To prepare for the upcoming event, you should get a copy of the book, Relational Responsibility, authored by Sheila McNamee and Ken Gergen. The July 9 event is only part of the experience we will have with this book. McNamee will join us in our daily discusssions during June while we are reading about relational responsibility. Her participation in this thread will begin early next week.
You can purchase the McNamee and Gergen book through Amazon by
here. Notice when you get to the Amazon site that I have posted
a review that might be useful in preparation for the event.
As you can see, PMTH NEWS, now has a more formal name. But, the old name is with us, too. Just as the Journal of Family Therapy is known among devotees as JFT, so I hope Postmodern Therapies News will be known affectionately as PMTH NEWS, or even, if people are really in a hurry, The News.
It is just that we now have about one thousand visitors each month, and it is time we took a formal name to go with our acronym name. There is many a professional journal with fewer readers than that. We need a more formal name, so you can reference us in your papers.
Besides, some of you readers might prefer us to have a name that is self-explanatory. After all, "PMTH" is not a household word. Since many of our readers reach us through the search engines, it is not too much to ask that we provide ourselves with an intelligible name. Of course, if you don't know what "postmodern" is, then it is harder. But, you can always go back and click on the word, postmodern.
But in case you are still disoriented let me add this: PMTH NEWS (now short for Postmodern Therapies NEWS) is a newsletter for a very active listserv composed mostly of professional therapists. Many of us are also professors or writers. A handful of us are graduate students in a related field.
What you will read here in this journal is a report of our discussions,
plus an article or so on topics we find relevant. A large proportion
of us that you will read about here object to standard ways of doing therapy
that we feel sometimes pathologize clients and keep them locked in impasses.
We are looking for other therapeutic paths. To that end, we often
discuss our readings of the postmodern philosophers and, recently,
we have invented the art and practice of doing imaginary therapy with the
hope that this will provide us with a way of studying therapy process,
capitalizing on any styles that we feel are useful in helping therapy
clients use our offices to improve their lives.
How is it possible for imaginary therapy to be of any use at all? Isnt it all just fairytales?
I think it is much more important than fairytales. A tennis player learns that he can hit a ball better in a tennis match if he practices with a ball machine that shoots out balls in an unpredictable way. Sure, it might not be exactly like a real tennis match, but it allows her to focus on a particular stroke, practice it, understand it better.
And it may just be that way for therapists, too. Don't just ask how it is possible for us to benefit from studying imaginary cases, ask how it is we think we benefit from studying real cases. In real cases, too, we must use some imagination to understand exactly what happened. And we seldom really know much about the effects of what we said. Often the clients disappear into their own lives, and they seldom give us commentary on what each of our various statements meant to them.
So, please don't dismiss the usefulness of imaginary cases too quickly.
I believe they contain something powerful that we are only beginning to
uncover. And the secret of the power of the imaginary cases is contained,
I think, in the two quotes that I have given you today, one Wittgenstein,
and the other from Mikhail Bakhtin.
To me, these two authors give us an idea as to how it is that imaginary
cases can be useful.
Start with the Wittgenstein quote.
In this quote, we hear of the importance of the imaginary in philosophy.
is famous for his imagined language examples. Not only did he invent
primitive languages (or
games) for us to consider but he asked us over and over to "suppose"
that some odd situation was the case. Here's a typical example:
Wittgenstein's idea here is that if you, as a reader, imagine a situation that seems "imaginable" then you can probably sense how you would respond in such a situation. Your awareness of your probable response, he is telling us, is highly instructive. Imagine situations, he is telling us, and then notice what your response to that situation would be.
As therapists, this is particularly important for us. In ordinary life we simply respond, often enough, without reflection, but mindless responding is not very useful for furthering our understanding of the effects of what we say. But, with the imaginary examples, we can ponder our responses at length, discuss them among ourselves, and. hopefully, improve our responsiveness and thoughtfulness.
Now, look at a quote from Mikhail Bakhtin
and study it with me:
How can my words be half someone else's? Well, in the sense that others have used these words before. Of course, each person populates the words with her own intent. "Nice shirt!" said by your mother as you leave for work means something different than when it is said by your boss when he told you yesterday to wear a uniform. Understanding a language is not much more than knowing these words in teh abstract. One must understand the use the speaker is making of these words.
How do we do that? Partly, I think by imagining the situation of the person speaking to us, the context. But this imagining passes much too fast, most of the time, for us to notice and refine our responses.
But there are ways to slow things down and study the process. One of those ways is to create imaginary cases using problem situations of the types we are likely to see.
At least, that's how I see it. And, notice, there are other people here who have decided that a study of imaginary cases can be useful to them. I think it was only modernism, with its glorification of objective truth, that prevented us from using imaginary cases to enrich our understanding.
But, we can understand the therapy process better, I hope, if we study our own resonses to various contexts presented by imaginary clients. And, to that end, we have been conducting imaginary therapy sessions. You can see most of the sessions we have done so far by clicking here and following the links.
Last week, I reported on the therapy Judy Weintraub.has been doing with her client imaginary Barb. This week, I want to focus on the sessions with Jack and Jill in an imaginary session conduct by Kilian Fritsch. So far, I have been playing all the clients, but a couple of people have privately suggested they might like to do this, too. So, perhaps that will materialize.
Each imaginary client presents real communication issues for the therapist to solve. And, each therapist relies, implicitly, on unconscious processes to solve (or dissolve) some of these problems. But, afterwards, we can study these responses and, hopefully, use them to foster the quality and meaningfulness of our responses in real therapy contexts.
Will it all work? I hope so. And some of the conversations
that we have had so far suggest some people think so. Below you will
see the conversation by listeners Riet Samuels and Yishai Shalif, talking
about their responses to the unfolding imaginary cases. Also, you
will can read the interview I conducted with the imaginary therapist, Kilian
I am excited about the prospect of PMTH participating in what promises to be a postmodern educational program for therapists. This announcement may be a bit premature, but all but the final touches are in order for a grand new online educational consortium.
I'll give you just the bare outlines of what I know now, but expect more information later. There will be half a dozen or so courses in which students can earn a postgraduate certificate in discursive therapies that can be credited towards a masters degree. You can read about all the courses by clicking here to see the website describing this program.
This exciting program has been spearheaded by Andrew Lock, founder of the Virtual Faculty website. As you will see if you examine this site, courses will be taught by some PMTH regulars such as Tom Strong and Lluis Botella.
And there will be a section I will coordinate with the help of some others that you know, for example, Val Lewis, Judy Weintraub, Jerry Shafer, Kilian Fritsch, Tony Michael Roberts and at least one other person that I am negotiating with. Together we will create a course in which the textbook will consist of the reading of PMTH conversations. Students in the course will write the articles for a special issue of PMTH NEWS based on their study of PMTH conversations and, of course, their own conversations about these topics.
The plan is that this will all begin in February. I'll tell you
more about this project as the plans finalize. However, if you are
interested in being a student in such a program, write
It was the winter of 1949, and I [Jerry Shaffer] was an undergraduate at Cornell University. For some time, I had been allowed to go to graduate seminars in philosophy. I sat in the seminar room in Goldwin Smith Hall, waiting with the graduate students for the privilege of glimpsing the famous philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein. I was curious to see him, although I knew nothing of him or his philosphy. All I knew was that this was a distinguished philosopher from England, that Professor Norman Malcolm had studied with him at Cambridge in the late 30's and thought he was important. I believe Wittgenstein was staying with Malcolm in Ithaca at the time I met him.
At any rate, on this particular day, I was sitting in a classroom I had often sat in before. I was the only undergraduate, and I had scarcely heard of this man. Being, perhaps, the least prestigious person in the class, I decided not to speak, to listen and hopefully learn.
Then, Wittgenstein wandered in to our room in his little zippered rayon jacket, no tie, craggy looking features. He looked at the classroom for 5 seconds with an expression that was rather intense. Then, he said, "What puzzles you in philosophy?" I now think he wanted non-technical puzzles like "How does one see the *beauty* in a piece of stone?" But the graduate students in that room were highly technical and the questions they asked him were more like, "how can one distinguish the physical object from the aesthetic object when looking at a stone sculpture?"
He talked with us for about twenty minutes, but then he left in disgust telling us something like, "You know nothing of philosophy."
Malcolm persuaded him to come back a second time. At that time, as I recall, he talked about "What is it that is blue when the *sky* is blue?" We couldn't make much of that.
And, shortly after, Wittgenstein returned to England, where he soon died of cancer. What was clear was that we knew nothing of Wittgenstein's philosophy. Of course, we had none of his writings then. I only came across a type-written copy of the "Blue and Brown Books" two years later in 1951. They were copies of lectures he had given in Cambridge in the late 30's. The Philosophical Investigations did not come out in 1953.
But at the time that I met Wittgenstein, understanding his work did not seem so important. I believe none of us sensed the enormous impact that the philosophy of this odd little man would have on the world. I think if we had had his writings we might have sensed his importance.
But that was not the case. I and most of the philosophical world were not convinced of what we felt to be Wittgenstein's central thesis: that philosophical problems are merely based on misunderstandings and confusions. Myself, I became an analytic philosopher, which is the dominant kind of philosophy in English speaking world today, that is, the philosophy that most dominates philosophy departments. Analytic philosophy continues to take philosophical problems seriously and it continues to try to make progress in solving them, rather than "dissolving them," as Wittgenstein insisted should be done.
Today, I find his writing fascinating but I think of him, as I do of
Freud and Marx, as remarkable intellectual achievements but fundamentally
unpersuasive in it major contentions, especially the contention that philosophical
problems are only confusions that should be dissolved. As I say,
I think most professional philosophers would agree with me on this.
Those professional philosophers who are convinced of later Wittgenstein,
such as Richard Rorty, have now begun to teach in English departments,
rather than in philosophy.
Of course, all the imaginary therapy that is done here is done by busy people trying to squeeze a little time in their lives to do this work. If you remember, in addition to the Jack and Jill case, there is also an ongoing work being done with imaginary client Barb by Judy Weintraub. Although that therapy has been on hold for the last few weeks, due to other obligations, you should take the opportunity to read the last session if you have not done so because I understand these sessions will continue.
You can take your choice between two versions of the session.
1) One shows the simple session.
I have wondered if the difference in Judy Weintraub's style and Kilian Fritsch's style was a function of their working with different clients? Or differences in their own style? Or is this difference the result of one of the cases being an individual therapy case and the other being a couple's therapy?
How do they differ? Well, the difference may not persisst, but
so far, I like what Riet Samuels said about what is so striking in Kilian
Fritsch's style. Samuels said:
Then she pointed to the following section of a transcript with Jack:
As I see that, Kilian is focusing on the process of the therapy and inquiring to uncover what each person was thinking at the time of each comment. I think this kind of "speaking in order to listen" can uncover very interesting material.
However, if you look at Weintraub's therapy you will see a rather different process also bringing forth fascinating changes in the dialogue. Her language makes very striking transvaluative moves and I have learned from them with my own personal work with a client who is similar (but quite different, too) from Barb.
Still, I believe this is all a matter of degree. Although I do
not have instances to point you to at the moment, I have noticed that Kilian
Fritsch also transvaluates on occasion and Weintraub also speaks in order
to listen. Whether these styles will persistly differentiate them
as therapists remains to be seen.
For those of you who don't know what "imaginary therapy" is, it is therapy composed online by professional therapists. What makes it "imaginary" is that the clients are fictional. Their parts in the therapy conversation are composed by therapists other than those who play the therapist role.
The imaginary therapy work that I want to report on in this issue, primarily, is the work of therapist Kilian Fritsch with Jack and Jill. I (Lois Shawver) am composing Jack and Jill. Although the work that Judy Weintraub is doing with imaginary client Barb, will continue, I will wait to report on that case until we have more material.
Jack and Jill have been around now for four sessions and they have revealed a certain style of relating to each other that is, I feel, rather difficult for most therapists to handle. The problem, as i see it, is that Jack interrupts often and takes control of the conversational space. This is particularly interesting because he comes to the therapy complaining that Jill doesn't talk enough, doesn't explain herself.
In the course of sessions three and four, Fritsch has been able, in spite of Jack's interruptions, to gather some interesting material from Jill. But, it must be done while Fritsch manages conversational hotspots. To me, one of the most interesting things about Fritsch's imaginary therapy is the way in which he manages these hotspots. He always has, it seems, a number of things going on in the therapy, but on top of it all, he has to manage the dialogue with Jack while giving Jill space to talk.
Watching him work (or rather reading him work) the model that seems most appropriate to me is the model of having two or more pots on the stove at the same time. Do you know the feeling? One of them (say Jack) starts to boil over, so you have to tend to that, but, in the background, you have to watch the other Pot (in this case Jill) because it will ruin if it cooks too long or too hard. That is what cooking thanksgiving dinner is always like for me.
Watching Kilian watch these conversational pots so artistically has me captivated. I'm not sure if it will help me work better on a thanksgiving meal, but I believe I have learned something about how to manage conversational space when it does not manage itself easily.
Let me say, however, your appreciation of our conversations about the
imaginary sessions will be greatly enhanced if you actually read the sessions.
The most important one for you to read for Jack and Jill today is reachable
if you click here.
Last week, PMTH subscriber, Riet
Samuels volunteered her response to the imaginary sessions saying:
Then, a little later, Israeli therapist, Yishai
Shalif responded by adding:
So, I thought I would ask them to discuss together what they they found
useful. Here is their conversation:
And so, it seems, that there are listeners to the imaginary cases that
find this process useful. Now, the question is, what does the therapist
think about this process.
Kilian Fritsch is the present therapist for imaginary clients Jack and Jill. He did the interview with me below right after he had finished their fourth session. The fifth session is just beginning and the fifth session is not yet available. But since Kilian now has two sessions under his belt with Jack and Jill, I thought you might find it interesting to hear what he has to say about his process of doing therapy with this imaginary couple and how it compares to his doing therapy with flesh and blood clients.
His last session, which has not yet been analyzed, or studied in any
depth, is available if you click here. I am
the interviewer (Lois). And Fritsch is identified in this interview
If you would like to see the prior sessions you can reach them by clicking here:
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