications and thoughts about therapy which attempt to cast our focus well beyond the one-on-one approaches which have dominated for the past century.
From Arnold and Amy Mindell's Worldwork ideas, through the thought provoking ideas of Allan Wade on how we acknowledge our clients' resistance to violence, to a look at the ambitious Antidote project to enhance emotional literacy on a community-wide level, this is a rare collection of the bigger ideas emerging from the therapy world.
As always, this edition is available for order online at the back issues
order page, as are copies of all of the previous 20 editions of the magazine.
Or, if you'd like to subscribe to the magazine for a year from $46 (incl. postage), visit our subscriptions page by clicking here.
Janus Head: Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature, Continental Philosophy, Phenomenological Psychology and the Arts
What is a ˆ¨Janus headˆÆ and why would anyone want to name a journal after it?
Stone-carved reliefs of the face of Janus were often placed above doorways of old Roman homes, such as the one at Villa Madama at the foot of Monte Mario just outside Rome. Placed at the threshold, the image of the god conveys both a welcome and a demarcation of boundary. The visage of Janus is double, each face poised in opposite directions, a pliable symbol extending itself to spatial, temporal, political, and personal planes. The phrase ˆ¨Janus-facedˆÆ as it comes down to us means ˆ¨two-facedˆÆ or ˆ¨deceitful,ˆÆ but the original signification of the two-faced god meant vigilance and new beginnings, as we think of in the first month of the year, January. To quote from Bergen Evans' dictionary of Mythology, ˆ¨It was a peculiarity of this god that the doors of his temple were kept open in time of war and closed in time of universal peace. They were rarely closed.ˆÆ
From its inception in 1998, Janus Head, as an interdisciplinary journal, has aimed to be that opened door at the threshold of a newly charged dialogue among the disciplines. Disciplines themselves are human demarcations, boundaries built across the phenomenal field, both opening up and closing off the thought of one disciplinary domain or another. The interdisciplinary space, then, is one that seeks to give rise to other, provocative modes of revealing, to freshen the blood of the disciplines by interjecting and crossing different bodies of thought, to give credence to various manifestations of truth in human knowledge and experience. This journal is dedicated to the exploration of ideas and images as they unfold through both analytical and poetic modes of language. Visual art has its say in this space as well, for the immediacy and visceral amplitude of the image is the aesthetic reminder of the power of silence between words, the dense nexus of meaning that resides in the imagination before language.
Janus Head has published essays ranging a broad scope of topics, from Heraclitean philosophy to Kantian ethics, from Melville to Rene Char, from Heideggarean ontology to Derridean language studies, to name just a few. Poetry, the avant-garde as well as the quietly lyrical, takes an honored place in the journal, because it is in poetry, as one of our editors wrote in an early editorial, that Being and language fuse. Past contributors to Janus Head include Alphonso Lingis, Robert Romanyshyn, Claudia K. Grinnell, Margo Kren, Elizabeth Mesa-Gaido, Robert Gibbons, Ouyang Yu, R. Flowers Rivera, Jamie O'Halloran, Ernesto Grassi, Peter Caws, Frits Staal, Antoine Vergote, Evans Lansing Smith, Louise Sundararajan, Michael Sipiora, and Frank Edler.
Janus Head is published biannually, on-line and in print. The journal publishes essays, poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, art, and reviews. Annual volumes usually include one themed issue and one ˆ¨openˆÆ issue, which considers submissions on any number of topics. Online readership has grown to a number of 10,000 unique visitors a month. In addition to presenting the current issue in full, the website offers access to the archives of past issues, as well as an extensive resource page featuring over 300 links to other journals, a listing of conferences and events, and reviews of books and films.
We encourage readers to view the current issue featuring the proceedings from the 2001 George Washington University Human Sciences Conference, Knowing Subjects: Human Lives, Human Worlds. Lewis Gordon, Jonathan Moreno, David Goldberg, and Virginia Held are among the writers contributing to this special issue.
Forthcoming in the fall is an issue centered on Magical Realism, featuring poetry by Virgil Suarez, Robert Gibbons, Todd Sanders, among others; and essays by Lois Parkinson Zamora, Wendy B. Faris, and Michael Wood.
For more information, please write to: firstname.lastname@example.org
or visit the website of Janus Head by clicking
The first assignment in this PMTH class required the students to observe the conversation taking place in PMTH, and to find a 'professional issue' that was being talked about and then write a report on the conversation. According to this assignment, students were to step into the different points and listen to each speaker 'generously,' that is, avoid taking sides on the issues except, perhaps, at the end of the report where they could claim their own point of view but not argue it. Examples from a variety of authors writing in previous issues of PMTH NEWS was used as an example.
Mark Murphy said the process was a bit like trying to grab a dragon by a tail. What a good metaphor. People on PMTH were posting note after note on a whole range of topics, and these two students were to find one thread of conversation and resport it. This is no easy thing to do, especially when you do not know the people who are posting.
I will present Wendy Williams' paper on the front page of PMTH NEWS, and you can click to to read Mark Murphy's paper. To show the work on the second assignment I will present Mark Murphy's presentation on the front page and make it possible for you to click to Williams' paper through a link.
In the following essay, Williams had found a conversational topic on
PMTH that interested her. The PMTH participants were talking about
what they understood to be 'postmodern therapy'. Not everyone saw
it the same, as you will see, and Williams will try to provide you with
a readable account of what people said once she teased the key comments
out of the conversational soup:.
Conversation on PMTH has recently been about postmodern therapy, whether there is a postmodern therapy, what postmodern therapy means and the language of postmodern therapy. Given that those who took part in the conversation are all members of a conversational group called ˆ´Postmodern Therapiesˆ‚ I thought it would be interesting to follow and report on the discussion. I will organize this report around three questions that will be addressed in tis article.
Is postmodern therapy an advance?
The conversation related to this question was sparked by a provocative
comment. Jonathan Diamond said:
Regarding the relationship in therapy Diamond said:
Milliken had also proposed the ˆ´relationshipˆ‚ was about having ˆ¨connectionˆÆ
and ˆ¨being in tune with the clientˆÆ, an emphasis not missing in postmodern
therapy. Diamond posited that although he acknowledges and loves postmodern
theories that emphasise the relationship he does not see them having an
edge over modern approaches in practice. Diamond then followed this up
Jonathan Diamondˆ‚s original statement prompted Joseph
Pfeffer to ask:
Diamond did not specifically participate in this conversation but I
do wonder what his thoughts would have been because he subsequently commented:
Conversation on ˆ´what is postmodern therapy?ˆ‚ ended, for now, with no other perspectives given. The question remains an interesting idea for future discussion. Also, does postmodernism have the scope to encompass modernist ideas within postmodern ways of thinking? Iˆ‚m wondering about the continued recognised value of modernist ideas and postmodern therapistsˆ‚ wish to find a way of practicing modernist ideas in a postmodern way.
Rethinking the concept of ˆ´therapyˆ‚
Another strand of the conversation considered the language of postmodern
therapy. Joseph Pfefferˆ‚s earlier comment that ˆ¨meaning is created out
of conversationˆÆ suggested the importance of language in therapy. The term
ˆ´therapyˆ‚ itself has meaning and connotations that makes some people uncomfortable.
Karin Taverniers made the point that while postmodern thinkers have a problem
with the word ˆ´therapyˆ‚ the word has been in use so long it is hard to
escape. She cited Harlene Andersonˆ‚s term ˆ¨collaborative conversationsˆÆ
as a possible alternative. Pfeffer commented there could be a problem with
replacing ˆ´therapyˆ‚ with ˆ´conversationˆ‚ and cited Steve
So what connotations and meanings do postmoderns associate with ˆ´therapyˆ‚?
Leonard Schwartzburd suggested the postmodern
problem with ˆ´therapyˆ‚ was its connotations with pathology and psychopathology.
Schwartzburd found Websterˆ‚s defined ˆ´therapyˆ‚ as:
Schwartzburd commented in response:
I believe she meant here we can personally stop using a word like ˆ´therapyˆ‚ but the word, its meanings and connotations are likely to continue to exist in the culture and in the way we think even when we are not using the term.
Taverniers asked if the definition of ˆ´therapyˆ‚ could be changed instead of finding a new word. Shawver responded with an intriguing history of the changing definition of ˆ´psychotherapyˆ‚ describing how in 1910 ˆ´psychotherapyˆ‚ simply meant telling people they were doing fine, when they were not, for their physical healing.
While words often do change their meaning over time, for people to think of changing a word's meaning to fit its use in a particular context strikes me as both novel and perhaps postmodern.
It has been an interesting conversation to follow, getting insight into
different thoughts PMTH conversationalists have on postmodern therapy.
I know there are many other ideas out there and the potential for many
I don't know how the students reports read to you, but to me the were
excellent. I see them as their attempt to read the conversational
textbook on PMTH and harvest it for ideas that they might take into their
own practice. There is little attempt to organize an argument or
a conclusion on their parts (they were conforming to the assignment of
avoiding that), but I feel that learning the issues, the pros and cons,
is good enough, better in fact, than devising a position early on in their
careers. Hopefully, they will take this controversy with them and
be educated by it, but not confined to any of our opinions.
Murphy and Williams selected Karin Tavernier to interview, an interesting postmodern therapist from Argentina who is more than fluent in English.
You can read both Murphy and Williams notes below, although you will need to link to the Williams essay. Click on the green subjecthead after the following essay by Murphy, in order to read the essay by Williams. In this assignment, the students were encouraged at first to report Taverniers views like a news report, without taking a position. But, that was only the first draft. After their first draft, they were asked to include more of their own voice, deliberately, of course, as a stylistic change in writing assignment two in comparison with assignment 1.
The content they decided to focus on in their article both revolves
around a particular evocative statement Taverniers said in the interview,
I'll let you read to find out, and I hope you find Mark Murphy's report
on the Taverniers' interview interesting, and continue on by linking to
Wendy's report on the Taverniers' interview. Then, please page down
just a little more on this front page of PMTH NEWS and read Karin Taverniers
reflections on her reading the two accounts of the interview.
from. This presents both problems and opportunities in training. On the plus side, the student may be able to find an approach that fits their own
personality type. This is particularly important in therapy, it appears to
me, as one's personality is that which the therapist works in and through.
However, there is also the danger that, with so many approaches and schools, the trainee therapist might feel ungrounded and emotionally scattered. My own experience is that I've been better able to incorporate and personalize bits and pieces from other schools and therapies when I've had some 'home ground' on which to stand. That home ground doesn't have to be permanent as in 'forever', but I do think it must feel 'permanent enough' during certain phases of training and of life. Perhaps this is what Karin was talking about when she said:
What I connect with, in Taverniers' account, is a dynamic sense of 'professional development'. I am also pressed to ask (rhetorically and out loud): what was going on in those six months? That is, it pushes me to recall times in my own experience, at the start of this 'Discursive Therapies' programme for example, when I've felt a certain tension: on the one hand, an excitement that I'm learning things new and challenging and following my desires, and, on the other hand, a certain defensiveness when new theories have felt uncomfortable, boring, or intuitively wrong. As much as I'm able, I think I' ve tried to hold those tensions without rushing to resolve them, though another part of me wants to rush to resolve them. No doubt, Karin's story is different, but perhaps all students (to one degree or another) go through certain phases in their training where the need for security - to establish some solid ground - is more paramount than the desire for unlimited exploration. And perhaps, as I've already said, the one enables the other: structure facilitates a more tolerant, less grasping, deeper exploration of other structures.
"Structure" - no sooner are those words out of my mouth than I
begin to think of a line from Julia Kristeva that I read recently. In an
constructionism, for example, in my experience) may attempt to over- formulate both 'history' and the 'speaking subject'. For Kristeva, to
understand "meaning" in both the sense of interpersonal communication and what is personally meaningful in life, it is necessary to go beyond "mere structure".
Those moments in Karin's story that went beyond structure - while never-
theless recognizing its importance - were what I responded to most
role. Why am I interested? It's an intuitive sense that "life-issues" are more important and often (ironically) less talked about in counselling/therapy training. I'm not suggesting that these things - Karin's lists marriage, maturity/ageing, motherhood, and witnessing abuse in different forms, I might (at this point my life) talk about mourning the death of a parent - cannot, or should not, be thought about. But nor do I think they can be reduced to thought. They are indeed, "private", at an emotional level at least. And yet, when Karin talks about bringing up her daughter and the difficulties of teaching her plural values, and when I think of my own experiences of illness, I feel closer to the sources of "history" and the "speaking subject" which, according to Kristeva, take us beyond 'mere structure' in knowledge.
"Under postmodern conditions, persons exist in a state of continuous
Kenneth Gergen.An online interview between myself and two students from New Zealand, Wendy Williams and Mark Murphy who were at the time taking an online postgraduate seminar in "Discursive Psychology in a Postmodern World", can of course only be made possible through the Internet, and has all the ingredients of a 'postmodern
experience' ... especially since I live in Argentina, and since the course organizers (also 'present' during the interview) live in different parts of the US!
So there we were, one 'evening' in April of this last year - a fall evening for some of us, and a spring evening for others - conversing together from three different continents of the world.
Part of Mark and Wendy's online program requirements had included 'observing' PMTH interactions, and that's how I came to 'meet' them. Their interviewing me has been a very stimulating experience, which I would love to repeat one day.
We reflected on postmodern ideas in psychotherapy training programs and how unsettling, but at the same time liberating, they can be. They both seem to find that although adhering to single truths can be constraining as far as our personal choices are concerned, the lack of adherence to any kind of theories is not what they strive for either. At least that was my perception of their reflections.
I myself approached postmodern ideas in part because they gave a 'voice' to my own doubts with respect to so many of the psychosocial theories and discourses I felt entrapped in. At the same time however, postmodern ideas also permitted me to 'keep' those that were working for me, with an extra 'bonus': providing me with the freedom to review them whenever necessary.
Mark, in his written essay based on our interview, I think, pointed
In her own essay, Wendy reflected upon the issue of 'theories' as well. She wrote that postmodern therapies "have their theories as modern therapies [do] but the difference is in the way of presenting, thinking about and evaluating these theories". I agree with that. It is the relationship to them and the way we read them which is different; they are no longer considered to be universal truths.
Her reflections led me to ask myself why so much emphasis is put on
My personal opinion is that a world without 'theories' is difficult to envisage, at least not at this point of time. I also don't know if I would want a world without theories. I like to have the freedom to choose what to believe in, how, and when. Nor would I want to be 'forced' into a position of having to choose between a world with 'theories' vs. a world with 'no theories' where 'everything goes' in order to be 'entitled' to be a postmodernist. I don't think that most postmodernists have this either/or position in mind. I think they have 'freedom' of thought in mind.
What I would like, on the other hand, are more discussions about our
relationship with theories, on how we can reflect upon our theories in
new ways, how we can play with new vocabularies which represent our voices
in better ways, how we can incorporate plurality and 'marginal discourses',
among other things. I also wish postmodern discussions would be about finding
ways to find more peace in the world, how to make the world a better place.
I would like postmodern discussions to be about empowering different people
to tell their own stories with their own vocabularies, without, as Michael
White puts it "mimicking the words of others to describe those experiences".
These were some of my thoughts after reading Wendy and Mark's reflections...
The third assignment in this class was for the students to find some way to reflect on their own professional development by using a personal voice, and to connect this sense of development with the things that they had talked about in the class or read about in the PMTH community conversation, on discussed in the online interview.
The hope was to provide them with the opportunity to use the essay rather like a journal, and to present disclosures of their thoughts, values, judgments even in their evolution, rather than an argument that positioned them, argumentatively, in the best of positions. This required them to 'find their voice', to abandon the task of reporting what others said and did, and to disclose, instead, on what they, themselves, thought about it all.
To me, they both found their voice and were able to do this remarkably well. Read their eassays and see if you don't agree. I hope you find these essays as enjoyable as I did.
I believe that the next time I do this course it will be much easier, partly because I have done it before, but also because I want to change a few things.
In arranging the Taverniers' interview I set aside too little time. Taverniers was particularly charming and educational to interview, but I think all the participants would agree that it would have been meaningful to have interviewed her longer. She was interviewed for an hour and a half. I think we should have had the flexibility to have continued for two hours. Interviews like this are exciting and educational for all of us, including the interviewee, and the process was grand, but too short.
Also, each week began with me writing an email to evoke relevant conversation. I want to talk with the people who helped me teach about how they think I might do it better. I did not evoke as much conversation as I wanted. It may be that the students had many other things to do, but perhaps I could have done that better.
The pedagogy of arranging for students to write three essays, proceeding from an original essay in which the author is scarcely present as a personality to the reader, and then moving progressively, in the two subsequent essays, to a more personal voice style, might be improved and clarified. In the middle of the course, there was a week or so, during vacations, that I think no one knew quite what they were doing.
But, all in all, I feel I learned a lot, and my learning was not limited to what I can do next time to improve the course. For example, this course made me more aware that postmodern philosophy is an advanced philosophy and that perhaps working in a more modern way, following theorists direction more precisely, has its advantages as a provisional way of working. I'm not sure what to do with that observation at this point, except to note it. The eclecticism that postmodern therapists reveal can, perhaps, be disconcerting to students in the beginning.
That point was brought home to me by a PMTH email I received just now
from a new but articulate voice on PMTH. Let me put it all in her
words. The voice is that of Jennifer
Andrews, a therapist with impressive training credentials from a vast
array of therapy theorists and someone who has been the student of many
well recognized people in our field. As a mature therapist, Andrews
summarized the way she works at this point in her career and how it relates
to her vast background when she wrote to PMTH::
Whatever else one might say about this course, we lived up to Wittgenstein's
dream (see the quote at the top of PMTH News on the right) when he said:
It has been a long time since since I have produced an issue of PMTH NEWS. I want to end this issue of PMTH NEWS by talking about some things other than the course that some of us taught.
The last issue was all about understanding the world political crisis innitiated when two jets plowed into the World Trade Center in downtown New York City. That was January of 2003, sixteen months after September 11, 2001.
At that time I was reading everything I could to wrap my mind around the disaster that was happening. (See link to that last issue of PMTH NEWS). I was especially reading about Islam.
And one of the books I summarized and reviewed in that last issue was a book by Akbar Ahmed, Postmodern Islam.
Today, I am going to comment little about the war, although it is still on my mind. Still, in this issue I am simply going to ask all of my readers to follow the work of Akbar Ahmed, the postmodern Moslem.
Ahmed is a Suffi Moslem, one whose religion is more understandable to many westerners. All of his work supports a bridge between the west and the middle-east. (Read a more elaborate account of his life work here.)
I appreciate Ahmed's postmodern mind and the gentle form of his very visible activism. A quick Google search on the internet will give you an idea of the scope and quality of his work. If you, too, are still concerned with the crisis initiated by the September 11 events, and want to read and hear thoughtful pieces that are relevant to the evolution of your understanding, please make note of Akbar Ahmed.
Most importantly, follow his work with Judea Pearl for the Daniel Pearl Foundation. Do you remember Daniel Pearl? He was the journalist who was murdered by Islamic militants early in 2002. Judea Pearl is his father who has created a foundation in the name of his son. The honorary board of this important foundation include President Bill Clinton, Christiane Amanpour and Ted Koppel, as well as Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan. The Pearls are Jewish.
The Pearl and Ahmed public dialogues represent, to my mind, the postmodern hope. Watch for the public conversations.
Even more important I hope that you help me find a way to create dialogues
between Muslims and Jews. If a Moslem and Jewish reader is in dialogue
and would like to be interviewed by a committee on PMTH before a larger
PMTH audience online, please contact me at email@example.com
If you would like to receive announcements for each issue of PMTH NEWS,
here and forward your request.
If you think you would like to read past issues of PMTH NEWS, you would
like to look over the table of contents of those past issues. The
Table of contents can be reached by clicking
here and you can then link to the earlier issues you desire to read.
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