Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling

Metamodernism: A New Philosophical Approach to Counseling

Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling

Metamodernism: A New Philosophical Approach to Counseling

Article excerpt

Originating in the field of aesthetics, metamodernism is presented as a philosophical framework for understanding how contemporary counselors navigate networks of conflicting obligations and interests. Metamodernism provides a reconciling perspective on dilemmas counselors encounter in diverse social institutions and presents alternative ideas about integrating modernist structural compliance with postmodernist self-invention.

Keywords: postmodernism, metamodernism, counseling


Professional counselors find ways to balance their obligations to many different parties every day. Clients, other helping professionals, supervisees, and those who have fiscal or emotional interests in clients all challenge counselors to navigate many roles and responsibilities (Hansen, 2010). Consequently, professional counselors often find themselves negotiating the boundaries of multiple, complex, overlapping social systems (Hansen, 2009). Counselors are provided with an ethical code, which is periodically revised to address emergent concerns, yet the specific application of this code to any particular case is rarely a cut-and-dry matter. Certain writers have presented postmodernism as a way of navigating the inevitable contradictions that arise from intersecting ethical pressures and interests (Hansen, 2010; Weinrach & Thomas, 1998), but considering the complexity of the situation, scholars have found that postmodernism often fails to address the realities of potentially oppressive social systems from which one cannot opt out. Metamodernism provides a different philosophical framework from which counselors may reconsider their current professional and existential situation.

To better understand what is meant by the term metamodern thought, it might be helpful to consider an example highlighting one way that the metamodern approach applies to counselor identity within a typical community mental health setting. In a hypothetical example, imagine that a female counselor is working with a Native American male client who discloses that he routinely uses peyote as part of a religious ceremony. The client is also going through a difficult divorce involving child custody disputes, and the spouse is not a part of the Native American community.

The counselor reviews the applicable laws regarding religious peyote use and finds that there is something of a gray area: Although possession and use of peyote seems to be illegal in that particular state, the counselor finds there are federal laws protecting the client's right to use this substance as part of traditional religious practices. This hypothetical counselor is aware of the conflict in these laws, as well as her ethical obligation to address multicultural issues when counseling clients of diverse cultural backgrounds, such as Native American clients. However, the counselor also finds a Supreme Court case in which a Native American employee was denied unemployment benefits after using peyote for religious purposes, and the counselor feels concerned about the possibility of this disclosure affecting the client negatively, particularly in the context of a high-conflict divorce. In particular, the counselor is concerned that the client's ex-spouse will request counseling records that disclose the peyote use and that this peyote use, although arguably protected by law, could reflect very poorly on the client because of the bias in the local courts, which have virtually no Native American representation.

After consultation with colleagues who are familiar with this particular population and with the legal climate, the counselor develops a metamodern solution to the ethical dilemma. When preparing documentation regarding the client's religious practices, the counselor decides to describe practices in indigenous language and terminology. The counselor documents her consultations and notes that translating religious practices into the language of the oppressor would be potentially harmful to the client and, therefore, it is unethical for her to do so. …

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