[O]ne of the major routes of
is through audacious theorizing
Ken Gergen, p.116
PMTH Tool Boxes
For some time now, several PMTH participants have been engaged in an online imaginary therapy session. The imaginary clients are called Jack and Jill and they are consulting with an imaginary therapist that we are calling "Taylor".
Somewhere along the way, someone had the bright idea to provide a reflecting team at the end of Jack and Jill's first session, and two experienced reflectors, Kilian Fritsch and Marsha McDonoughoffered to lead the way, and two inexperienced reflectors, Riet Samuels and I (Val Lewis) were recruited to make up the team. Fritsch took on the role of team representative and led us through the process. Here is a brief summary of what happened:
First, McDonough and Fritsch shared with Samuels and myself (off list) their under- standing of some general principles of reflection as they interpret Tom Andersen's work. For example, they suggested that the reflections not be stated in 'certainty terms', that questions be posed, advice given (if it is asked for) only speculatively, and that issues be looked at as if they are dilemmas, etc. Initially , this tended to have the effect on me, as novice, of inducing a bit of stage fright (what if I say something authoritarian!!) but this did not last long once we got rolling.
The four of us spent some time finding a time to do our reflecting, as we are located in Texas, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and West Australia. We arrived at Sunday evening for the US, which was Monday morning for me in Australia. So, all set with our appointed online meeting, we re-read our Jack and Jill session scripts, and met online to discuss it.
Fritsch suggested that we all introduce ourselves to Jack and Jill as well as Taylor-- which we each then did. Then, each of us talked about what we wanted to reflect. For example, Fritsch spoke about the theme of 'unfairness' that he felt stood out from the session. Riet Samuels (my partner who was a novice at this) had picked up on 'disappointment.' Masha McDough was interested in who had been the sources of advice and support, and I (Val Lewis) noted a possible difference in understanding about what 'love' means. So, we each made our initial contributions about what stood out for us.
Then, Fritsch then asked us each to elaborate on our thoughts and many interesting ideas began to emerge from all of this as we discussed things. Then, our reflection came to a close.
Kilian Fritsch then forwarded the reflections along (all pretending of course) to Jack, Jill and Taylor rfso they could give their own reactions to what we had said.
Was the experiment a success? I felt that it was at least somewhat successful, given that we couldn't see anyone with our eyes, and given the problems of delay and crossing emails. I learned quite a bit, myself, about reflecting teams, and that was valuable for me. The reflections also appeared to serve as jumping off points for Jack and Jill's next session with Taylor.
But, for me, the big disappointment was the silence from the rest of the PMTH list! Did anyone follow us through the exercise? Did people get lost? Bored? Lose the thread? Just hard for people to know how to jump start a conversation about the reflections? Then, I will have to do it myself.
My own feeling is that trying to create therapy dialogues and reflecting
Do I think the reflections would have been helpful in real life?
Yes, I do. I felt the reflections would have been most useful had
some real-live folks been receiving them, they would have provided food
for thought and ideas to explore. Perhaps as
At any rate, I felt encouraged by our experiment, but it did bring home
More to come, folks, I hope, in future weeks.
Jack and Jill's second session is almost complete. You can view it down to the last few remarks clicking here. These sessions take place over long stretches of time, but in transcript form they can be read as occurring in real time.
Notice that the second session begins with people talking about the reflecting team. Look at the links at the end of the article above to find the reflecting team discussion, and read the article above by Val Lewis to learn a bit more about the reflecting team.
In this second session, Taylor continues to deal with what I feel is a somewhat common difficulty in sessions with couples. One person is much more talkative than the other and it can be hard to find a way to allow the non-talkative client to express him/herself even though the talkative client (in this case Jack, but often the woman) wants the non-talkative client to do so. Assisting the communication so that the non-talkative client is often perceived (again, in my experience) as siding with the non-talkative client.
I believe that Taylor deals with this awkward situation with some creativity. The difficult task of the author who has played this role has been amplified, perhaps, by limitation to text. However, we are using non-verbal tools (portrayed of course with words) and maybe this will help us in the future.
Take comment #11, for example, in the transcript above where TAYLOR
I see this as Taylor's way of trying to get Jack's cooperation in letting
Jill talk. His success is unclear but partial perhaps. People
do not change such speech habits easily, at least Jack doesn't. Jack
keeps interrupting Jill, speaking for her. Again Taylor tries to
manage this difficult problem. In line 24 he says:
Jack seems to be responsive to these requests but only for a while. A little study of the transcript will suggest, too, that Jill may be responding to this style of Jack's and that it is probably part of the problem that represents her complaint, which paradoxically is reflected in Jack's complaint that Jill does not talk enough. Still, it is not part of the presenting complaint. It has taken two sessions for Jill to begin to talk about it.
I feel, myself, there have been, several breakthroughs in the sessions led by. Taylor, especially towards the end of this last session. Somehow Taylor has managed to make a space large enough for Jill to talk about her feelings and, although Jack is rejecting what he is hearing, Jill's words are at least out on the table now so that the therapist can work with them and bring them into the conversation.
The present therapist writing the role of Taylor (perhaps with some private collaboration from other therapists that I am not aware of) will complete this second session, but another therapist has now volunteered to continue this process. I am not sure yet how this will be written, whether the therapy will continue with another therapist writing Taylor or whether we will stage some reason for Taylor to pass the case over to someone else. Watch for that. The third session, however, will begin being written here about April 9.
Those of you reading the transcripts of these sessions, please appreciate our difficulty of doing this all fictionally and know that different therapists would approach these problems differently.
And, with the continued help of different volunteers here, we may be
able to work through what I feel to be a quite tricky clinical problem,
if not with Jack and Jill, then in our own offices. If people reading
these transcripts have comments you would like me to forward to those working
on the transcripts, please forwad them to me at
Leon Tan introduced himself to the PMTH listserve with a request for dialogue on the connections between Zen Buddhist thought and postmodernity. Specifically, Leon spoke of Zen as a religion of no-religion and a discourse of no-discourse.
I (Tom Strong) responded to Leon's request by asking him if the "no-discourse" view of Zen could perhaps be viewed not so much an escape from discourse (since discursive psychologists see no such escape as possible), but more as a relaxation or stilling of one's internalized discursive activity so as to enhance their ability to "directly experience" life.
Tan responded that encouraging a "space of no-discourse" was an attitude one could cultivate so as to enhance their abilities to become an "observing ego".
Leonard Bohanon joined in this discussion by sharing how his own work has been influenced by Stephen Gilligan's adaptations of Buddhist ideas in his "Self-Relations therapy", particularly ideas aligned with blending "wu wei", energy, and an "active non-doing" of therapy.
Lluis Botella shared how he incorporates mindfulness meditation techniques to facilitate more nuanced listening skills with therapist trainees. Then, Leon spoke of "wu-wei" (Zen no-mindedness) as an ideal and this notion of no-mindedness sounded to me much like the Collaborative Language Systems listening notion of "not knowing". Not-knowing is a kind of stance, a refraint from taking dogmatic positions. Is no-mindedness like that? Building on this Leon suggested that Zen practice can promote a mind with fewer rigidities and a softening that lends itself well to the mindfulness Botella had raised, and it can also heighten one's sense of engagement in different contexts. Can you see the similarity between these concepts? Along the way in this thread contributors suggested further authors on this topic such as Ken Wilber, Mark Epstein, Pema Chodron, Jack Kornfield, Ron Kurtz and others. Perhaps they will help clarify this concept of "no-mindedness".
At this point in the discussion, we were joined by Kevin Kelly who felt that Buddhism and postmodernity were incompatible because of Buddhism's views on Truth and objective reality. Kelly felt that Zen had a notion of Truth even though such a Truth and reality was beyond words in Zen. Tony Michael Roberts and Nick Drury shared their opinion that Zen views are quite compatible with postmodern psychology's practices of deconstruction since they can help us question the illusions we've constructed and then live by.
Val Lewis joined the discussion by sharing the apparent similarities between Buddhism's levels of awareness and the "levels of trance" described in classical hypnosis theory. Taking a similar view as Roberts, Lewis suggested that a Zen approach to hypnosis - to what we have termed elsewhere as the aporia, or what others see as reality beyond meaning - can help give us greater flexibility with the discursive constraints on our experience.
Tom Conran contributed this line to the unfolding discussion: "Every wonderful way of life has offered dignity and honor to those who practice unknowing, uncertainty, and humility." That's a comment worth reflection.
Then, the Zen thread brought us back to an ongoing discusssion on logocentrism in postmodern thought. At one glance, postmodernity is about our notions of truth not being equivalent to our descriptions of our 'truths' and, as such, discursive postmodern thinkers are quite at home with an unknowable reality for which our language will be ever-inadequate. As contributors to this thread have highlighted, deconstructive practice can be seen as having some equivalence with Buddhist practices aimed at enhancing our "direct experiencing". This is especially the case when taking into consideration the Buddhist view of a reality beyond language.
So, let me ask you, if both Zen and postmodern deconstructionists ask us to look beyond the illusions and inadequacies of our descriptive language - and we can't escape language - what does this mean for the practicing postmodern therapist whose primary means of connection with clients is conversation?
A special event will occur on PMTH next Sunday, April, 2. Ken Gergen will join PMTH in the evening to discuss his new book, An Invitation to Social Construction. It is a remarkably good book on social constructionism, and so clearly written that it is also a good introduction to those those who feel they don't quite know what it is. This book, combined with a discussion with the author, should go a long way towards unveiling what social constructionism is all about.
All current subscribers are able to ask Gergen questions during the time of the event. To limit the floor no new subscribers will have that privilege, but if you would like to see the action, anyone, therapist or not, will be subscribed to PMTH and will receive the exchanged messages for the time of the event. However, only those who write me telling me that they are professional therapists, or already subscribed, will be able to post and write notes to Gergen.
The exact time of the event is yet to be tied down at the time of this writing. However, watch for information about the time here. As soon as Gergen and I have agreed on a time, I will update this article with the precise information.
Here is how the event will proceed: At the moment the event begins, Tom Strong and I will begin the discussion by posting short messages. Hopefully, Gergen will respond. Then, anyone can post a message, including a comment or question. Gergen will read these messages and respond to at least a selection of them. He has indicated that he will be available for three hours, so he should get around to a number. The pace of the messages should be enough to give some of the feel of a live discussion. Sometimes on PMTH our messages seem to me to achieve this pace, and with Strong, Gergen and myself as a framework, I hope to achieve this during the event as well.
Of course, those of you who read PMTH NEWS regularly will find a summary of the happenings here. Also, in weeks to come, I plan to publish a review of this book. To me, it's a quite a special book by a special author. Join us and see if our conversation about it is meaningful to you.
Sounds fun to me.
Permit me to introduce you to a deconstruction
quilt. Notice the way your eyes look over it. It's hard
to see it clearly. You get it in your vision a bit, then it switches.
This quilt is intended to provide a visual illustration of what happens with decon- struction experientially. Deconstruction is possible because our minds can see patterns only by ignoring other patterms. In this quilt you can see the blue and white checker board pattern by ignoring the distinction between yellow and white. You see the pattern of concentric squares by ignoring the distinction between blue and white. In this example, you can go back and forth fairly easily.
For example, suppose you were brought up trained to ignore blue, because blue was not important, or just background dullness. Yellow versus white was the distinction that mattered. Then, you might see this quilt as simply a pattern concentric diamond shapes.
But, suppose your neighbor had been trained to ignore yellow, as if it was the musty background color, like the yellowed page. What was important was the distinction between the blue and the white. Then, you might see this quilt as a checkered pattern, training your eyes to ignore the yellow.
The argument for deconstruction (to continue with this analogy) is that we learn to see one pattern or the other and that this pattern is held in consciousness while the other is pushed into the background. That which we can see, that is front in consciousness, is the "privileged distinction." That which is pushed into the background (distinguished but deferred) is what Derrida calls differAnce -- (although I am transliterating this French term to make obvious that this is not a typo for "difference.") Derrida defines differAnce as the pattern of differences that is deferred.
As you can see, whoever looks at this quilt must defer one pattern of differAnces in order to see the other. The argument is that the world is like this. Only one pattern of differences can be seen at any one time (is privileged). All the other patterns (and there can be many) must be deferred in order to make the particular pattern that strikes us come to the fore.
What is it that causes some patterns to be deferred to the differAnce (the shadows of our understanding)? It is language and our linguistic habits of using binary distinctions to talk about anything. I think the point is not that the distinctions are binary; they could be tertiary. The point is that language presents itself as offering only categorical distinctions. According to the way we usually talk, for example, humans consist of only males and females. We defer hermaphrodites and transexuals as something to ignore.
But deconstructionism tells us that each time we see the quilt (or encounter some similar object that can be seen in more than one way) then the other pattern is obscured from our sight. However, something can come along that deconstructs this one-sided vision. For example, with regard to the male-female dichotomy, it might be argued that the Academy Award winning movie, Boy's Don't Cry, helps deconstruct the dichotomy. The hero(ine) is sort of male, sort of female, and in our culture this kind of semi-hermaphrotitic person falls between the lines, is deferred from our cultural consciousness. The deconstruction of the gender dichotomy does not consist in passing from one concept to another [such as from male to female], but in overturning and displacing a conceptual order...." (Derrida, 1982, p. 329). It shows us that the hermaphrodites of our the world (and not just the gender hermaphrodites), that is, the borderline folk, are there, even if we are blind to them. Such people are borderline only because our cultural traditions set up the dichotomies that blind us.
The technology of how concepts are deconstructed is a matter of debate, and a topic worthy of PMTH conversation.
Reading Gergen this week in preparation for his visit here, wanting to find a really good question, I ran across a section where Gergen talked about Thomas Kuhn. In this section, Gergen said that Kuhn's book, The Structure of Scientific Revolution. became, at one time, the most widely cited book in the English language, even more widely cited than the Bible, and that it was a major influence on the developing field of social constructionism. This caused me to go back to reading Kuhn.
Well, I have a copy of that book on my shelf so I reached over a picked this garish bink thing and re-read it one day. Beautifully written book. I can see why it became so well cited.
In case you are not familiar with Kuhn, let me give you the barest outlines, because if I do, then I can explain a question I want to ask Gergen during his visit.
Thomas Kuhn outlines this picture of science: All science, he says, is either "normal science" or "revolutionary science."
Normal science, he says, is what everyday scientists do everyday. They work incrementally on gathering data within a particular paradigm (model). Picture scientists in normal science mode gathering data, for example, on how the sun circles around the earth. They take measurements each day and collaborate to get their numbers straight. However, no one imagines that the earth circles around the sun. Everyone presumes that the sun circles around the earth. This is normal science, as Kuhn used that term.
Then, one day, someone gets the idea that perhaps the earth circles around the sun. This is a switch to a completely different model or paradigm. This is revolutionary science.
Kuhn suggests that the scientists who make this revolutionary switch in pradigm often find they cannot communicate well with those who have not. The old scientists are in the old paradigm. The switch does not happen incrementally; it happens dramatically, like a gestalt switch.
Wittgenstein gives us a good example of a gestalt switch with his model of a duck rabbit. See the figure below? That's Wittgenstein's duck rabbit. Look at it one way and it's a duck, and another way and it's a rabbit.
You can look at it either way, but notice it is hard to look at it both
ways at the same a time. (And, note, too, how much this is like the deconstructive
quilt above.) This is a gestalt switch, and Kuhn is saying that a
paradigm switch works like this. Everyone looks at the scientific
problem as though they were presuming it was a rabbit (normal science)
then someone make a revolutionary switch and notices it could be seen as
a duck. Judy
Weintraub talked about this in our PMTH discussion saying that in order
to do science, the scientist
Now, tuck that summary of Kuhn away, and let me tell you a little about Gergen's optimism. Throughout his book, Gergen challenges his reader to construct a better world. Since we construct it anyway, why not use our good judgment to make it better than it is?
So, here's my question to Gergen: Can we construct that better world while forgetting about the gestalt switch that Kuhn and Wittgenstein talk about? That is, can we just go out and make things better? Make people happier?
I think Gergen's answer will have something to do with his powerful concept of "poetic activism." But how? That's what I want to ask him.
And, I will try to do so and let you know next week. Are we humans caught in a gestalt as Kuhn suggested? And, if we are, how can we fix the human predicament? Won't we just be butting our heads up against our presumptions? How do we get out of the gestalt that imprisons our mind. Poetic activism sounds good. But What does it mean if we are caught in our gestalt.
Do you see the problem? We think we are moving ahead, incrementally,
but maybe we are prisoners to an old gestalt, looking at the world as a
duck, then sometimes seeing it as a rabbit, but never recognizing that
the world is a duckrabbit -- so to speak.
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