Conversation, the application and further
interpretation of words
and only in this current
does a word
have its meaning.
Remarks on the
Philosophy of Psychology
A topic that caught the imagination of PMTH conversationalists in the last few weeks was the question of therapy models.
For example, a therapist might consider herself doing therapy much like a "potter". A potter generally has a relatively clear image of what she is trying to make (i.e., a pot) and she sets about to mold the clay in the shape of that image.
Therapy could proceed like that. The therapist could define the goals of therapy in clear terms and then set about to make that happen. Behavioral therapy surely comes close to that, and when managed care asks that therapists define their goals and measure how close they come to achieving them, they are asking for Potters therapy.
In contrast, consider the therapist who works like a gardener. The gardener does not mold the seed into a petunia or a oak tree. She simply waters the seed and whatever grows depends upon the kind of seed that was there in the first place.
Therapy can be done from within that model. The therapist would simply provide a context in which the client could self-discover and self-actualize. Surely Rogerian therapy worked like this.
In contrast to the potter, gardener, consider the "detective model." Isn't this what therapists do when they look for the problem in order to cure it? Maybe there was a trauma somewhere back, or someone is saddled with a secret guilt or a shame too awful to reveal. In this model, the therapists prowls around looking for the hidden secret and then shines a light on it.
Isn't this the model of psychoanalysis? Apparently, some people profit from having therapists who are detectives. Let's not sell themethod short.
But from the beginning, it looked to me that the therapist for our imaginary therapy, Kilian Fritsh (you'll read more about him later) was more of a shepherd than a potter or a gardener or even a detective. That is, it looked to me as though Fritsch noticed that the sheep (I mean Jack and Jill) were grazing on barren ground. Then, while Jack and Jill were getting no where, circling around and around each other to find something to chew on, shepherd Kilian gently nudged them off to a field that was a bit more lush. Then, there, in a meadow of comic parody, Kilian showed this troubled couple how to sustain their relationship with humor.
So, which is the best model? My postmodern heart tells me that no model isright. I think it all depends on the context and the individuals involve and as impressive as Kilian's therapy is, I caution you from turning it into a metanarrative.
At least, I think, that the key to success is surely our irreverence. That is our ability to read a given situation and capitalize on it, our ability to take a piece from this model and another from another, and then to weave it together in a sysstem designed for the particular clients before us.
And, this is what our imaginary therapy does for us. It allows
us to learn from each other, to be each other's teacher, without any of
us taking the lead as the one who has figured out the right way of doing
things. To put it in the terms that John Dakin put it:
Still, I think Kilian's gift to us in his most recent session with jack
and Jill was his willingness to give us a demonstration of therapeutic
shepherding. Could it be that Kilian is at heart a shepherd?
Ha! You judge for yourself. Heres' what he said when we asked
him about it:
So, how do PMTHers do therapy? They do it their way, emphasizing
this model and then that, having a preference, but not (or at least not
generally) claiming it is the one right way.
I invite you to join me and my colleagues from the Houston Galveston Institute and Taos Institute in Galveston, Texas September 21st -24th for our Social Construction and Human Transformaton conference. I really look forward to this exciting collaborative learning event which will provide an enriching forum to share your work, learn how others are expanding and using social construction premises, and jointly explore and generate practical and theoretical resources for the future. What excites me about these conferences is that they are not only energizing and generative at the moment but importantly serve as invitations for ongoing and future conversations and networking with old and new colleagues.
Our conference themes this year continue to bridge disciplines:
Plenary speakers are Kenneth Gergen and Bliss Browne. Ken, considered
the dean of social construction theory, will chart his own social
construction journey and challenge us to open ourselves to the "enormous
potential of human relationships. Bliss will challenge us with stories
about her Imagine Chicago Project that offered people, especially young
people, an opportunity to develop their
Great weather, beach, fishing and historic houses all await you.
The conference will be at the historic Tremont House Hotel. Email:
The conference begins at 5:00 pm on Thursday, September 21st and ends
Take the Galveston Limousine service from Hobby (closest) or Bush Intercontinental airports. For reservation: 800-640-4826.
Conference fee: by July 31st $295; after July 31st $320. Students $195.
So, maybe you want more than anything to have some instruction in postmodern therapy from Harlene Anderson. But, maybe the times she tells you about in her above article are just not right for you. Is there anything else?
Sure there is. Here are some possibilities for you:
Or, if you can't do that and you're stuck in your house this year with
a broken ankle, then do read her book, available now in three languages,
Language and Possibilities.
Check out the latest edition of the New Therapist. So many names you'll recognize in PMTH pop up in this popular magazine. And the topics are dear to the heart of those who would read PMTH NEWS. For example, this present issue is concerned with Politics and the Evolution of Psychotherapy. Relevant to our concerns, right?
More specifically, here is what you'll find in the latest issue:
My issue hasn't arrived yet, so all I can tell you is what I hear.
Want to get your copy, too? CLICK
HERE and send the message that you want to subscribe.
Was Wittgenstein a religious man? PMTH philosopher, Jerry Shaffer, addressed this question by reading Norman Malolmn's book on this topic and reviewing it for PMTH. What Shaffer learned from this book is that, for Wittgenstein, religious doctrine was not relevant to whether one was a religious man. What was relevant was whether one led a spiritual life. But, did Wittgenstein feel he led that kind of life?
The key quote of Wittgensein on this topic that forms the centerpiece
of Malcolmn's book was:
About this quote, Shaffer, our reviewer, said:
But Wittgenstein enthusiast, Judy Weintraub, felt this statement made
a lot of sense.
And here is how PMTHer Nick Drury responded to Shaffer's review:
There are a lot of things about W that could lead me to say 'he was
The Shafer added:
And after saying that she thought it meant he was humbled "by the limits
of what counts as human knowing." Judy asked Shafer why knowing his
intention was important to him and she added:
and I agree. What Wittgenstein meant in that passage is no longer what is important. What is important is how much thinking and talking about his comment leads us into interesting conversation.
But here's a point in Shafer's comments: Could we have that intersting conversation is we did not find it mysterious? And if we did not wonder what Wittgenstein really had in mind?
Last week I gave you a quote from Lyotard that I think is inspiring.
Please look at it again. Lyotard said:
In other words, who you are is made up of all you are when you're with various people. Whatever kind of creature we would be without relationships, it would hardly be human. Even if you were an astronaut flying through space alone in a private capsule, you'd probably find yourself thinking of the last time you saw someone, or looking forward to your next human contact. And so who we are depends on who we are with, or who we imagine being with, or who we do not want to be with. And, if who we are depends on the quality of our relationships, then it makes sense to construct those relationships, and hence ourselves, with care and attention.
At least, this was the position of Sheila McNamee who co-authored (with Ken Gergen) the book Relational Responsibility. and, on July 9, McNamee, McNamee and her husband John Lannamann joined PMTH for a discussion on these issues.
And an intense discussion it was. For three hours a group of us sat at our keyboards churning out a total of 140 notes in the hopes of getting clearer about these ideas. I understand that McNamee and Lannamann were sitting at their respective computers with a little cold pizza to sustain them while their young son, Taylor, was playing in the background. And, on our side, a group of us who have been studying McNamee's ideas, typed questions to these authors into our computers. McNamee and Lannamann did a fantasic job of fielding these questions. They were sort of like talk show guests with all the audience casting them questions.
To me, it was all wonderful. These keyspeakers (or were they "key posters"?) discussed their differences with remarkable grace and they gave the rest of us a chance to hear about Relational Responsibility within a dialogue. It seems to me that it is often much easier to get a feel for such issues when you hear folks chatting about them, than just in hearing formal presentations. I like the, "This is what I think" model of dialogue a lot.
So, what did we talk about? Read on -- next article.
Riet Samuels posted a note that started the PMTH conversation about Sheila McNamee and Ken Gergen's new book, Relational Responsibility. This book consists of an initial group of essays and a response to these essays by a number of interesting authors. Samuels had read a chapter by John Lannamann in this book, and so she brought up that chapter. As it happens, Lannamann is also McNamee's husband, and Lannamann's take on the McNamee and Gergen essays is somewhat critical. It is also the case that McNamee and Lannamann were the two guests at our recent big event. So, when Samuels brought up the Lannamann chapter she had her finger on an interesting controversy that PMTH was then going to watch unfold.
Let me give you some background. In the initial chapters McNamee and Gergen put forth the idea that our culture is dominated by a way of talking that damages relationships. Our talk in relationships is focused on finding blame in the other person. We do not seem to know ways to talk that would allow our relationships to flower.
In his chapter, on the other hand, tries to show us conversational predicaments in which non-blaming talk would simply not work to enhance the relationship. To do this, he provides the readers with a transcript that showing how a man (named "Gary") could deflect everything his conversational partner (Roberta) said to him, not taking in anything at all. In the transcript, Gary would speak, and then Roberta would speak, but when Gary would speak again it was enough that he had been completely deaf to everything Roberta had said. At some point, Lannamann was telling us, we might need to hold Gary accountable. Relational talking would just fly right by Gary. Then what? After all, Roberta was talking in a relationally responsible way it seems. At least she was not blaming Gary.
At first glance, I wanted to say with Lannamann that Gary should be blamed and held accountable. Why let the guy off the hook? But, then, Samuels made the excellent point that Gary did not really get his way with Roberta. What kind of dominance is that? What could we realistically blame him for accept that he was not being relationally responsible? And that is the point of the book, to try to inspire people to be relationally responsible.
However, in fairness to Lannamann, I think he was thinking of how demanding Gary was being. Lannamann's concern, I think, was that therapy often (or should?) "involve accountability and agency." I believe many therapists share Lannaman's concern. Tom Strong was surely right when he pointed out, in this PMTH conversation, that most codes of ethics try to resolve potential conflict between people by holding them to rules of behavior. Even if that does not always work, sruely it works sometimes. Do we want to abandon accountability as a relational tool?
Hmm. I thought I knew what McNamee would say to this, so at this
point I asked her. I thought she would say that her book was not
intended to provide a panacea for relationships, but rather to ask that
we invent new conversatonal methods for enhancing relationships.
So, I asked McNamee, "Could we say, in summary, that in this book you are
calling people to attend to the way they talk to their significant others
and to consider
And McNamee answered, "Lois, I think that is a fair summary. Can we shift our attention away from who did what and why to how are we going on together and is this generative for all involved? And then we offer some very very broad and fluid discourses."
So, her idea, and one I am sympathetic with, is something she said in her book when she said, that she was looking for ways we could avoid simply echoing parental "scoldings and teacher correctives."(p.205) This requires, in my mind, not only thoughtful ways of talking, but also a generous way of listening.
But look what a paradox this leaves for McNamee and Gergen! If
they are to put their money where their mouth is they will listen generously
to their critics while their critics pound away with negative criticism.
And what can they do? Does their philosphy require that they are
always thoughtful and generous? Not quite. After all, in her
book, McNamee said:
So, McNamee and Gergen have some limits in what they would allow. Moreover,
they are not proposing that we only hold the Hitlers of the world responsible.
She would also suggest we sometimes hold each other responsible.
I know, because I asked her,
And she responded:
Lannamann saw this point, but he also seemed to feel that McNamee's
philosophy "runs the risk of invoking a form of abstract idealism that,
paradoxically" can prevent them from forming the relationship that they
want to foster simply because it would have people "putting aside how 'the
individual feels' in order to 'consider the relational repercussions of
portraying one's emotions'..." in provocative ways. (p.84). I thought
back about the Gary and Roberta transcript. Lannamann was saying
that poor Roberta surely had feelings about not being heard by Gary.
Those feeling deserve to be heard. Being gentel with Gary would not
make Roberta heard. Lannamann is saying that we sometimes need tougher
conversational tools than McNamee wants to give us. I think Nick Drury
was appreciating Lannamann's point when he then said:
His point, I think, like Lannamann, is that we need something tougher than gentle language if we are to getthrough to the Gary's of the world.
So, where are we? Interestingsly, I think the disagreement, in one sense, is not so serious. Both McNamee and Lannamann take the postmodern stance that there is no general rule (metanarrative) here. They agree, that there is a time to be generous and thoughtful and a time to be harsh and assertive.
And, yet, they also seem to disagree as to which battle is the most important one. Lannamann seems to focus his attention on fighting harmful acts being committed by irresponsible individuals, while McNamee focuses her attention on fighting the tradition of only policing each other's harmful acts.
Now, my question is whether it is possible to fight both battles at the same time without invalidating the effects of the other. Frankly, I think it works. As I imagine it, the soldiers right fight off one enemy and those on the left fight off another. Then, in a moment when they both are winning, the soldiers settle down together in a borderzone. And there, as As Tom Strong said, to "we'll have to coordinate our ways of talking ... [for a while at least] so that we can accomplish things with each other."
Well done, my friends. I would say, "Thanks" but as George Spears said, "It sounds like a separation to say thanks...so I choose not to say it." Instead, let me say: I look forward to continuing our conversation. The question for me is not whether we should police the people who would dominate us, or foster the relationships with those who will collaborate to do that. It is when and how to do each. And, in not too many weeks, McNamee will join us with another panel of authors and begin to address this very issue.
I hope you notice how related this conversation between McNamee and Lannamann is to the imaginary therapy we are having online with Jack and Jill -- which I discuss below.
Want to follow our conversation with McNamee? Then, check out
the book that has been the object of our event and will be the object
of another event in the not too distant future. Click
here and visit the book at Amazon.com
If you have been following PMTH NEWS for the last few months, you know that in addition to having the McNamee event we have been conducting imaginary therapy. That is, professional therapists have been writing transcripts with one person playing the role of the therapist and the other playing either the clients.
In fact, we have just completed the sixth session with imaginary clients Jack and Jill. You can reach the transcript for this sixth session by clicking here. Or, if you prefer, you can reach all the imaginary therapy transcripts to date by clicking here. What you will find if you go back in their sessions, and this was certainly not planned, is that Jack talks over Jill in a way that is quite similar, really, to Gary in the transcript that Lannamann gave us.
At any rate, therapy with Jack and Jill has been going fairly well, and today PMTH had a conversation about the recently finished sixth session.
The conversation began when Riet Samuels asked a qusetion of Kilian Fritsch. who is the real life therapist writing the part of imaginary therapist Kilian for Jack and Jill. Samuels asked Fritsch what he was thinking of a certain section of the imaginary transcript. This is a section of the transcript, starting, perhaps, with comment #30 when Kilian engaged Jack and Jill in a comic parody of their own fighting behavior.
In the comic parady part of the transcript, Jill, with Kilian's encouragement, assumed a posture meant to illustrate how she felt when she was surprised that Jack did continue to talk over her. Jill jokingly held her arm up over her face and then ducked down to look under it to see Jack.
It is hard to imagine reading this transcript without seeing the comic parody as therapeutic, but there is a real question, I feel, as to exactly how much and how this parody was fostered by Kilian. Was it a subtle side of their relationship all along that Kilian exploited? Or could he have done something like this with another couple?
A quick glance at the transcript, however, suggests to me that Kilian was taking advantage of opportunities that presented themselves to create this parody. For example, it was in response to Kilian's suggestions in #36, that Jill animated her guarded posture so that in #38, Jack could join in the play. Also, in #55 Kilian made what I think was a significant move by inviting them to give this parody a distinctive name. Suddenly, the parody became "Singing-in-the fight" in #56. Just as Gene Kelly sang in the rain, so Jack and Jill were stopping their angry war long enough to play and sing together.
And, so, we are back to the issue that Sheila McNamee and John Lannamann discussed with us during the recent event. Kilian was leading us through ways to foster relationships with people (like Jack, but also like Gary in Lannamann's example) who simply do not listen In fact, I think the this imaginary therapy dialogue demonstrated how the social constructed object can actually be tweaked from a naturally occurring event. It was a matter of looking for something positive in the flood of angry warring and then building on it.
At any rate, in my judgment, if Jack and Jill had been real clients, such parodic play would have allowed them to become more relationally responsible.
How did the author of the imaginary therapist, Kilian
Fritsch, think of the parody? Is he just a talented therapist who happened
on this particularly useful method? Or did he have a raionale?
he had a rationale, and h's what he said when he was aked about it:
Although, Jack and Jill are imaginary people, and Kilian (as we are
observing him with Jack and Jill) is conducting imaginary therapy, I am
impressed with this demonstration. Like PMTH subscriber Jude Waltman,
my own therapist impulses sometimes leads me to study the personal history
behind the fighting. After experiencing this imaginary therapy, I
think I am more inclined to look at the possibilities of introducing therapeutic
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