A self does not amount to much,
but no self is an island;
each exists in a fabric of relations that is now
more complex and mobile than ever before.
Lyotard, PMC, p.15
You will recall that Barb is an imaginary PMTH client. That is, Barb is not a real person, but rather a imaginary character played by a PMTH therapist in order to create a therapy transcript that we can think about and/or discuss. Judy Weintraub is writing the part of therapist. I believe that the part that she is writing reflects one possible way that Weintraub might work with a client like Barb, but not the only possible way she could or would work.
For your reading convenience, let me review what we know about Barb to this point. Then, I'll tell you what is happening with her now.
Barb began therapy with Judy four sessions ago. Her presenting problem was that she had just done something "very stupid" by staging a public argument with her boyfriend, Bob (who happens to be a handsome, charismatic physician as well as Barb's employer). The argument happened when Barb thought she saw Bob flirting with another woman. The problem, in part, was that Barb was not completely certain about what she saw. This uncertainty, Barb said, made her feel crazy. If Bob was really flirting, then Barb thought the strong thing to do was to break up with him. But, maybe, Barb told Judy, Bob just looked as though he was flirting. The stress of not-knowing, she said, was terrible. Regardless, this concept of "being strong" and "doing the strong thing" seems to be a critical concept for Barb. She wants to be "strong." She doesn't have the same drive, it seems, to be "fit" or "popular" or "competent" or many of the other goals that could have inspired her. All of this came out, more or less, in the first session.
In the second session, Judy transvaluated all of this. Whereas Barb had portrayed herself as weak for not breaking up with Bob, Judy portrayed her as strong for not breaking up. To make this transvaluation compelling, Judy had to use langauge that showed that not breaking up with Bob could, indeed, be seen as a positive act of strength. This idea of strength was certainly not the one that Barb came in with.
Judy transvaluated Barb's not-breaking-up- with-Bob by saying that it took strength for her to continue the relationship while she was unclear about whether Bob was flirting. (Click here and read #22 to see how that was done. There is much more subtley to this transvaluation and it deserves your scrutiny.). This got Barb's attention. Judy was speaking her language of "strength versus weakness" but with a different twist, and this new twist in the language game changed everything.
In the third session, Barb came in describing another argument that she had had with Bob. In this argument Barb thought, but wasn't sure, that Bob was flirting with Charlotte, another employee of the handsome doctor. Barb portrayed her own behavior as negative saying that she knew she shouldn't have gone back to talk with Bob while she was angry (#12).
This is a different issue than the issue that dominated in the first two sessions. In the first two sessions, the dominant issue was whether Barb should break up with Bob. Now, suddenly, the issue is whether Barb should give Bob a hard time when Barb suspects him of flirting. Although Barb originally (at least) thought it was strong to break up with Bob, she seems to have some qualms about displaying her anger publicly. Still, she does it. She simply feels negative about herself, apparently, for doing so. How does Judy respond to this self-condemnation?
Again, Judy transvaluates. According to Judy, not only was Barb
not weak for going back to talk with Bob while she was still angry, but,
according to Judy (#13),
these actions showed that Barb was "action oriented" and "take charge."
By comment #21
Judy is saying,
Again, there are many subtleties here that you might wish to study in the transcript and its analysis. It is not just that Judy challenges a particular negative statement Barb makes about herself by extending a more positive one. Barb presents a series of negative self-statements, one apparently justifying another, and Judy creatively discovers positive ways to transvaluate them each in their turn.
This style of Judy's is particularly evident in the beginning of session four. Barb was late to the fourth session, having just left an argument, this time, with her mother. Her mother, Barb explains, didn't want Barb to go to therapy. Judy presents Barb's refusal to do what her mother says as positive. "Wow!" she tells Barb,"She tried to stop you but you came anyway!..."How do you manage to get free from her power?" (#13)
But with one swipe, Barb wipes away the impact of Judy's positive transvaluation. It's not power, she replies, because I "sneaked."
But Judy is persistent. She comes back changing the negative word "sneaked" to the positive term "being "sly." Judy says, in some situations, like the one Barb is in, it can be "best to be sly" and that, at any rate, she, Judy, has "complete respect" for Barb's decisions.
At that point, Barb tells Judy the story of her mom and dad's relationship. It turns out that Barb's mom (whom she calls "mama") has been on the warpath with Barb's dad for a long time. The dad is an alcoholic and, according to her mother, at least, has other women on the side. Being strong for Barb's mom apparently has meant letting the old man have a piece of her mind. They have never broken up. But, as a consequence (apparently) of watching her mom with her dad, and talking to her mom about this situation, Barb has developed a certain framework about thinking that it is important to be "strong" with men -- although she doesn't seem all that clear about what it means to be "strong with men."
On the one hand, Barb is clear that she wants to avoid having a relationship with her boyfriend that is in any way reminiscent of her mother's relationship with her dad, although try as she might, she feels she is repeating the whole scenario. On the other hand, she can hardly be strong in the way she wants if the man she wants isn't around, if he breaks up with her, and Barb is quite worried that Bob will in fact break up with her because she is such a bitch.
Throughout this discussion, Judy keeps Barb's notion of strength transvaluated. Barb is showing strength, according to Judy, by doing just what she is doing, by being willing to stay in the relationship while also guarding himself from becoming trapped in an abusive relationship with a philanderer.
The fourth session will be drawing to a close shortly, but the drama continues and the question remains: Can therapy help Barb in her struggles to find a satisfying romantic relationship?
Many thanks to Judy Weintraub for playing the role of therapist. Judy's
continuing support and positive transvaluation appears to have gained Barb's
trust in a way that allows her to open up and, who knows, anything
In his simulated case of couples therapy with Jack and Jill, Kilian Fritsch is looking hard at Jack's tendency to speculate about Jill's hidden agenda. And in her simulated case with Barb, Judy Weintraub is studying Barb's inclination to speculate about Bob's private flirtatious motivations. And in her talk about Relational Responsibility, Sheila McNamee has noted that conversation goes downhill when people start to speculate and name each other's intentions. What is behind our human tendency to speculate about each other's motivations? Is it so necessary?
Fictional Jack thought so. He said to his therapist Kilian
So, imagine him sitting there listening to Jill, every comment Jill makes, apparently, leads Jack to wonder why she made it and where she is going with it. He is always asking (just as Barb is always wondering what her boyfriend is doing as he looks at Charlotte).
But are the people they speculate about necessarily thinking anything? Is it necessary to know where you're going to have a conversation or interact with someone? Maybe not.
Reading Wittgenstein the other day I ran across this quotation that
I saved to give you PMTH readers. Wittgenstein asks:
Well, do we? You're walking to the car while you talk to your friend. Your attention feels entirely on your converation. Yet, somehow, you arrive at your car, your friend steps in the passenger side, and your converation continues. All pretty mindless stuff, really because it is possible that at no point you actually said to yourself, "I'm going to my car. Now, I'm going to put my key in the ignition." To some extent we act like robotic bundles of habits rather than people with precise agendas? We put one foot ahead of each other without telling that foot what to do.
And, as you and your companion drive out of the parking lot, onto the road, you may know where you plan to drive, but do you necessarily know where this converation is going? Can't she surprise you? Can't new ideas and plans emerge unbeckoned? And isn't that part of the fun of converation? All conversation doesn't take place within a formal (or informal) agenda. Isn't it so?
Well, I think it's so. Sometimes we simply find ourselves moving on in our lives, in our conversations. And yet we act, sometimes, (as Jack and Barb are acting) as though the people we care about all have agendas, that Jill can't put Jack down innocently, or that Bob can't flirt with Charlotte without the slightest notion that it is so. That is, he can look a bit too intensely and sparkle a bit much without any intention of making something happen between them. And, even more, something can happen even if his intentions were entirely innocent.
So, as therapists, how do we deal with such situations? Where people damage their relationships by speculating about intentions that may not even be formed?
Maybe there are clues as to how to proceed in the transcripts of our imaginary clients.
I selected our Lyotard quote today with Sheila McNamee and John Lannamann in mind. On July 9th, PMTH will host a discussion between McNamee and Lannamann about the topic of "relational responsibility" as opposed to "individual responsibility." I believe Lyotard is saying that the postmodern conversation is more attuned to relational responsibility and less committed to individual responsibility than is the modern. Of course, this is what McNamee and Gergen have in mind as well.
And, on July 9, we will have an opportunity to ask McNamee and Lannamann questions about their views. This PMTH discussion was inspired by McNamee's book, Relational Responsibility. (If you would like to know more about this book, please go to the Amazon listing, page down, and you'll see my review.)
Notice that the book was written by McNamee and Gergen -- so who is Lannamann and why is he joining us here? John Lannamann is an interesting author himself who has a somewhat different slant on relational responsibility than does McNamee. He is also a contributor to her book, and, to make it all more interesting, he is also her husband.
I think it will be an important discussion. They both have points
to make and it is an honor to have them present on PMTH as guests .
Lois Shawver started a discussion about listmember Sheila McNamee's co-edited book (with Kenneth Gergen) by asking that McNamee define "relational responsibility". After stating her reservations to "essentialize" a definition, McNamee offered: "relational responsibility is attentiveness to the processes of relating." The project of Relational Responsibility, McNamee indicated, has hoped to enrich our vocabulary of relatedness, to inspire us to communicate beyond (though not excluding) our deeply embedded discourse of individualism.
Therefore, for McNamee, relational responsibility is a process view of human relating, so that a "we that is created in engaged activities with others ... is in constant flux and thus the possibilities are open." This notion of open possibilities, and this interest in our abilities to draw from multiple discourses has been a focus of McNamee's writing. See, for example, her earlier classic (also co-written/co-edited with Ken Gergen), "Therapy as social construction."
To illustrate how deeply our individualist discourse runs, Jerry Shaffer shared that the first word of his twin grandchildren was "mine". Riet Samuels wondered if acquiring a more relationally focused language required more early instruction and practice for children. I (Tom Strong) asked if the building blocks for an expanded discourse of relatedness had to come from our predominantly individualist discourse. Nick Drury pointed to the relationship between individualist responsibility and the concept of shame and guilt cultures.
As a social constructionist, McNamee suggests that conceptions of "self" are socially constructed. She puts forth a view that the self emerges in the "confluences of conversation". This is a strikingly different view from the essentialist view that most moderns give of self and identity. For McNamee, self means positioning ourselves so as to be able to draw on the conversational resources of different communities of speakers. It also throws into question notions of intentionality and 'self'-agency (McNamee: Why do we need to hold onto it?), and at the same time begs questions about where our responsibility begins and ends. Does an individualist discourse obscure our participation in relational practices that are experienced as self-agentive?
There are many questions evoked by McNamee's book as well as by her
contributions to recent PMTH discussions. On July 9th we will be
joined by McNamee and her husband, John Lannamman for what promises to
be a rousing and inspiring conversation on the possibilities and shortcomings
of enriching relational discourse.
Want to see what some PMTH regulars look like? Hear how they sound in person? Then, you'll certainly want to drop by the APA presentation that includes papers by Lois Holzman, Sheila McNamee and Tom Strong.
learn more about the presentation, where to go, what you'll see and hear.
In the previous issue of PMTH NEWS, I told you a little about Jack and Jill's therapy. Like Barb, Jack and Jill are fictional characters in therapy with a PMTH professional therapist who is, in this case, Kilian Fritsch. Fritsch is seeing Jack and Jill as a couple. Neither one has had an individual session with Fritsch or with the previous therapist who saw them.
What has been very noteworthy about the therapy with Jack and Jill is that Jack has interrupted and talked a lot so that Kilian has had to find some way to react or manage Jack's talkativeness. In the previous sessions, Kilian has often handled it by talking to Jack at length and then asking him to sit quietly and observe, or sometimes asking Jack to avoid making "snappy responses." This has been more or less successful. That is, Jack seems to be trying to comply, but his impulse is still to jump in, especially when he feels insulted, which is often enough.
When he doesn't jump in with comments, Jack often jumps in by making faces, a technique of communicating that Jill herself has sometimes resorted to. Notice, however, that most of Jack's impulsive talking has to do with his taking offense at things Jill says. Should he take offense? Is Jill insulting him? Sometimes. But sometimes it seems she is not, that Jack is creating offenses in his mind as he speculates about Jill's motivations. Kilian has had Jack look at those times so he can see, apparently, that the insult was based on speculation.
Neverthless, it seems clear that Jack takes offense a lot when Jill talks and he seems to talk more in order to defend himself. Moreover, when he talks in this self-defending way he is not beyond saying insulting things to Jill even in reference to her talking, as when he said, "Ah, the queen speaks! "
Why does Jack talk so much? Maybe it is partly to defend himself from Jill's insults, but Jack himself, in session four, suggests another reason. Maybe he's afraid that Jill will leave him. Is it important to unravel these reasons? Maybe not. Kilian seems to be staying much closer to the text of what people say and to spend some time trying to keep the dialogue productive, that is keep it from degenerating into mutual insults, or into Jack raging on defensively about real and imagined insults that Jill gives him.
And so, we are now well into session five. In this session, Kilian externalizes Jack's tendency to speculate. Now, they can talk about this impulse as though it were something external to Jack, something that was struggling to dominate Jack and required Jack to fight back. Will this externalization stick so that Jack takes offense less? Too early to tell. But Kilian has succeeded in getting Jack to be quiet long enough for Jill to talk a little about what it feels like when he speculates.
Jill complains bitterly about Jack's speculations about her, by saying it is Jack "psychoanalyzing her." But the fact that Jack has stopped talking for a little bit has also allowed Kilian to inquire as to what it is that was good about their relationship initially. Perhaps Kilian would like them to remember this because they are both very focused at present on what is bad about their relationship now. If they lose this relationship, perhaps the loss will not be so trivial as they might now assume.
Now, in session 5 In line #87, for example, Jill referred to the "real Jack". This is a very interesting concept in therapy. If a person buys that the "real Frank " is mean, for example, then nothing Frank can do can provide evidence that he is not really mean. Is something like that going on with Jill? Is it the case that she can't see evidence that Jack is trying because she is looking past the behaviors into her picture of the "real Jack"?
Maybe . But if Jill is trying to see the real Jack, hidden behind the disguise of niceness, then Jack is collaborating with this picture when he talks of the importance of "letting it all hang out in therapy" (see line #89). That is, it seems to me that if a client talks about being "hypocritical" on the one hand or "letting it all hang out" on the other, then that client is creating an image of the "real person" being the one who is letting it all hang out.
So, this is a whole new issue that has come up. Now, Jack has
revealed that he thought therapy required him to let everything "hang out"
and Jill thinks that that the real Jack is not so nice (and the Jack that
hangs out is his not-so-nice side, perhaps), Kilian has to work his way
through this web of language that pins these clients into their
established way of talking and feeling about each other. Or so it
seems to me, and apparently to Kilian, too.
Pretty soon, however, this session will end. Do you think progress is being made? Can we judge yet? Myself, I think enormous progress is being made. At least, Jack is listening more and Jill is hearing more. Presumptions (i.e., "speculations") that might harm their conversational process are being flushed out and reviewed collaboratively.
But, in the end, will it all work out for Jack and Jill? Will they get back together and live happily ever after?
I honestly don't know, even though I am playing the role of Jack and Jill. Just as you know what your mother would say if someone said something specific to her, so I know what Jack and Jill will say, or so it seems to me. But, I don't know what Kilian will say or where he will lead Jack and Jill as he works through (what I would call) their remarkable defenses against hearing each other.
But, whether Jack and Jill walk into the sunset happy for ever or not, at least they are not so stuck. That is, their conversation is not continuing to go round and round in circles. The paralogy between them, that is the generative discussion that helps them escape the impasse, is apparently returning.
And, isn't t this how successful therapy works? Helping people
listen to each other and talk to each otehr so each otehr can listen?
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