PostmodernTherapies NEWS                06/2011

(Also known as PMTH NEWS)



"If the therapist becomes wedded to technique, remaining a craftsman, his contact with patients will be objective, detached, and clean, but also superficial [and] manipulative for the sake of personal power, and ultimately not highly effective."

Salvador Minuchin

 ( Family Therapy Techniques, 2004, p.1)


Read about

Read Past Editions of

New Books for the Postmodern Therapist
authors you'll read about in

Therapy: An Intimate History


Lynn Hoffman

edited by

Harlene Anderson&

Diane Gehart

Mastering the Art of Solution-Focused Counseling


Jeffrey Guterman

Fatherless Sons: Healing the Legacy of Loss


Jonathan Diamond

Becoming Solution-Focused in Brief Therapy
by John L.Walter and and Jane E. Peller


A DVDs for the Postmodern Viewer

Want to see a trailer for the movie about postmodernism?

Then click the link below:

When Wittgenstein and Lyotard Talked with Jack and Jill

a dramatic production


directed by

Ludo Gielen

scripted and narrated by Lois Shawver ...


Explore a long list of DVDs for postmodern therapists at Masterworks






All articles in this issue of PMTH NEWS were authored by
Lois Shawver

Last updated 02/23/07

What is PMTH NEWS ?

PMTH NEWS is a newsletter for a community of therapists interested in postmodern forms of therapy. We call the community "PMTH" which is short for "Postmodern Therapists." The people you see quoted here are all members of this community. Almost everyone is a credentialed professional therapist, and all who are not are either professors, authors, or graduate students in related fields. In other words, we are a professional organization of therapists interested in postmodernism. We call ourselves "PMTHers".

This newsletter [PMTH NEWS] records some of the highlights in our recent conversations, and, since the job of writing this newsletter falls mostly to me [Lois Shawver], you will also read, now and then, a little of my own commentary.

I should say that I am the host of this amazing listserv. By "host" I mean I am a bit like a party host, a bit like a technician, but mostly just another member of the listserv.

Also, please check out the blue tool bar to your left. It has a number of buttons to click on that might be of interest to you.

If you wish to join PMTH, or receive announcements, go to the right hand column of this newsletter and page down to the very bottom for instructions.

Throwing Away the Book
Part I

Postmodern therapy is not a new school of therapy, with its own techniques and procedures. It is more of an attitude towards therapy. Postmodern therapists are trained in the usual forms of therapy, and they rely on that training in their work, but they do not glorify one therapy over the others and defend their preferred way of practice as the best or most correct way.

This means, among other things, that postmodern therapists can talk with each other because they "throw away the book."

This concept of "throwing away the book" was explained simply by Betty Friedan in 1963 in her famous treatise, The Feminine Mystique.

First, Friedan told the story of a psychoanalyst who told her that he had a patient once with whom he sat for a long time, imagining his patients complaints were an expression of "penis envy". Then, one day, out of the blue, it occurred to him she did not have "penis envy." She was just that this woman who was tired of being a housewife and a homemaker. Suddenly he recognized that it was reasonable and healthy for her to long for more mature fulfillment. It was then, that the analyst decided that, "If the patient doesn't fit the book, throw away the book, and listen to the patient" (Friedan, 1963/2001, p.122).

That's what we do, and that is what many of you do, too. In the forty plus years since that analyst's insight, therapists have become much more willing to blend their training in various schools and to tailor what they do to their clients needs and their own personal talent.

And the metaphor "thowing away the book" stuck. Irwin Hoffman (1994, p. 188) used the same metaphor when he said that many psychoanalyts today are "throwing away the book." Among , those he mentioned were psychoanalysts Jacobs (e.g., 1990, pp. 450-451; 1991), Natterson ( 1991), Ehrenberg ( 1992) and Mitchell ( 1991). Hoffman explained that

the commonalities among [these authors is the way] in which the clinical experiences that they report include, ....implicitly or explicitly, a feeling of deviation from a way of working which they view as more commonly accepted, more a part of their own training, more traditional ..... (p.188).

I believe that today there are many other psychoanalysts "throwing away the book". Many even recognize themselves as "postmodern."

And some of the same things are happening in family therapy as well. If you glance at the recent quote from Minuchin at the top of PMTH NEWS, you will see, for example, that Salvador Minuchin, in effect, claims to be "throwing away the book". Minuchin! The author who wrote a book explaining in some detail how he thought family therapy should be done. I would say, even, that Manuchin founded his own school of therapy, "structural family". But then he recommends we, in effect, "throw away the book."

So, what is it with Manuchin? Is he postmodern or not? When I put that quote at the top of PMTH NEWS it was because PMTHer James Fraser posted it to PMTH. But does it fit?

Want to know what PMTHers think? Let me download my email. ....I see there is a conversation that has started that I have not fully attended to. I'll decipher it, maybe join in with a post of my own, and then report the highlights to you in the next article. I think I will call that article, "Throwing away the Book, Part II." So, if you like, page down past my formal references for this Part I of my story and go the second part, the part about our conversation on this topic, to the extent I can find relevant comments to share.


Ehrenberg, D. B. ( 1992). The Intimate Edge. Extending the Reach of Psychoanalytic Interaction. New York/ London: Norton.

Friedan, B. (2001/1963). The Feminine Mystique. W. W. Norton.

Hoffman, I.Z. (1994). Dialectical thinking and therapeutic action in the psychoanalytic process; Psychoanalytic Quarterly, Vol. 63, 1994

Jacobs, T. J. ( 1990). The corrective emotional experience: its place in current technique. Psychoanal. Inq., 10:433-454.

Jacobs, T. J. ( 1991). The Use of the Self: Countertransference and Communication in the Analytic Situation. Madison, CT: Int. Univ. Press.

Mitchell, S. A. ( 1991). Wishes, needs, and interpersonal negotiations. Psychoanal. Inq., 11: 147-170.

Natterson, J. ( 1991). Beyond Countertransference. The Therapist's Subjectivity in the Therapeutic Process. Northvale, NJ/ London: Aronson.

Throwing away The Book
Part II

Lois Shawver

The conversation in process apparently started when PMTHer, Carlos Sanchez. began talking about Salvador Minuchin. Sanchez said:


To me Salvador Minuchin is an inspiration and a pioneer. Nevertheless sometimes our heroes change their ideas... 

I pictured Sanchez reading Minuchin and sighing, thinking that Minauchin had changed too much in recent years, and that he was now less of a profound inspiration.

"How had Minuchin changed?," I asked.

For one thing, Sanchez explained, Minuchin has become less "structuralist" as of late.

Not so much of a structuralist? Hmmm. Soon I was writing a note to PMTH asking: Why did Minuchin ever call his theory "structuralist?".

Ask a question like that on PMTH, and you're likely to get an answer. In this case the answer was provided by Lynn Hoffman. This famous family therapy historian answered my question precisely. Here was her story, quoted in full -- you'll see why we are so fond of having her with us:

My goodness, Lois, ... I will certainly have to jump in[to this conversation]. I'll only add one thing here, however, which is that when Sal [Minuchin] was writing his book in 1971, he showed a chapter to Jay [Haley], who was on the staff of the Philadelphia Clinic then, and later came to me and asked me to read it because Jay had said to him something to the effect of "If I was your publisher, I would reject this."

Minuchin told me, "I felt ten inches high." He looked very dejected, so I wanted to make him feel better, and after reading [his manuscript], I told [Minuchin] that I thought his book was going to be the first one to be a public hit. I also suggested that he should call his approach "structural" as there were so many uses of that word in the text, and because so many fields at that time were influenced by a preoccupation with structure.

Then I went to Jay and said, "Why did you tell Sal you didn't like his chapter? He told me you made him feel ten inches high."

Jay said he disagreed with Sal's theory of family therapy; that it was too general, and that he left out what Jay saw as more fine-grained steps. This was before Jay had put together his own book on Problem-Solving therapy, so I didn't know what he meant -- [nevertheless, the term ]. "Structural" stuck.

Cheers, Lynn


So that's the best story I know of about how the label "Structural Therapy" was applied to Salvador Minuchin's work.

But did you notice that Hoffman did not draw the name "structural" out of her hat? She had found the word "structural" all through his writing. Whereas some folks (like me) might have been distracted by all the other words in his book, Hoffman saw the distinctiveness of his term "structural" and knew that it was apt -- and so it stuck.

Still, all of this made me want to check to see what Minuchin said he meant by "structural". I wondered: Could Minuchin actually throw away the book that told people to be "structural", and not take his own suggestions so seriously that he couldn't keep modifying it? Could he do this and still be "structural?" Or was it that he had stopped being "structural" and that this was the change that had so disappointed Sanchez? -- But first I wanted to know how Minuchin explained the concept of "structural."

At this point I started searching for my vintage copy of the Minuchin old book, Families and Family Therapy (1974). I found it on my tiptoes, high in an inconspiculous place, dusted it off and began looking for a clue as to how Minuchin was using the term "structural", what he meant by it. Collapsing into my lounge chair, I perused this old book, and I found a few apparently relevant but still not overly clear remarks. For example, in one place Minuchin said

Family structure is the invisible set of functional demands that organizes the ways in which family members interact. A family is a system that operates through transactional patterns, repeated transactions establish patterns of how, when, and to whom to relate, and these patterns underpin the system.. (emphasis mine)

Re-reading these words I started picturing a "structure" that might be made by running a pointy object down a line in a plank of wood until it formed a groove-like structure. So, I found myself thinking about a groove-like structure being formed in family relationships. As a spoonful of water on that plank might gravitate to the structure of the groove, so family members might have well grooved habit-patterns of relating. For example, I had a father-in-law once who talked to his son, but not to me when I was present. That was a well-grooved habit pattern he had in family relating, the structure of our family transactions..

I laid the book down. There was a swarm of interesting ideas swimming in my mind, but I couldn't quite put things together. Were there always these family transaction structures? Or could they be looser, less structure?

Reading further it was clearer that for Minuchin, what made his model of the family "structural," was the way he saw the family members joining together, and against other members, scapegoating or supporting another in a routinized way, with the action between them flowing repeatedly down an old groove. The particular way that interacted repeatedly served as the family's structure, which Minuchin would call either "functional" or "dysfunctional". If it was a dysfunctional groove, then the therapist would treat the family with a technique.

Then, I remembered this half-done article and began looking again for evidence of what Minuchin meant by "structural". I found this:

Family therapy uses techniques that alters the immediate context of people in such a way that their positions change. By changing the the relationship between a person and the familiar context in which he functions, one changes his subjective experience. (p.11)

Familes and Family Therapy, 1974

Apparaently he visualized his technique changing the "structure".

At this point, I wanted to find an example of his "technique" so I could tell you about it. I found just the thing (Families and Family Therapy p.114), a simple example that captures the spirit, I think, of what he was explaining.

In this example, the "family" was a couple, and man and wife. In the course of the therapy, the Minuchin inspired therapist arranged for the wife to see him individually because, so it seemed to him, the woman was interested in initiating a romantic affair. In the private session, it soon became clear that the woman wanted an affair with the therapist himself . Discovering this, the therapist asked her about her fantasies. Listening to her romantic fantasies, the therapist told the woman that the fantasies were "very thin" (inadequate) and shortly ended the session. Then, the striking stuff happened.

In the following session the therapist sat with both husband and wife, but focused his conversation with the husband, treating the husband with marked respect, and even attacking the wife. Suddenly, after a barage of attacks, the husband came to his wife's rescue. This manipulation, Minuchin said, brought the couple together as they joined against the therapist (Families and Family Therapy p.115) -- and this coming together apparently resolved the presenting problem.

So, the structural therapist manipulated the relationship in order to bring the couple closer together. I'm not sure I like that trickiness. Do you? I wonder if it resolves the problem for very long.

Wait! Wait! I looked up at the top of this page at the quote I had already pasted in from Minuchin. Here, let me give that quotation again. Minuchin said

"If the therapist becomes wedded to technique, remaining a craftsman, his contact with patients will be objective, detached, and clean, but also superficial [and] manipulative for the sake of personal power, and ultimately not highly effective."

Salvador Minuchin

 ( Family Therapy Techniques, 2004, p.1)

That's just what I was thinking would happen! But look! The trick that I just showed you with the couple was from Minuchin's 1974 book, published 30 years prior. Somewhere between 1974 and 2004 Minuchin seems to have come to the idea that this kind of therapeutic trick was not a good idea. It was too manipulative. Well, I am inclined to think so, too -- although maybe it would sometimes be better than nothing? I do like the way that Minuchin eventually came around to seeing that the therapist needed to be sensitive to the client and the situation.

It was at this point that I Remembered that it was Carlos Sanchez who suggested that Minuchin's writing has become less inspiring to him?

Is Sanchez more inspired by the early form of techniques? What seemed to me "tricky techniques"? What could be inspiring about tricking people into being more cohesive and connected? I found myself staring out the window. I must admit that there is a certain way in which Minuchin's model could be very appealing. Wouldn't it be nice if therapists had simple techniques that would make everything okay? No philosophizing, no tailoring the techchnique to the particular clients? Just a simple, one, two, three and everything would be okay? That would be a kind of beauty, would it not? Hmm. Yes, and no. But I could see how it might be inspiring if it was effective.

So, at this point, I wanted to check again to see what folks on PMTH were saying then. When I glanced back at my email, indeed, one therapist on PMTH had beaten me to that thought that a manipulative technique had its own kind of beauty: James Fraser gave expression to a sense of beauty in Minuchin's work. He said that Minuchin's therapy can be see to be: a finely woven, very expensive, rich, colorful, deep, Oriental carpet made by a true master carpet maker.

I don't know that I would go that far. I rather preferred the later remark rejecting objective techniques. So I will not try to decide for myself today if Minuchin's therapy (either the old version or the new) is a very good thing.

But now, at least, when someone says that they were more inspired by Minuchin's earlier structural work than his more recent work, I'll have a clue what they mean. I hope you feel that you will, too.

What about
Harry Stack Sullivan ?

What Did He Do for Postmodern Therapy?

Perhaps each of us (even us postmoderns) have our preferred way of working as a therapist. However, it is sometimes commented on PMTH that my (Lois Shawver's) preferred way of working seems not postmodern at all. This comment usually comes from newbes, and I can see that they would think that. If they did a little searching, they would see I have some connection to the psychoanalytic community. I am an editor, for example, for the American Journal of Psychoanalysis.

But this may be a little misleading because my preferred way of working goes back to Harry Stack Sullivan, a therapist whose work has influenced not only a branch of psychoanalysis, but also people like R.D. Laing and Timothy Leary. Moreover, Sullivan's writing also was arguably the seed of a theory that is responsible for the very existence of today's "family therapy."

So, if you're wondering why a gal like me, with at least one foot in psychoanalysis, ended up hosting a postmodern community, then please read on. PMTH subscriber James Fraser asked me to talk about Sullivan, and I thought I would do so here in PMTH NEWS. So -- now I am going to tell you a little about Harry.

Harry Stack Sullivan was an American psychiatric theorist in the 1940s and 1950s. He was very famous in his time, but, he is less read today. Like a stone that holds up the house, he sits there getting little attention.

Harry made a dramatic shift in the way he did analysis when he decided to stop pondering and analyzing the patient's "Unconscious motivation". Instead of telling people the nature of their Unconscious motivations, he began interviewing clients to elicit vivid accounts of significant events in their lives. Gathering up these stories into a pile, he and the client would put them together in narrative.

To make the elicited stories rich enough for the patchworked narrative, Sullivan invented a very powerful way of doing interviews. I think any therapist, no matter what their preferred model, should learn how to do this kind of interview, and then use it when they felt it appropriate. In case you're interested, Sullivan left us a pretty good book explaining how to do such an interview, calling it simply, "The Psychiatric Interview. "

A brief sidenote: In spite of the fact that few people on PMTH seem to read Sullivan's work, many have been inspired by it over the years.

There is a whole branch of psychoanaysts who were inspired by Sullivan (read Clara Thompson, Karen Horney, Erich Fromm , Erik H. Erickson, Bacal & Newman, 1990, p.23 and Frieda Fromm-Reichman. ) People on PMTH, in my opinion, often simplify psychoanalysis into Freudian psychoanalysis. The term "psychoanalysis" is used much more broadly today.

More importantly for PMTH is the fact that the man often called the founder of family therapy, Don Jackson, spent three years in training with Harry Stack Sullivan (Guerin, 1976) . A few years later Jackson moved to California and became a core member of the Bateson project and then founded the MRI (Mental Research Institute) which has served as one of the most influential centers for family therapy throughout the world. Jay Haley says frankly "Many of Jackson's ideas came from Harry Stack Sullivan." (Haley, 1996, p.x). (How is that for the Sullivan connection?)

Moreover, Haley, himself, feels that it was Sullivan's book, The The Psychiatric Interview, that taught him to do an interview of a client (Haley, 1996, p.x). Haley said:

A major influence on me, as well as on everyone with a family approach, was Harry Stack Sullivan. I was most influenced by him through Don D. Jackson, my first supervisor in my work with schizophrenics; he had been personally supervised by Sullivan. (1997, xvii).

And that's not all. Sophie Freud ( p.366) draws a line of influence from Sullivan to the ideas of Gregory Bateson as well as to Francisco Varela and Maturana saying, "Sullivan had [previously] arrived at many of these ideas [of theirs] and had [already] incorporated them into his thinking.

What about Minuchin? The author we discussed above who inspired Carlos Sanchez? Was he also influenced by Sullivan?

Of course! Salvador Minuchin was also highly influenced by Sullivan. Between 1954 and 1958, Minuchin trained at the William Alanson White Institute of Psychoanalysis in New York City where Sullivan was one of the founders. In fact, so the story goes, Minuchin went to this institute to the institute because it supported the ideas of Harry Stack Sullivan. (see for example this site on Minuchin and Sullivan)

And that's not all. Harry's influence is alive today among a few therapists. Coinsider Today, Solution Focused Therapist, Eve. Lipchick (2002, pp. 11-14). where she says that she has personally been highly influenced by Sullivan's work. There is gold in Sullivan's work for the postmodern therapist to gather, no matter what their preferred method of working.

Like most people of his time, Sullivan himself was not very postmodern. He had a script and expected his students to follow it. But I believe Sullivan did prepare the way for the postmodern by deconstructing the dominant models of therapy at the time time and seeding a form of therapy that would be particularly open to postmodern influences.

Have I interested you at last? If so, you might check up a copy of Sullivan's The Psychiatric Interview. Or maybe the topic will come up again on PMTH and, if so, I will write more about Sullivan in PMTH NEWS.


Howard A. Bacal & Kenneth M. Newman (1990). Theories of Object Relations . New York: Columbia Press.

Freud, S. (1988). Cybernetic Epistemology. In Rachel Dorphman (Ed.) Paradigms of Clinical Social Work: Emphasis on Diversity, Vol. 3 . Psychology Press. UK.

P.J. Guerin (Ed.), (1976). Family therapy: Theory and practice. New York: Gardner Press.

Haley, Jay. (1996). Learning and Teaching Therapy. New York: Guilford Press.

Haley, Jay (1997 ). Leaving Home: The Therapy of Disturbed Young People : Second Edition. Psychology Press, UK.

Lipchick, E. (2002). Beyond Technique in Solution-Focused Therapy: Working with Emotions and the Therapeutic Relationship . New York: The Guilford Press.

Sullivan, H. S. (1970). The Psychiatric Interview. New York: Norton.

Two Sister Publications

PMTH currently has two sister publications, publicatons with long affiliations with PMTH, either some of the key editors are PMTHers, or else editors on those publications include PMTHers.

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. It can be a very exciting journal for postmodern therapists to read. Read the New Therapist by clicking here.

In addition, 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.Click here for a peak t the latest issue of Janus Head..


Nostalgic Postmodernism

For the first half of the century most therapists belonged to a school of therapy that taught them a particular way to practice. Early Rogerian therapy was practically scripted. Research-based therapies, particularly behavior therapy, also formed schools of thought. And so, among practitioners, there was seldom any communication between the different schools, and little cross-pollination of ideas.

We postmoderns, object to this school-based competition as "modern" and call what we do "postmodern therapy". While modern therapists pigeon hole themselves and maintain an allegiance to a particular way of working, we postmodern therapists do not have an allegiance to a school. We may have a preferred way of working, but to a large extent we tailor what we do to the client and the moment.

I was one of these many modern therapists, naming my school and following a kind of script. But, in the privacy of my office, I found I needed to stray from a rigid definition of my school's methodology - that what I did simply could not be scripted. When I followed the model too rigidly I felt mechanical, unable to be responsive to the client's distinctiveness. And so, gradually at first, I made a postmodern shift, abandoning the model here and there, working improvisationally ... but feeling guilty all the while. This was my phase of nostalgic postmodernism.

I speak of a "nostalgic postmodernism" because this early phase of a therapist's postmodernism involves a sadness at abandoning the modern dream of using research to find the therapy script that works most effectively.

In the nostalgic phase of our postmodernism, therapists work alone, blending therapies improvisationally through a process sometimes often called "eclecticism", letting our training suggest things to do but being creative between the lines, staying within the profession's ethical guidelines, but still mixing in the individual salsa that can eventually turn a nostalgic postmodernism into a confident and flexible visionary postmodernism.

Becoming a visionary postmodern, in contrast, means learning to honor our ability to improvise and create a path forward tailored to the client. But perhaps to become visionary one must work through one's nostalgia, one sense of loss of the dream for the one right script, the one right school

I wrote this book for other nostalgic postmodern theraipsts. I also used it to tell the story of postmodernism, explain the idea. Our eclecticism is only part of what we are about. It includes our ability to respect diverse positions, at least enough to have rich, meaningful, and even creativity fostering conversations together. You'll read about some of those conversations, too, in the book on Nostalgic Postmodernism.

I made a link to my book to the left, in a list of books for postmodern therapists. Nostalgic Postmodernism, I believe, is a good place for people to start reading if they feel uneasy with the term, but think they might identify. There is also a link to a number of other authors' books on PMTH, and watch for more.

Click here to read books for postmodern therapists.

Click here to find DVDs for postmodern therapists.

A Conversation on
Postmodern Christianity

In postmodern circles, Christianity is often thought of as "premodern", a fallback to an even earlier era than modernism, a time when people believed what their parents believed and the generations before that -- even if these beliefs involved the miraculous or the magical..

But as of late there is a lot of press about postmodern forms of religion (Islam, Christianity, Judaism) and this became a conversational topic on PMTH recently.

PMTHer, Steve Brody, started the conversation when he said:

PMTH posts that address religion, Christianity and otherwise, are often erudite and sophisticated. But what about the less erudite and unsophisticated understandings about pomo? -- ie, the majority of most religions.

First, T. Michael Roberts responded to Broday with a controversial remark (to say the least):

Until someone creates a straw man and turns it into an all pervasive cultural stereotype, (those) christians who are not bigoted fools will not spend as much time as they need to distancing themselves from the bigoted fools.

What Roberts means here, I think, is that someone needs to act like an overly zealous Christian in order for people to see how unappealing and absurd that can be. Then, and only then, so Roberts thought, would the ordinary Christians begin to distance themselves over the fundamentalist Christians.

Steve Brody's response to Roberts was also controversial. He said::

I disagree that that's the best way to get [more postmodern Christians] to distance themselves from the nutcases. In fact, I suspect that your means [of creating straw men for people to knock down] will have the exact opposite effect that you say you are hoping for.

Who is right? Roberts or Brody?

Then, Roberts said (though I suspect he may be exaggerating his case):

A ton of social science establishes that there is a negative correlation between religious faith and the ability to behave decently by any rational standard.

I am suspicious because I doubt the researchers researched, or could even define, "decent religious behavior."

Then Riet Samuels responded:

I don't know the research (and don't want to read it anymore at this stage), but don't forget all the good the people in many churches are doing in feeding the poor, providing education, etc. and often without proselytizing.

At this point, I recalled that while "postmodern Christianity" is a big topic now days, I haven't read much about it. It also struck me there are many self-professed Christians on PMTH, and they talk meaningfully about their postmodern leanings - and while not Christian myself, I care about these people and respect them.

So, I logged online and found the work of Brian McLaren, a postmodern Christian author and read a little. The idea was to seed the conversation in ways that drew them in.

I quoted some passages from the book, and Riet Samuels seemed to respond to these passages similarly to myself. She said to me:

If the above excerpts are from McLaren, they sound quite Lyotardian to me.... ....McLaren sounds interesting to me..

Samuels and I were approaching the question of postmodern Christianity, perhaps, in the erudite and distanced way that Brody implied. Marion Gibson, however, who considers herself Christian, wanted to approach the question more personally. She said:

For me, to call myself a Catholic Christian or to be called one is like any other label - it doesn't tell anyone very much about who I am. So I am not much into labelling.

I saw Gibson as making a positive point about her form of Christianity, but it semed to me that Joe Pfeffer saw it as a negative comment about Christianity in general. Pfeffer said:

What you talk about here has haunted me as well. ...This always raises the question for me of who are the real believers. ... Literally anyone holding any views can call him or herself a Catholic.

When I started this article, Gibson had not yet answered Pfeffer, but I kept my eye on my email waiting for the conversation to continue.

And lo and behold Gibson finally wrote, and in a flash she convinced us all that she was a Catholic, postmodern Christian, open to other religions, even to no religion at all, but finding her other religion a gift which she personally believed. This means, she is able to share our conversation, to listen and to talk.

What I find wonderful about this shift to the postmodern in religions is that people from different faiths can talk together once they have postmodernized their beliefs. To be postmodern is to be tired of talking with people only of very similar beliefs.

What would the world be like if we reached across our boundaries, called across the fence between our different cultures, and learned to enjoy each other n spite of our differencs?


Another Conversation:
Individual versus Family Therapy

One fine day, Gerald Rubin, a new and interesting subscriber to PMTH, made this remark

Since becoming a subscriber 3 months ago, I am more aware that the vast majority of postings, when pertaining to therapy, relate to individual therapy.

I said to myself, "Well, he hasn't been around very long. We don't talk mostly about individual therapy, not even usually. Besides," so I continued in my private musings, "most people here are actually family therapists." (I believe that, but not everyone agrees, and I haven't counted them.)

Oh, maybe Rubin is right that we are mostly individual therapists here. I this because Val Lewis (who has been around for years) spoke up and she said to Rubin:

True, but bear in mind that ...many of us on this list were/are individual therapists

So, I wondered to myself: Is it true we talk mostly about individual therapy here? Well, I must admit this is true for me - because I work largely with individuals. Many of my clients are couples, but they mostly see me individually (with occasional joint sessions).

About the time I saw another note from Rubin floating into my mailbox. It was a reply to Val Lewis (above). Rubin said:

Val. I began as an individual therapist and interest in family therapy grew over time.

And, he said something else, down further in his note, that caught my attention:

I am probably most effective when I did individual therapy but the energy evoked among family members in a session captured my continuing interest.

I asked him about that statement, but somehow the question got lost. It was one of those PMTH days when notes were flying this way and that. Maybe he had an answer burried in one of his notes, and I missed it.

But the topic did lead me back to the question of why I so like to associate with family therapists. You know the answer, if you have already read the left column:

Harry Stack Sullivan is probably be the key to all. Search around for the article if you haven't read it, or, if you like, just click here.

A Conversation:
Should Postmoderns Ever take Stands?

In another conversation, Val Lewis noted that people of late tend to rely on films for information, rather than books. I have noticed that, too. Lewis asked,

Should there be some sort of disclaimer saying that "this film is a pastiche and an artistic creation and should not be confused with a portrayal of the facts as we know them today"?



The problem for postmoderns, so she noted, is whether postmoderns could believe that a film (such as Mel Gibson's latest film she said) was so based in erroneous ideas, so "untrue," that it needed correcting by our critique? She wanted to discuss whether this would be a postmodern thing to do..

Good question. In postmodern thinking almost everything seems a little biased and untrue -- and we can't correct everything. So, how would we ever decide if something was so untrue, so biased, that it needed correcting? Lewis complained that this is what she felt Mel Gibson has done in his recent movies; he has created a film that so distorts the facts that we know that it needs to be corrected. .

Then, oops!, Val Lewis asked me (Lois Shawver) directly. She said:

So to take a silly example, suppose someone created a remarkably realistic-style mainstream film about the life Lyotard and in the process, quoted and portrayed his definition and thoughts of postmodernism so that the viewers come away with a totally distorted view.

Oh, now that's hitting below the belt. Lewis knows I wrote the script for a new film out on Lyotard (and Wittgenstein) called When Wittgenstein and Lyotard Talked with Jack and Jill. In this film, Lyotard is played by a Belgian actor who has somehow come back from the dead to explain his theories to Jill, a counseling student. What would I think, I asked myself, if someone wrote an alternative film with Lyotard saying things that were crazily wrong? Maybe portraying Lyotard as an idiot, or someone born in the wrong century.

So, I thought and I thought. I wandered through the house looking for dust balls, I twiddled my thumbs. Then, it finally it came to me what I wanted to say to her, and here's what I said.

I think someone who feels that Mel Gibson. or someone like him, has distorted the available data and presented it as though it were true, should write a counter story, peppered with credible references.

I'm not sure she found that very satisfying. I'm not sure that I did. But it is something that we can do, even if we are still puzzling about our inherent bias.

Then, finally, a new guy on PMTH spoke up, Mark Morrison. Morrison said:

The following link to an English course syllabus at Purdue raises some difficult questions about revisionism, deconstruction, and post modernism in the historical analysis of the Holocaust. The last questions the teacher poses are

(1) "To what extent can we understand our contemporary postmodern culture as a reaction to this collective trauma?

(2) "Is there a proper way to represent the past?"

Oh my gosh! I didn't even recognize that we were going back to the story of the Holocaust. You know there are some folks deny that the Holocaust happened! Now, this topic had my concern even more.

I went into my postmodern self-reflection. I said to myself:

there are so many stories of the Holocaust, and none of them tell the whole story. Each tells only a fragment of the story, and they can pieced together -- yes in a pastiche like Val said, a pieced together composite of selected elements from various accounts.

I was still silently reflecting on all of this when Val Lewis wrote to Mark Morrison saying:

Seems to me there is an ethical issue here and I am just trying to move it forward to discuss it.

And so Mark Morrison replied, once again,

So, what is really real in historical representation? Do the producers of these representations intentionally distort what facts they have access to in order to further their agendas? Are their versions just the the productions of their individual perceptions, or both?

And Morrison added (referring to the Mel Gibson flick):

Val, I don't think any serious anthropologist would dispute that the Mayans committed human sacrifice . ... It is my hope that curiosity stimulated by the film will spur some revival of Mayan cultural activities.

I didn't say a thing because the truth is I don't know much about the Mayan culture. Then, Val Lewis said in her final note on this topic:

All this reflects, as you said [Mark], the multiple realities we live in. But sometimes we take ethical stands within those [multiple realities]. I, for one would take a stand if Katrina or 9/11 or the Holocaust were totally misrepresented in a film designed to appear realistic and without any clear disclaimers.

She does take such stands, too, even though she lives in Australia and not in either New York or New Orleans, and thus gets her news indirectly through accurate and inaccurate reports. But she believes, just as I believe, that these two things did happened (and the Holocaust, too). And there are some far fetched accounts, to her, and to me, that need a little countering.

So, the short answer to the question I asked is that sometimes, some of us postmoderns here on PMTH do "take a stand".

An Online Postgraduate Program in Discursive Practices
for Therapists and Counselors

For the past three years, various members of the PMTH community have been involved in one way or another in teaching an online course on professional issues to postgraduate students. We teach this course in a program on "Discursive Therapies" through Massey University in New Zealand.

This last year the course was taught by Val Lewis and myself, Lois Shawver. Riet Samuels also contributed to the course by allowing herself to be interviewed online by the students. The students had read several weeks of our discussions (much like the discussions you can read about in PMTH NEWS) and were given a little instruction in interview and the opportunity to choose one PMTHer to interview. They selected Riet Samuels.

I want to introduce you (my reader) to the two "students" from this last class. Some of their work will be accessible to you through a link in this issue of PMTH NEWS. They were very advanced students and creative participants in a four person discussion (counting Val Lewis and myself) and together all of us explored the frontier of therapy related topics.

First, please meet Lewis Mehl-Madrona. He is a well-known author in his field of psychiatry/psychology and native-American healing. Click here to see one of his books, Coyote Wisdom: Healing Power in Native American Stories.

You will also have an opportunity to read a paper he did for the course on a topic relaed to the above book. His paper will make you privy to his personal reflections on his identity as a Ph.D. psychologist, an M.D. psychiatrist, and a native American healer. These different identities create puzzles for him and make him uniquely situated to appreciate the issues of multiple identities. Read more about him as read his pondering reflections, by clicking here.

Mehl-Madrona is so busy doing all he does that he has not been very active as of late on PMTH, but he did just log in and read the note from Lynn Hoffman (that I have quoted in full above, just click here). . I think you'd find his response interesting, as Lewis generally is interseting. This wonderful Coyote of a clinician just said, with full postmodern flair:

Though it doesn't fit the Western academic model, another way to think about it is to say that every family has a story and the story determines how the therapist can enter the family and what the therapist can do. Then there can't be schools of therapy, only types of stories and possible responses to being invited to interact with those stories. Probably the number of permutations is astronomical.


Then, meet the elegant Marion A. Gibson, whom I find a uniquely generous and thoughtful person. I'd like you to meet her, like you are meeting Lewis Mehl Madrona, through class reflections recorded in a class paper. As a recently credentialed therapist, Gibson is specializing in treating clients suffering from anorexia, a problem she has personally experienced many years ago. She brings to the therapy process for anorexic clients a unique and, in my opinion, very postmodern perspective. I think you'll like her style. Also, she has recently become an active member on PMTH where she has convinced a number of people that one can be both postmodern and a Catholic. You'll read some of what she has to say in other sections of this newsletter that are not devoted to the class she took. But, first, you might like to meet Marion Gibson by reading personal reflections for the course. It's a paper on working with anorexic clients.

I won't add an extra paragraph with a quote from her, because she is woven all through this newsletter. What a natural she appears in our postmodern realm. Just click here to read her paper.

In addition to the class that Val Lewis and I taught for the Discursive Therapies program, there were many quite exceptional courses offered, for example, modules taught by Andy Lock and Tom Strong, and another by collaborative therapist Harlene Anderson. Also, there was a course offered by The Family Centre in Wellington , and an online seminar wth Ken Gergen and Mary Gergen, as well as as a course taught John Shotter and Rom Harré, and still others.

If you would like to learn more about this online program, click here for further details. Queries can be directed to the program director, Andy Lock. Click here to forward a query to Dr. Lock. Please tell him that you referred to hiim by PMTH NEWS. It would be especially interesting to me to meet readers of PMTH NEWS in our classes.

News in Other Postmodern Therapy Circles &
a New Book edited by
Harlene Anderson and Diane Gehart:

I know I reminded you of this once, but you are now nearing the end of PMTH NEWS so I am going to do it again.

There is more to read on postmodern therapies, and postmodern related therapies. Go to the blue column to the left and look for the new books by PMTH authors, some with their own visionary expression of their postmodernism.

In this issue, for example,I am announcing an edited book by two talented therapists, Harlene Anderson and Diane Gehart. These are authors with concrete ideas on how to practice a postmodern collaborative therapy.

And don't overlook a book by Lynn Hoffman. Her history of family therapy consists of rich stories that no one else could have ever told.

And there are several more for you to check out, including one by me on "nostalgic postmodernism." Click on the links and you will be taken to Amazon, where you can read more about the book, and if you still want to read more, please consider buying one or another of these books. See if you are postmodern, too.

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to Receive PMTH NEWS Announcements

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One More Recent Conversation

PMTH NEWS has been published now for a week, but I can't resist adding a new comment by PMTHer, Jonathan Diamond. It came out after a brief discussion with new PMTHer, Dan Bloom. We are, of course, trying to get a feel for the way Bloom thinks about things.

So far, it seems that Bloom feels that Gestalt Therapy is wrongly characterized as based on "techniques". Interesting assertion, right? And he has also said that Gestalt Therapy has long been postmodern. I don't know about Jonathan, but I am eager to hear a further explanation -- because I, too, had always thought of Gestalt Therapy as based on techniques and, in addition, I hadn't been thinking of Gestalt Therapy as postmodern. But then, any kind of therapy can be, if it is practiced with a postmodern attitude.

That's where the Jonathan quote comes in. I love the way it captures the flavor of the postmodern attitude.

[M]y point [a postmodern] therapy is essentially one giant recycling bin and that the more we can stay away "schoolism" and honor everyone's unique contributions the better. A more positive way of putting it would be to say that therapy is a living breathing organism and no contribution to the ecosystem no matter how large or small is insignificant.


Nicely put, Jonathan. That's what I think, too.