PMTH NEWS                                                                10/07/99

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To say that we become different people, that we"remake"ourselves as we read more, talk more, and write more,is simply a dramatic way of saying that the sentences which become true of us by virtue of such activities are often more important to us than the sentenvce which become true when we drink more, earn more, and so on
Richard Rorty, p.359

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Online Therapy

The biggest conversation on PMTH these last two weeks is far from over.  We have been discussing the pros and cons of online therapy all week long.  Our own John Söderlund inspired this conversation and he plans to put together a more extended account of our discussion for the journal New Therapist, where he is the editor.

Online therapy has been  a controversial topic on PMTH.  The conversation started with a number of people questioning the merits of online therapy.  Maryhelen Snyder, for example, described a relevant discussion in her office that very morning with a client.  Snyder was leaving on vacation and the possibility of phone sessions came up.  However, with just a little inquiry it became clear that the client felt this would be insufficient.  She felt the therapist's physical presence was extremely important.  A number of others here on PMTH seemed similarly concerned.  They noted:  In online therapy one doesn't have the face-to-face body language to read the client -- and that's a critical deficiency.

Yet I notice from the the APA report that many people who make the point that online therapy doesn't have body language cues are themselves likely to go ahead and try online therapy. They point to the fact that online therapy may be better than none at all and that people in rural areas, people who are deaf, people unwilling to disclose face-to-face, may all profit some online work.  The fact that some clients want only face-to-face therapy should not be grounds for denying online therapy to those who want it.

But, still, there is this loss of being able to read expressions and body language.   What would people in online therapy be getting? 

Maybe online therapy isn't traditional therapy online.  Some people said: Maybe we should call it something else.  Riet Samuels, for example,  suggested we call it 'facilitation'  or 'exploration', or even the Postmodern Online Cafe?

But, of course, whatever we call it, that is  just the name for the packaging. The real question is: What will we really do online?  No one was sure.

I know, I said to myself, "I'll create an imaginary case and let people respond as therapists. Then maybe we can get a feel for how to develop this process. 

So that's what I did.  I called it the case of Jack and Jill.   Jill was a woman who complained bitterly that her husband was insufficiently loving to their two boys.  Jack agreed he was not very loving, but, he told us, he couldn't help it.  This was just his nature.  So, being therapists here, many people asked questions.   There was a little exploration by Riet Samuels, Cathy Birkett, Val Lewis and Nick Drury, and through this discussion we we figured out (but remember this was all based on a fictional case) that Jill's father was serving as the model of the affectionate father and Jack didn't want to compete with that -- well, it was something like that. 

This discussion worked fine for a while, but the contributions to the therapy roleplay came in such a flood that I'm afraid we all became confused.  So many therapists!  So many questions!   And the clients were responding to all of the theapists independently.  We just couldn't keep track.  So Val Lewis suggested we needed guidelines to structure the conversation.  (Ha!  I'm the one who needed the guidelines.  I felt I was searching around in the dark doing this one.)

Then, Lynn Hoffman, made a pivitol comment when she said

My question here: in thinking outloud about the uses of email in therapy, are we continuing to ask what a "postmodern" therapy would be, or simply fitting a new communication medium into the old formats?

At this point the conversation changed direction. We all seemed to spontaneously ditch the case of Jack and Jill and begin to philosophize about how to exploit the new online medium.  It is not only that we want to call it something else, you see.  We want it to be something else, something that exploits the medium, something other than just face-to-face therapy in a less good setting.

But what?  What do we want to do?  David Haddad suggested we consider "online supervision."   That is one theme we are exploring.  But, stimulated by Hoffman's provocative question, I ask myself, "How will we make supervision exploit the online medium?"  Will we just be doing supervision in a a setting that is less good?  After all supervision, too, can depend on reading the body langauge ofthe therapist supervised.  Therapists have issues, too, that come out in supervision.  (Maybe my psychoanalytic background is coming out here.)

But what else? 

Then, Inventive Katherine Levine  presented a radical suggestion that I am playing with at this moment.    It has to do with therapists roleplaying their clients and then being supervised by others playing the therapist.  It's all too fuzzy to explain very much, but I am talking backchannel with a few people who are planning to start this thought experiment, a different kind of thought experiment than I presented with Jack and Jill.

So, in the end I must leave you hanging.  These new ideas are still unfinished.  But watch for more articles on this topic in PMTH NEWS, and, watch, especially, for an article by John Söderlund, on our discussion in the New Therapist.   And, if you have an idea you would like us to consider, click here and drop me a line. 

New Constructivism Website

I want to call your attention to a brand  new website  that has been put together PMTH subscriber, Lluis Botella. We know Botella on PMTH for his thoughtful contributions on a range of topics and for his interest in a George Kelly variety of constructivism..(Do a search for "roleplaying" on the new website you link to above when you click on George Kelly's name.  Do you think that a Kelly enthusiast would have something to contribute to our discussions about online therapy?)

Now, here's an association:  If you know anything about Kelly's theories, then you know Kelly proposed something he called REP therapy, a kind of roleplaying based on the client being given a script.  Maybe, with this background Botella can contribute some ideas to our radical new online roleplaying

PMTH on a Quiet Day

On a typical day, there are about 25 posts on PMTH, some long, some short.   But some days are relatively quiet.  On a recent quiet day I wrote the list saying, 

Is it just me?  Whenever the list gets quiet, I wonder where you people

I think Nick Drury's note captured the spirit of the responding posts:


I love it when the list goes quiet. I get the chance to catch up on some "real" work and get another chapter read from Lois Holzman's books (my current reading), and the million and one other things that need doing - like attending to my granddaughter's birthday which I missed!  As many have said before, I don't know how you do it, keeping up with all the posts, writing kind words back, making it simpler for us all to understand.  I rush in between each client during the day to read the latest posts which have come down, half expecting to find something rib tickling from Jerry Schaffer, something amazingly erudite from Tony Roberts,  something which cuts to the chase from Val Lewis, etc etc..., thinking I must reply to that, but never getting round to it, until I suddenly find my 'in box' containing a couple of hundred posts that I intended to write to but never did....  I don't get anxious when there is a lull in the posts, just off this chair for awhile.  The list has never become boring for me, and although I see people from here on other lists a lot of the stuff I see them discussing are issues we have also discussed here.   ...[W]hen the list goes quiet I tell myself that most must be away doing all those daily chores that I have been putting off doing. 

My 2¢ on quietness.

So, on a quiet day, PMTHers are off doing the things they put off all week.  I must admit, I got my laundry done that day, too.


This is a past issue of 
to visit the most recent issue 

An Event
A Visit from Richard Rorty 
and a discussion of our Quest for Wisdom

A few weeks ago I asked PMTHers if they would like to invite visitors to PMTH.  The hope was that we could find interesting authors to come here to help us study their works and allow us to ask them questions.

There was a general enthusiasm for this idea, and the first person to follow through on this has been  Jerry Schaffer,who happened to know Richard Rorty.  After a little negotiation Schaffer was able to make some arrangements with Richard Rorty that Rorty  found satisfactory.

And so it is that today Rorty provides PMTH with a copy of an unpublished paper.  Each PMTH subscriber will be given the address for this paper.  (If you have missed this, please do write me by clicking here.) The idea is that those of us with an interest will read this paper, discuss it among ourselves, and come up with some questions to ask.  At that point, we will invite him to join us (temporarily?) in discussion or simply answer questions that Schaffer forwards to him.  It will be up to him. 

So, we will have a new document to read. Let me tell you that I have already read it, and it is not only delightfully clear and well written, especially for a philosophy paper, but it is very relevant to our concerns here.

Here, let me give you Schaffer's introduction to Rorty's paper and then I'll add a few more words myself.

Introduction to Rorty's New Paper
Jerry Schaffer

Richard Rorty is a philosophy professor who has done important mainstream philosophy in a mode we on this list would call Modernă.  Then, in 1981, he made a complete break with the mainstream in his famous  Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature." In that book he offered what we would call a postmodern critique of the underlying assumptions of traditional philosophy, in particular, the assumption that a major human task is to arrive at an adequate description of the world.

He has agreed to present a draft of a paper here for our consideration and discussion. It is called, Spinoza, Pragmatism, and the Love of Wisdom 

Rorty begins this paper by telling us of a time he was challenged by a realist philosopher accusing Rorty of being frivolous in his work by focusing his philosophy on conversation.  This is the same  challenge many of us face.  Disenchanted with traditional notions of truth (especially diagnoses, true histories instead of narratives, etc.) we on PMTH often choose to turn our attention instead to the quality of the conversation, especially the quality of the therapy conversation.  We have often addressed these concerns by talking of paralogy, after Lyotard.  Rorty has a parallel focus on conversation instead of Truth.  He calls the conversation that claims his focus, "edifying conversation."

At the end of his paper Rorty concludes that we must abandon the love of Truth, in the realist sense, that is, we must abandon the quest for getting right how things are and replace this quest with what he calls the love of wisdom. He defines the love of wisdom as a quest for a balance between listening to others and holding to our own views

What could be more relevant to the therapy project than this?  It reminds me of a recent conversation on PMTH that was initiated by Val Lewis.  Lewis argued that there are people who are naturally wise without any kind of training.  And suggested that she may have met a few such people.

Well, maybe so, or maybe these wise people are trained by life, and by a different life pattern than "less wise" folk.  If so, then perhaps they are trained to relate in a way that Rorty suggests the wise person relates to others.  This is a question we might consider.  If we therapists are stuck with a limited inherited wisdom that cannot be modified, then things are as they are, and there is little we cando about it.  But, if we can enhance this natural wisdom by following the guidelines that Rorty suggests, then, ... we will surely want to read his paper carefully.

But first, we need to understand more clearly what Rorty means.   And, here are a few questions I think we should address. Is "edifying conversation" that Rorty talks about similar to "paralogy" as we have come to think of it?  Modified to remove the agonistics that Lyotard thought was the foundation of paralogy?  Also, why is it that Rorty has elected not to call himself "postmodern" in spite of the fact that many others call him this?   In PMTH lingo, he certainly seems postmodern to me. Does he to you?

Also, as you might imagine, given the title of this paper, Rorty talks here of how he sees western discourse having been influenced by the philosopher Spinoza.  He tells the story of how Spinoza might be seen as the transitional figure between a realism and the kind of philosophy that not concerned with using language to represent,or capture, a Godlike view of Truth that realism imagines to be hiding behind our illusions.  Some of you might also want to ask Rorty questions about this story of Spinoza and the giant change he seems to have triggered in Western philosophy.

Read future editions of PMTH NEWS to see how subscribers here address and evaluate questions such as these.

Richard Rorty in Quotable passages

If you're thinking of reading Richard Rorty a bit, you might like to glance at a few of his quotable passages, especially, perhaps, passages in other texts that are related to the paper he has given us to read, the paper on the love of wisdom.  . 

In the paper of Rorty's we will be reading, he talks about the love of wisdom, but he talks about it also in his classic book
All of these are from his enlightening book, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature.  If you haven't read it, it's really a must read.

The mainstream philosophers are the philosophers I shall call "systematic,"  and the peripheral ones are those I shall call "edifying."  These perpheral,pragmatic philosophers are skeptical primarily about systematic philosophy...
pp 367-368 

Great edifying philosophers arereactive and offer satires, parodies, aphorisms.  They know their work loses its point when the period they were reacting against is over.
p 369 

Kant, Descartes, Husserl and Russell are examples of systematic philosophers.  Wittgenstein, Nietzshe, Heidegger are examples of edifying philosophers.

Edifying philosphers want to keep space open for the sense of wonder which poets can sometimes cause -- wonder that there is something new under the sun, something which is not an accurate representation of what was already there, something which (at least for the moment) cannot be explained and can barely be described.

Edifying philosphers do not talk about the way things are so much as making space for something new.  As such, one fails to understand their work if one thinks of it as entirely their's as merely a view of how things are. It is a contribution  in the course of the great human conversation.

To think of Wittgenstein and Heidegger as having views about how things are is not to be wrong about how things are, exactly; it is just poor taste.

Edifying philosophy is something we can all participate in if we pursue the love of wisom.  The edifying philosphers can be seen as your "conversational partners." (p.372.

One way to see edifying philosophy as the love of wisdom is to see it as the attempt to prevent conversation from degenerating into inquiry, into a research program. 

The point of edifying philosophy is to keep the conversation going rather than to find objective truth. 



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