BOOKMARKS; the Healing Connection: How Women Form Relationships in Therapy and in Life
Anderson, Carol, McCollum, Eric, Family Therapy Networker
A woman I know once complained to me "When I fall in love I fall right down the evolutionary ladder." She became what she called a "Cheshire cat woman," gaining a man and a haunting smile but losing her identity in the service of the relationship. We have all known women like this--some of us may even be them. Marilyn Monroe, for example, in discussing all the men she loved who wanted to change her, once said "I feel myself disappear while I stand there and cast off their light." Like many women, she too often found herself becoming someone she didn't recognize in her relationships with men, someone who resorted to behaviors that told men "Oh, you're so wonderful and it's so big," but someone whose needs were not on the relationship agenda. Her deep desire for love and acceptance made her unwilling or unable to share those parts of herself she feared made her seem too needy, difficult or other than adoring. Thus women learn that to preserve their relationships, they must keep more and more of their reactions to themselves and take a path away from authenticity, mutuality and the truth of their experiences.
For more than 20 years, the authors of The Healing Connection, psychiatrist Jean Baker Miller and her colleague, psychologist Irene Pierce Stiver, have been part of a core group of women psychotherapists working together at the Stone Center to develop a more enlightened psychology of women based on the proposition that the goal of healthy development should not be the traditional male model of self-sufficiency, but "an inner sense of connection to others." In this volume, they continue to develop this work, showing how psychological problems are created through daily disappointments in relationships in which a spouse gives advice rather than solace or a parent ignores a child's pride at accomplishment while focusing on another fault or where unequal power between men and women skews the possibility for authentic mutuality. They go on to demonstrate how empathic listening and attention to the bond between therapist and client can be used to help women overcome these problems.
While it is hard to argue with the authors' emphasis on emotional connection and their analysis of how unequal power can distort relationships, The Healing Connection seems to offer a one-size-fits-all conception of psychological health. By making connection the primary criterion of women's psychological health, the authors pathologize those women who decide, for whatever reasons, not to center their lives on the search for intimacy. What is missing is a broader conception of psychological health that reorganizes the importance of an ability to tolerate the ever-changing flow between connection and separateness.
The goal of The Healing Connection , its authors tell us, is to show "how the making of connections can transform all the institutions in our lives, from school to workplace to home." But the practical recommendations in this book seem addressed only to therapists practicing long-term psychodynamic, individual psychotherapy. While a focus on the therapist's emotional bond with the patient may indeed be very useful, the authors do not seem aware that in the context of the new world of minimalized mental health care, traditional long term individual psychotherapy is virtually impossible for most therapists and patients. They say nothing about brief therapy, nothing about family or group interventions, not to mention nothing specific about how to transform workplaces, families and schools.
What we need is someone to translate the important insights of the authors of The Healing Connection into the pragmatic reality of more therapists' professional lives today.
Playful Approaches to Serious Problems
Narrative Therapy with Children and Their Families
Jennifer Freeman, David Epston and Dean Lobovits
Norton. 1997. 321 pp.
In therapy, 8-year-old Maria excitedly reports the success of her new method of conquering her temper: "Last Saturday I was mad at my friend and so I tore some toilet paper into the shape of an S and flushed it down the toilet. Saturday was a bad temper day so I flushed it down the toilet."
Filled with clinical vignettes like that of Maria, Playful Approaches to Serious Problems by family therapists Jennifer Freeman, David Epston and Dean Lobovits, is an in-depth course in externalization, a staple of narrative therapy. Externalizing aims to separate people from their problems, countering global statements like "I'm depressed and I'll never get better" with externalizing statements like "Depression is trying to convince you that you're hopeless." Seeing the problem as an outside intruder, rather than as a personality characteristic, creates the possibility of dealing with it differently. "What's it like when you can tell depression to go to hell and leave you alone?" a narrative therapist might ask. "I feel like maybe there's some hope," the client replies.
While externalizing may sound like simply a linguistic trick, Freeman, Epston and Lobovits provide numerous examples of how it has helped children and families make changes in therapy. And it seems to come naturally to children who often split off troublesome parts of themselves in order to preserve a sense of being good and lovable. Siding with that tendency through externalization unleashes wonderful creativity. Maria herself came up with the toilet paper intervention, for example. She was guided, I'm sure, by her therapist's (Jennifer Freeman's) suggestion that temper is an opponent that can be beaten, not a personality trait. But what therapist could come up with the fitting idea of flushing it away?
For Freeman, Epston and Lobovits, externalizing happens in three spheres. They begin by talking about the child as separate from the problem. Maria isn't an angry child, Freeman suggests. Rather, her life is being disrupted by Temper, a tricky intruder who trips up many children. Next, the therapist involves the child's family in the fight against the problem. Maria's mother, for example, might become Maria's co-conspirator, helping Maria find even more ways to resist the tricks of Temper. Finally, problems are set in a socio-political context, exposing the cultural beliefs that support them. Maria's mother, for example, might be invited to examine our societal belief that children's misbehavior reflects their parents'--especially their mothers'--inadequacies. How has this belief affected her image of herself as a parent? How has it affected her relationship with Maria? And how has it sided with Temper to disrupt the family?
As anyone who has spent a therapy hour with a 6-year-old can testify, talking is not always a child's preferred way of dealing with problems. In recognition of this, Freeman, Epston and Lobovits add techniques of art and play therapy that translate the abstract ideas of narrative into children's "language." This is an important contribution since children tell us they often feel left out of therapy because it's all just "grown-up talk." In contrast, Playful Approaches is alive with therapists who draw, perform puppet shows, model in clay, and play in the sandbox with children and their families. Five-year-old Rachel, for example, created the "Sleeping Soundly Handbook" with her therapist's help. Full of drawings and stories, the Handbook chronicles Rachel's success in conquering fears of sleeping alone in her room. The final drawing is captioned: "Me and my slippers are smiling because I slept by myself." The willingness of Freeman, Epston and Lobovits to meet children in their own worlds shines through in this book and contributes as much to their therapeutic success as any technique.
Playful Approaches gave me lots of new ideas about how to use narrative ideas with children and families. I do have one complaint about the book, however--writing style. It's full of obtuse language and awkward phrasing, apparently a narrative therapy tradition. Consider the following, typical, example: "The commitment to separate problems from people's identities usually takes us on a conversational journey through several metaphors of externalization, as different features and effects of the problem-person relationship emerge and are named and discussed in a reflective way." It took me three times through this sentence to even guess at what it means. There's plenty of good stuff in Playful Approaches , but it's maddening to have to crawl through linguistic thickets to get at it. If kids can be plainspoken about what's helped them in therapy, their therapists can be, as well.
Carol Anderson, author of Flying Solo and coeditor of Women in Families, is administrator of the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic in Pittsburgh. Address: WPIC, 3811 O'Hara Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15213.
Eric McCollum, Ph.D., is an associate professor and clinical director at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute's MFT training program in Falls Church, Virginia. Address: FCD Department, Northern Virginia Center, 7054 Haycock Road, Falls Church, VA 22043. E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: BOOKMARKS; the Healing Connection: How Women Form Relationships in Therapy and in Life. Contributors: Anderson, Carol - Author, McCollum, Eric - Author. Magazine title: Family Therapy Networker. Volume: 21. Issue: 6 Publication date: November/December 1997. Page number: Not available. © Psychotherapy Networker, Inc. Nov/Dec 1996. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.