Conversation, Language, and Possibilities: A Postmodern Approach to Therapy

Conversation, Language, and Possibilities: A Postmodern Approach to Therapy

Conversation, Language, and Possibilities: A Postmodern Approach to Therapy

Conversation, Language, and Possibilities: A Postmodern Approach to Therapy

Synopsis

Drawing on her experiences as a practitioner and teacher and on her clients' experiences of therapy, Harlene Anderson joins social thinkers who challenge the familiar culture of psychotherapy, including the foundations on which its theory, practice, research, and therapist education have been based. Anderson directly challenges the expert-nonexpert dichotomy and hierarchical structures that flow from it. She asserts that conventional premises and practices have lost their relevance in a world of rapid social transformation, and calls instead for a philosophy of therapy and a way of being in client relationships that invite collaboration. Conversation, Language, and Possibilities forges surprising links between postmodern theory and collaborative clinical practice. In this framework, human systems are viewed as systems of language and communication. Clients' voices are privileged. And language is generative in shaping - and reshaping - human life and relationships, creating potentials for positivechange as infinite in variety and expression as the individuals who realize them.

Excerpt

One of the most important features of life is conversation. We are in continuous conversation with each other and with ourselves. Through conversation we form and reform our life experiences and events; we create and recreate our meanings and understandings; and we construct and reconstruct our realities and our selves. Some conversations enhance possibility; others diminish it. When possibility is enhanced, we have a sense of self-agency, a sense that we can take the necessary action to address what concerns or troubles us: our dilemmas, problems, pains, and frustrations, and to accomplish what we want: our ambitions, hopes, intentions, and actions.

The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein articulated this possibility and its actualization as a "change of aspect"--a different way of understanding things--involving a "change of life." By change of life he meant "a plea for personal courage to change one's own life" (as quoted in van der Merwe & Voestermans, 1995, p. 43). Wittgenstein's view of understanding is one of practical understanding from within. Concerned about the ways we relate and respond to each other in our everyday lives, Wittgenstein suggested that we live in a world of events rather than a world of things. He challenged us to "move about around things and events in the world," instead of trying to delineate their essential features or describe them with definitional exactness (van der Merwe & Voestermans, 1995, p. 38). Extending his challenge to our efforts in the realm of behavioral sciences, and specifically to psychotherapy, I wonder, What discourages and what encourages possibility conversations? What is language and what is its relationship to conversation? How can a therapist in the social circumstance of therapy participate with another person so that person can realize the possibilities in the circumstances of his or her own daily life? How can we, to use the trailblazing Norwegian psychiatrist Tom Andersen's words, talk with each other and with ourselves in a way that we have not done before? How can we, as creative writers Peggy Penn and Marilyn Frankfurt suggest, create a participant text that addresses the questions "How do I want to be with others?" and "How do I want them to be with me?" How can we, as family ther-

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