People don't get acclaim for something
they have done, but for something
a whole lot of other people have done.
March 25, 2002
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.
As I told you in the last issue of PMTH NEWS, for months our online community we call "PMTH" has been planning to have a big online shindig. in which we would talk with Lynn Hoffman about her new book, Family Therapy: An Intimate History.
Well, it finally happened. I'll tell you all about it (in the article to your right), but before you read about it, I want you to know why I think Lynn Hoffman, and her new book, is so important.
I think Hoffman is important because she symbolizes the turn from non-postmodern approaches to postmodern ones. She was trained in Bateson and Haley's models of therapy that broke with earlier models by creating their own. But, if you read her book, you can see that she always had a mind of her own.
Hoffman's professional life that she charts so intimately shows her
stepping into one therapy philosophy after another and then watching the
therapy with an open enough mind to think it through. She doesn't
claim a God like vision of the one true therapy at the end of her career,
however. What she gives us, instead is her "shelf theory," to describe
her own development..Her's the way she explains it:
This is very inspiring language to a postmodern like me. In fact, I think this passage has the postmodern vision by its tail. The idea is that even though we may never get a God's eye view of how to do therapy, if we are true to our best model of the moment and have the courage to keep revising it when we are disillusioned, then we can function, and do valuable work. Our therapy is just a pack of cards, perhaps, but it works for now, and working is good enough. It takes the client out of the hot water, too, and onto another "shelf".
You may need to read more about our event and how Hoffman answered our questions to get a sense what she presently thinks of as good clinical work. But, let me give you a clue here.
Hoffman is inspired by the notion of a "reflecting team." It's got its drawbacks as you will see, but "the reflecting team concept" is quite adaptable and can be reshaped in a postmodern way to make it work in a variety of situations. In fact, it has already been adapted both by the Narrative Therapy (see Michael White above) and Collaborative Language Systems Therapy (see the writing of Harlene Anderson). Each brand of therapy has reinvented the "reflecting team" by tailoring it to its own needs.
But you'll have to read more to have a deeper picture of what she is now offering her field. She is sometimes spell-binding when she talks of language. I like the way she weaves her Wittgenstein around these ideas of language, too. Note that not that long ago she was new to the later work of Wittgenstein and Lyotard, but now she is using their ideas like an artist.
Lynn Hoffman, therefore, is an inspiration to many of us. She shows us how to question sales pitches for the better therapy, and more, she teaches us that our postmodern disillusionment with traditional therapy methods doesn't render a therapist's career invalid. There are honorable ways to work even after the postmodern turn
This, of course, is just my view. There is no God's eye view for
Hoffman, and not for me either. But I do so much like it up here
on this postmodern shelf and I am so pleased to be viewing the horizon
before us, with all its unknowns, with my friend and colleague, Lynn Hoffman.
If you have a postmodern disillusionment with tradition, I suggest you
join us up here.
May 25, 2002Dear Lynn,
Hi! How are you? I've been meaning to write to you for some time now about your wonderful new book - "Family Therapy: An intimate history". In this book you make highly accessible to the reader such a richness of thought, ideas and practice, in a style that is personal, literary and rigorous. This really is an extraordinarily engaging read - about a journey that's quite some adventure - and we are recommending it to all of our students. We are about to enter into negotiations with WWNorton for stocks of this book so that we might include this in the books that we have available for sale at our centre.
I would also like to say that I was very touched by your beautiful characterisation of my practice, and appreciative of your accurate account of my engagement with thought which I find so often is misrepresented in other places. This was a gift!
I wish you all the best in your future projects, and will look forward to hearing of these at some point.
See the quote from Lynn Hoffman above? I have taken it out of context,
but it sparks my imagination. Let me give you the quote in its fuller
What this sparks for me is that all of us are mouthpieces for each other, each telling a story that includes what we say each other has said and done, giving a mouthpiece to others through our own writing or talking.
And, when it all comes together into a readable book, as it did with Lynn Hoffman's latest example, then, not only does she stand on the shoulders of her teachers, but they stand on hers as she carries them into a new text and to a whole new group of readers.
Of which, I hope you're one.
Lynn Hoffman gets around, and it seems, and just about wherever she goes, it seems to me, she receives an enthusiastic welcome. Right after she did her event with PMTH, for example, , she visited a Public Health Nurse conference in British Columbia. and Kiernan O'Rorke Phipps gives an especially good account of Hoffman's appearance at the event. You can read her account by clicking here:
You might also be interested in reading a little about the group "Rock the Boat" that had the good sense to invite Hoffman to the conference as an invited guest. Read more about Rock the Boat by clicking here.
I happen to know that Hoffman has other engagements coming up. When she comes to your neck of the woods, you should make that special effort to meet her. I'll keep you posted as to what and when you might do that.
PMTH NEWS is always a good (arguably not the best) online resource
of postmodern events and materials around the world. Watch for our
ads and reviews.
Notice that the the author of the article you could click to above, the article describing Lynn Hoffman's invited appearance at the Rock the Boat conference for Public Health Nurses, is also the author of the article below on "Therapy Metaphors."
You can read more about this author by clicking her name,
What's in a metaphor ? And what does it have to do with therapy?
Nothing much if you believe that metaphors are only an adornment of plain speech, but a great deal if you believe that metaphors are covert equations that organize how we see the world and how we see ourselves and what we do. As a newcomer to the PMTH List I was fascinated by the debate about the metaphors used by PMTH members to describe the practice of therapy.
Diamond caught our attention when he used the "therapist as healer"
metaphor. Diamond said,
However, Val Lewis questioned this "healer metaphor" She said, "Are we stuck with this wound-heal metaphor?" She pondered the the alternative metaphor of therapy as "growth" but she noticed that it, too, had negative implications. It suggested, she told us, that the client was "somehow stunted" before coming to therapy.
Solomon Yusim seemed to agree with her, saying that the "growth metaphor for therapy" sponsors therapist grandiosity.
As an alternative, Alfred Treptow offered the metaphor of "restoration." But a little discussion showed that this wasn't a perfect metaphor, either. The metaphor of "restoring" suggests that the client is broken and in need of putting things back the way they were. Moreover, Jonathan Diamond felt the "restoration" metaphor had religious connotations, not always a connotation that therapists want.
Finally, Lewis brought up the metaphor of therapy as "conversational space." That's a metaphor that seems popular on PMTH. Conversational space is a metaphor you'll find in the writing of Harlene Anderson. And, as Lewis suggested, it doesn't imply that there is something wrong with the client. The client just needs some "conversational space", not growth, not curing of illness, just a space to talk.. Lewis said, "when someone comes in who is grievingł˝they are not really sick or broken so we are not fixers or gardeners or restorers." Undamaged as clients might be, so the impliation was, they are merely looking for "conversational space" This seemed to inspire Lois Shawver.
But Murray Gordon said he thought the healing metaphor was not so bad. It was better, at least, than the medical metaphor of "curing." "Curing, he said, is something you do to bacon!" (I think that was a line from a play.)
So, as you can see, we went through a lot of metaphors and some promising ones that I haven't listed. There is the metaphor of midwife, for example.and "playwright."
Pam Birrellended our study of therapy metaphors on an inspirational
note by quoting from Martin Buber. I'll share it with you:
For me, the discussion of therapy metaphor was valuable because
it demonstrated the power of metaphors to frame and reframe our experience
of therapy by communicate with, as Lynn
Hoffman calls it, a "painted language," Metaphorical words we
use to paint our world.
I want to tell you about my concept of "postmodern paradox."
I think of "postmodernism" on the model of Jean-Francois Lyotard. That is, postmodernism to my way of thinking is a basic suspcion about those grand theories that pretend they have solved a certain problem for everyone, for all times. Postmodern therapies, would be a therapy that is self-conscious about not having one-size-fits-all kind of answers. Each answer has to be tailored to the situation at hand.
But isn't that also a one-size-fits all kind of answer? That each answer has to be tailored to the situation at hand?
I think so. I think in our commitment to avoiding all metanarratives we we can make a metanarrative out of avoiding them. And that's the paradox.
So what can we do? That's where you, my reader, come in. If postmodern ideas appeal to you, Let let them postmodernism guide you but only so far. Try reflecting teams, read Lynn Hoffman, read PMTH NEWS, read all the other postmodern authors and texts you know, but in the end, give it your own twist, and apply it with your own judgment.
At any rate, that's pretty much what I think most of us on PMTH try
to do. We learn from each other, but in the end, each of us is the
judge for what we think. We do not accept authorities to tell us
things we don't think out for ourselves.
If you discover a gap in postmodern philosophy to insert your own voice,
your own ideas, then, in my opinion, you have avoided turning it into the
"the expert's homology". Instead, you have opened another conversational
space for our ideas to evolve through conversation -- and that's what I
call, "postmodern paralogy".
We have been studying Hoffman's ideas, as she discussed them in the recnt PMTH event inher name. Now, I'd like to give you just a few windows into her book. I'll type in passages that reflect some sections I have marked in my copy of her book.
Again, the book I am referring to is Hoffman's book Family Therapy: An Intimate History Since I am quoting her out of context, I will organize her comment around a question or framework she addresses.
First, what does Lynn Hoffman think of the systemic view of therapy? Remember, she is one of the key figures popularizing the systemic view in recent years, and she also considers systemic therapy the foundation of her early training in therapy.
. So, what does Hoffman think of systemic therapy today, given
her recent postmodern turn? She tells us:
We saw above that Michael White thinks highly of Lynn Hoffman's characterization
of his work. One aspect of White's work might be called "activism."
But, she tells us, it's an activism of a different color than we usually
think of. Here's what she says;
Why was Hoffman so impressed with Tom Andersen's notion of "reflecting
What's good about getting old? In our youth oriented culture, it seems that youth is ideal. Aging is what we do to avoid something worse.
Howver,lLook at what Ken and Mary Gergen have to say about the joys of growing old.
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The Lynn Hoffman event began on Sunday, May 26. The online method for staging the event was "rapid email posting". With this method a group of people can talk together, sharing email, and it feels almost like we're sitting in the same room. It's because the talkers are all at their computer, typing in questions or responses and reading what each other says for a designated period of time.
In our most recent event, the well known author Lynn Hoffman was center stage. She sat at her computer for three hours straight while the rest of us fed her question after question. She's a fast typist, and she managed to keep up with us.
I'm going to tell you how the event went. This is not quite a verbatim account of things, but my edit pen is not extensive. I sometimes summarize and paraphrase the questions to keep the length of the article in reason . Most important, I omit some of th stuff that would require a lot more context to understand and I introduce paragraphing in some of Hoffman's writing to enhance readability in my columns of text format.
But I think you'll get a good picture of what we said to Hoffman, and what she said to us.
the event started with Jonathan
Diamond commenting. In view of his suggestion you might want
to know that Diamond is an author himself. He said:
Then Diamond asked:
Lynn Hoffman responded telling us about her own personal life and and
how it related to her postmodern turn. She said
In other words, having a family diagnosed as "dysfunctional" only contributed
to the problem. She found a more positively worded therapy helped
Then Jerry Shaffer asked Hoffman about the title of her book.
He wanted to know why she named it an "intimate history" Hoffman
And Jerry also said:
Then, Judy Weintraub asked:
Hoffman's response was partly metaphorical. She said to Weintraub:
Let me emphasize the last sentence of her response above. Hoffman
is concerned that our teaching may erase some of our natural skills, rather
than build on them. That does raise interesting questions, doesn't
it? How does a teacher teach theapy without robbing the student of
her "natural human skills?" Good question.
I particularly liked Weintraub's next question. It explored the postmodernism
of Hoffman's work. Weintraub said::
And Hoffman answered:
But, Weintraub responded by wondering about the cost effectiveness of reflecting teams that Lynn was proposing.
So, Hoffman' suggested we may need to be creative in creating a reflective process and not rely on the original model of a team of reflectors because, for one thing, the traditional reflecting team, with its group of expensive professionals offering their reflections, is not always cost-effective. Still, she told us, we can work creatively with the idea of a reflecting process.
Hill asked Lynn Hoffman:
So, she is not suggesting that we should work only with people like ourselves.
Next, Kiernan O'Rourke-Phipps asked for consultation on a question of
hers. She said:to Hoffman:
Hoffman said she had been confronted with that qustion before and then
went on to add:
To me, that may be Hoffman's most postmodern comment.
Postmoderns move in and out of their Post- modernism. Postmodernism
is not a religion. It's facing the dearth of scientific proof and
the arbitrariness of our answers, our ability to deconstruct them, yet
finding another way to carry on, not giving up the ship just because one
has not acquired a perfect view of what is true.
And notice how Hoffman's answer suggests we work. Use creativity, she tells us, rather than slipping into a final answer like "never work with couples when one of them is violent." Even with such apparently difficult cases, one can sometimes find a creative way to hold a joint session.
Lewis spoke up espressing a controversial idea. She said:
Then Lewis explained she saw something similar as a lesson from Hoffman's
book. In Lewis' words:
In other words, do therapists waste our time going to school?
Here's her postmoder moving in and out of postmodernism, again. I think one can't be postmodern if one is "always postmodern," or completely committed to a postmodern view. That's the postmodern paradox: To be sometimes postmodern is to be more postmodern than to be thoroughly postmodern.
Then Jonathan Diamond spoke up again. He asked Hoffman about the origins of Tom Andersen's notion of a reflecting team. I thought this was an important question. Few ideas are more innovative in the postmodern therapy than the reflecting team. With a reflecting team, generally, the therapy with the clients come to a brief halt and the clients simply listens to what a group of reflectors say to each other as they muse about the clients and their relationships.
I shared Diamond's curiosity and wanted to know how Anderson came to
this idea of a "reflecting team." Hoffman answered:
I can just see how that could have happened! The trainee is being critical of the family and the supervisor is being critical of the trainee's criticism. Noticing the paradox provide the spark, perhaps, for birth of the "reflecting team."
Next to ask questions was Tom
Strong Strong said to Hoffman, "You are an inspiration to my work."
But, he added:
Oh, that's a funny image, Tom Strong with pom poms. But on with this story.
Next our Colombian therapist Jeannette Samper. asked Lynn Hoffman to comment on how she was able to keep track of all her examples and notes and weave them into such a readable book. Samper also asked when the book would be translated in Spanish.
Well, however she did it, it's a very readable book, rich with concrete examples and annotated by her personal observations..
Then, Nick Drury asked Hoffman how she suggested postmoderns deal with modernist demands that therapists have "clearly defined goals", "treatment plans".
Good question, and just about every postmodern working in a modernist facility has to ask it. How does a postmodern survive in a modernist world?
Hoffman answered simply that the modernist demands were culturally or historically located and that. In Europe the prospects for postmodernism seemed brighter right now than in the US.
Samuels was the next to speak up. She quoted a passage from Hoffman's
book in which Hoffman seemed critical of the concept of "growth" in therapy
(p. 226). Samuels asked:
I flipped over to the page that Samuels mentoned. I see that Hoffman was citing Michael White's preference for the term "decenter" over metaphors that imagine the therapist is making the client "grow". Like Harlene Anderson, Hoffman tells us, White sees himself as setting the scene for the clients to make the transformative event happen. These authors are propsing different metahors.
(Want to see a related passage in PMTH NEWS about the metaphor of "growth"? Check out a comment by clicking here on Val Lewis's name.)
Gonzalo Bacigalupe was next to address Hoffman. He suggested that the reflecting team model could be translated into an office with a single therapist. She explains this adaptation if you keep reading)
Hoffman agreed adding that, like Harry Goolishian once suggested, it might be good to change the name of "reflecting the am" to "reflecting process."
Still talking about reflecting teams (or reflecting process) , Judy Weintraub spoke up again asking about Michael White's idea that reflecting teams sometimes sounded like a "culture of applause." (Click here to see what White thinks of Hoffman's new book.)
Very clever of Michael White to do that. In Wittgenstein terms, White just switched langauge games. Or, as Hoffman might say, he found a new metaphor that allowed for richer reflections.
Hill asked if Hoffman would be willing to comment on whether she thought
the fields of group therapy and family therapy might work more collaboratively.
Shaffer asked if Hoffman thought that the journey of family therapy
was one of progress. (This reminded me of Samuels question about
the metaphor of "growth."
And that's it. lThat's the way the Lynn event went in PMTH. It was exciting, and her answers were clear and insightful, at least I and many here thought they were.
To my way of thinking Lynn Hoffman postmodernism is ideal. She
dips in and out of it, takes it seriously but not so seriously that she
creates the .
Remember, those of us who talked with her in this event had just read her hot new book:
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