PostmodernTherapies NEWS                 03/24/06
(Also known as PMTH NEWS)

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Every sentence I utter must be understood not as an 
affirmation, but as a question. 
Quantum Physicist 
Won Nobel Prize in 1922

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Lynn Hoffman's new book has the inside story on family therapy's evolution.  .


You can view the book on Amazon.

Family Therapy: An Intimate History






What's PMTH? 
What is PMTH2?
What is Postmodern Therapy?

Lois Shawver


PMTH is a group of several hundred therapists who engage in ongoing conversation, or at least listen to the conversation.  The term PMTH stands for "Postmodern Therapies". 

PMTH has existed now for about eight years.  My name is Lois Shawver.  I am the host of PMTH, which means, among other things, I manage the technical side of our our group, like turning people's mail off when they go on vacation.  But, thank goodness, there is a good group of people  here that make it all worth it.  Besides, they help me in a million ways, sometimes without even knowing it. 

PMTH NEWS is a newsletter.  You are reading it now.  It chronicles some of our conversations, our projects (especially our group projects) and it includes articles, book reports,  explanations, announcements and more.

What is PMTH2?  It's a course some of us are teaching.  You will learn more about it in this newsletter. 

What are POSTMODERN THERAPIES?  That's more complicated.  Truthfully, what postmodern therapies are is still under discussion here on PMTH.  Sometimes it means non-traditional therapies, therapies that do not rely on diagnostic labels or therapies that disdain the medical model.  But if I had my way, it would refer to philosophies of therapy at least a little influenced by the later philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein.  That would mean, that the conversation could continue with people having different beliefs and frames - and we would all be interested in understanding each other, and realizing, at the same time, that we often did not.

Of course, I don't always have my way on PMTH.  Besides, I sometimes feel that the most important author for people to read if they are serious about postmodernism, is Jean-Francois Lyotard.  Lyotard was a philosopher whose little book, The Postmodern Condition, did much to make the the word "postmodern" almost a household word, more, I would argue, than any other author to date.  Lyotard, I believe, brings a visionary perspective on how to cope with our divergent views without killing each other in the process.  I like that, and I think most of my friends on PMTH are keen for that idea, too, even if they don't always read and appreciate Lyotard.

I think that's about all you need know to make sense of this newsletter.  If you go to the blue column left of this one, you can see, near the top, how to read back issues.

I share these chronicles with you with great pleasure.  The people you read about here, and the rest that don't get mentioned in this newsletter, are all  my cherished friends.  And you, our audience, are cherished, too.  Thank you for reading PMTH NEWS.

From PMTH to PMTH2

Lois Shawver


PMTH2 is nickname some of us have given a course we have been teaching together.  Later in this column, you will hear an account of that course.  We taught it through the Massey University Graduate Program This program offers a Masters Degree in Discursive Psychology.  The online program was designed by Andy Lock and many well known therapists, psychologists and scholars are involved in teaching classes in this program.  One of the teachers, for example, Ken Gergen, was the author of a book that is reviewed in this newsletter, as is Harlene Andersen and Tom Strong, people you often hear about in PMTH NEWS. . 

I think this online masters degree program has a very adventurous feel to it.  For one thing, the courses have an international composition.  It does not matter who you are and where you live because the courses are all taught online.  The classes are small and the conversation tailored to the class and there is quick feedback in discussion of ideas. 

This issue of PMTH NEWS includes some reporting on our last PMTH2 class .  It was taught by myself, Lynn Hoffman, Val Lewis and Brent Dean Robbins, all from PMTH.    You can read about the prior class we taught by clicking here.

You will read a selection of the students papers that they wrote for online publication, and you will read discussion of these papers by a PMTH participant who was chosen to be interviewed by PMTH2 students, and a discussion by Lynn Hoffman, a well known and talented family therapist and author. 

If you are interested in learning more about our program, and perhaps joining us in our classes, please write Andy Lock for more information. 

Social Construction: Entering the Dialogue
a book review

Lois Shawver


I can still remember the first time I ran across one of Ken Gergen's publications.  I was standing in a library with too many books in my hands, waiting in some kind of line, and reading periodical article, A Xerox I had made and was now balanced awkwardly on the top of a column of books in my arms. 

I loved Gergen's clear and daring attack on the scientific model of  psychology.   Here was somebody willing to challenge the blind faith that I saw all around me, blind faith that one day experimental psychology would prove all its scientific myths and emerge as respectable as physics.  Gergen's writing made the absurdity of that presumption crystal clear to me.  After all, what we are studying in psychology are our social constructions and that means any laws we might uncover would be as fickle as a social policy shifting dramatically over time.  (Little did I know that my point of view on physics would evolve.  See the first article in the righthand column.) 

Then, just a few days ago I picked up another of Gergen's writings, a new little fresh off the press book that he recently co-authored with his articulate wife, Mary Gergen.  It was like renewing my reading relationship with old friends.  Their graceful attack on what almost everyone thinks they know in experimental psychology still has the swerve I like.  Only this time, they have written their work so it can make sense to even the newest beginner in the field of psychology, no advance degree required, just a bit  of an open mind.. 

This is a book that postmodern psychology professors everywhere should add to the assignment list for students still too starry eyed about what they expect from psychology, but also a book that doesn't leave the students feeling hopeless, that fosters student creativity.  The Gergens are visionary. 

But best of all, from the standpoint of postmodern pedagogy, this little book brims over with good discussion topics. 

You can order it click  here, then page down until you find it. 


Overview of the PMTH2

Class Process

Lois Shawver

As I said there were four teachers in last year's online class, myself, Val Lewis, Brent Dean Robbins, and Lynn Hoffman.  And there were two student apprentices, Vicki Douds and Clarke Millar. 

Most of the class consisted of conversation between all of us that was focused around discussion topics that were posted each week. In addition, each student wrote three short papers.

To prepare these papers, the apprentices read the discussions happening on PMTH and they also selected and interviewed a person from the PMTH online community whose postings on PMTH they had read.

With pleasure I publish Clarke Millar's report of his interview of PMTH participant, Tony Michael Roberts, followed by Roberts on discussion of the interview.

After Roberts discussion, you will read a short essay by Vicki Douds. This was her submission for her third assignment. It required students to find their own voice (expressing their own beliefs or opinions) through a reasoning process that they documented in their essay, a kind of self-reflective questioning. I think you'll agree that Douds has done just that.

And while the other two teachers, Val Lewis and Brent Dean Robbins, were unable to include essays in this particular issue of PMTH NEWS, I want to thank each of them for their wonderful contributions to the class process.

In summary, first is the student paper by Clarke Millar describing his interview of Tony Michael Roberts. Then, you will read Roberts account of it. Next will be Vicki Douds written study of her ponderings of an issue, followed by Lynn Hoffman's account of the class conversation that followed in discussion of Vicki's paper.

Interviewing Roberts

Clark Millar

In May of 2005, a two-hour event occurred on the Postmodern Therapies 'PMTH2' online community. I was one of two students of postmodern conversation who had invited T. Michael Roberts to be a guest for this learning event. Roberts is a regular contributor on the Postmodern  Therapies 'PMTH' online community. The teaching members of PMTH2 supervised the event.  This report is my account of the online interview I had with our guest. 

As background for the students conducting such an interview, the students received conversational emails from PMTH on therapy related topics. I read these emails as a silent observer and student of postmodern conversation.  All of the questions I posed to Roberts during the interview were inspired by his emails to PMTH.  During this period, too, I witnessed a "PMTH event."   In that event, a special guest visited PMTH for a few hours in a kind of 'virtual' forum.  During that event PMTH members posed questions to the guest, who then responded in 'real time' with responsive emails.  This provided the PMTH2 class I was taking with a model for interviewing our own chosen guest. 

For my first interview question, I noted that Roberts frequently spoke about personal issues on PMTH. As an observer, I had been reading emails that were not originally intended for me, so I was curious if Roberts considered his unintended audience when posting his messages. 

Roberts said that he spoke directly to the PMTH "regulars", and yet he had an awareness of a "wider audience". He expressed the opinion "that there are too many secrets in this world and that, even though one must always have some secrets, the fewer one has the better". Roberts spoke of his love for literature, which informed his position on having a "truthful" approach to writing on PMTH. 

I sought further clarification, and asked Roberts if he believed that the written word made it possible for people to be more honest with themselves or others. Roberts replied - "As a question about me, the answer is yes."   He illustrated his preference for writing over face-to-face contact with a metaphor: some bands prefer the recording studio to performing live. 

My next question came from a part of his reply to the previous question; I had been interested in Roberts' expressed view that his writing style had changed recently. I asked him if this change had been specific only to PMTH.  I was also keen to know if there were things about PMTH that supported his change of writing style, which Roberts had previously explained was 'concerned with capturing the flow of a moment'. 

Indeed, Roberts credited PMTH for the change in his writing style. To my amusement, he explained that when he first joined PMTH, he had taken a female pseudonym (named Anita Berber).  In a subsequent reply, Roberts spoke of his fascination for Berber and mused on the human paradox of "being" and "having" bodies.  However, as time went by, Roberts replaced the name Berber for his own; he found it much easier to refer directly to his own experience as T. Michael Roberts within PMTH's unique community. 

In one of the first emails that I had read on PMTH, Roberts had quoted Foucault - "We are all Jews and we are all Germans."  In that message,  Roberts expressed that "there are at least two stories that can be told about any situation'." At the time, I was caught by the Foucault quote, and captivated by the views Roberts expressed in the message. The first part of my question asked him  if one can differentiate between what is "right" and 'wrong'; the second part of the question queried if one can "genuinely refuse to participate in wrong-doing if we are guilty of everything?" 

I found Roberts' reply generous and astute. He replied that good and evil are not real and absolute perspectives. However, Roberts declared that he did consider some things evil and would certainly act on this belief. Like Rorty, he was "always aware that historical contingency goes all the way 
down."  His view was that in some sense, we are all innocent and guilty. As a consequence, "evil" cannot be defined in an "absolute sense."  Roberts provided an example of his point in case - if he had been on a jury for Jack the Ripper, he would acquit "rather than saying "yes" to the criminal justice system in its current form." From a Foucaultian perspective, Roberts maintained that "Jolly Jack" was both Jew and German.

In his follow-up message, Roberts responded to my penultimate question: "Do you have any personal moral absolutes?"  His answer: "Yes." Roberts' explicit passion for his moral absolutes was not shaken even though he was aware that they are 'products of a historical process of identity formation'. In homage to his discussion of Foucault, Roberts declared that "Hitler was just as passionate and just as convinced." 

My final question was related to the prevalence of labelling in therapeutic circles. I had read several emails where Roberts spoke of labelling, and I saw an opportunity to introduce this question when he made reference to them in one other message during the event.  I was interested to read Roberts' view on the topic, and I asked him if labels could be helpful to convey meaning or improve understanding. To illustrate, I identified myself as a social worker; I then asked Roberts if his knowing I was a social worker would better facilitate our communication. 

The response from Roberts was affirmative but he also acknowledged that nasty results could come from labelling, due to the expectations and justifications created around those labels. Roberts referred to his own personal experience of having poor eyesight, and suggested that labelling this could assist in helping his students to understand his behaviour better. He added that not labelling could be counter-productive, as a student who didn't know of Roberts' condition could get angry for raising a hand and not getting any response from him. In essence, Roberts' reply was a qualified yes. 

The event quickly wrapped up after this final exchange of emails. We both expressed some regret that the event was coming to a close. Our final emails were mutual exchanges of good will and farewell. 

In conclusion, I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to interview Roberts for the online event.  Had I the opportunity to participate in another event, I would be less inclined to be as conversational as I had been with Roberts. Although I enjoyed taking a conversational approach, I would enjoy offering a guest more room to impart their unique worldview. 

Roberts Experience

of the PMTH2 interview

Tony Michael Roberts

Being interviewed is as much an epistemic process as writing. Both Clarke Millar and Vicki Douds did an excellent job of talking in order to listen to me. The result was
a dialogue much more lucid and coherent than any written monologue I could have composed around the same issues. Millar's question about my writing for an audience
of PMTH regulars [people on PMTH who post emails the most] while knowing that there is a larger audience out there both actually and potentially brings in the whole
cluster of questions about the status of a text as something which, once composed and disseminated via whatever medium, takes on a life of its own not at all governed by the author's original intentions.

This experience of being interviewed on PMTH2 was quite enjoyable for me. This is a little surprising given that the conversation was synchronous and, therefore,
more like a face to face conversation than the asynchronous threaded dialogue that I have become accustomed to on PMTH. I think the experience was enjoyable because my interviewers so skillfully talked-in-order-to-listen (i.e., tiotoled) to my responses. The result was a model of how therapeutic conversation ought to be conducted.

There has been a discussion on PMTH recently around the whole question of "not knowing" as this term is used in the CLS approach to doing therapy pioneered at the
Houston Galveston Institute by Harry Goolishian and Harlene Anderson. This discussion was sparked by the posting of two very interesting papers by Peter Rober that some saw as critical of the CLS approach even though Rober's stated intention was to develop his own ideas within the space horizoned by the seminal work done by Goolishian and Anderson. I think Millar and Douds modeled a style of being "not knowing" while at the same time structuring the dialogue through their questions in a way that made it more likely that a "unique outcome" in Michael White's sense would occur.

Both were "not knowing" in the sense that their questions were never rhetorical but always genuine attempts to encourage me to think through and further articulate
thoughts, feelings and commitments that I had already expressed. Their asking of real questions, generated out of a sensitive awareness of my own issues and concerns
as previously stated, provided a demonstration by example of how being "not knowing" differs from simple ignorance. "Not knowing" is not about being ignorant or
pretending not to know things that one in point of fact does know, but about asking as few rhetorical questions as possible while asking as many questions as possible
that evoke answers that may surprise both the person asking the question and the person answering it. Could we define a "unique outcome" as the surprisingly helpful
answer to a "not knowing" question?

The interview caused me to reflect more deeply on my passing observation that we are all Jews and we are all Germans (a quote I had taken from Foucault). I realized,
while the trial of Saddam Hussein is in the news just now, that I have as much or as little doubt that Saddam Hussein ordered and condoned atrocities as I have that
George W. Bush still does order and condone atrocities. On reflection, I also feel convinced that whatever atrocities Saddam has committed, they have nothing to do with why he is presently on trial and will have as little to do with the outcome. The atrocities we suffer as Jews very seldom flow in any obvious and direct way from the
atrocities we commit as Germans. The thing that makes this whole trial of Saddam such an elaborate show and such a sad farce is that not one question will be asked by anyone during the whole proceeding that is not rhetorical. That is, the questioners will not be talking-in-order-to-listen to what Saddam has to say. As I have come to think about things, the Iraqis are now seeing in their own land an American type judicial system, a system that claims to purse justice through due process, but in fact condemns to unnoticed static the information and perspective that could make sense of what the defendant has to say.

The glory of my interview conducted by Clarke Millar and Vicki Douds was the encouragement I was given to think things through. Now that I've had time and
encouragement to think things through more, I believe that rigid labels damage us human beings by transforming any aspect of the person which does not fit the label into
a kind of unnoticed static that vanishes behind the message carried by the label. If that transformation did not happen, these unnoticed aspects might be used to form a deeper, more accurate and more meaningful appraisal of the person. But the unnoticed aspect is simply filtered out, apparently, in the same manner that our minds filter out the static behind the songs we listen to on an AM radio. Unique outcomes are achieved when this static becomes information again that provides a basis for a new story about a life. A not-knowing interview helps bring the hidden material back to life in a reflective process.

In summary, this interview was great fun, and it was a great honor to be asked.

Vicki Douds' Study:
Do We Need Social Connection to Learn?

Vicki Douds



Do people need a bit of social connection in order to learn from each other? Before the time of computers, the rule was that people sat looking at the face of the teacher as the teacher lectured. Does that provide a sense of communication? 

I need to break this question into parts to be able to fully address it. What is meant by social connection? Does that mean contact with people? Like saying 'hi' to the neighbour in the morning when I go and get the newspaper out of the mail box?  Does it mean answering the phone in the morning and taking a message for my daughter? It probably does mean these interactions. Both involve communicating with language and actually allowing sounds to come out of my voice box that I can recognise as verbal speech and promote verbal responses from others. 

Or does it? Am I making a social connection if I just go to the mail box and grunt at the neighbour or just wave a greeting? Is taking a message making a connection or is it just a response to a voice on the other end of the phone, which is not particularly interested in talking with me, but really wants to speak to my daughter.  When I wake in the morning and turn on the computer and log onto PMTH, am I making a connection? Am I communicating? Am I learning? 

Well yes, I am, learning because I have learned how to log in  to PMTH. Yes, I am connecting when the site comes up and I recognise I am receiving mail. Am I communicating? I am not sure about that. If I type an email and I get a reply, than yes it is connecting and communicating. But it is not face to face communication. I cannot see my lecturers or my fellow students. I can only read words as they appear on the email and it is up to me as to how I interpret these words. 

This brings us back to the original question. Do we all need a bit of social connection in order to learn? 

Individuals vary in style of thinking and learning. Thus, social connection and learning are dependent on individual variants. This is where, I wonder about the sense of social connection. Email does not allow for tone of voice, facial expressions, body language and other non-verbal forms of communication which can give up to 60% of our non verbal understanding when we are communicating, face to face. 

Figuratively speaking, I can liken this to bubbles blown by bubble pipes. One can blow big bubbles and small bubbles, different coloured bubbles and some break straight away while others journey on through the air before dissolving. Verbal speech is like this. Words are uttered and they journey into the air. Sometimes they connect, and sometimes they break before connecting and are lost. 

To capture these bubbles, these utterances, we need to make connections. Some ways of doing this is by verbal responses, bubbles' talking to each other'. Sometimes it is just listening to one bubble and letting it journey on. One can also turn the bubbles into symbols of the written word and in the form of the written word these utterances become cemented as "what is written" or "what is said." 

However, words can be ambiguous. Conversations can go off on tangents, miscommunication can happen so easily. What is it that provides that sense of communication? Is it more than connecting with computers? Is it more than listening to a teacher? I feel communication  is more than just listening. Many people can connect with other people through wonderful technological advancements and many others can use these advancements and not feel a sense of social connection. 

For example, an email allows for a message to be sent and a response to be given and this to me allows for many people to experience a means of communicating without the added ambiguities of reading and interpreting social behaviours. This was outlined by a teacher known to me who stated, "I have a very strong preference for communicating by e-mail. What I like about it is that email permits me to sit and compose a text. I can edit and revise this text until I am comfortable with it. I find it much easier to produce texts that feel adequate representations of who I am than to perform myself successfully in face to face interactions. 

Social interactions and technology, both allow for a sense of communication. Face to face connections allow for engagement not only in expressive language but the non verbal language that humans use. Expressive language and body language convey messages that human beings can use as tools to make connections with each other and learn from each other. 

From the day we are born we are engaged in social connections. From our first expressive smile to our first steps. Next, we develop peer interactions, copying and imitating others as we rehearse new behaviour. In the teenage years, we stumble awkwardly, modelling behaviour of significant others and trying out learned parts as a way of navigating the journey into adulthood. 

How do we learn all happen if we don't make social connections? Can a television equip us for real life interaction? Can a computer teach us the art of greetings, the meaning of a smile or a wave? Tools of learning, such as emails and cyberspace, can connect us faster and more efficiently than other learning environments such as the standard lecture hall. We are in the learning revolution with access to information of infinite means at our finger tips. Yes this is learning, but does it allow for the social component of learning, to hear, see, feel, the speaker and the energy that drives the words along with the message? 

In saying this to me there is a place for all types of learning, but the heart of being a social human being is the ability to acknowledge your neighbour, to greet your landlord, to ask requests and receive social support. It is this sense of social connection that I feel cannot be found in technology.  This leads me to ponder if there a difference for example between a self serving coffee dispenser and an over the counter coffee order. That is with the dispenser there is a connection - the money goes in, one presses the button for the required coffee flavour and yahoo if it works.  One coffee is delivered. Yes that is connecting. However probably the behaviour is nonverbal, I cannot imagine a person talking to a machine in any depth, but the body language will be communicating as one waits anxiously to see if the coffee will be delivered. Either way the message is the same 'I want a coffee,' but the connection is very different than a human connection. The dispenser predominantly involves nonverbal behaviour to form a connection while the staff to customer connection relies on the social exchange of communication. 

But on the flip side if the machine does not deliver, one will probably hear the individuals protesting voice as he is without what he anticipated he would be receiving. It is strange though, many people, kick these machines, curse them and so forth, yet to what avail? The dispenser cannot talk back. In fact the machine has the control and it is people like me who lose control over the delivery aspect that end up looking like a 'nutter'. Observers nearby watch and listen to frustrated people trying to get their coffee from a machine that is not connecting. 

Many of us have diverse styles of interacting and making social connections. Maybe what matters more is what works for the people who are making the connection. If it works by email then fine.  If one needs to see someone and get involved in face to face contact, than let it be so. What technology has allowed is a means for many people to connect with others across the world. It allows for contact and with contact there can be learning and this to me is what a sense of communication is all about. 

However I feel what is needed is a bit of all our senses involved to promote optimum communication to allow for connections to be made. But as outlined above there are always exceptions due to personal preferences. Some people have strengths in speech (written or oral), while others are not so confident in the art of verbal communication. Some of us need visual aids and body language to rescue us from ambiguity, while for others effective communication is distorted by the nonverbal forms of communication. Often it depends upon the context in which the conversation is being held and what is actually needed to promote connections and understanding. 

On reflection as I ponder the questions posed above, there appears to be no particular connection method that can always allow for total connection and make for a sense of communication. It seems to depend on the interconnection between the person delivering the message and the person receiving the message. In evaluating social connection in order to learn and a sense of communication, it is clear that there is only only one method that can work for all situations. To capture the art of today's means of communication there are many diverse tools as there are learning styles. 

When it comes to a bit of social connection in order to learn from each other... it therefore clearly depends on many things. 

A Postmodern Therapy Class:

Lynn Hoffman's Account

Lynn Hoffman

Elsewhere in this issue of PMTH NEWS you can read some of the writing of this semester's two engaging and enthusiastic students, Vicki Douds and Clarke Millar.
In this year's course, the teacher-student roles were less distant than is often the case. I found myself particularly inspired by Douds and Millar, admiring their talents
and their readiness to support each other.

Millar, for example, to illustrate how he felt having so many papers and tasks piled on him, sent us a picture of the huge stone that hurtles toward Indiana Jones in the
movie by that name.

At another point, Douds told us about her own journey and how helpful she found the workshops of Tony Attwood, a specialist who works with people who are seen to be on the Autism/Aspergers spectrum. She said that his work with her and her son was life-changing. In her words:

It has meant so much - like putting foundations and paving stones in place for life to journey through yesteryear, today and evermore. 


Vicki, In reading your emails, I must admit a sense of warmth came over me. In speaking for myself, I reflect that my life has been enriched through adversity.  Kahlil Gibran refers to sorrow being the cup which holds joy. 

I have seen Dr. Attwood in action with a couple of people I used to work with.  I was absolutely flabbergasted to see the way he seemed to understand and  connect with people. 

I believe the world we live in is full of polar opposites; it is my goal to lean towards the light. 


Douds responded: 

Thanks for your comments. You don?t sound like any of the social workers I know, so I am starting to respect what you say as you are knowledgeable, appear to be non-judgmental, and are ready to admit when you don't know things. 

In this next bit, Lois Shawver had introduced as a discussion topic whether learning was tied to a sense of social connection. 

Douds said: 

Being social is a two way process and I see some sad cases [in Doud's work with autistic youth] in which the person with autism is doing all the changing (learning), as the neurotypical [i.e. normal] cannot for some reason see or feel the need.  Neurotypicals can learn a lot from the aloof autistic child as he spends his time fixated to a fish bowl and the bubbles coming out of the sunken treasure in the tank. His learning is so innocent, his social connections so minimal. But he gains where neurotypicals cannot.

Douds ended by saying: 

My answer [to Shawver's question] is "What is the measure of social?" and "What is really meant by connection?"

In these segments, I hope I have provided you with a small window 
into our class dialogue.  To me, these conversations provided a context in which therapy related issues could be discussed meaningfully. In fact, I think much of the learning for all of us occurred in this kind of "talking between the cracks." 

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.

Past Issues of PMTH NEWS

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. 


Would You Like to Receive Announcements?

Lois Shawver

If you would like to receive announcements for each issue of PMTH NEWS, click here and forward your request.  Just write in your note that you would like to receive PMTH NEWS announcements - and you will get them. 














A Third Possibility

Lois Shawver



Click on the names of the books in this article to see the book.

Recently I happened to come across the work of F. David Peat.  First, I read his book, From Certainty to Uncertainty And, my goodness! Peat traced the issues current in the obscure science of quantum physics to the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein.  Boy!  As a long time student of late Wittgenstein, this caught my interest.  Soon, I had read five of Peat's wonderful books -- then I branched out to other authors, too.

And now I am so inspired.  The situation that Peat (and others) describe in quantum physics seems like the same situation we have in postmodern therapy.   Wow!  Why hadn't I thought of looking into this connection before?   After all, how many times had I poured over the writing of Jean-Francois Lyotard's little book,  The Postmodern Condition?   Eating up every word?  Lyotard included a whole section on postmodern science, which definitely included quantum physics.  I had read it, but why had I not pondered it in connection with my field, therapy and therapy theorizing? 

When  I looked at this section again, this is what I read:

Postmodern science, by concerning itself with such things as undecideables, ... is changing the meaning of the word knowledge, while [explaining]  how such a change can take place. It is producing not the known, but the unknown. 

I reflected: "Undecideables"  - like the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principles - "producing the unknown" - like writing theories about things we can't test and don't know how to test, telling stories as to how the electrons might work -- even though there was no imaginable way to test these theories -- doing the best one can when there are no definitive guidelines -- dreaming up provisional guidelines, judging them provisionally.  I think physicists may use the term "postmodern science" differently, but this definition of Lyotard's fits for me.

And, Yes!  Postmodern science and postmodern therapy have something in common.    They both deal in the unknown, even the unknowable. In psychotherapy, only a few researchers still cling to the idea that they can test various theories of therapy.  Have they?  Can they?  Nothing very impressive has come out of half a century of their work.

Then, I recalled a passage at the end of Wittgenstein's key book, a tattered pink volume that now fits like a glove in my hand.  I pulled it off my shelf and I reread what he said:

[I]n psychology there are experimental methods and conceptual confusion.....
     The existence of the experimental  method makes us think we have the means of solving the problems which trouble us; though problem and method pass one another by. 
             Ludwig Wittgenstein
         Philosophical Investigations

That's how it is in psychology, so it seems to me.  When a therapist makes a pronouncement like, "You have an authority problem" or "You need to set firmer boundaries" there is absolutely no research even conceiveable to back up such statements.   That is an unknown.  There is no way to evaluate clearly whether such statements worked at all. 

We are Trapped 
    in the Confusion of the 
Excluded Middle

I sank back in my chair with ideas from Wittgenstein, Aristotle, and physicists, swirling  erratically through my mind:

Ah, yes, Wittgenstein's comments on western culture's rigid black and white categories.  They erase the gray area of continuum by imposing Aristotle's logical law that forbids us to think in terms of gray.   Aristotle called it the law of the excluded middle.  Our western minds follow this law subconsciously (even if we have never read Aristotle), and we are are left with very limited language tools for exploring the intermediate states in personal growth and change.  We lump people in categories that we operationally define.

I reached back for Wittgenstein's text.  Where did he say that?  According to Wittgenstein, this "law of the excluded middle" is catastrophic for psychotherapy research.  Ah, here it is:

Here it happens that our thinking plays us a queer trick. We want, that is, to quote the law of excluded middle and to say things like..."Either he has this experience, or not"- [there is no third possibility that occurs to us]
Philosophical Investigations
from aphorism 352
emphasis added

Escaping our Trap

And here is another book that is relevant here.
George Ifrah    Universal History of Numbers  also wrote of the way that the law of the excluded middle blocks creativity.  Yet Ifrah explained how quantum physicist, Louis de Broglie, burst out of that black and white thinking by seeing the third possibiity that the electron is a synthesis of particle and electron.

We therapists can escape our black and white thinking, too.  We also can 

battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language. 
 Ludwig Wittgenstein
         Philosophical Investigations
from aphorism 109

Otherwise, as Niels Bohr (a quantum physicist) said 

We are [simply] suspended in language such that we don't know which way is up and which way is down

Because, so Wittgenstein explained::

A main source of our failure to understand is that we do not command a clear view of the use of our words.
A 'picture' [has] held us captive.  And we could not get outside it, for it lay in our language and language seemed to repeat it to us inexorably.

In other words, the form of our language systematically misleads us (Philosophical Investigations, #180, #356,  #359).    It locks us within a frame of reference, without our realizing it.  It is as if we were children hearing the word "butterfly" and thinking they were flies that fed on butter, and we cannot critique ourselves because we are unaware of our presumption.

Here is what quantum physicist David Peat says about the confusing language in his field:.

At the level of the atom concepts like "position" and "speed" are inherently ambiguous. 

Reading that final comment I found myself walking over to the window, staring out as a windy storm whipped up the rain.  I was trying to understand the strange idea that "position" and "speed" were "inherently ambiguous".  I pictured an unbelievably tiny electron twirling and jumping from orbit to orbit.  And I asked myself: how could its speed and position be ambiguous? 

Here is the imagery that came to mind: Picture a group of physicists living in hurricane country.  In their ordinary lives, they often talk about hurricanes, noting their speed and realizing the hurricanes slow down as they travel over land.  I pictured the physicists charting the hurricane's position and predicting the exact changes of speed. Nothing ambiguous about the terms "position" and "speed" in that every-day scenario, or so it seems.

Then, still at the window, another thought popped into my head:  With their background, the physicists might import the imagery of hurricanes into their labs, imagining the electrons as tiny hurricanes.  But suppose the electron was more like the eye of a hurricane, an eye that bounced around inside the whirling hurricane like a penny in a cup.  And suppose that the eye's position was not always centered, because it was tugged by other powerful forces so that when the tiny hurricane sped up, the eye lagged back like a ball attached to a rubber band hanging from a kite, whipping and swerving in the windy forces, like the wind outside my window, pulling into the wall of the hurricane and bouncing back into the tunnel.  I even imagined forces tugging on the walls of the hurricane from all directions. 

Wouldn't all these forces operating together make it difficult to separate the concepts of speed and position, or even to tie down the meaning of either term.  What speed?  What position?  The speed of the twirling, or the bouncing, or the slow movement prior to the leap or what? 

Are the rest of us like those imaginary physicists, accustomed to one way of thinking, finding it hard to expand our imaginations?  I think I am.

Then, I walked back to my desk, and  suddenly, another of Wittgenstein's remarks came to mind. I fumbled again through text until I found the passage that I wanted, where he said:

There is not a philosophical method, though there are indeed methods, like different therapies.
Philosophical Investigations
from aphorism 133, 

One of those therapies, for me, was this recent reading of the situation in quantum physics.  Somehow with David Peat's help I stepped out across a boundary of my field into another that was also theorizing beyond the knowable.  I put down Wittgenstein's book and opened another. An underlined passage stood out on the page.  It was authored by Nobel Prize winning physicist, David Bohm, and  David Peat.  They had been explaining the importance of dialogue for resolving our confusions.  But what did they mean by "dialogue"?  Here they explained:

A key difference between dialogue and ordinary discussion is that, within [ordinary discussion] people usually hold relatively fixed positions and argue in favor of their views as they try to convince others to change.... 

Okay, "fixed positions" are like those of the physicists from hurricane country, thinking of electrons on the model of hurricanes.

Bohm and Peat continued:

In dialogue, however, a person may prefer a certain position but does not hold to [that position]  nonnegotiably.  He or she is ready to listen to others with sufficient sympathy and interest to understand the meaning of the other's position properly and is also ready to change his or her own point of view if there is good reason to do so. 
...What is essential [if the scientist's creativity is to flourish] is that each participant is... suspending his or her point of view, while also holding other points of view in a suspended form and giving full attention to what they mean. 
Science, Order and Creativity
David Bohm and David Peat

I think I get it:  "Suspending his or her point of view" is a key ingredient of dialogue.  It is not that it is good to have no point of view at all .  How can we be creative if we do not let a point of view develop?  But, at the same time, we need to take in new information, to listen generously to each other, and learn to suspend our disbelief.   After all, if I imagine I have already figured something out, I am not likely to go on searching for a better idea.

So, that's where I'm at, for now, pondering the importance of dialogue, or as Lyotard calls it, "paralogy" as one of the therapies for my being trapped in language confusions.   Dialogue.  Maybe that's why I hang around my friends in PMTH, to talk and to listen.  It's good for me.  Therapeutic. 

Maybe you need a group to talk with, too, a group that can listen and hold their positions loosely, and a group that you can listen to, as well.


Remember to check on the book links above to review any books you find interesting.  Many of these links take you to the book contents.


PMTH Conference in Oakland

Lois Shawver


 One of the most exciting things for me last year was hosting a PMTH conference at my home in Oakland, California. 

It all started on a Friday morning.  The day was glorious, and many of the people you hear about in PMTH NEWS had arrived the night before and were staying at nearby bed and breakfast houses.  Most of us had never met each other.  But on that Friday morning we gathered together in a big basement room that we call a 'speak easy' and had breakfast together. 

My friend and fellower PMTHer Riet Samuels had shared the planning of this big event with me, and she arrived a bit early with special treats to add to the breakfast table.  I had hired a couple of people help me scramble a Mexican egg dish, and we carted all of the food down into the basement, and the fun began. 

Can you imagine it?  Thirty or so of the hundreds of  people on PMTH?  All well known to each other, gathered together to look each other in the eye for the first time? 

It is hard to capture the energy and spirit that thirty PMTHers brought to this conference.  I'll give you a taste of what some of the people who attended said:. 

First, I start out with a brief overview by the outspoken and articulate Joe Pfeffer

Then,, I'll give you a longer account by our linguist (she speaks five languages), Karin Taverniers, from Argentina.  She will mention a psychodrama we did in which each person presented a scene from their life with parts in the scene played by other participants. 

I found this experience of the conference memorable and exciting.  I hope you can enjoy a vicarious taste of it.  I believe our postmodern conversation is bonding.  I hope we our gather together many times in our lives.


The PMTH Conference According to 
Joe Pfeffer

Joe Pfeffer


It is intriguing to meet Internet friends in person; they are never quite what you expect. It is refreshing and enlightening to meet people with an open-ended postmodern outlook on life. And it makes you feel confident and optimistic to participate in an event that puts you on the road to where you want to go. Put these together and you have the first PMTH Conference, held last Labor Day weekend, in Oakland, California. 

I had carried on lively, at times bracingly irreverent e mail conversations with PMTHers for years. I had met several personally, in different parts of the world. What struck me in each encounter was the combination of sharply articulated individuality and shared outlook in each person: they were uniquely themselves, reveling in the way differences between us led to greater knowledge and understanding, brought us closer together rather farther apart. Our conversations invariably expanded our horizons and made our worlds richer.

For all this, I was not sure about my position at the conference. The Bates Guest House, where I was to stay, carried eerie echoes of Bates Motel in Psycho. It turned out to be a sumptuously restored turn-of-the-century California mansion. A further surprise was that it was less than two blocks down the street from Lois Shawver's house, itself a gracious, restored home from a bygone era of California's history. Best of all were the people I met. They were lively and diverse, each one a true original, each with contributions to make. We joined together for stimulating discussions. We followed Lois and her co-organizer Riet to Mexican and Chinese restaurants that were amazingly cheap and amazingly good, and more or less behaved ourselves throughout the three-day event. 

The centerpiece of the conference was a presentation by Lois' friend and publisher Roy Carlisle. We had come to Oakland because we were interested in putting our postmodern thoughts onto the printed page, each in our own way. Like Lois, we would like to have a book to our credit. 

Roy laid it out for us. He did not trim his sails to make it sound easy. The idle, oft-repeated statement, "What I would really like to do is take a year off and write a book" took on frightening new worlds of meaning when Roy discussed complexities of the publication process. Yet having a realistic presentation made writing a book seem more rather than less possible, especially with Roy there to shepherd it through Paralogic Press. It was like taking the single step that begins a journey of a thousand miles. 

So many great people, so many great ideas, such a terrific place in such invigorating weather. (Oakland beats San Francisco any time.) This year, there may be a conference in Buffalo. In 2007, there will be a conference in Buenos Aires. I'm saving up for that one now. Imagine all of the above, with tango lessons added! 


The Conference According to Karin Taverniers

Lois Shawver


PMTH September 2005 conference account. 

When Lois Shawver first suggested a conference, the immediate thing that came to my mind was, ˆ£California is five time zones away and I would have to cross two large continentsˆ§.  But I did have enough frequent flyer miles, so before giving it too much thought, I booked the flight, thought up accommodations for my daughter, and crossed my fingers. 

There is always something exciting about the ˆéunknownˆ¢. I say ˆéunknownˆ¢ because although I already ˆéknewˆ¢ many of the PMTHers from the PMTH online community, there was so much I didnˆ¢t know: How old were they? What did they look like? What would they be like in person? 

In any event, I was the first one to arrive to Oakland - several days in advance so I would not be completely incoherent during my presentation - and one of the last ones to leave.  It was really quite amazing to actually meet these PMTHers in person.  Being very visual, I thoroughly enjoyed being able to put a face to what had been merely names and texts on the list. It was also interesting to be able to listen to people's actual voices, accents, tones, laughter, ways of articulating, gesticulating, all of which did not coincide much with the images I had previously constructed in my mind of the people I had been ˆécorrespondingˆ¢ with since 2003.  Now the community had taken on a shape; it was alive and had texture.

The biggest surprise, probably, was meeting Brent Dean Robins in person. When he greeted me and said ˆ£hi, Iˆ¢m Brent,ˆ§ it took me a while to react and shake off the prior image I had had of him ( I had had an image of him as a serious, ˆécigar-smokingˆ¢ intellectual) and take in this ˆénewˆ¢ funny, hearty and much younger image of Brent  (but then, we both scored high on the online Nerd Test, so go figure!) Perhaps that was one of the reasons I almost automatically chose him to be my daughter in a psychodrama exercise we did on Day 2. 

Lois Shawver, I had seen a picture of online, but she too was so very different in person from what I had envisaged. She is not only the intelligent well-read person we all know on the list, but she is also very warm, not to mention the perfect hostess (so is her husband Doug). I got to play Loisˆ¢ mother in a short psychodrama exercise of a ˆéwindow into her lifeˆ¢, and we had a few good laughs over it. I got to spend some time alone with her before the conference, which was also very nice. We talked about everything from caffeine-addictions to her newly acquired Spanish translation of The Postmodern Condition to tap-dancing in basements. 

And Lynn Hoffman! It was not only an honor for me to finally meet her in person, but also to discover that we are and have been inspired by the same people. I now know that in the future, when I read or reread something of hers, I will surely do so differently, with the  image of the warm person she is in my mind. By the way, she is also a fantastic story-teller! 

And then there was Edward Epp from Vancouver, who is not only a successful therapist but also an extraordinary painter. I was very moved by his work. He was the only ˆéforeignerˆ¢ - whatever that means - besides Riet and myself. Except for Lynn maybe who claims to feel more French at times. 

As for Riet Samuels, it was almost entirely thanks to her that things kept running smoothly and on time throughout the 3-day conference. I will want to abduct her should we hold the next conference where I live, in Buenos Aires, or if not, at least take a crash course from her on organizing conferences. 

I also especially enjoyed meeting Marc Werner-Gavrin who will do the world a great deal of good should he get his DSM disclaimer disseminated. He is not in his twenties like most of us had imagined. But he is a biker and went trekking around the country after the conference, before heading back home. So he is sure fit enough to be in his twenties! 

Mike Ferro was one of the only ones who came close to the way I had pictured him online. That unmistakable Italian background (at least through my Argentinean lens)! 

Michael (Tony Michael Roberts) and Glenda Boozer... They need a separate chapter altogether! Michael, and I think others would agree with me, was almost the opposite of what I had imagined, except for his superior intelligence which comes across clearly on the list, I think. I had him pegged as a rather ˆédarkˆ¢ character. Nothing further from the ˆétruthˆ¢ (my ˆétruthˆ¢, i.e). And Glenda ... A mathematician from Oz, who has now also joined us on the list and her presence and contributions have made our conversations richer. 


Conferences on Postmodern Therapy

Lois Shawver


Here's a therapist with her own  collaborative twist of postmodern therapy, Harlene Anderson.   She is known around the world for her popular book and her conferences inspire many of us.   Her artful approach fosters the client's own vision.  Much as Bohm and peat suggests, she engages in dialogue that suspends disbelief, or, as she says it, she engages in "not-knowing"

Click here to learn more about her conferences.

She told an online PMTH audience recently that she tries to keep her conferences to about 50 or less and many of these are find the conferences useful and thus return.  Page through the link above.  You may find a conference in your neighborhood, no matter where in the world you are.  And, perhaps, one of us from PMTH will be there, too.

Judy's Puppy

Lois Shawver


Just a personal note on a PMTHer I wanted to throw in.  In a private conversation I have been following Judy Weintraub's search for just the right puppy.  I think she might have it.  His name is Zack.  As a fellow dog lover, I think finding the right puppy is a very big thing. 

Ordinarily, I wouldn't write an article about something like this in PMTH NEWS, but then Judy told me about an experience that was so precious I had to to tell you.  Please read on: 

One day, in talking about little Zack, Judy said, 

The other night, I got my guitar and started playing some blues in G. He seems to like music.  He looks at me when I play.  So I was playing, and he went and got that squeaky toy and sat down in front of me and started squeaking it, kind of in time with the music!  I wonder if he made an association between me using the guitar to make a sound and him using the toy to make a sound. I wonder if he wanted to "play" music together with me. 

It was so funny -- and fun.

So what does this little guy look like?  Here's a picture of him squeaking a toy:

Can't you tell that this little guy squeaks with rhythm?



What is PMTH Talking about Today?

Lois Shawver


Well, "today" is Saturday, 03/18/06.
There are notes from Helen Douglas (South Africa), Judy Weintraub (US - she's the lady with the puppy above), Joe Pfeffer (US) but in South Africa where he is visiting, among other things, PMTHer Ester de Beer, David Steare (England), and Ger Boes (Belgium), Riet Samuels (Holland, living in the U.S.), Clarke Millar (New Zealand), Valerie Lewis (Australia), and myself (Lois Shawver, US). 

We are talking about a number of things, but one thing we are discussing is whether a postmodern conversation (or therapy) might sometimes be better if it drifted a bit from any pre-conceived plan, adjusted to what was brought up. 

But that is just one of the topics we discussed.  On the other end was a little discussion about the academy award winning film, Tsotsi.   Ester de Beer, who saw it with him, said it was a "must see".  Joe Pfeffer just said. 

It is a film of profound emotional impact, poignancy, suspense and, ...tight plotting. The Johannesburg locations are so real and sensual it's hard to believe you are watching a movie. It transports you right there, both visually and on the soundtrack. The acting feels remarkably authentic. I strongly recommend seeing it on the big screen before buying the DVD. I can't imagine that the experience would be as powerful on the small screen. It was interesting that Ester and I both were drawn in to the film's all encompassing milieu, even though she is a South African and I am a foreigner. The film has universal appeal, and makes a universal statement about humanity. Like all things you love, it raises your spirits and breaks your heart at the same 

And yesterday, or the day before, Tony Michael Roberts did make an interesting comment when he said: 

If anyone cares to read the way we
strung words together after we are gone, each word will mean something different than what it meant when it was set down and the whole string will mean something we could not imagine as we strung already coined and widely circulated words together trying to
mean something that captures our own truth.

Then, let me go back a few weeks ago when we were discussing two published articles by PMTHer (and one of the founders of PMTH), Peter Rober.  I think I speak for most all of us when I say, they were very exciting papers for anyone with a postmodern bent.  They are based on a clinical renditionof Bakhtin's philosophy of voices. 

Rober, P. (2005). Family therapy as a dialogue of living persons: A perspective inspired by Bakhtin, Volosinov ? Shotter.  Journal of Marital 
and Family Therapy, 31, 385-397. 

Peter Rober: Dialogue of living persons Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, Vol. 31, 385-397 

These are two excellent papers, and I highly recommend them.  If you like the ideas you hear discussed in PMTH, read these articles if you can.


Want to 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 , and since myself and PMTH subscriber Tom Strong are contributing editors.   New Therapist articles tend to be up close and personal of current controversial issues in the field of therapy. 

In addition, however, 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 latest edition"41"  New Therapist has just been published.  It is called the "Client-Centered Edition". Selected articles and contents of which can be found on our web site at

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

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

What is a ˆ£Janus headˆ§ 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-facedˆ§ as it comes down to us means ˆ£two-facedˆ§ or ˆ£deceitful,ˆ§ 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.ˆ§ 

From its inception in 1998, Janus Head, has been 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£openˆ§ issue, which considers submissions on any number of topics. Online readership has grown to a number of 10,000 unique visitors a month.

The latest edition of Janus Head has fascinating articles on on Goethe's vision of science.  Click here for a peak.

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