PostmodernTherapies NEWS    01/07/05
(Also known as PMTH NEWS)

 I should not like my writing to spare other people the trouble of thinking. 
But, if possible, to stimulate someone to thoughts of his own. 
Ludwig Wittgenstein
Philosophical Investigations, p.xe

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Lois Shawver
You are reading PMTH NEWS, a newsletter reporting on the PMTH online community.  Although PMTH membership is restricted to credentialed therapists (and also professors, authors and graduate students in therapy related fields) this newsletter is for everyone that is interested in what therapists, especially therapists of a postmodern orientation, think and talk about. 

There are over two hundred members of the PMTH community, and we produce thirty or so emails on an average day -- although when we really get hopping, we write over a hundred in a single day. 

All two hundred of us read the same email.  The group tends to divide itself into speakers and audience, but not too infrequently someone in the audience speaks up to become a PMTH conversationalist. 

Our discussions are largely about therapy or therapy related subjects, and, for the most part, we take a postmodern point of view on therapy. 

What do I mean by "a postmodern point of view?"  I mean, we are not devoted to a particular school of thought as to how to do therapy.  Instead, our perspectives tend to be eclectic and evolving.  Rather than adhere to a particular model, we are more likely to study an array of therapy schools and then weave them together improvisationally at a particular point in a therapy process, sprinkling the process with some of our own styles and, hopefully, talents, in helping people in their quest for more happier and more meaningful lives. 

This kind of postmodern therapy requires the therapist to have a broad acquaintance with a wide range of therapy related ideas.  And so, many of us read therapy theory, but even more we talk about therapy theory educating not only ourselves, but also each other.  Because different therapists focus  on different therapy philosophies, we comprise a collaborative resource for each other expanding our educational base as we ponder the complex issues of doing therapy in this postmodern era. 

Recently, for example, a fairly new member of our community, Steven Brody, has been talking about philosopher Ken Wilber and what he has to say about therapy.  I think no one has brought up Ken Wilber here before, but we have talked about many other therapy theorists.  I suspect we'll talk about Wilber for a while and then go onto other topics, but return to him, letting ourselves be educated but not trapped in any one school. 

Recently, we have also been exploring the meaning of 'consciousness,' and  Jerry Shafer, (a retired philosophy professor turned therapist) made me promise I would help him access the records of our conversation when he returned from his scuba diving holiday.  Shafer has published a book on the topic of consciousness, so he should have something worthwhile to say. 

All the while, Judy Weintraub, Steve Brody, Carlos Sanchez and myself were discussing the question of 'responsibility' or 'irresponsibility' and how each of us relate that concept to 'punishment'.  We haven't got that one completely figured out, but just a little bit ago David Markham joined the conversation.  Maybe he can help us out. 

While a number of people on PMTH publish regularly in traditional publishing formats (in books and journals), many of us view our conversation as an important way to communicate with readers. 

Email reading has some advantages for readers over book and journal reading.   For example, if one teaches through books, the reader cannot ask questions and receive replies from the author.  But when we teach each other with conversation, our readers can ask us questions they are likely to receive an answer. 

In other words, PMTH can function as a kind of dynamic textbook for the learner and all of us, are, of course, 'learners'. 

PMTH as a 
Lois Shawver

How can PMTH conversation be a textbook? 

It's not like most textbooks.  That is, this PMTH text is not written on paper pages and sandwiched between front and back covers.  Moreover, students are not required to read this textbook to master the contents. 

More importantly, what we study when reading the PMTH conversation is not a single consistent theory with all its parts fitting neatly in place.  Rather, we study a diverse body of opinions, sometimes in standing in contrast.  I think no reader can make sense of it all except by weighing the divergent ideas on their own merits, buying some of them, changing them, or contesting them either privately,  in their own minds, or in their writing. 

I believe this kind of dynamic conversational "textbook" helps us avoid indoctrinating each other as well as our students. 

Such conversational textbook teaching has the advantage, it seems to me, of fostering our creativity.  With this kind of living textbook, the listener does not see the author as a source of truth to master, but rather a source of ideas to learn from and improve on. In such a setting the student naturally becomes at least somewhat eclectic, accepting some points without buying anyone's theory in its entirety.  A mood of eclecticism prevails, spiced by expressive opinion and listening, that evolves in the conversation process. 

I love this learning process, mostly for the way in which it inspires my own voice, shows me the richness of different points of view but leaves me to reason on my own, does not require me to jump completely into one school or another.  It leaves me valuing the inability of any one speaker to get things exactly as I want them.  The author's failure is nothing more than my opportunity to explain something that I think  that I understand.  And, believe it or not, I have come to appreciate my own uncertainty and confusions - because declaring my puzzlement and uncertainty is likely to bring forth ideas on a topic I had not considered. 

PMTH seems to me, therefore, a culture that both educates and inspires creativity -- and what is more deserving of being called a 'postmodern textbook' than that? 

PMTH as 
Graduate Student Instruction
Lois Shawver

          Just think about what such a textbook means for  postmodern teaching: 

     Before  postmodernity, the teacher was the  classroom's unquestioned authority.   The teacher was the person who knew  the right answers and who handed out  grades.  The student was the one in  need of information, the one who  wrote and spoke only to be corrected.   The good teacher always instructed  and guided.  The good student always  listened and absorbed. 

     The conversation we are modeling offers a different learning model.  It is a postmodern learning model in that it does not require the student (in all of us) to master the accepted theories uncritically, and, instead, rewards creative thought and also the expression of puzzlement and confusion that invites new creative thought. 

      I was thinking of all this when my friend and colleague, Andy Lock, asked me to try to design a course for his new online graduate training program.  I was pleased  to be  asked.  Lock is an adventurous intellectual who is drawn to the cutting edge.   I like to be included in the circle of projects he creates.  But how could I design a course that would escape the model of teacher as authority and students mindless sponges? 

     Lock helped me out.  He came to visit and we talked and talked about how I might do it.  He had been a member of PMTH.  He knew how the conversation proceeded. 

          And, finally, the course began to take shape.  You can see the final outline and course description by clicking here.  If you want  to learn more about the postgraduate  program that included this course, click here and send a letter of inquiry here

         Then, three of my regular colleagues kindly agreed to help me teach this course, and so we did.  I often felt unsure of myself, but we were all clear, I think, that our challenge was to facilitate educational conversation, not provide the students with our preferred answers.  Also, we agreed, that at least for a part of the course, PMTH would serve as a dynamic conversational textbook.  Our course was called  "Professional Development." 

We Called it PMTH 2
Lois Shawver

Since PMTH was the name given to the conversational community that was to provide a dnamic textbook for this class, we decided to call the class community, students, teachers, and guest, PMTH 2. 

Who Was Involved in this Course, PMTH 2?
Lois Shawver

Let me introduce you to the three teachers who joined me to teach PMTH 2: 
     Lynn Hoffman, well known author and family therapist.  (see her most recent book by clicking here)

     Val Lewis, sharp witted and postmodern clinical psychologist who participates actively in PMTH conversation. 

    Brent Dean Robins, editor and chief of the online journal Janus Head.  I believe this psychologist to be a rising star in our field of therapy. 

Thus, including myself,  there were four teachers for this postmodern course. 

Also, the course included two thoughtful students,  Mark Murphy and Wendy Williams.  (Yes, it was a small experimental class - remember we are just getting started.) 

We also had a guest in the class who visited us online for a few hours and stirred things up, even inspired us.  Her name is Karin Taverniers, also a member of the PMTH community, a psychologist from Buenos Aires who speaks no less than five languages. 

And so the class proceeded.  None of the teachers had taught an online course like this before, but we had all studied and worked together in conversation, and thus had long been creating, incidentally to our conversation, an educational framework. 

How did it go?  Let me start by giving you a window into the thoughts of the course designers and teachers, and then, let you turn to the column on the right to see what the students actually wrote.  You know all the players at this point, and you can, of course, organize your reading anyway you want just by following the subheadings. 

But I'll  start by providing you with an interview I did with Andy Lock, the cutting edge psychologist I told you about who made the course possible.  You'll see our recounting of planning the course, and also our assessment of how it was going (the interview was prior to the end of the course). 

Interview with Andy Locke
Lois Shawver

 Lois: Andy,  it's hard to believe but after all this time we are almost through with the first year of online graduate level courses we were planning - for how long now?  Do you remember? 

Andy: Lois, you announced this program in PMTH NEWS four years ago, and we did a lot of work before that just so we could announce it. 
(click here)

Lois: Why do you think it took so long? 

Andy: Two things.  You need to remember this was a bold idea.  I wanted to make sure we had the material there before we started.  Some of the contributors wanted to know that we had already started before they began putting the work in.  (laughter)  There's a catch 22 in there - but we made it in the end. 

Lois: It seemed like such a bold idea at the time, to teach a whole graduate program online.  But there were other courses online even back then. 

Andy: Internet courses were just beginning back then, but I felt they did not enable the online potential of the internet, 

Lois: I agree. 

Andy: We needed to rethink online teaching for graduate therapy and counseling students. 

Lois: You had some amazing ideas back then.  I remember being so inspired by them. 

Andy: Well, we were trying to build a faculty using the opportunites of the internet medium that no bricks and mortar university could ever afford to put together. 

Lois: Why couldn't a progressive university have provided students with similar opportunities in a classroom? 

Andy: Cost!  I wanted a top-notch faculty and the amount of money that would have been required to bring the faculty I wanted together would have cost an astronomical amount of money!  Besides, I would have spent my whole life trying to convince them to move to the bottom end of the world, where I live [New Zealand].  I wanted to release the resources that the internet made possible for an educational program. 

Lois: And you wanted to reach students around the world, too, students who would recognize the opportunity of working with people whose contribution to therapy and counseling is noteworthy. 

Andy: Indeed!  We didn't want to just teach students at a distance but have their teachers at a distance, too.  For example, we have a big course on contemporary therapies in the new program.  And in this course, a narrative form of therapy is taught from Brisbane (Australia), Solution Focused Therapy from Milwaukee, and Collaborative Language Systems from Houston.  The courses are mounted and coordinated in New Zealand and the co-course coordinator, Tom Strong, comes from Canada, and we have some well known contributors such as John Shotter, Ken and Mary Gergen, Lynn Hoffman, Rom Harré.  These people are much in demand and they rarely seem to be in the same place three days running.  But they can manage to teach in our program, because of internet technology. 

Lois: It all seemed to work, Andy.  I wasn't sure it would go this smoothly. 

Andy: Yeah.  But perhaps the most rewarding thing for me, and all of us involved in teaching here, has been the way in which our putting the vision into practice has created a creative spark for our students. 

Lois: Oh, I feel that way.  The students in my section have done some remarkable work, and the class is only a little over halfway over. 

Andy: Mine, too.  You know, it's often a cliché that university teachers think that universities are lovely places if only the students stayed on vacation.  This year has been, for me, some of the most rewarding teaching I've ever been involved in. 

Lois: Who would have thought you could have pulled this organization off.  It must have been awful pulling all these resources together, getting the technology worked outˆñ 

Andy: On the one hand, yes, but we were inspired.  I know that people on PMTH can appreciate that.  They have in their conversations a certain animated form of community that has a special feeling for them, an ethical sensibility, and it is that spirit that has animated our program, too, and without that spirit it simply would not have happened. 

Lois: So, you really think of this as a collaborative project, don't you?  Not just your brainchild that we are helping you enact. 

Andy: The idea has brought together a group of people with the nerve to put their philosophies into practice, and they were all part of the planning process.  You were part of the planning process.  You remember that Lois. 

Lois: (laugh) Of course.  I remember you flying all over, darting here and there, and stopping off to work with me - and we were inspired, weren't we.  I'm still inspired by the project, Andy. 

Andy: I am, too.  I think we have done very well, teachers and students alike, and it's going to get better. 

Lois: I think so, too. 

What the Teachers Said about the Experience of the Course

Now, let me also give you some reports from the other teachers: 

Lynn Hoffman wrote:

To Andy, Lois, Val, Brent, Karin, Mark, Wendy: An Appreciation of our 
Online Adventure : 

I didn't know what to expect when we started, but I liked Lois' idea that a course in professional development might be hitched to the PMTH conversation. I have always been fascinated by the question of how you teach the "how to" of professions like therapy. There are the lofty highlands of academe, and then there are the "swampy lowlands" of areas like counseling or city planning which Donald Schoen wrote about in his wonderful case book The Reflective Practitioner.  And it seems to me that fields like ours demand a personalized relationship that invokes in some way the one we want to teach about. 

But how can you achieve this by the remote typewriter known as a computer?  No handshakes, no watching of people doing therapy, not even a face to relate to - except for Mark and Val's postings of their pictures. (I would want to see everyone's picture early on if we did the same thing again.) 

First, I was fascinated by the way Lois organized PMTH2 - starting with the smallest world by bringing on board the instructors and sharing the architecture of the program invented by herself and Andy Lock. 

Next she/we welcomed the participants, and after these two groups milled about and took a practice run or two, we all debouched into the larger 
stream of PMTH, with all its attendant challenges.  I liked having only two partakers, because it escaped me how I was ever going to touch or be touched by them. To my surprise, it seemed to happen. I felt a kinship to Wendy from the beginning, because her experience replicated my relationship to my own professional education, which was to challenge the idea of "the professional." And she won my respect in overcoming bad weather, bad health, and educational overload to keep her inner core intact. 

Getting a sense of Mark was more serendipitous - it was when he became curious about my "spoken writing" and shared his interest in poetic dialogue that we seemed to be on the same wavelength. 

My relationship with Val and Brent was different, more like parallel play given our roles, but I loved reading their imaginative posts. This experience seemed journey-like to me, as in the Magic Flute, with ordeals and high spots, but this is just the view of one who likes to think in terms of heroines and pilgrims.  I certainly could see Wendy and Mark in both those roles. 

You could also say that Lois was the Queen Mother of the North, Andy was the Grand Vizier, Val and I were white witches, and Brent was a wizard-in-residence. 

Thanks, all.  Lynn 

Val Lewis wrote:

I would like to pay a small tribute to Wendy and Mark, the first two students to offer themselves up to our untried online approach to a collaborative teaching of discursive approaches to therapy. Given that we were all babes in the woods, everyone, Mark and Wendy, showed extraordinary patience with a process that was in a way self-creating as it went, thanks to the individuality of the two students. There were a number of mishaps during this voyage, from computer breakdowns to electrical storms to illness, but the intrepid voyagers hung in there and saw it through. Along the way they were encouraged to shift tack, veer to the right, veer to the left, hang upside down, and stay the course, all the while speaking with their own voices. This resulted in some thought provoking communication and understandings culminating in two essays redolent with originality and with honesty. I was pleased to tag along on this particular voyage, albeit mostly as an observer throwing in the occasional reflection, and in particular to have met the brave Wendy and Mark. 

Brent Dean Robins wrote:

About a year ago, Lois Shawver invited me to participate in an on-line Seminar for a graduate program in Discursive Therapies at Massey University. I knew it would be an enjoyable experience because I have always found Lois to be personally inspirational and motivating, and knowing Lynn Hoffman and Valerie Lewis were joining us meant there would be engaging discussion from a variety of perspectives. As it turned out, we had only two students for the course, Mark and Wendy, but despite the disproportionate number of faculty compared to students, the course didn't feel that way, because, as we had planned from the beginning, the lines between "expert" and "pupil" were purposefully blurred. The lines were blurred, but they were not erased nor could they have been. The structure of any course demands the participants in the drama play their respective roles in the narrative, and so the prescribed, circumscribed roles of teacher and pupil were the roles with which we started the project of the course. These roles were never totally abandoned, but at times we transcended, deconstructed and/or subverted them. 

 One way to transcend, deconstruct and/or subvert the traditional narratives of student-pupil role play is to discuss the process of the course. In the course, we easily spent just as much time processing the course content as we did reading and commenting on course activities, and that's saying something, considering the course activities were process-oriented. We were doing a lot of processing. That's what you get when you put four therapists together to teach an on-line course. But, of course, the point of processing is to make the normally invisible frame of the course explicit to our awareness and to bring it into the discussion. Doing so granted us a certain degree of play within--and sometimes beyond--the frame; it gave us the ability, for example, to sometimes be more or even less than who our prescribed roles would otherwise have us be. 

 For example, in the very beginning of the course, we took more than a full week to introduce ourselves and to explore our expectations about relating to each other through the medium of the internet. I remember Wendy was a little skeptical about whether or not she could be in touch with us through her screen, but as it turned out she was very good at conveying herself to us, at least from my perspective, even though I could never put her name to her face. Of course, Lois explained the philosophy of the course and the structure of the course -- mostly her plans which she'd already drawn up before inviting Lynn, Val and I to join the team. But mostly we talked about what it was like for us all to have this experience of four instructors and two students conversing in this strange, new medium, where some of us felt more acclimated than others. 

 Very soon, Mark and Wendy were thrown into the wild and scattered conversations of the Postmodern Therapies News (PMTH) list-serv, where they observed as much as they could without directly participating and then each wrote a summary of one thread. I don't think Mark and Wendy felt quite prepared for the massive volume of e-mail they were suddenly confronted with, but they did wonderfully and demonstrated keen powers of observation and insight into the on-line behavior of the regular PMTH folk who, as usual, were talking about just about everything under the sun, though mostly about politics. I remember Mark was surprised to find so little explicit discussion of psychotherapy amidst all the chatter, so we went on-line to help bait more talk of therapy, which worked fairly well. In retrospect, we might have talked more about how, at PMTH, we don't always talk about therapy, but we always strive to engage in a style of talking that is thera- peutic. The process matters more than the content, and that was what we were modeling to Mark and Wendy in all our process talk about the course. After they finished their observation of the list, they interviewed a list member and did a number of other activities that Lois had planned, but mostly we continued to talk about the experience itself, propelling the sails of our ship with the gusts of our own wind. 

 Therapy is often about paying attention to process, the process of the relationships unfolding right there in the room, the process of the explicit and implicit themes of the ongoing conversation, the emotional process as it ebbs and flows with the deeply personal themes under discussion, and so forth. In the traditional classroom, such discussion of process is rare, based on my experience both as a longtime student and now as a professor. Instructors tend to focus on content. Maybe this is more understandable in a geometry class, but in psychology, perhaps less so. I often find it strange that, in the typical psychology course, there is very little discussion about how the concepts addressed in class have any relevance to the events that are actually unfolding right there and then in the interpersonal dynamics of the class. But these are not easy things to talk about, for at least a few reasons I can think of (maybe you can think of others). First, it can feel threatening both to the instructor and to the students, perhaps because process-talk usually happens when things are going wrong, not when they are running smoothly. Also, process talk often involves evaluations of the situation-for example, whether or not a given person likes or dislikes the way things are going-and evaluations can sometimes feel like criticisms, perhaps because they often are. But, perhaps more likely, process talk is difficult because we often do not have the kind of language that allows us to talk about the process of conversation. 

 One thing about therapy, and especially postmodern approaches to therapy, is that a group of scholars have found ways to talk about the process in a way that helps us to move past the obstacles that prevent process-talk from working in a productive and helpful way. At PMTH, there is a whole discourse, mostly borrowed from postmodern philosophers and some of which are syllogisms, that help us to find ways to talk process in just this helpful kind of way. So, in the course of our on-line class, all that talk of process affording us the opportunity to introduce students to what we think is this helpful world of language about process, and we were able to do it by talking about the process of the course itself. 

And, as far as Iˆ‚m concerned, thatˆ‚s just a very useful way of modeling what it means to be a therapist, or even being a teacher . 

What is PMTH?
Lois Shawver

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, please consider joining us. Whichever you want, you can write 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. 
Send a Note to a Friend 
about PMTH NEWS?
Lois Shawver

Would you like to tell someone about PMTH NEWS? Just fill out the form below and click on the "send" button. The invitation that goes out will include a special link that your friend can click on to arrive at this site. 

Friends email: 

Your name: 


Our Sister Publications
Lois Shawver
I think I'll claim two sister publications since both of the editors are subscribers to PMTH NEWS, New Therapist and Janus Head.  I will list New Therapist first, since I have known the editor John Soderlund the longest , since myself and PMTH subscriber Tom Strong are contributing editors.  Let me say, too, that Strong has an interview of Allan Wade in the upcoming issue that, from the talk on PMTH, is likely to be particularly interesting.  New Therapist articles tend to be up close and personal.  As I have provided you with pictures of philosophers I talk about, so you will often find them in the New Therapist and their artists will capture your attention, too. 

In addition, yhowever, I want to give a special place, too, to Janus head, where Brent Dean Robbins is the editor.   Robbins journal complements the New therapist.  Where the New Therapist is up-close-and personal, Janus Head is is deep and scholarly, taking you into the rich discussions that revolve around postmodern ideas.  If you are serious about familiarizing yourself with postmodernism, this is a hot journal to read. 

So, I hope you acquaint yourself with both.  Both stand on our postmodern frontier 

New Therapist

The September/October 2002 edition of New Therapist has just been published, selected articles and contents of which can be found on our web site at 

Entitled The Big Ideas Edition, it covers some applications and thoughts about therapy which attempt to cast our focus well beyond the one-on-one approaches which have dominated for the past century. 

From Arnold and Amy Mindell's Worldwork ideas, through the thought provoking ideas of Allan Wade on how we acknowledge our clients' resistance to violence, to a look at the ambitious Antidote project to enhance emotional literacy on a community-wide level, this is a rare collection of the bigger ideas emerging from the therapy world. 

As always, this edition is available for order online at the back issues order page, as are copies of all of the previous 20 editions of the magazine. click here
to order 

Or, if you'd like to subscribe to the magazine for a year from $46 (incl. postage), visit our subscriptions page by clicking here.

Janus Head:  Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature, Continental Philosophy, Phenomenological Psychology and the Arts 

What is a ˆ¨Janus headˆÆ and why would anyone want to name a journal after it? 

Stone-carved reliefs of the face of Janus were often placed above doorways of old Roman homes, such as the one at Villa Madama at the foot of Monte Mario just outside Rome. Placed at the threshold, the image of the god conveys both a welcome and a demarcation of boundary. The visage of Janus is double, each face poised in opposite directions, a pliable symbol extending itself to spatial, temporal, political, and personal planes. The phrase ˆ¨Janus-facedˆÆ as it comes down to us means ˆ¨two-facedˆÆ or ˆ¨deceitful,ˆÆ but the original signification of the two-faced god meant vigilance and new beginnings, as we think of in the first month of the year, January. To quote from Bergen Evans' dictionary of Mythology, ˆ¨It was a peculiarity of this god that the doors of his temple were kept open in time of war and closed in time of universal peace. They were rarely closed.ˆÆ 

From its inception in 1998, Janus Head, as an interdisciplinary journal, has aimed to be that opened door at the threshold of a newly charged dialogue among the disciplines. Disciplines themselves are human demarcations, boundaries built across the phenomenal field, both opening up and closing off the thought of one disciplinary domain or another. The interdisciplinary space, then, is one that seeks to give rise to other, provocative modes of revealing, to freshen the blood of the disciplines by interjecting and crossing different bodies of thought, to give credence to various manifestations of truth in human knowledge and experience. This journal is dedicated to the exploration of ideas and images as they unfold through both analytical and poetic modes of language. Visual art has its say in this space as well, for the immediacy and visceral amplitude of the image is the aesthetic reminder of the power of silence between words, the dense nexus of meaning that resides in the imagination before language. 

Janus Head has published essays ranging a broad scope of topics, from Heraclitean philosophy to Kantian ethics, from Melville to Rene Char, from Heideggarean ontology to Derridean language studies, to name just a few. Poetry, the avant-garde as well as the quietly lyrical, takes an honored place in the journal, because it is in poetry, as one of our editors wrote in an early editorial, that Being and language fuse. Past contributors to Janus Head include Alphonso Lingis, Robert Romanyshyn, Claudia K. Grinnell, Margo Kren, Elizabeth Mesa-Gaido, Robert Gibbons, Ouyang Yu, R. Flowers Rivera, Jamie O'Halloran, Ernesto Grassi, Peter Caws, Frits Staal, Antoine Vergote, Evans Lansing Smith, Louise Sundararajan, Michael Sipiora, and Frank Edler. 

Janus Head is published biannually, on-line and in print. The journal publishes essays, poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, art, and reviews. Annual volumes usually include one themed issue and one ˆ¨openˆÆ issue, which considers submissions on any number of topics. Online readership has grown to a number of 10,000 unique visitors a month. In addition to presenting the current issue in full, the website offers access to the archives of past issues, as well as an extensive resource page featuring over 300 links to other journals, a listing of conferences and events, and reviews of books and films. 

We encourage readers to view the current issue featuring the proceedings from the 2001 George Washington University Human Sciences Conference, Knowing Subjects: Human Lives, Human Worlds. Lewis Gordon, Jonathan Moreno, David Goldberg, and Virginia Held are among the writers contributing to this special issue. 

Forthcoming in the fall is an issue centered on Magical Realism, featuring poetry by Virgil Suarez, Robert Gibbons, Todd Sanders, among others; and essays by Lois Parkinson Zamora, Wendy B. Faris, and Michael Wood. 

For more information, please write to:   or visit the website of Janus Head by clicking here.
 for that matter. 



 Course Assignments
Lois Shawver

The first assignment in this PMTH class required the students to observe the conversation taking place in PMTH, and to find a 'professional issue' that was being talked about and then write a report on the conversation.  According to this assignment, students were to step into the different points and listen to each speaker 'generously,' that is, avoid taking sides on the issues except, perhaps, at the end of the report where they could claim their own point of view but not argue it.  Examples from a variety of authors writing in previous issues of PMTH NEWS was used as an example. 

Mark Murphy said the process was a bit like trying to grab a dragon by a tail.  What a good metaphor.   People on PMTH were posting note after note on a whole range of topics, and these two students were to find one thread of conversation and resport it.  This is no easy thing to do, especially when you do not know the people who are posting. 

I will present Wendy Williams' paper on the front page of PMTH NEWS, and you can click to to read Mark Murphy's paper.  To show the work on the second assignment I will present Mark Murphy's presentation on the front page and make it possible for you to click to Williams' paper through a link. 

In the following essay, Williams had found a conversational topic on PMTH that interested her.  The PMTH participants were talking about what they understood to be 'postmodern therapy'.  Not everyone saw it the same, as you will see, and Williams will try to provide you with a readable account of what people said once she teased the key comments out of the conversational soup:. 

Postmodern Therapy
Wendy Williams

Conversation on PMTH has recently been about postmodern therapy, whether there is a postmodern therapy, what postmodern therapy means and the language of postmodern therapy. Given that those who took part in the conversation are all members of a conversational group called ˆ´Postmodern Therapiesˆ‚ I thought it would be interesting to follow and report on the discussion.  I will organize this report around three questions that will be addressed in tis article. 

Is postmodern therapy an advance? 

The conversation related to this question was sparked by a provocative comment. Jonathan Diamond said: 

I think postmodernism produces wonderful thinkers but I havenˆ‚t been impressed with the quality of therapy that has come from this genreˆÆ
At Brian Millikenˆ‚s request Diamond subsequently expanded on this comment saying: 
It is the tendency to intellectualise in postmodern therapy that makes me impatient with it at times.
Diamond expressed his concern about a split between theory and practice in postmodern therapy but conceded this split is not unique to postmodern therapies. Diamond expressed concern that ˆ´theoriesˆ‚ can ˆ¨do violence to our relationships with clientsˆÆ by, for example creating distance between people. He proposed that while engaging in such thinking therapists need to be aware of the potential harms such theories and language practices have done in the past. 

Regarding the relationship in therapy Diamond said: 

Therapy is always a relationshipˆñit is not a technique.
At Millikenˆ‚s request he later expanded this statement to describe the relationship as: 
A state of grace you enter into with people.
How beautifulˆÆ Brian Milliken said. Yes it is, beautiful. 

Milliken had also proposed the ˆ´relationshipˆ‚ was about having ˆ¨connectionˆÆ and ˆ¨being in tune with the clientˆÆ, an emphasis not missing in postmodern therapy. Diamond posited that although he acknowledges and loves postmodern theories that emphasise the relationship he does not see them having an edge over modern approaches in practice. Diamond then followed this up saying: 

Iˆ‚m not sure I agree with myself here.
What is postmodern therapy?

Jonathan Diamondˆ‚s original statement prompted Joseph Pfeffer to ask: 

What is postmodern therapy?ˆÆ and 
Is there a postmodern therapy?
Two very good questions. Pfeffer proposed ˆ´noˆ‚ to the second question but also suggested that there is a postmodern approach in which: 
Meaning gets created out of conversation.
Lois Shawver agreed with Pfeffer saying: 
There is not a particular school of therapy that constitutes ˆ´postmodern therapyˆ‚ but rather various schools of therapy and arguably all schools of therapy can be practised in a postmodern way.
Pfeffer responded with his view that postmodernism allowed for deconstruction of old systems while still making use of them as we like. Karin Taverniers made similar comments that a postmodern therapist can use modern ideas but in a different way, not accepting them as the only truth. 

Diamond did not specifically participate in this conversation but I do wonder what his thoughts would have been because he subsequently commented: 

For me itˆ‚s not anything about postmodern therapy per se that causes me to take this stance or that keeps one of my feet in postmodernism and the other firmly planted in modern approaches to therapy. It is not about what postmodern therapies are lacking, itˆ‚s about what modernist practices bring and what Iˆ‚m not willing to give up.
To me this suggested a leaning back towards how modern and postmodern therapeutic approaches could be practiced together. 

Conversation on ˆ´what is postmodern therapy?ˆ‚ ended, for now, with no other perspectives given. The question remains an interesting idea for future discussion. Also, does postmodernism have the scope to encompass modernist ideas within postmodern ways of thinking? Iˆ‚m wondering about the continued recognised value of modernist ideas and postmodern therapistsˆ‚ wish to find a way of practicing modernist ideas in a postmodern way. 

Rethinking the concept of ˆ´therapyˆ‚

Another strand of the conversation considered the language of postmodern therapy. Joseph Pfefferˆ‚s earlier comment that ˆ¨meaning is created out of conversationˆÆ suggested the importance of language in therapy. The term ˆ´therapyˆ‚ itself has meaning and connotations that makes some people uncomfortable. Karin Taverniers made the point that while postmodern thinkers have a problem with the word ˆ´therapyˆ‚ the word has been in use so long it is hard to escape. She cited Harlene Andersonˆ‚s term ˆ¨collaborative conversationsˆÆ as a possible alternative. Pfeffer commented there could be a problem with replacing ˆ´therapyˆ‚ with ˆ´conversationˆ‚ and cited Steve de Shazer

All therapy is conversation. But not all conversation is therapy
I can see how ˆ¨collaborative conversationsˆÆ could diminish the negative connotations of ˆ´therapyˆ‚ suggesting a more joint, equal process but then I also think Pfefferˆ‚s point is good; conversation most often is not therapy. David Steare proposed using the word ˆ´consultationˆ‚ based on John Walterˆ‚s ˆ¨Goal-focused Personal ConsultationˆÆ as a move away from the pathology discourses associated with ˆ´therapyˆ‚. 

So what connotations and meanings do postmoderns associate with ˆ´therapyˆ‚? Leonard Schwartzburd suggested the postmodern problem with ˆ´therapyˆ‚ was its connotations with pathology and psychopathology. Schwartzburd found Websterˆ‚s defined ˆ´therapyˆ‚ as: 

ˆñthe treatment of disease or other physical or mental disorderˆñ
This definition is a reminder that ˆ´therapyˆ‚ covers a broad spectrum, including many physical therapies. In response, Lois Shawver, suggested that if the term ˆ´therapyˆ‚ were no longer used, people who believe they have ˆ´realˆ‚ illnesses might be inclined to seek ˆ´realˆ‚ treatment elsewhere. Shawver continued: 
We wouldnˆ‚t have a chance to use our postmodern wonderˆñor one version of what we call ˆ´postmodern therapy.
I feel compelled to drop in for a moment to say I very much like that ˆ¨chance to use our postmodern wonder.ˆÆ 

Schwartzburd commented in response: 

ˆñI think the word ˆ¨therapyˆÆ is very legitimate for the treatment of confusion that is negatively affecting ones life as they define it.
Shawver responded with a reflection on Wittgenstein in relation to this concept of language, meaning and the search for better words. She said: 
We can no more get rid of the words with the wrong connotation, than we can get rid of the light once we realise that light does not show us how things ˆ´truly areˆ‚ˆñˆÆ

 I believe she meant here we can personally stop using a word like ˆ´therapyˆ‚ but the word, its meanings and connotations are likely to continue to exist in the culture and in the way we think even when we are not using the term. 

Taverniers asked if the definition of ˆ´therapyˆ‚ could be changed instead of finding a new word. Shawver responded with an intriguing history of the changing definition of ˆ´psychotherapyˆ‚ describing how in 1910 ˆ´psychotherapyˆ‚ simply meant telling people they were doing fine, when they were not, for their physical healing. 

While words often do change their meaning over time, for people to think of changing a word's meaning to fit its use in a particular context strikes me as both novel and perhaps postmodern. 

It has been an interesting conversation to follow, getting insight into different thoughts PMTH conversationalists have on postmodern therapy. I know there are many other ideas out there and the potential for many future conversations. 

Click Here to read Mark Murphy's Article: 
The Client's 
First Therapy Sessions: 
What PMTH Therapists Think

I don't know how the students reports read to you, but to me the were excellent.  I see them as their attempt to read the conversational textbook on PMTH and harvest it for ideas that they might take into their own practice.  There is little attempt to organize an argument or a conclusion on their parts (they were conforming to the assignment of avoiding that), but I feel that learning the issues, the pros and cons, is good enough, better in fact, than devising a position early on in their careers.  Hopefully, they will take this controversy with them and be educated by it, but not confined to any of our opinions. 

Assignment Two
Lois Shawver
The second assignment consisted of choosing a speaker  from PMTH and interviewing that person online in the student community. 

Murphy and Williams selected Karin Tavernier to interview, an interesting postmodern therapist from Argentina who is more than fluent in English. 

You can read both Murphy and Williams notes below, although you will need to link to the Williams essay.  Click on the green subjecthead after the following essay by Murphy, in order to read the essay by Williams.  In this assignment, the students were encouraged at first to report Taverniers views like a news report, without taking a position.  But, that was only the first draft.  After their first draft, they were asked to include more of their own voice, deliberately, of course, as a stylistic change in writing assignment two in comparison with assignment 1. 

The content they decided to focus on in their article both revolves around a particular evocative statement Taverniers said in the interview, namely: 

... we all like to have a model we can ˆ¨copyˆÆ  when we are graduate students.
Taverniers saw her postmodernism (as I see her postmodernism) as her own eclectic and improvisational integration of her training, not an adherence to one or another model.  So, what were the students going to do with this?  Were they to argue that they need these models, and to follow them?  Or were they to see their preferenes as a stage in the development of their career? 

I'll let you read to find out, and I hope you find Mark Murphy's report on the Taverniers' interview interesting, and continue on by linking to Wendy's report on the Taverniers' interview.  Then, please page down just a little more on this front page of PMTH NEWS and read Karin Taverniers reflections on her reading the two accounts of the interview. 

Karin Taveriers' Perspective
Mark Murphy
Therapy students have an enormous variety of kinds of therapy to choose 
from. This presents both problems and opportunities in training. On the plus side, the student may be able to find an approach that fits their own 
personality type. This is particularly important in therapy, it appears to 
me, as one's personality is that which the therapist works in and through. 
However, there is also the danger that, with so many approaches and schools,  the trainee therapist might feel ungrounded and emotionally scattered. My own experience is that I've been better able to incorporate and personalize bits and pieces from other schools and therapies when I've had some 'home ground' on which to stand. That home ground doesn't have to be permanent as in 'forever', but I do think it must feel 'permanent enough' during certain phases of training and of life.  Perhaps this is what Karin was talking about when she said: 
I think we all like to have a model  we can "copy" when we are graduate  students. I was the female Minuchin  for 6 months...  It makes us feel more  secure. And I was so young back in  graduate school! I needed that.

 What I connect with, in Taverniers' account, is a dynamic sense of 'professional development'. I am also pressed to ask (rhetorically and out loud): what was going on in those six months? That is, it pushes me to recall times in my own experience, at the start of this 'Discursive Therapies' programme for example, when I've felt a certain tension: on the one hand, an excitement that I'm learning things new and challenging and following my desires, and, on the other hand, a certain defensiveness when new theories have felt uncomfortable, boring, or intuitively wrong. As much as I'm able, I think I' ve tried to hold those tensions without rushing to resolve them, though another part of me wants to rush to resolve them. No doubt, Karin's story is different, but perhaps all students (to one degree or another) go through certain phases in their training where the need for security - to establish some solid ground - is more paramount than the desire for unlimited exploration. And perhaps, as I've already said, the one enables the other:  structure facilitates a more tolerant, less grasping, deeper exploration of other structures. 

 "Structure" - no sooner are those words out of my mouth than I begin to think of a line from Julia Kristeva that I read recently. In an interview, 
accounting for her own development of a "post- structuralism," Kristeva said: 

...mere structure was not sufficient to understand the world of meaning in literature and other human behaviours.  Two more elements were necessary: history and the speaking subject.
This is my own feeling, or close to it: structural theories and structural images of therapy ("models", "modalities", "techniques") miss out on something quite vital - vital to human interaction and at the heart of the therapy encounter. Even radically historicized knowledges (social 
constructionism, for example, in my experience) may attempt to over- formulate both 'history' and the 'speaking subject'. For Kristeva, to 
understand "meaning" in both the sense of interpersonal communication and what is personally meaningful in life, it is necessary to go beyond "mere structure". 

Those moments in Karin's story that went beyond structure - while never- theless recognizing its importance - were what I responded to most 
enthusiastically. In other words, for Karin, although structure did provide 
a certain security, there was also a need to go beyond. Indeed, Karin 
described this as a "liberation": 

Postmodernism" in therapy has been extremely liberating for me. Most people I have talked to tell me the opposite: that they had to go through a process of chaos and confusion first. To me, it sort of all started to make sense. While I was studying psych., I never felt quite comfortable with all the theories, because they were so much geared towards White-Christian middle- 
class men. They appeared to have no variation over time. I at least, as a woman, a constantly changing and complex and diverse person, could not imagine myself "preaching" any of what I was reading and studying.
As Taverniers describes her own postmodernism (quoting Harlene Anderson) as a "philosophical stance", one could conclude that this liberation was an intellectual one. I think that's partly true, but I'm more interested by the less obviously intellectual factors than seem to have played an important 
role.  Why am I interested? It's an intuitive sense that "life-issues" are more important and often (ironically) less talked about in counselling/therapy training. I'm not suggesting that these things - Karin's lists marriage, maturity/ageing, motherhood, and witnessing abuse in different forms, I might (at this point my life) talk about mourning the death of a parent - cannot, or should not, be thought about. But nor do I think they can be reduced to thought. They are indeed, "private", at an emotional level at least. And yet, when Karin talks about bringing up her daughter and the difficulties of teaching her plural values, and when I think of my own experiences of illness, I feel closer to the sources of "history" and the "speaking subject" which, according to Kristeva, take us beyond 'mere structure' in knowledge. 

Click Here to read Wendy Williams's Article: 
Reflections on Karin Taverniers Perspective


Karin Taverniers' Reflections
on Reflections
Karin Taverniers

"Under postmodern conditions, persons exist in a state of continuous 
construction and reconstruction [...] Each reality of self gives way to 
reflexive questioning, irony, and ultimately playful probing of yet another reality. The center fails to hold". 

Kenneth Gergen.
An online interview between myself and two students from New Zealand, Wendy Williams and Mark Murphy who were at the time taking an online postgraduate seminar in "Discursive Psychology in a Postmodern World", can of course only be made possible through the Internet, and has all the ingredients of a 'postmodern 
experience' ... especially since I live in Argentina, and since the course organizers (also 'present' during the interview) live in different parts of the US! 

 So there we were, one 'evening' in April of this last year - a fall evening for some of us, and a spring evening for others - conversing together from three different continents of the world. 

Part of Mark and Wendy's online program requirements had included 'observing'  PMTH interactions, and that's how I came to 'meet' them. Their interviewing me has been a very stimulating experience, which I would love to repeat one day. 

We reflected on postmodern ideas in psychotherapy training programs and how unsettling, but at the same time liberating, they can be. They both seem to find that although adhering to single truths can be constraining as far as our personal choices are concerned, the lack of adherence to any kind of theories is not what they strive for either. At least that was my perception of their reflections. 

I myself approached postmodern ideas in part because they gave a 'voice' to my own doubts with respect to so many of the psychosocial theories and discourses I felt entrapped in. At the same time however, postmodern ideas also permitted me to 'keep' those that were working for me, with an extra 'bonus': providing me with the freedom to review them whenever necessary. 

Mark, in his written essay based on our interview, I think, pointed to the 
importance of being able to voice one's own personal experiences in one's professional practices; during the interview he had been very interested in my own personal experiences, and how they relate to my work. Michel Foucault once said: "each of my work is part of my own biography".  At the same time, Mark expressed enjoying the 'benefits' of 'structure'. I liked that reflection. I too like to have the freedom to choose how to 'allocate' that balance. 

In her own essay, Wendy reflected upon the issue of 'theories' as well. She wrote that postmodern therapies "have their theories as modern therapies [do] but the difference is in the way of presenting, thinking about and evaluating these theories". I agree with that. It is the relationship to them and the way we read them which is different;  they are no longer considered to be universal truths. 

Her reflections led me to ask myself why so much emphasis is put on the 
'theories-versus-no-theories' issue in postmodern discussions, and why these conversations are so filled with irritation.  To me they sometimes feel like unnecessary debates. It seems to me that one can often get lost in discussions over theories-vs- no-theories', and this only creates another binary, an either/or position. 

My personal opinion is that a world without 'theories' is difficult to envisage, at least not at this point of time. I also don't know if I would want a world without theories. I like to have the freedom to choose what to believe in, how, and when. Nor would I want to be 'forced' into a position of having to choose between a world with 'theories' vs. a world with 'no theories' where 'everything goes' in order to be 'entitled' to be a postmodernist. I don't think that most postmodernists have this either/or position in mind. I think they have 'freedom' of thought in mind. 

What I would like, on the other hand, are more discussions about our relationship with theories, on how we can reflect upon our theories in new ways, how we can play with new vocabularies which represent our voices in better ways, how we can incorporate plurality and 'marginal discourses', among other things. I also wish postmodern discussions would be about finding ways to find more peace in the world, how to make the world a better place. I would like postmodern discussions to be about empowering different people to tell their own stories with their own vocabularies, without, as Michael White puts it "mimicking the words of others to describe those experiences". These were some of my thoughts after reading Wendy and Mark's reflections... 

The Third Assignment
Lois Shawver

The third assignment in this class was for the students to find some way to reflect on their own professional development by using a personal voice, and to connect this sense of development with the things that they had talked about in the class or read about in the PMTH community conversation, on discussed in the online interview. 

The hope was to provide them with the opportunity to use the essay rather like a journal, and to present disclosures of their thoughts, values, judgments even in their evolution, rather than an argument that positioned them, argumentatively, in the best of positions.  This required them to 'find their voice', to abandon the task of reporting what others said and did, and to disclose, instead, on what they, themselves, thought about it all. 

To me, they both found their voice and were able to do this remarkably well.  Read their eassays and see if you don't agree.  I hope you find these essays as enjoyable as I did. 

Wendy Williams reflections on Professional Development.

Mark Murphy's reflections on Professional Development/

 Lois Shawver's Reflections 
on the 
PMTH 2 Course
Lois Shawver

I believe that the next time I do this course it will be much easier, partly because I have done it before, but also because I want to change a few things. 

In arranging the Taverniers' interview I set aside too little time.  Taverniers was particularly charming and educational to interview, but I think all the participants would agree that it would have been meaningful to have interviewed her longer.  She was interviewed for an hour and a half.  I think we should have had the flexibility to have continued for two hours.  Interviews like this are exciting and educational for all of us, including the interviewee, and the process was grand, but too short. 

Also,  each week began with me writing an email to evoke relevant conversation.  I want to talk with the people who helped me teach about how they think I might do it better.  I did not evoke as much conversation as I wanted.  It may be that the students had many other things to do, but perhaps I could have done that better. 

The pedagogy of arranging for students to write three essays, proceeding from an original essay in which the author is scarcely present as a personality to the reader, and then moving progressively, in the two subsequent essays, to a more personal voice style, might be improved and clarified.  In the middle of the course, there was a week or so, during vacations, that I think no one knew quite what they were doing. 

But, all in all, I feel I learned a lot, and my learning was not limited to what I can do next time to improve the course.  For example, this course made me more aware that postmodern philosophy is an advanced philosophy and that perhaps working in a more modern way, following theorists direction more precisely, has its advantages as a provisional way of working.  I'm not sure what to do with that observation at this point, except to note it.  The eclecticism that  postmodern therapists reveal can, perhaps, be disconcerting to students in the beginning. 

That point was brought home to me by a PMTH email I received just now from a new but articulate voice on PMTH.  Let me put it all in her words.  The voice is that of Jennifer Andrews, a therapist with impressive training credentials from a vast array of therapy theorists and someone who has been the student of many well recognized people in our field.  As a mature therapist, Andrews summarized the way she works at this point in her career and how it relates to her vast background when she wrote to PMTH:: 

After years of really working at understanding and practicing 
therapy with families, I have come to the conclusion that all of everything I studied is in there and in the end what I am doing is integrating all of it.   So no model has died, although some of the inventors have passed on. 
(Jennifer Andrews, PMTH posting, 01/07/05.)
Although I can be self-critical about the course, these various dissatisfactions with how things went in this new course sum up, for me,  to great satisfaction.  I think that statement would make sense to a postmodern thinker - and if it makes sense to you, think about defning yourself as 'postmodern'.  It was exciting to have the opportunity to work creatively within the devised framework and to envision how it might go even better.  In fact, I  found it all thrilling at times.  And I am so grateful for the help of everyone who made it possible to go this well.  I believe we were cutting edge and that, I think, is were postmoderns are at their best, pushing back the envelope to discover new ideas and new approaches. 

Whatever else one might say about this course, we lived up to Wittgenstein's dream (see the quote at the top of PMTH News on the right) when he said: 

I should not like my writing to spare other people the trouble of thinking. 
and maybe we also were able to 
 to stimulate [students] to thoughts of his own. 
All of those who took part in this course certainly stimulated me to thoughts of my own - and no one, no one at all, spared me the trouble of thinking. 

 It's Been a Long Time
Lois Shawver

It has been a long time since since I have produced an issue of PMTH NEWS.  I want to end this issue of PMTH NEWS by talking about some things other than the course that some of us taught. 

The last issue was all about understanding the world political crisis innitiated when two jets plowed into the World Trade Center in downtown New York City.  That was January of 2003, sixteen months after September 11, 2001. 

At that time I was reading everything I could to wrap my mind around the disaster that was happening.  (See link to that last issue of PMTH NEWS).   I was especially reading about Islam. 

And one of the books I summarized and reviewed in that last issue was a book by Akbar Ahmed, Postmodern Islam. 

Today, I am going to comment little about the war, although it is still on my mind.  Still, in this issue I am simply going to ask all of my readers to follow the work of Akbar Ahmed, the postmodern Moslem. 

Ahmed is a Suffi Moslem, one whose religion is more understandable to many westerners.  All of his work supports a bridge between the west and the middle-east.  (Read a more elaborate account of his life work here.)

I appreciate Ahmed's postmodern mind and the gentle form of his very visible activism.  A quick Google search on the internet will give you an idea of the scope and quality of his work.  If you, too, are still concerned with the crisis initiated by the September 11 events, and want to read and hear thoughtful pieces that are relevant to the evolution of your understanding, please make note of Akbar Ahmed. 

Most importantly, follow his work with Judea Pearl for the Daniel Pearl Foundation.  Do you remember Daniel Pearl?  He was the journalist who was murdered by Islamic militants early in 2002.  Judea Pearl is his father who has created a foundation in the name of his son.  The honorary board of this important foundation include President Bill Clinton, Christiane Amanpour and Ted Koppel, as well as Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan.  The Pearls are Jewish. 

The Pearl and Ahmed public dialogues represent, to my mind, the postmodern hope.  Watch for the public conversations.

Even more important I hope that you help me find a way to create dialogues between Muslims and Jews.  If a Moslem and Jewish reader is in dialogue and would like to be interviewed by a committee on PMTH before a larger PMTH audience online, please contact me at

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Lois Shawver

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Past Issues of PMTH NEWS
Available Here
Lois Shawver

If you think you would like to read past issues of PMTH NEWS, you would like to look over the table of contents of those past issues.  The Table of contents can be reached by clicking here and you can then link to the earlier issues you desire to read. 


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