Academic journal article Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy

Cognitive Psychotherapy and Postmodernism: Emerging Themes and Challenges

Academic journal article Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy

Cognitive Psychotherapy and Postmodernism: Emerging Themes and Challenges

Article excerpt

Implications of postmodern thought for the theory and practice of cognitive psychotherapy are examined in light of three postmodern influences-social constructionism, feminism, and multiculturalism. It is suggested that these influences challenge cognitive psychotherapists to (a) develop a greater appreciation for the ways in which human realities are socially negotiated, (b) provide more contextualized accounts of psychological problems, particularly with regard to the dimensions of gender, culture, and economic class, and (c) incorporate client empowerment strategies into their models of change.

Although the evolution of the cognitive perspective in psychotherapy has been characterized by significant conceptual development and differentiation, only recently have cognitive theorists and therapists begun to appreciate the way in which different cognitive psychotherapies are embodied by different philosophical and value-laden assumptions about human knowing and change (cf. Lyddon, 1992; Mahoney, 1991; Neimeyer, 1995). Mahoney (1991), for example, reminds us that

...our professional aspirations in the realm of human helping and our efforts to facilitate development in those we serve are inseparable from our assumptions about human change processes (pp. 16, 18).

The notion of a scientist-practitioner who is value-free, objective, and unbiased is particularly untenable by postmodern standards. From a postmodern perspective, the socially constructed nature of reality is ubiquitous and pervasive. As a result, any praxis (psychotherapeutic or otherwise) is necessarily situated in a context of socially negotiated meanings and values (McNamee & Gergen, 1992).

Rosenau (1992) describes postmodernism's emergence in the humanities and social sciences as a "radically new and different cultural movement [which] is coalescing in a broad-gauged re-conceptualization of how we experience and explain the world around us" (p. 4). In contrast to modernist conceptions, postmodern thinkers eschew the notion of a reality independent of the observer, the known separate from the knower (Kvale, 1992a). Postmodern reality is fundamentally conceived as a personal and social construction of order in experience-an order that is largely negotiated through the language and forms of discourse that are unique to particular social groups (Anderson, 1990; Gergen, 1992a). As Marshall (1992) notes, crucial to understanding the postmodern perspective is

...the recognition that there is no 'outside' from which to 'objectively' name the present. The postmodern moment is an awareness of being-within, first a language, and second a particular historical, social, cultural framework, (p. 3).

Although most contemporary inquiry in psychology continues to be tethered to a modernist worldview (Kvale, 1992a), recent developments in psychology tend to converge on postmodern conceptions of knowing and reality. For example, the emergence of the constructivist perspective in cognitive science and cognitive psychology has served to draw attention to the active role of the human mind in organizing and creating meaning-in literally inventing rather than discovering reality (Anderson, 1990;Lakoff, 1987; Lyddon, 1992;Mahoney, 1991;Teasdale& Barnard, 1993). Similarly, contemporary narrative approaches to psychological inquiry not only challenge the modernist assumption that our language about the world mirrors that world but also underscore the role of the narrative or story as an organizing metaphor for human experience and meaning (Bruner, 1990; Howard, 1991; Meichenbaum, 1993; Russell & van den Broek, 1992; Sarbin, 1986; Terrell & Lyddon, 1996).

The purpose of this article is to explore the implications of postmodern thought for the theory and practice of cognitive psychotherapy. Toward this end, salient contrasts between modernism and postmodernism are first reviewed. The second part of this paper examines more specifically the implications of three postmodern movements for the future of cognitive psychotherapy: social constructionism, feminism, and multiculturalism. …

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