Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Postmodern Influence in Family Therapy Research: Reflections of Graduate Students

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Postmodern Influence in Family Therapy Research: Reflections of Graduate Students

Article excerpt

Postmodernism has influenced family therapy in significant ways, from clinical work to family therapy research. Little has been written, however, on how to conduct postmodern research in a manner reflecting marriage and family therapy inquiries. The present study seeks to investigate doctoral students' understanding of postmodern family therapy research. Using collaborative language theory and collaborative inquiry, students participated in a dialogue to answer several questions: a) what is postmodernism, b) what is postmodern research, c) what does postmodern research look like, and d) what does this mean for the field of marriage and family therapy. Students indicated that postmodern research is characterized by its flexibility in methods, translates into a "new way" of conducting research, and creates a natural bridge between family therapy researchers and clinicians. Key words: Postmodernism, Family Therapy, Graduate Students, and Family Therapy Research


Postmodernism is the concept of rejecting the idea of the self as a processor of true characteristics and accepting a plurality of voices Gergen (1991). It is the deconstruction of what one believes to be true to make way for multiple realities (Fruggeri, 1992). Postmodernism asserts that "privileged positions" of observation do not exist, and that all writing reflects the personal perspective and the philosophy of the author (Doherty, 1999). It is a philosophical position positing that reality is constructed within belief systems, and that the observer is an integral part in what is observed (Becvar & Becvar, 2000; Kvale, 1992).

Just as society at large experienced a change from modern to postmodern thinking, marriage and family therapy succumbed to the same transformation (Cheal, 1991; Doherty, 1999; Doherty, Boss, LaRossa, Schumm, & Steinmetz, 1993; Gergen & McNamee, 1992). Postmodernism gives family therapists the flexibility to recognize the variety of ways in which their clients view the world (Moules, 2000). It helps to create an understanding that the world does not function in an absolute way (Doherty, 1999) and influences the way therapists view, understand, and work with families (Lucas, 1985). Family therapists began integrating postmodernism into their work in the late 1980s (McFadyen, 1997). Four family therapy approaches have been identified as most influenced by postmodernism, including the Milan group, collaborative language system, solution-focused therapy, and narrative therapy (Mills & Sprenkle, 1995). Marriage and family therapy training programs have also included aspects of postmodernism in course work (Wieling, Nergetti, Stokes, Kimball, Christensen, & Bryan, 2001).

Mills and Sprenkle (1995) attribute the postmodern evolution in family therapy to changes in American societal ideas about the definition of family. For example, two-parent families are no longer viewed as the "normal" family form. Therapists must recognize multiple perspectives as families change with higher rates of divorce, gay and lesbians, cohabitating families, and biracial couples (Mills & Sprenkle, 1995).

Postmodern family therapy research primarily has been tied to qualitative methodology (Doherty, 1999). Qualitative research has incorporated aspects of social constructionism, constructivism, and hermeneutics (Gehart, Ratliff, & Lyle, 2001). Postmodernism has also been incorporated into family therapy methods as evidenced by the use of discourse analysis (Gubrium & Holstein, 1990). Qualitative methods in research integrated with postmodern ideas appear to make a good fit. Yet postmodernism, which espouses pluralism and acceptance of multiple realities, cannot be restricted to particular method or theory. The idea that there is one best or a "right" way to understand families is mire similar to modernism (Doherty, 1999). Postmodernism creates a time of complexity and ambiguity where there are competing versions of inquiry (MacIntyre, 1990). …

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