PostmodernTherapies NEWS                 05/01/01
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Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language. 
Ludwig Wittgenstein
Philosophical Investigations #109'


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Expect the next issue of 
Postmodern Therapies NEWS
June 1,  2001


Our Battle against our 

See the quotation at the top of this newsletter?  It is the same quotation that was there last month.  I am not going to change our quote this month becaues   I can imagine no quote more appropriate to our discussions here this month than the quote above. 

Here Wittgenstein talks about our bewitchment by language.  That is, the way we talk, the grammar and phrasing of our conversations, directly affects our conclusions.  These conclusions are not mistaken, so  Wittgenstein tells us in the the very next passage, but a kind of superstition.  Don't imagine that Wittgenstein is talking about witchcraft here.  He is using the words bewitchment and supertsition as metaphors.  You can replace the word bewitchment with seduction if you like.

This notion of language seducing us into ways of thought is present not only in Wittgenstein, but in Derrida, Bakhtin, and many other authors we talk about here.  For example, the article in the present issue on Bakhtin talks about the way we are seduced by our ways of talking into the monologic model of mind.  And, I feel that Derrida's notion of deconstruction can be thought of as a way of getting beyond the bewitchment of language.  Mixing Derridean language with that of Wittgenstein, I would say that, for Derrida, deconstruction is  a way of dispelling our bewitchment, by means of a language, that leads us into a certain set cultural of beliefs that he summarizes as logocentrism.

So, as you read about our discussions on PMTH, it might be helpful if you keep in mind that, for the most part, we are not arguing against what we think of as mistakes in thinking, mistakes that could be corrected by better data, or by more logical reasoning.  Many of us take this notion of "bewitchment" more seriously, and we are looking for ways to see past our bewitchments without falling into other bewitchments. 

This means that, while we will often deconstruct, analyze,  ponder and come away with some ideas to carry into our future discussions we tend to resist finalizing any of our ideas into a formal theory. In place of such a theory, you see,  is the ongoing conversation that gives life and meaning to ideas.

At least, that is how I am thinking of it now.  If I am lucky, someone on PMTH will have somewhat different thoughts in this vein and a new conversation will be born from that discussion -- for, as Lyotard taught, postmodernism is a quest for paralogy, a special kind of conversation in which new ideas, ideas that inspire other ideas, is continuously introduced.

If a Client has Secrets
What Should a Therapist Do?
Lois Shawver

What does a therapist do, Jerry Shaffer asked, if the therapist feels the client wants to disclose something but seems to nervous to do so. 

"Do you have the time and context to let the client disclose at a slower speed?"  I (Lois Shawver) asked responded. 

"Yes," Shaffer told us.  (It wasn't clear we all knew whether this was a real case.  Therapists have to keep their real cases private so we talk about them with pseudonyms and abstractions, and you will have to wonder.  Still, we manage to be able to talk and make some sense of each other.) 

It the (perhaps imaginary) case that Shaffer brought up -- the client seemed to want to disclose. No authorities were involved, just the felt sense Shaffer had that the client wished to say something but couldn't quite do it.  In that situation, he asked us, what might a therapist do?

"I never push clients to speak," said Peter Rober. "To the contrary.  I explicitly give them the permission not to speak about [any secret]," but Rober added that he typically asks clients to talk about why they are hesitant.  I resonated with that, saying that a disclosure is different from a confession.  Sometimes clients feel they must confess.  I would prefer to create a context, gradually perhaps, in which revealing information felt more like disclosure than confession.

Then, George Spears and Judy Weintraub pointed out that if the client has revealed that there is something to disclose this, in itself, is a sort of disclosure.  Good point.

Taking these ideas to the next step Riet Samuels and Brendeen Logario thought it was important that the difficulty of disclosing be recognized.  Logario also brought up the possibility of therapist self-disclosure as a way of making the client feel more accepted.  Of course, as Logario recognized, this leaves open the question of therapist/client entanglement, a situation in which the therapist's judgment is compromised by the therapist's emotional needs.  The concern is that this might cause the  the therapist to stop doing therapy for the client and more for the therapist.  It is something most therapists are careful to protect against.

So, as always, a good discussion like this leaves us with no formula at all.  That's good, in my view.  If we had an answer to a simple question like this that we could apply it to all cases, and  there would be no need to talk to a client and tailor our response or connect with the client in anyway. 

Even if the formula was "offer sympathy" it would soon become mechanical and boring for the therapist if the therapist's response was always .   "So what?" you ask.  "So what if it is boring for the therapist.  Therapy is for the client."  True.  But do you want a therapist who is bored with you?  The chances are that you want a therapist who listens to you without much or any formula.  I think most people want a therpist who doesn't have answers for you before you walk in the door.

At least, this is my opinion on the importance of avoiding formulae in therapy.  And, listening to people talking here, it seems to me that this is the predominant opinion of everyone who spoke on this topic on PMTH last month. 

Meet PMTH subscriber
John Walter
Lois Shawver

Allow me to introduce you to PMTH subscriber John Walter who has kindly provided PMTH NEWS with the article below.  Privately, Walter tells me that he looks for ways to use postmodern thinking to inspire new ways to help clients explore the multiplicity of preferences they have about their futures.  So, whereas some postmodern therapists may focus more on making sense of the client's history, or perhaps deconstructing impasses in dialogues, Walter is drawing attention to the way in which postmodern thought might assist the process of clarifying future preferences.

I think this focus on finding better ways to explore preferred futures is also reflected in his recently co-authored book (with Jane Peller).   Notice the subtitle of this.  It is called Recreating Brief Therapy: Preferences and Possibilities.  (Norton, 2000.)  The book's readers will be given more of a detailed excursion than in the article below into Walter's notion of exploring the client's multiplicity of preferences  for their futures 

However, these writings are simply the latest in a long series of works meant to explore brief and optimistic approaches to helping people, a focus that has concerned him for the past twenty years.  He now calls his professional work the work of a "personal consultant" rather than that of a therapist, and he helps people develop their consultant methods by working as a trainer and a change consultant by giving workshops.  In his workshops he speaks of his work as "creative inquiry" and describes it as a postmodern way of exploring the future.

Reflections and Conversations 
about a 
Networker Case Study
John Walter

In the most recent issue of the Psychotherapy Networker I, John Walter hoped through my presentation of a case study to suggest to helping professionals how we could expand our language beyond pathologizing and evaluation of the client.  With a case situation that I thought demonstrated how the client and I were both vulnerable to lingering beliefs about what is "crazy," I offered what I hoped to be a more appreciative approach.  I suggested that one of the ways that we could significantly highlight a non-evaluative language was to change how we label ourselves and what we do.  I suggested that we call ourselves "personal consultants" rather than therapists as a dramatic way of stepping out of the baggage that can remain from the medical and more traditional pathology-oriented approaches.

My other hope was to find useful ways of working that abandoned the distinctions of health/pathology, deficit/strength and problem/solution in favor of orienting ourselves to conversation and client desires and preferences.  Such a shift of orientation to conversation and to client preferred futures seemed to put us in a more likely position to be (1) curious with clients, (2) appreciative of their efforts and best intentions, (3) creative with them as we explore possibilities in the future, and (4) encouraging of their ideas and efforts. 

While these were my goals in writing the case study, I was surprised and disappointed by the commentary in the "Networker" by the rather contentious context that arose.  The critique by Jill Elka Harkaway was about how she thought I disregarded the client's context and how she thought I was neglectful of the discrepancy of power between the client and myself.  She seemed concerned that the client was saying things to please me and that the client's pleasing behavior resulted in us never knowing whether her consultation promoted changes that were real.  She critiqued my not processing the differences of power between the client and myself that existed because of my position as therapist and the client being young, female, black and anxious to achieve and please.

Her response made me wonder, as Lois Shawver pointed out in the PMTH discussion as well, "What did Professor Haraway mean by her point that I needed to get more contextual information on the client?"  I thought I had summarized how the client contextualized her fears.  I also wondered how it would make a difference to know more about the context that Professor Harkaway was imagining.  So, in the PMTH discussion it seemed unclear to us exactly what Harkaway had in mind when she called for more contextual questioning.

Her response made me reflect not only on what Harkaway said, but also on the "talking past each other" that was beginning to occur in her critique in the "Networker" and my response.  I began to reflect on the evaluative and perhaps competitive context that was occurring and wonder whether there were not more collaborative contexts that could have been established by me, as well as by the commentator and by the Networker editors.  I wondered about how it might be different if she and I talked to each other rather than to some anonymous audience.

When I asked for reflections from list participants, several people including Val Lewis, Riet Samuels, Katherine Levine, David Markham, Gonzalo Bacigalupe, and Lois Shawver commented on the interaction between Professor Harkaway and myself.  A couple people suggested that the commentary seemed critical and adversarial and that perhaps the format of Case Studies could be changed to avoid such acrimonious debate.  Levine and Bacigalupe offered that what would make it more collaborative would be for the client's voice to be included.  Another suggestion by David Markham was for the editors to make it clear beforehand what kind of interchange they wanted to establish.

When Harkaway raised the issue of how we might "ˆñnever know for sure whether the conversations they had were actually helpful to her or whether she was just performing a good job as a client.", Shawver noted  the paradox inherent in the issue that Professor Harkaway raised.  Harkaway felt that we would never know about the client's satisfaction because I hadn't asked the client if she were satisfied with the outcome of our sessions.  Harkaway suggested that the client might have been politely avoiding disclosing a dissatisfaction. However, when asking a client for feedback about a session, it would be impossible to know if the client was reporting out of an internal need to please the consultant or that the client was being honest.  If the client said something positive about the sessions, a personal consultant could say to her/himself that the client is just being positive in order to please.  Perhaps, the only way the client would be considered honest by Harkaway would be if the client were negative or critical about the session.  Still, if this questionable assumption were so, it seems to me, the consultant would never know when to trust a client's report of progress. 

What I took from these conversations on PMTH was affirmation of my sense of how the context of the article had turned critical and how the Case Study format needed to change.  The conversations made me wonder further what the "genealogy" of this Case Study format was.  Perhaps, it was left over from medical formats or from academia where it is assumed that truth will emerge out of the contention of ideas.  In any case, the format seemed inconsistent with collaboration. 

I liked the suggestions of including the client's voice or having the client be a coauthor.  I thought either idea would change the whole language of future articles.  I imagine that the language of the interchange between consultant, client, and a reflecting person (formerly the commentator) would be less evaluative, more engaging and inviting of others to want to join in.

Want to Join Us?


PMTH is a closed community for professional therapists, as well as scholars,professors and graduate students with specialities related to therapy. We keep our list reserved this way in order to have a special place for people who are concerned with doing good therapy to discuss their personal issues about therapy in some depth.  We go to other lists to discuss things with people who don't fit this profile.  If you want to invite one of us to a list you're on, there is a way to do that.  Or, if you fit the profile for membership to PMTH, you can consider joining us.  Whichever you want, you can write me, by clicking


This will send a post to me, Lois Shawver.  Tell me of your interest. If you are looking to join us, also give me a little information about yourself that tells me how you fit the profile for joining the PMTH online community.  And, in either case, .tell me that you got the idea to write by reading PMTH NEWS.


What Does Bakhtin 
Offer Therapists?

Last month, Peter Rober started a big discussion here on PMTH on the important author, Mikhail Bakhtin (1895-1975).  The idea is that some of us think that Bakhtin has something to contribute to our understanding of therapy.  Let me give you a simple summary of Bakhtin's main ideas in hopes that this will whet your appetite to read more of our discussion about him.  Then, I'll tell you a rew of the things we said about him here.

Bakhtin tells us that language seduces us into thinking that our minds are monologic and he argues, instead, that they are dialogic.  What's the difference?  With a monologic mind you have only one voice in your head.  With a dialogic mind you have many voices, although you do not think of all  the voices as your own.

More specifically, if weˆ‚re seduced into the typical monologic picture of the mind, we think of ourselves as knowing what we want to say by reflecting on our private inner fund of information, ideas, and feelings.   Expressing ourselves, then, simply amounts to telling others what we learned while we were reflecting on our private and individual thoughts and feelings.

But Bakhtin was not happy with this monologic picture.  He reminded us that what we want to say is a response to other people, whether they are present or not and.  Moreover, what we say  is said in a context that cares about how people respond to our words. That is, everything we say is part of a larger conversation, although perhaps an imaginary conversation that we are having with ourselves. 

That's Bakhtin's dialogic model of the mind.  The dialogic mind consists of these echos (so to speak) of what we imagine or have learned that other people would think or say.

Reflecting on Bakhtin's dialogic picture of the mind, I asked PMTH, "Does Bakhtin even have a picture of the self?"  (The "self," so I suggested, seems inevitably monologic.  If we make it dialogic, maybe the mind just disappears.   What is the "self," I asked,  if it is carved into different "voices."  Does it continue to exist.)

Peter Rober said he thought there was a self, at least in one phase of Bakhtin.  Rober explained that he thought there were two basic phases of Bakhtin.  In one, Bakhtin pictured the self as a private inner dialogue, on the model of Dostovesky's hero in Notes from underground.  That seems to be a self, just one composed of different voices.

In the other phase, however, Bakhtin's commitment to a self was less evident.  This was what Rober called Bakhtin's "carnivalistic" self.   The image is of the self boundaries being lost in those wild carnival like festivities in which no one is is reflecting on private thoughts and feelings but rather responding directly and immediately to others..

So what are the implications of these abstract ideas for tehrapists doing therapy?  Well, there were many, too many to describe, but let me give you just a taste.

First, imagine that a Therapy clients, like the rest of us, are inclined to forget that whatever occurs to  them to say is a response to something others are saying, or something they imagine that others are thinking.  The words we want to say responses remarks from others.    Reading Bakhtin then might lead therapists to wonder what the clients' ideas are a response to.  Does a client's frequent defense against spending money, for example, imply she is imagining that people are criticizing her for spending money?  If so, then asking about that imaginary critical voice might lead to a useful and therapeutic conversation.

Second, as Tom Hicks  and Rober pointed out, by becoming aware of the alternative voices in our minds we can resynthize our thinking and create new ideas, new solutions to living, new ways of rethinking about past problems or issues.  Peter called this process "creative understanding." 

So Tony Michael Roberts stepped in at this point saying that  If people use creative understanding to understand each other, what happens to the desire to be known "without remainder"?  By that he means, to be known in full, in complete depth

Well, for me, that really symbolized this postmodern switch in paradigms about the mind. In the monologic paradigm of mind, the client is already formed and our job as therapists is to understand the contents of their secret minds and find a way to help them change the way they think and feel.   But, Bakhtin takes us down a completely different path.  Within the Bakhtinian frame, the client is already in constant self-creation, synthesizing and resynthesizing what she thinks and what she wants to say.  Here the therapist simply learns to join the conversation so as to foster and partake in the change that is already happening.

I like this Bakhtinian switch in paradigms.  Do you?  If you find the latter notion new and inspiring, then you probably should be reading the works of Miguel Bakhtin. 

What I Didn't Tell You

I have to admit that I don't tell you everything we talk about on PMTH. There is just too much, so I pick and choose.  But I'll give you a little more of a taste of some of the things that I haven't told you yet:

For example, we talked about the concept of a "multiple personality disorder" (i.e., MPD) and some of us think that the scholar's discussion of "multiple voices" does not commit the scholar, or the therapist,  to a view that people we describe as having multiple voices suffer from MPD. 

Responding to this conversation, Sharon Rober put it this way:

[M]any thinkers have posited an internal other without losing
themselves. Foucault raises the question of whether man as a unified being has ever really existed, pointing, as evidence, to the simultaneous presence
in any philosophy of man of his ˆ´doubleˆ‚ or ˆ´Otherˆ‚ that is the ˆ´unthoughtˆ‚ of the collective unconscious. For Hegel the ˆ´unthoughtˆ‚ was the an sich;
for Marx it was ˆ´alienated manˆ‚; for Scopenhauer it was das Unbewuste; and for Husserl it was the ˆ´inactualˆ‚. Dostoevsky, Goethe and Stevenson are not
alone amongst the authors fascinated with the notion of a double or doppelgänger. So I am perfectly happy with my own  paradoxical unity of voices as long as  the metaphysics of self-presence remains always haunted by the psychoanalytic notion of a deconstructive, heterogeneous subjectivity
that  eludes absolute rational self-knowledge with which to bear witness to anything so boring as ˆ´sanity'

Some of us talked about people, however, that we thought suffered from MPD.  For example, Katherine Levine told us the story of a foster child that she felt was so afflicted.  In the usual postmodern way, however, some of us nodded and some of us lifted our eyebrows with a questioning look?

Nick Drury brought up the fact that Rom Harre has interesting things to say abiut MPD.  I'd tell you more, but I have a feeling this part of our conversation is just getting started.

We also had an long conversation on deconstructing death.  In this conversation, many speakers revealed their personal ideas and experiences with death.  This was deep and serious stuff.

And we had a fascinating conversation on Wittgenstein and Derrida, a conversation that faded prematurely, I feel because Sharon Robins went on vacation.  It was a great conversation, as far as it went and I loved it when Cathie Bierkett mingled her metaphors (what could be more postmodern than that?) when she talked about the binaries discussed by the French philosophers (e.g., Foucault) in terms of Wittgenstein's fly bottle.

But as I say, that converstaion got derailed a bit when Robins went on vacation.

Getting into Postmodern Thought

So, you think you have an interest in postmodernism, but you don't know how to go from there?  Is that you?  If so, the articles that follow, you will see a few current opportunities 

I'll try to keep you posted on other opportunities in the future.

Postmodern Geriatrics

What is a better deconstruction of the modernist illusions of self than the deconstruction of aging?  All of us grow old, that is those of us lucky enough to live beyond our youth, but in our culture growing old has been pictured as something negative. 

Ken and Mary Gergen, well-known for their postmodern writing on other topics, have now tackled the concept of aging and look for ways to deconstruct old age.  The idea is to find more inspiring ways to see old age than our culture currently does.

This ongoing Gergen project involves them in writing a monthly newsletter reprint on what they discover is positive about aging -- and they will mail your monthly copy if you request it. It will contain their own reflections and also a sample summary of other people's work on this topic.

Want to see the first issue of this newsletter?  I have made a copy that you can reach by clicking here.  Also, you might consider joining their website discussion.  Look around a little and you can see a couple of notes that I left yesterday.  To join their website discussion, click here Then page down a few times until you get to the place on the webpage that says, appropriately, "The Discussion".  Beneath that, it says, "Join the discussion."  That's where you click again. From there, I think you can find your way about. 

Want to Go to a 
Postmodern Conference?

Tired of going to modernist conferences that try to sell you on the latest diagnosis?  Conferences you go to just because you need to get your continuing education requirements?  Well, here is something more postmodern you might prefer, and it will give you continuing education credits, too.  While you're there, you'll get to listen to well know postmodern authors, such as Sheila McNamee, Kenneth Gergen, and Lois Holzman, names that you read about in PMTH NEWS. 

If that sounds like just what you're looking for, and you can free up June 12 through 17 for a few days in this picturesque New Hampshire setting, then check out their website.  Click here and you can get to all the information you'll need.  First you'll be at the website for the University of New Hampshire conferences.  Notice the the 7th conference which is called "Harboring Hope".  Click on that an an a adobe link will open with all the information you'll need. 

Or, if your system doesn't handle Adobe, then you might try calling: 603-862-1900.

For a Taste of PMTH
Check out the Latest Issue of 

Context is the Family Therapy news magazine published by the Association for Family Therapy in the UK.  In the next issue it will contain a fragment of a PMTH dialogue, an iniating note by myself once posted on PMTH, a brief response from Riet Samuels, and some commentary by the Context editor Myrna Gower who is, herself, a PMTH subscriber.  If you get a copy you can read the article and submit a response or question to the journal and it may well be used for a published conversation.

Context is what I'm inclined to call a warm and fuzzy journal.  It contains practical articles written for easy reading.  Here's how one article started out by one of my favorite authors, David Pocock, back in the June 2000 issue, just to give you a taste of the journal style:

I must tell you about this really funny thing I saw on TV last night... 

And here is the start of another in the same issue by Graham Brice.

The Mock Turtle was trying to impress Alice with the breadth of his education...

Don't think the journal is all jokes though.  It contains some serious content relevant to family therapists in any country.

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Lois Shawver

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