The last decade has seen a fundamental shift in the way many clinicians regard their therapeutic role. Rather than being exorcists casting out hidden traumas and deficits, therapists these days look more like treasure hunters seeking the unrecognized gems in their clients' lives and personalities. Words and phrases like "resilience," "competence," "empowerment" and "the client as expert" are replacing what many therapists now disdainfully call the language of "pathology and deficit," which has long been psychotherapy's native tongue. Clinicians have discovered that clients seem to improve most easily when they are encouraged to plumb for the best in their own natures and dig deep into the untapped reservoirs of valor, determination, intelligence, optimism, faith, love, friendship and discipline that ultimately can heal them. Indeed, the most brilliant therapeutic intervention for eliminating negative symptoms may be to focus on their opposites and highlight the best capacities and possibilities in clients' lives--helping couples rediscover the love and passion that brought them together, teaching parents how to give their children something better than today's debased popular kid culture, encouraging poor and oppressed minorities to find strength and pride in their own communities, making organizations more humane places in which to work, teaching people the skills to tap into their own creativity and potential for joy.
This emphasis on positive thinking might seem a little facile, even saccharine, if so many people--therapists as well as clients--didn't feel that there was something in the spirit and tenor of our times that often defeats their ability to bring out the best in themselves, even makes them wonder whether they have any "best" to bring out. The familiar social institutions that traditionally elicited people's best selves--family, community, religion, work--are threatened by powerful economic and cultural forces that seem increasingly bereft of humane values, capable only of reducing real people to passive consumers. Increasingly, therapists can no longer glibly assume that they are helping individual clients adjust to a reasonably benign society that allows most people to sustain an ordinary degree of faith in their own possibilities, trust in their institutions and optimism about their future. Today's clinicians--beset by their own financial woes and a profession-wide crisis of confidence, pressured to join Corporation America and apply standardized, mass-produced therapy "products"--are feeling, as much as their clients, like refugees from a fragmented society, dominated by huge, soulless institutions.
At the same time, the profession has never been in such a unique position to represent healing, countercultural alternatives to the damaging and depersonalizing forces of our time. Clinicians who can embody in their work a kind of resistance movement to the cynical spirit of the current zeitgeist are not only helping both clients and themselves take heart, but may have some impact in restoring heart to society itself. To prepare themselves for this struggle, however, clinicians will need to bring a deeper emotional, moral and spiritual resonance to their work.
The 21st Family Therapy Network Symposium, entitled "Bringing Out the Best: Reclaiming the Soul of Clinical Practice," will explore innovative and imaginative ways that therapists have found for evoking the wellsprings of strength, resilience, aspiration and joy not only in individuals, but in families, communities and institutions as well. Included will be workshops on the transformative power of love and forgiveness, ways of turning symptoms into healing opportunities, the hidden strengths in poor communities, nondrug techniques for lifting depression and numerous presentations for helping therapists sustain both successful practices and their own sense of professional integrity. …