[P]ostmodernism not only challenges
the form and content of dominant models of
knowledge, but it also produces new forms of knowledge...[by] taking up objects of study that were unrepresentable in the dominant discourses of the Western canon.
Giroux, 1992, p.56
The quote at the top of PMTH NEWS today is from a book I read recently on postmodern pedagogy. What I like about it is this idea of finding new ways to present and talk about things that had not been available for discussion before. I, too, think this idea of opening up new kinds of conversation is a gift that postmodern thought gives the world.
It reminds me of some precious passages in Lyotard where he talks about
the way we try with avant-garde as well as with modern and postmodern art
to present the unpresentable, to break through the barriers that limit
our abilities to communicate, and of the
It reminds me of Wittgenstein's notion of our having countless language
games being born and dying away, countless ways of talking with each other,
countless possibilities. He says
So, here is to all of us discovering new rules that open up new language games, especially new and happier ways of relating to each other.
This, I believe, is what postmodernism is all about.
Externalizing is an intervention in Narrative Therapy that aims to separate particular meanings from people's self-concepts so as to render these meanings less problematically influential over their lives. In other words, externalizing tries to undo the cultural effects that language helped create our personal problems by offering new ways for people to regard and relate to themselves and each other.
Nick Drury and Judy Weintraub prefaced their responses by offering a discourse based view of "problems." According to this view, our cultural ways of talking reify (internalize) problems as intrinsic to the characters of people. Weintraub said about externalizing, "It's the conscious collaborative use of words to deconstruct and reconstruct meanings in ways that allow a more preferred story to be told and lived." Still, as Shawver's question suggested, everything in Narrative Therapy is not externalized. Drury, for example, raised concerns about whether emotions should be externalized.
Jude Welles had a different view. She said, "I see little difference between explanations embracing cultural forces vs unconscious forces as explanatory. Neither one fits my view of my human condition." In this regard, Welles raised a common concern about determinism one might associate with any "causal" explanation. She also raised a point about internalizing narratives of desire. (Remember above that Drury questioned the wisdom of externalizing emotions.)
Then I, Tom Strong, said that externalization and internalization, "can
miss a deconstructive point when it simply replaces one meaning with another
liberating meaning. My hope is that, instead, externalization starts
a poetic process, a re-engagement with authoring life experience such that
we don't siimply find another meaning to coast on until it, too, becomes
problematic." My view, then, is that meanings are externalized and internalized
On the other hand, if the meanings we use for understanding ourselves and each other are in constant flux, why are questions of identity so central to the practice of therapy? I wonder what it is that stabilizes meanings enough that people feel they have problems and leads them into therapy?
Clearly, there is more room for discussion on this subject.
Have you ever heard anyone say, "Grow up! Stop being so immature!" The idea behind it is that there is a development that many people undergo from being immature to being mature. I began to wonder about the concepts of "maturity" and "immaturity," what they mean and what they assume about people.
My thought was that what seemed to be a description of a natural development might actually be a value-laden cultural preference for certain human qualities over others. Maybe it is just that qualities that our culture admires are called "mature" and those that are disapproved of are called "immature."
Then I saw a study in which people of different ages in six different cultures were examined and the researchers concluded that in all these cultures young people seemed to be more emotionally volatile, more interested in novelty and thrills than older people, whereas older people seemed more conscientious, dutiful, self-controlled.
So maybe there is something to the idea that there is a natural development of people over their lifetime. Of course, as with other natural developments in plants and animals in nature, not all members of the species go through the natural development. So we would expect that there would be young people who were quite mature, that is, conscientious, dutiful and self-controlled and oldsters who were immature, that is, emotionally volatile, seekers of novelty and thrills.
Here were some reactions of people on the list. Lois Shawver suggested that one thing to account for this development might be the experience of loving something, which would lead the person to a state in which the mature qualities of dutifulness, conscientiousness, and self-control would be necessary in order to care for the loved one. Shawver also suggested that maturity was not an all-or-nothing thing and that mature people could still act immaturely occasionally. Michael Bernet thought that the mature qualities might be those coping skills we learn to acquire as we grow older. Val Lewis suggested it might be a natural consequence of aging. Tom Strong saw "maturity" as a socially constructed state in which people are trained to follow a maturity "script." (I notice that Shawver, too, has been using this term lately. They're taking it, I suspect, from Erving Goffman who used it to mean "socially imposed role.")
For me, the upshot is that there is something to the idea of "maturity"
as a quality which tends to come with growing older. However, I would still
distinguish "maturity" as a description and "maturity" as a value-laden
term of approval. And I would question the assumption of the value-laden
term that the qualities of maturity are more desirable, more valuable,
or superior to the qualities of immaturity. In short, if someone told me
"to grow up," I might reply, "Why should I? What's wrong with being immature?"
Transparency, invisibility,service : locating the therapist in a postmodern game of show and tell.
The conversation I want to chart was about the controversial issue of self-disclosure in a therapy session. Lois Shawver started this conversation by asking the group to comment on a personal story she told a client. The client had been relating profound feelings about some dead puppies she had found, and Shawver shared a similar experience about finding some dead birds. Hershey Bell, concerned with the broader issue of therapists providing "full service" responded with a series of questions about self-disclosure. He suggested that self-disclosures interfere with the therapist's ability to remain invisible in the session, compromising the client's experience of being served. "Whose need does it feed?" he asked Shawver, suggesting she might have been serving her own.
In response to Bell, Val Lewis said, "I am wondering why you suggest it is has to be feeding a need? Are you saying that when we relationally share [with people in general] that we are feeding a need? What are the assumptions [behind your questions?]"
Bell responded by saying he assumed needs are the basis of all motivation. "For me," he said, "effective communication serves the grand intentionˆñ The big problem, though," he added, "we donˆ‚t know what the grand intention is? One of lifeˆ‚s paradoxes, perhaps?ˆÆ
Next, Katherine Levine responded to Bell's idea that the therapist should be invisibile. She said that she thought it can be good for a therapist to be more "transparent" with a client, by being willing to explain her own thinking, and she recommended frequent checks with the client to see if the disclosures were helpful.
And, finally, Judy Weintraub observed that the choice to disclose in a therapy session is a complex one, more art than science, and in her own experience, sometimes yielded the desired result, and sometimes derailed the client's train of thought, or passionate telling of their story.
It seems clear to me that the controversy surrounding therapist disclosure
is not likely to be resolved in a single conversation. Lacking easy access
to "grand intentions," postmodern therapists continue to elaborate the
constituents of paradox, improving paralogic communication, and providing
to each other a kind of ongoing empathic wisdom base from which to proceed.
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, you can do that, too.
Whichever you want, you can write me and tell me, by clicking
This will send a post to me, Lois Shawver. Tell me of your interest. If you are looking to join us, also give me a little information about yourself that tells me how you fit the profile for joining the PMTH online community. And, in either case, .tell me that you got the idea to write by reading PMTH NEWS.
PMTH participants played a game since the last publication of this newsletter. The game consisted of our guessing who said various things. There were lots of notes flying around for a while, lots of wild guesses made and lots of laughs, but just about every quote was guessed correctly in the end. And we gave prizes, virtual and imaginary prizes, appropriate enough for participants in the PMTH virtual discussion community.
I'll give you a sample of the quotes, and also what people said. Much of our conversation reported here in PMTH may seem serious and abstract to the reader who isn't with us. This account, however, should give you a different picture. Sometime, we can be really silly.
Early in this game Tom Hicks gave
us the following quote and said: Who said this?
Myself? I had no idea. But Joe Pfeffer did. He said, "Sounds like Oscar Wilde" And, right away, Hicks said, ""We have a winner!" That was going to be a hard act to follow, one guess and getting it right.
But things drifted briefly into more serious concerns when Val
Lewis said she was skeptical of the wisdom of the Oscar Wilde passage
. She added
Now, my mother had a little of that problem, too, before she died, so I sympathized. And Hicks seemed to shrug, cybernaut style, when he gave Val her point. Funny how such quotes sound right when you first hear them.
So, then, it was Kathrine Levine
who gave us the next quotation. She asked us to guess who said this:
Jude Welles said, "Laing." Tom Hicks said, "I agree it sounds like Laing.... but I'll guess Haley." Val Lewis told Levine , "I don't know who you had in mind, ... [but] I would have been heard to have said exactly that to a client four days ago..."
But it wasn't Lewis that Levine had in mind when she gave us the quote, so Levine said, "No one has come up with the correct response yet." And then Levine gave us a hint. The hint was that this quote was said by a therapist, but not by a family therapist. Also, she told us, this person founded a school." Who do you think it was?
Well, Tom Hicks guessed, "Harry Stack Sullivan?" Maybe, I thought to myself, but I didn't think so. But before I could post, Hicks posted again saying that he wanted to change his guess to "Carl Rogers."
Still, Levine said, "No." But then she gave us another clue. She told us it was an Existential therapist. Hmm. Who could it be?
Then, Jude Welles said,
Then, finally, Val Lewis said, "Frankl??"
And she was right, so Levine said that Lewis had won the prize.
Mostly our prizes were to favorite vacation spots. I gave Judy Weintraub a link to a horseracing competition in Spain, and laughed outloud while I did it. I loved that one. In cyberspace, one can do anything, compete in horseraces, whatever. And Val Lewis gave me a trip to a vacation spot in Australia.
So, that was our game. There were many more quotes we studied and guessed about, including quotes from subscribers to PMTH, some from their published books, and some from postings we had written long ago. What a great game.
And, so, you see, there can be fun and games in the cybertown of PMTH.
If you have an online community, try this game for a little fun.
Two new terms were born in PMTH since this newsletter was last published. . One term was "Tiotol." The other was "Sopal."
On page 71 of that book, Lyotard says :
What does this mean? This speaking in order to listen? On p. 66 of the same book, Lyotard urges us to listen. He suggests that the prescriptives we have learned may have exceptions and justice requires that we listen to learn about people's situation beyond our theories about them. . Listening is the game of the just. (At least that's what I think he's saying. You read it and check it out.) I find this thought, inspiring, and here is how I think of it:
Imagine you have a personal problem, say you're having at work with your boss, but on this particular day it is a weekend. You are planning to go for a walk with your friend, a new friend you are just getting to know, but one you have some very positive feelings about. Let's name her Sandy.
So you go to the park with Sandy, and after a little walk, you sit on the green grass with the birds over head. There is even a lake with people muling around to watch. And, you decide to tell Sandy about this personal problem. She says, "Yes, tell me about it." So, you have this new friend, and she is going to listen to you. Good. These worries have been floating around in your head all day. It will feel good to tell Sandy about them.
As you talk, imagine looking out at the park before you while you are explaining your situation to Sandy, who is sitting by your side. Then, a short time later, you glance at Sandy and you see a certain look on her face and this look tells you that she is trying to break in. Know the look? Her mouth is half open and she is poised ready to break in, ready to say something. You're not really ready for that -- you haven't told her the whole story, but you pause a moment looking at her eagerness to speak. And in that moment she just breaks in, cuts you off, and she tells you, "Here's what I think you should do."
But it's really premature advice. Sandy doesn't know the whole story yet, and so you say, "Wait a minute, I'm not quite through." And she nods reluctantly, and you continue, although the mood is a little disturbed by this interruption. Still, you talk a little more, and then you turn, and there is Sandy, poised again with her advice about to burst. You sigh and say, "What are you thinking?" She speaks with some excitement in her voice. She thinks she has an answer. But it feels all wrong to you.
Sandy has not listened very well, and the experience was less than satisfactory. In fact, I would say that Sandy only listened in order to speak. The opposite of that is talking in order to listen.
Imagine Sandy tiotoling. Turn the clock back, and after you start, Sandy says, "Has that ever happened before with you and Fred?" And, that was a good question. It starts a whole new chain of associations. Ideas come tumbling in. And, as you continue, she asks these great questions. Then, she says, "It sounds like you are really having something to say to Fred and you don't know how to say it, but you really need to say it." And you think, "It's so true!" You hadn't seen it before, but you heard what you had been telling her, too, and the evidence is right there. She is right on. And just her saying this started you thinking about what you needed to say to him, started you on a whole new line of thought, and Sandy continues, asking questions, trying out ideas. It's just great!
So, that's how I understand what Lyotard meant when he spoke of talking in order to listen, asking questions, saying things, but not for the purpose of making a point, merely for the purpose of listening more.
Now, how is this what Lyotard calls "the game of the just"? Can't you see? What is more just than judges who listen, who really listen?
Well, that idea gave birth to the concept of tiotoling. To tiotol someone is to ask them questions and invite them to talk, for the purpose of listening to them. And here on PMTH we did with each other. We told personal stories and tiotoled each other a little.
Let me tell you, it feels grand to be tiotoled, and, although it takes a little patience as a tiotoler, and some sensitivity that occasionally fails me, it is also a real trip to do. You hear so much more than when you listen to someone only for the purpose of telling them what you think. I call that kind of listening, "critical listening" now. And although whole courses are taught in school on the grounds that "critical thinking" is good, I wonder if we don't do it a bit too much, if it wouldn't be good to replace it with tiotoling.
Joe discussed how to pronounce this new term. He suggested we pronounce it with the accent on the tol syllable so that it sounds like yodeling. Isn't that great?
But all of life is not tiotoling. And, because of that, Jude Welles suggested another term. She called it Sopal.. To, "sopal", she said, one just stated an opinion that is provisional and local. (Get it? State Opinion Provisional And Local.) So, in addition to tiotoling, on PMTH, we often sopal. We probably Sopal more than we tiotol. To say that our soapaling is local means that we are expressing our opinion as inspired by the local context. To say that it is provisional, means that we reserve the right to change our minds.
So, here's my question to you: Is it possible to tiotol a sopal?
think about it. I would say: You bet you can. Any sopal worth its
salt is worth tiotoling.
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