PostmodernTherapies NEWS                 02/01/01
(Also known as PMTH NEWS)

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Of course, those of us who are too sophisticated to be taken in by techniques instead tend to go for theories.

Val Lewis


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Postmodern Therapies NEWS
March 1,  2001


 On the Importance of 
Listening to Modernist Theories

You can read the article below or listen to it.  If you wish to listen, click the button to the left.  Stop by clicking the middle button.  End the recording with the button to the right.

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Did you see the quotation for this issue?  Up at the top of PMTH NEWS? It says, "Of course, those of us who are too sophisticated to be taken in by techniques, instead, tend to go for theories."  As far as I can tell this was just a throwaway comment from our own Val Lewis, but it struck me as quite wise.  Let me tell you what it brought to mind for me.

I think we despair of finding techniques when no techniques seem to work.  With techniques one can generally tell.  If I use a technique for reparing my computer by tapping it lightly on a favorite spot, I will believe in that technique only while it works.  Theories, however, are a different animal.  When my tap on my computer fails to fix it, that's it, for that technique.  But if I invent a theory that's just untestable, then nothing, of course, can knock it down.

Take that last sentence.  It's a theory.  But its truth is built into the very way it's worded.  Of course, if a theory is untestable nothing can knock it down.  That's what it means for a theory to be untestable.  It means it can't be knocked down. 

Now, I suspect that many of our theories are very complicated versions of such truisms, referenced with the names of intimidating authorities and presented APA style in reputable sounding books.  These are grand theories, theories that promise us a world of truth and only snare us in an empty tangle of illusions.  I think they should be called in fact "metanarratives".  They pretend to open windows to our understanding but instead close our minds to new ideas.

Maybe this is what  Val Lewis had in mind when she talked about the way in which those of us who can throw away a poor technique can still be caught by these grand theories.  And surely it's what Lyotard was thinking when he said that the postmodern is one who has become incredulous of these grand theories, these metanarratives.  But recognizing this, perhaps we're saved --  or is this just another metanarrative?  That is, is postmodernism, when all is said and done, just a metanarrative that says: There is no final truth that we can know. 

What a paradox!  This is exactly the question that Lyotard discusses in the last part of his book Just Gaming. And his answer seems to be the answer of Harlene Anderson, and perhaps Fred Newman, too.  It's the best answer that I know.  The question: How can we escape making a metanarrative of postmodernism?  How? Just by not making it a metanarrative.  That is, by avoiding taking a knowing or authoritative stance even on the question of postmodernism, that is, even on the question of whether there can be a final truth. 

A dialogue this morning between Katherine Levine and Jerry Shaffer points down this same path.  We can avoid making a metanarrative of postmodernism as long as we remain willing to reconsider our position even on  modernism and postmodernism.  That means to be postmodern we must be willing to become modern, at least on any particular point.  We must be willing to listen generously even to those modernist grand theories of which we are skeptical.

That seems to be the best answer floating around, so that's my answer, too.  What's your answer?

Our Upcoming Visit with 
Fred Newman

We are getting ready for a visit from Fred Newman, an exciting, although very controversial figure in the postmodern therapy realm.  He will visit us on February 18 and we will have an event based on rapid email.  That is, a group of us will email him our questions and he'll respond promptly with his emailed answers.  Although perhaps most people on PMTH, will simply watch, hopefully,  the conversationalists will ask great questions. 

Want to read a little about Fred Newman's approach to therapy? Click here.

I think our approach in PMTH will  be to try to read Fred Newman generously, that is to understand him in his own terms.  In discussing his works, Mel Snyder said "I see  argumentativeness as a culturally constituted practice that is far from optimally effective in forwarding learning, - so I try not to initiate it or get "hooked" by it."  I must agree.

Jerry Shaffer, who also talking in PMTH about Newman's work, said to us, "This is very important for Newman.  He is not interested in "insight" or "understanding" of behavior, one of the traditional goals of therapy."  That impressed me, too. 

What is Newman concerned with? 
Among other things, he is concerned with "development", but what development?  Fred Newman makes the group the basic unit in his understanding, not the individual.  Is it individual development that interests him or group development?  He talks a lot about revolutionary activity in groups where revolutionary activity is dramatic self-changing process.  Does he give us a theory of how groups change?  Does he talk somewhere about what he or others do to promote this kind of revolutionary change?

Well, part of our answer will have to await Newman's visit to PMTH.  But, we have clues from George Spears and Manfred Strahle.  Spears, for example, said, "However, you are quite correct on Newman not being interested in
'individual' development, and, as you say, in-so-far as I have been able to
determine over the years--doesn't  seem to be able to relate to
individualism as any meaniful state."
That's gives us a hint, at least. as to how Newman will answer this question.

Those are some of the questions that we might ask him when he visits us on February 18. If you want to find out more about his visit, drop back around after the March 1 issue of PMTH NEWS and I'll have more to tell you.

Trustful Talking

One of the big conversations on PMTH for the last few days has been around a new concept invented, more or less in passing, by Robert Santos.    He called it "trustful talking".   Trustful talking, Santos explained, is what the speaker might want to do when listened to by generous listeners.  That is, since the listener seems to be trying to understand what the client is saying rather than simply trying to find a way to criticize the speaker, then it seemed only reasonable, Santos suggested that the speaker use another style of talking, one that is trustful and open.

Then Santos and others began to talk about how very difficult it is to talk this trustful way, provisionally, openly, and without effort to win.  The difficulty represented some deeply felt aspect of their own efforts to talk in a way that does justice to the moment of being listened to generously.  Who wants to waste an opportunity to be heard by talking defensively to such a listener? 

These considerations led Adam Sandelson to say to Santos, "I'd like to thank you for expressing so clearly to me my own experience," of trying to speak trustfully.

Then Lee Nichols and Jerry Shaffer deliberated about whether this concept of "trustful talking" meant anything at all.  Shaffer thought there was room for this concept of trustful talking, and I did, too.  In fact, it seemed obvious to me that there is.  But I think Nichols was trying to say something by denying the reality fo "trustful talking", something hard for me, at the moment, to appreciate.  Let me look back and see if I get a sense of what he was trying to say.  Hmmm.

On refreshing my readng I think Nichol's insight is this;  Even when we are "trustful" in our style of talking it takes courage to be completely honest, courage that is always aware that the listener may not be as generous as at first it seems.  That is, one is never completely trusting.

Hey, that's pretty good, now that I think of it.  But how on earth would one say that without the concept of trustful listening? 

I guess I still  vote for keeping the concept of trustful listening but to use it, in part, to point out the truth that Nichols wants to point to. 

Still, this is conversation about trustful talking is not yet finished and, being postmodern, my beliefs are tentative.  That is, I reserve the right ahead of time to change my mind.

Want to Join Us?

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 forpeople who are concerned with doing good therapy to discuss their personalissues about therapy in some depth.  We go to other lists to discussthings with people who don't fit this profile.  If you want to inviteone of us to a list you're on, there is a way to do that.  Or, ifyou 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 aboutyourself that tells me how you fit the profile for joining the PMTH onlinecommunity.  And, in either case, .tell me that you got the idea towrite by reading PMTH NEWS.

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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.

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Elmer and Ellen

If you have been following our newsletter account of Elmer and Ellen, you know that they are imaginary characters .  That is, there is no flesh and blood Elmer or Ellen.  The people here at PMTH are at their computer screens composing Elmer and Ellen's remarks and creating imaginary conversations as if these characters led flesh and blood lives. 

And I think the way we are writing Elmer and Ellen has promise in a circle of therapists trying to understand psychological process in and out of therapy.

Traditional Character Construction

Look at the way traditional characters are constructed for fiction and plays.  Allan White's online tutorial captures well how this is traditionally done.  White tells the would be author that characters for screenplays should begin with the construction of a character, which he defines thusly:

character an artificial, aesthetic construct that simulates a human life for the purpose of entertainment, or for the exploration of dramatic, moral, or aesthetic issues. 

At the same time, White advises that the character be constructed by the author asking herself: 

What makes your character different from everybody else, makes them stand out in a crowd? What is the single,
defining, overriding, trait of your character? We're not aiming for depth yet, simply functionality.

And, finally, White warns us that characters  should always have "defining traits." 

The Problem with 
Traditional Character Construction

White's type of traditional character construction may be great for creating entertaining screenplays and novels, but it is not so great for studying human psychological process.  If you try to create imaginary people that are based on such character construction then, as White admits, strikingly simple  characters will result.  They will also be recalcitrant to change, that is their personalities will be more than commonly unchangeable. As I have come to think of it, this makes traditionally developed characters more or less useless for studying psychological process.

Unlike traditionally written characters, flesh and blood people are full of inconsistencies and ambivalences.  They may say one thing and think another and not even quite realize how they are censoring certain important beliefs and ideas that find only partial and disguised expression.  Rather than having a pure and simple character of exaggerated selfishness, for example, real people are selfish in one context and not in another, and they have moods that make their behaviors override any established pattern.  Social psychologists have long known about this human inconsistency, at least  since the 1968 publication of Walter Mischel's important book, Personality and Assessment, and many a researcher since then has failed to find evidence of personality consistency across situation, too.  What is consistent is, as Spence (1982) pointed out, is primarily the way that people talk about their own and each other's behavior.  That is, we tend to gloss over inconsistency and talk as though our behavior is much more consistent than it is. Thus, we create an  illusion of consistency by a gloss that hides the inconsistency.

In a nutshell, then, the problem with using traditional character construction is: The characters for roleplay in a community of therapsts will be overly simple and uncommonly resistant to change. 

How Elmer and 
Ellen are Constructed

The method we now are using to construct our imaginary characters attempts to compensate for the problems of traditional character construction for therapy roleplay.  We begin with a very tiny description of a conversational scene and a first comment, say from Elmer.  Then, volunteers submit Ellen's responses to Elmer's comment in the creation of email roleplay.  Sometimes several volunteers might submit a comment for Ellen.  Then, an editor (so far this has been either me, Lois Shawver, or Val Lewis) chooses among the contributions and edits them a bit so that they flow well in the dialogue.  The editors also pay attention to the history Elmer and Ellen have already had in other conversational scenes.  This editorializing process, then, creates the gloss that simulates the natural illusion of consistency overlaying our underlying inconsistency that is provided by the way we narrate our lives..

On PMTH we have constructed a number of conversational scenes in this way.  You can read about them by click here.  Following that link you'll find a page that tells you about not only Ellen and Elmer but about other imaginary characters that we have composed on PMTH.  Most recently this composition work has been done by: Helen Shoemaker, Riet Samuels, Val Lewis, Jerry Shafer, Nigel Glaze, and myself, Lois Shawver - although many others have contributed before that.  What is pleasing to me  is that their collaboration is so mingled now that it would be impossible to determine who wrote which words. 

But I think the collaborative character construction (as I describef it above) has some real chance of solving these serious problems and leaving us with characters rich enough to analyze and study. 

Two Imaginary Conversations

Both Elmer and Ellen had imaginary conversations since the last PMTH NEWS, but these conversations were not with each other. 

Elmer and Bob

Elmer had a conversation with Bob, his commute buddy.  The conversation was about Ellen's lack of interest in sex.  The dialogue was composed by Helen Shoemaker, Nigel Glaze and Val Lewis.  You can read the transcript by clicking here.

Ellen and Charlie

And Ellen had a conversation with her boss, Charlie.  the conversation was composed by Helen Shoemaker, Val Lewis and myself, Lois Shawver,  You can readh that conversation by clicking here.

Elmer continues to tell us, in different ways, how distressed he is by Ellen's lack of sexual interest.  So far , Ellen has not talked much about her lack of sexual interest, so we don't yet understand it.  Her conversation with Charlie, her boss, showed her to be politely assertive, and also clever.  Still, the reasons behind Ellen's withdrawal from sex are somewhat mysterious.  Riet Samuels has attempted to start a dialogue between Jan and Ellen that may give us more clues about Ellen.

Elmer in Online Therapy with
Gary Stofle

Last week, however, Elmer was able to have an online therapy session with an established online therapist, Gary Stofle.  Stofle is a real person therapist and he is not a subscriber to PMTH nor does he consider himself postmodern.  But he was generous enough to do mock therapy with Elmer and help us understand how online therapy might look with someone like Elmer.  You can read the transcript of that session by clicking here.  When you read the transcript, you might also feel that you would like to be a client of someone who does therapy like Gary Stofle.  If so, the links to Stofle's home page will tell you how you might do that.

More to Come

Quite a few PMTH subscribers are interested in doing similar mock online therapy with our imaginary characters.  Both Frank Baird and Katherine Levine have talked about trying such a technique.  Also, Gary Stofle is a very generous man and I think there is a chance he will visit us again. 

Learn Postmodern Therapy 

Want to go on an exciting retreat where you can study postmodern therapy with Harlene Anderson?  Harlene Anderson is the important author of: 

Conversation, Language and Possibilities: 
A Postmodern  Approach 
to Therapy. 

This five day treat will allow you to connect personally with her ideas.  She will be there to discuss them for the entire time of the conference. 

The conference will be conducted in a combination of Spanish and English, meaning, it will be intelligible to people whichever is your preferred language. 

If this sounds great to you (and it should), and you want to do it, the click here and get the conference details:

Welcome to the World
Ismail George

Welcome to Ismail George, the newborn grandson of PMTHer Nick Drury, 8 lbs, 5 oz.  Ismail and his family live in New Zealand.

Welcome to the World and to 
Hannah Elizabeth

Hannah Elizabeth was born in China as Wu Chu Rui on 02/27/00.  She will be coming to the United States to live with her new parents in February or March of this year.  Her proud parents are PMTHer, Jerry Gale, and his wife Barbara.

Want to Read Past Issues of 

Thirty-two prior issues of this newsletter, Postmodern Therapies NEWS(also called  PMTH NEWS), are now available.  You can reach alisting of all prior issues, together with the names of the articles inthose issues, by clicking here.

Another way to read articles published in past issues of PMTH NEWS, or to read articles that were published as links from the PMTH NEWS front page, is by doing a search on the topic that interests you.  Justput the word or words you wish to look up in the search engine at the upperlefthand corner of this newsletter.  Notice that there are two kindsof searches.  One is for a search within PMTH NEWS documents and oneis for a search across the internet. 



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