Postmodern Therapies Tool boxes
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The date hasn't yet been set, but it will happen in the next couple of months. Here at PMTH we will have an online event in which we study and interview Lynn Hoffman and she will talk to us about her magnificent book, Family Therapy: An Intimate History. (If you follow that link to the Amazon page for her book, scroll down and see a review of the book by PMTH subscriber Jonahthan Diamond, himself an author of a book I look forward to reading, Narrative Means to Sober Ends.)
I plan to tell you about this Hoffman event after it happens, in the coming issue of PMTH NEWS, but I can tell you now that it will consist of three hours of online conversation with Hoffman during which I expect there to be a flury of rapid email. You can bet we will keep her busy.
And between now and then, we will be preparing for the event by reading
and talking about the book. In fact, the preparation for the event
has begun, although partly back channel. Just to give you a preview
of what some of us feel about the book I have provided a review of it that
I have taken from a private note (with permission) that one PMTH subscriber,
Tony Michael Roberts, wrote to me. Just look down to the next article
to read that review.
Tony Michael Roberts
There was something missing in my understanding during a recent period in which I was struggling to decide if I really wanted to be a therapist. What I was not seeng was that doing therapy is only a matter of dealing with the problems involved in being a mere human engaged in an all too human search for better ways to deal with the merely human beings one encounters while moving through life. The great virtue of Lynn's book is that it is impossible to read it with any understanding at all without also understanding that we are all engaged in this struggle with our mere humanness. Therapists, but not only therapists, search for better ways to deal with being merely human and encountering and caring about other mere humans.
Hoffman's book is so clearly the record of a life spent seeking the truth rather than a book which puts forward a truth that the not-knowing and the open seeking are more it's message than any theory or doctrine. There is perhaps nothing more human than the seeking after some secret which once known will make everything clear and easy yet nothing more destructive of our humanity than the pretense that this secret has been found.
And myself, during my own quest, was asking the same wrong question. I was asking all along about what it means to be a therapist. Now I see that the question is not "what is the secret" but rather "how does one go on without knowing".
This is not a question one avoids by not becoming a therapist.
I am very pleased to have read this book and that we will have the opportunity
discuss it in more depth.
On January 29, 2002, G. W. Bush stood in front of an applauding US House
of Representatives. He had just given his State of the Union Address
in which he had announced to the world that there existed an axis of
This represented a major shift in the way the way the US enemies were portrayed. Whereas early on in the US War against terrorism, the enemy consisted of outlaw terrorists, especially Osama bin Laden and his suporters. But, now President Bush had declared that the enemy was not only independent outlaw organizations, but an axis of evil, more specifically, three nations, which, so Bush explained, posed a significant threat to Americans and the American way of life.
Was the President serious? That he believed these three countries were "evil"?
Yes. It appears, that President Bush, and his National Security Advisor, Condoleezza Rice, meant to use this term "evil" to put these three governments "on notice." In fact, the story is that Colin Powell was troubled by some people trying to downplay the rhetorical power of calling these countries an "axis of evil."
Still, many were alarmed by this offical rhetoric of "evil.". Not only did the socialist contingent compare Bush's "bellicosity" with the public declarations of Hitler, but former US Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, called Mr. Bush's comments a "big mistake."
What did I think? Well, I have to tell you that when I first heard the Bush declaration, his rhetoric of evil offended me. I liked the phrase Riet Samuels used, when she spoke of Bush's "cowboy politics," and I nodded enthusiastically when I read Albright calling that term "a mistake".
To my postmodern ear, the term "evil" seemed polarizing and devisive, something like declaring that we were "good people" and our enemies were "bad people"
So, I asked my friends on PMTH what they thought about this concept of "evil."
Val Lewis responded saying that she thought of evil as a social construction, meaning, I think, that we create our sense of evil from the way we talk and act.
That sounded right to me.
So I did a little internet research and came up with the idea that there are two models of "evil".
One is Zorastrianism, in which good and evil are thought of as abstract principles that fight each other. The other is Manicheanism in which the physical world is seen as evil while spirit and light are seen as the epitome of good.
I asked my friends on PMTH: What do you think of these models of evil? Are they of any use to us?
Drury embellished the Zorastrian image of evil by saying that good
and evil can be seen as two sides of the same coin (not just two forces
fighting). Drury added:
Katherine Levine, however, changed our whole approach. She said that she thinks in terms of doing evil rather then being evil. Alan Parry agreed. Evil is a concept I prefer to apply to actions than to person committing those actions.
Joe Pfeffer, however, thought we could attribute evil to individual people. All we have to do, he explained, is attribute malevolent motives to the person committing the acts. Then the person doing the acts is seen as "evil."
I didn't like this, so I asked: Why do we need to have a concept of "evil" at all? It seems medieval to me.
But Jerry Shaffer said that he thought we needed the concept of evil. Furthermore, as soon as people started talking of "socially constructing evil," so Shaffer explained, "it meant that no concept of good or evil was better than any other, that Hitler had to be judged no more evil than any other person. " Once we did that, Shaffer explained, we were falling into a "moral relativism" in which anything goes -- and that wasn't good.
But Riet Samuels suggested that Shaffer stop thinking of postmodern morality as a "moral relativism." To equate the two, she indicated (and I agree) is to make a metanarrative out of postmodernism. (You'll remember, I hope, that postmoderns are incredulous of "metanarratives," these grand theories that purport to explain everything.)
And, the I thought more about it, the more I liked Samuel's concept of "moral complexity." It reminded me of a thoughts I had when Jerry Shaffer said that "torturing little children for the fun of it was evil" was his model or example of evil. It also reminded me of what Joe Pfeffer said that we needed to attribute motives in order to call people evil. I told myself: Motives and actions are too complex to reduce them to the simplicity of "evil."
So, I spoke up: I said: No one tortures little children "just for the fun of it. People's motives are always more complex than that."
But Shaffer said that even if I was right, the category of evil actions exists in case someone ever does do these terrible things, the category or the concept needs to exist. That is, even if no one is truly evil, it is good to have a concept of the truly evil.
Penn Hughes, seemed more sympathetic with my distaste of the concept of evil, and he raised the question of whether the concept of evil was tied up with traditional religious beliefs. But Shaffer retorted that history shows that atheists can be moral,and I had to agree, because I have personally known quite a few moral athiests.
So, that was our discussion of the concept of "evil." I still don't like the concept, but some of us do. Alan Parry, Jerry Shaffer, for example, think the concept is satisfactory as long as it applied to what people do, not who people are.
The discussion then is how to conceptualize evil. Are good and
evil two sides of a coin as Nick suggested? Or are they two forces
that fight with each other as the Zoroastrians suggest? Or are some
people and and countries inherently evil? Also, is evil simply
something that people and countries do, not something they are?
For the answer to that, you will have to, as always, decide for yourself ˆ± although I hope a review of our discussion helps you do that.
I think the discussion helped me. While, I continue to think that
the rhetoric of evil is what makes people most callous,but I am no
longer ready to tear the word out of my dictionary. Instead, what
I'm saying to myself is:
One of the recent conversations on PMTH was about the recent Hollywood movie, A Beautiful Mind. We pondered what we thought of the artistic license that the producers took with the true story they tried to interpret..
A Beautiful Mind is a story about a brilliant mathematician who became schizophrenic. The real man, John Forbes Nash was hospitalized for mental illness, yet he later won the Nobel Prize. The Hollywood actor, Russell Crowe is up for an Academy Award for his sensitive portrayal. But, here on PMTH, we picked the movie apart. Let me give you a window into our conversation about this movie.
The topic was brought up by Nick Drury, when he pointed out that the movie made it appear that Nash became ill when he stopped taking his medications. "By all accounts," Drury told us, " Nash took no antipsychotics after 1970, and he claimed that his recovery was due to being able to escape the drugs and psychiatrists."
Pam Birrell responded:
Riet Samuels added another criticism. Nash was portrayed as having constant visual hallucinations. He talked with imaginary people who seemed perfectly real, and reached over and touched them.. Samuels pointed out that the real Nash didn't suffer from visual hallucinations. He may have been grandiose and delusional, Samuels told us, but no visual hallucinations. That was just part of the Hollywood mythology.
Pfeffer was more accepting of the movie. He said,
Hughes complained about the movie saying:
I probably would have not seen this movie, but after the discussion, it was a must. And, not only did I see the movie, but I watched the interview of Nash on 60 minutes, so I want to tell you what I htink.
I think all the people I heard talking about it on PMTH were quite right. The movie was engaging, moving, even believeable, but at the cost of creating a kind of false mythology, not only about John Forbes Nash but about schizophrenia as well.
But, as Joe Shaffer said, it was also a good movie. It's too bad
if audiences will view it as a valid portrayal of either schizophrenia,
or of John Forbes Nash.
Transvaluation is a concept I have long treasured. My dictionary says it means to evaluate by a new standard or principle.
Let's say you wanted to sell your old car, so you take the battered jalopy to a used car shop where they evaluate it as worth a thousand dollars. You want more. So, right away, you have it painted and lo and behold the same shop says the used car is now worth two thousand dollars. But, still, that's not enough so you keep the now painted car in your driveway.
Then, not long after that, you're surfing the internet and you see an
article that gves you the idea of calling your car a "collectible."
Great! You take your old car to a collectible shop this tme and,
suddenly, with no more investment at all, the car is worth ten thousand
dollars! -- all because you called it "collectible" rather than "used".
Calling it collectible meant that it would be evaluated by a different
standard. Transvaluation is like that. Change the evaluative
standard and the value changes
I first came across this concept of transvaluation when I was reading Nietzsche. (Do a search on "transvaluation" and you'll see Nietsche's name coming up a lot.) But Nietzche's theory is a bit overblown for me. He talked of the "transvaluation of all values", wanting everything that seemed good to seem bad, and vice versa.
I like to think of the transvaluations in our life on a more microscopic level. For example, therapy clients who feel much more insecure than we think they should might do well to hear their qualities transvaluated, by being put in a more positive light. And couples who fight over whether something is good or bad might profit from seeing the way it is both good and bad, from the standpoint of transvaluation.
So, musing about these matters, I asked if the people on PMTH would help me come up with some good transvaluative terms. Let me tell you how the conversation went.
First, I started with the term "wishy-washy" . Alan Parry, who is nothing less than terrific at finding transvaluations, came up with three good ones: He suggested: "flexible" "gullible" and "open minded". What some people evaluate as wishy-washy, then, another could evaluate more positively as "open-minded."
Okay, I said. if "open-minded is the transvaluation for "wishy-washy" let's look at the opposite of open-minded. What about "close-minded." What's the transvaluation of that?
Arlene Giodano suggested "firm convictions" was a transvaluation for "close minded."
"Okay," I continued. "What is a transvaluation for the term 'bias'?"
Feeling on a roll, I asked: What's the transvaluation for "patriotism".
Jonathan Diamond suggested the concepts of Xenophobes and jingoists were transvaluations for "patriotism". Good choice! A Xenophobeis someone who is contemptuous of the foreign while a jingoist has a chauvinistic patriotism. Perfect. But also excellent was the transvaluation Parry suggested, "Nationalism". So, it turns out there are lots of transvauations in our language for "patriotism.
Then, Riet Samuels complicated things. She noted that the term "patriotism" had acquired a negative ring of late. This thought inspired Jerry Shaffer to muse:, "Is it that the words are neutral and societal attitudes make the difference?" (That is, Shaffer was wondering if the positive or negative tone of a term change with our attitudes. Or whether some terms like "impulsive" are naturally more negative than others?) Then, Shaffer pointed out that being fat used to be bad, but today "thin is in and fat is out."
But Val Lewis spoke up suggesting that even "thin" and "fat" can be transvaluated. She suggested "shapley" or "womanly" as positive transvaluations for "fat" and "skinny" or "slight" as negative transvaluations of thin.
These were not the only transvaluations we discussed. For example, Ester de Beer suggested her own tansvaluative pairs. She said: "initiation" or "orientation" in college residences could be called "college cruelty" And, a realist could be negative transvaluated as a "pessimist."
Coming up with transvaluations for terms is a kind of intellectual parlor game, but its value, for our awarness, seems important. Derrida has taught us that we tend to think in binaries, or black and white polar opposites, in which one term is seen as positive and one is negative, and these opposite binaries hide another realm of imagery from our consciousness. I think the philosphy of transvaluation makes this clear.
For example, here is an "opposite" :
open-minded vs closed-minded
With this, it seems clear that it's better to be "open-minded" than "closed-minded". But as we saw from the transvaluations above, both terms in this pair of opposites can be transvaluated. "Open-minded" can be seen as negatively as "wishy-washy" and "close-minded" can be seen positively as having "firm convictions." Now, look at the opposites that come from that:
wishy-washy vs firm convictons
So, if one family teaches people to think in terms of "open-minded vesus close minded" they will evaluate people differently than those who think in terms of "wishy-washy vs firm convictions". But, if we can keep the possibility of transvaluation in mind, and think collaboratively, and notice the transvaluations offered, then we can deconstruct the binaries that confine in one point of view.
And learning to do that is a little like finding a door to the room
that has kept one's creativity stiffled And if you think your way
of seeing thing is the only reasonable way, open this door. Try practicing
your ability to observe and notice transvaluations.
Gans said last week struck a chord with me. He said
I think what he meant was that psychiatric language reduces the complexity of foreign ways of understanding to pathologies. It converts a behavior we find bothersome to an "illness."
I believe that most of us on PMTH recognize that there are problematic mental states, but Gans is not alone among us in questioning the value of psychiatric diagnoses.
There is the question of whether we socially construct mental illness with our social policies. For example, the other day I took my little dog, Bichon, to a dental hygienist. This is a white fluffy dog who can snarls now and then showing big white fangs. Not a few of my friends have found him intimidating. But this dog hygienist smiled and called his snarling "vivacious." I watched in amazement as she unhesitatingly reached for his jaw, lifted his lip, and tooled away at the tartar on his teeth with a wicked looking tool. The dog squirmed, but to my amazement, he did not bite.
So, I have to ask: to what extent did my tripidation in reaching for Bichon increase his snarl? Maybe he saw my hesitation and it inspired his aggression. If so, then Bichon and I were jointly acting to create his aggression, and the way Bichon is, is partly the result of how I am.
And, couldn't it be that way with people that we call schizophrenics? At least partly, and with some people?
At any rate, many of the therapists, such as Steven Gans, question the validity and appropriateness of therapists assigning such diagnostic labels to everyone they treat.
If this thought interests you, perhaps you'd like to read a conversation
between Ken Gergen, Lynn Hoffman and Harlene Anderson on diagnosis.
If you click
here, you will go first to my paraphrase, but on the page with the
paraphrase, there at the top, is a link to the original paper.
PMTH therapists have lots of other topics under discussion. There is no way to summarize them all, but I'll name a few more, and some that seem to be emerging in the last few days:
These seemm to be the most recent discussion topics:
If you have a topic you would like us to discuss, you might forward
it to me. Just click here
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If you missed last year's training program in Collaborative Language Systems (CLS) therapy, then now you have another chance. CLS is an important postmodern approach to therapy.
Click here to
What's good about getting old? In our youth oriented culture, it seems that youth is indeal. Aging is what we do to avoid something worse.
Howver, lLook at what Ken and Mary Gergen have to say about the joys benefits of growing old.
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