Marrying Postmodernism with Cognitive Psychotherapy: A Response to Lyddon and Weill

By McNamee, Sheila | Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, January 1, 1997 | Go to article overview

Marrying Postmodernism with Cognitive Psychotherapy: A Response to Lyddon and Weill


McNamee, Sheila, Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy


Cognitive psychologists and psychotherapists are saddled with a difficult task as they confront the challenges of postmodernism. Lyddon and Weill are no exception- despite their admirable struggle with the challenges that confront them. In brief, the challenge is born out of the contradictory beliefs of cognitive psychology and postmodernism in general, and social construction in particular. Let us start with postmodernism.

Lyddon and Weill provide a nice overview of the distinction between postmodernism and modernism. They articulate how postmodernism describes knowledge, reality, and identity as social, discursive achievements. Such an understanding underscores their local, communal, and historical nature. What counts as knowledge is dependent upon whom one is talking with, what networks of relations are being represented, and what discursive traditions are at play.

To embrace postmodernism then requires a radically different stance than the one adopted within traditional cognitive psychotherapy. Cognitive psychotherapy, like most psychological theory, concerns itself with objective accounts of individuals. Neimeyer (1995) has attempted to merge cognitive psychotherapy (constructivism, in particular) within a postmodern sensibility. Lyddon and Weill are attempting to do the same.

I have two immediate responses to this endeavor. First, the challenge of revisioning cognitive psychotherapy within postmodernism is tremendously important if we are to move beyond individualism toward a communal understanding of social life. I applaud these efforts wholeheartedly because they venture into the territory of relational understanding. My own preference is not to demonetize individualist discourse but rather to question its limits. Rather than present this discourse as an immutable truth, I am more interested in presenting individualism (and its concurrent themes such as objectivity, universality, truth, and rationality) as a discursive option. Viewed in this way, we are no longer free to act within a modernist frame because "that is the way things are done." Rather, we are provoked to engage in self-reflexive inquiry about our ways of acting (which includes our ways of observing, evaluating, judging, diagnosing, intervening, and so forth).

Thus, my enthusiasm for Lyddon and Weill's project is great. However, my initial ardor wanes as I further attempt to match the postmodern sensibility to cognitive psychotherapy. How do we reconcile cognitive psychotherapy's definitional attention to cognitive processes while attempting to move out of the individual and into the discourse (McNamee, 1996), as postmodernist approaches articulate? Perhaps some of the problem lies in the varying interpretations and embodiments of postmodernism. Let me attempt to sketch here some of the inconsistencies from which the present coupling of postmodernism and cognitive psychotherapy might emerge.

There are many origins and histories to what we now call "postmodernism." I am less interested in providing a full understanding of this background and instead want to focus on illuminating how the general tenor of postmodernism has been embraced. If we use Lyddon and Weill's overview of postmodernism as our departure point, we can begin to understand the inconsistencies that on one hand might serve a generative function, while on the other hand can be quite misleading in terms of fully realizing (i.e., making real) the potentials of postmodern sensibilities.

SENSITIVITY TO MULTIPLICITY

Introduction of postmodern thought has provided a welcomed framework for expanding our theories of social life in ways that are sensitive to the shifting criteria and demands of various cultures, communities, and contexts. By centralizing discourse and its historical, cultural, and relational origins, social theory in general and psychology in particular has been able to offer ways of understanding everyday life as relational artifact. …

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