Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Family Therapy as a Dialogue of Living Persons: A Perspective Inspired by Bakhtin, Voloshinov, and Shotter

Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Family Therapy as a Dialogue of Living Persons: A Perspective Inspired by Bakhtin, Voloshinov, and Shotter

Article excerpt

There are not a lot of conceptual tools that can help a family therapy teacher to talk and teach about the Importance of the therapeutic relationship in family therapy practice. The idea that family therapy can be conceived as a dialogue might offer a fresh and promising perspective. Mainly inspired by the work of Bakhtin, Voloshinov, and Shotter, the author considers if the concept of dialogue can help us to talk about something that is there all the time in our family therapeutic practices, although sometimes unnoticed, and that is hard to talk about because we lack the necessary conceptual tools. When we choose to conceptualize family therapy as dialogue, the focus of the therapist is not primarily on data collection, information processing or problem analysis. The therapist is not primarily concerned with knowing, or with not-knowing. Instead, the focus is on the idea that first and foremost therapy is a meeting of living persons, searching to find ways to share life together for a while. Clinical vignettes that feature children's drawings in family therapy are used as illustrations.

Family therapy can be conceptualized in many different ways, and as family therapy practitioners we are faced with the dilemma of how to describe what it is. What concepts do we use to reflect on our work? What words do we use to talk about it? For instance, we can talk about family therapy as a meeting between an expert problem solver and a family with a problem. This description highlights the expertise of the helper and the specific characteristics of the family's problem. We can also chose to describe family therapy as a meeting between a psychological helper with a family that can no longer cope on their own with life's difficulties. This description directs attention to the ethical responsibility of the helper and the coping mechanisms of the family. We can also describe family therapy as the meeting in which the family tells a story, and the therapist listens attentively to their story. This conceptualization highlights the narrative qualities of the family's contribution to therapy, as well as the therapist's receptive task, and so on. When we talk, reflect, and teach about family therapy, we can choose one of the many legitimate descriptions of family therapy. Each of these descriptions puts the spotlight on certain aspects of the complexity of family therapy practice, but leaves other aspects in obscurity. In this article, mainly inspired by the work of Mikhail Bakhtin (1981, 1984, 1986) and John Shotter (Katz & Shotter, 2004a, 2004b; Shotter, 1993, 1994, 2000; Shotter & Billig, 1998), I propose that it can be useful for family therapists to conceptualize family therapy as a dialogue between living persons, given that it offers a perspective that makes it possible to capture something of the mutuality and shared activity of a therapeutic encounter in practice. It could be argued, of course, that the expression a dialogue of living persons is a tautology, given that all persons in dialogue are living-how else could they interact or communicate? Emphasizing these persons' vitality, however, directs our attention, not to the content of these persons' stones, but to the fact that these persons are all breathing, their hearts are beating, and they have concerns, dreams, disappointments, memories, and fears. These persons are alive, and they are also relational beings, because they are involved with their surroundings, continuously tuned in to each other and interacting with each other. As will be shown, a description of family therapy as a dialogue of living persons makes it possible to highlight the fact that the relational context these living persons create together is essential for the therapeutic process. This mutually created relational context serves as the background against which family members will tell some of their stories and leave other stories untold. This context makes the speaking of some voices possible, although at the same time, it contributes to the repression of other voices. …

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