Postmodernism in Marriage and Family Therapy Training: Doctoral Students' Understanding and Experiences

By Wieling, Elizabeth; Negretti, Michael A. et al. | Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, October 2001 | Go to article overview

Postmodernism in Marriage and Family Therapy Training: Doctoral Students' Understanding and Experiences


Wieling, Elizabeth, Negretti, Michael A., Stokes, Sean, Kimball, Thomas, et al., Journal of Marital and Family Therapy


The purpose of this study is to advance our understanding of how doctoral students perceive postmodernism's influence in the field of Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT). According to the literature, postmodernism has had a profound impact on many fields, including MFT However tracking of how postmodernism is actually being rendered in theory, research, practice, and training warrants investigation. This study utilized focus group interviews to investigate the perceptions of MFT doctoral students. Findings suggest that while participants are attracted to postmodern tenets, they also report feeling a mixture of liberation and excitement with confusion and fear regarding how postmodernism is influencing MFT models of therapy.

To learn about postmodernism is to immerse oneself in a new paradigm, one that emphasizes pluralism and local narratives, skepticism and reexamination, deconstructionism and hermeneutics. As a social critique, postmodernism itself is not immune to challenge, and at times there seems to be more diversity of ideas than coherence even among its most avid supporters. During recent decades, postmodernism has stirred great controversy among family therapists. Undoubtedly, this new paradigm has generated both important contributions and challenges to the field. In fact, recent volumes of the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy have presented an ongoing debate between Salvador Minuchin and several scholars that position themselves as adherents to a postmodern philosophy such as Harlene Anderson, Jill Freedman and Gene Combs, and Karl Tomm.

This study originated as a result of discussions that took place during a course on postmodern approaches in marital and family therapy (MFT). Many of the class readings indicated that postmodern thought has had a great influence in various areas including philosophy, literary sciences, anthropology, and psychology, which subsequently influenced MFT (Nichols & Schwartz, 1988; Pare, 1995). However, we soon realized that our own exposure to and knowledge of postmodern tenets varied, and that some of us had a limited understanding of postmodern thought. We began to question whether the same was true of students in other doctoral-level programs and became curious about exactly how these students, who will be quite influential in the future of MFT, were thinking about postmodernism. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to explore what postmodernism meant to MFT doctoral students and how they perceived its influence in the areas of theory, research, and clinical practice in MFT To explore these issues, three focus group interviews were held with a total of 19 students representing eight different MFI programs in the U.S. accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE).

POSTMODERN CONTROVERSIES IN MFT

Although there is considerable evidence that postmodernism has had an influence on the field of MFr, there are several debates about postmodemism's status and practicality. For example, according to some authors, postmodern thought is simply an ill-conceived minirevolution in which modernism is thrown aside in favor of a postmodern fad without careful consideration of where the field has been or where it is going (Constantine, 1989; Golann, 1987). For those scholars who see postmodernism as a step in a positive direction, there is disagreement about whether postmodernism represents a paradigm shift or whether it is compatible with second-order cybernetics. Becvar and Becvar (1996, p. 93) see postmodernism as "logically consistent with the cybernetic paradigm," whereas Anderson (1997) describes postmodernism as the next step in an evolutionary process, after second-order cybernetics. This diversity of ideas led one author to call for a deconstruction of the postmodernist/modernist dualities in favor of a both/and alternative called a paramodern approach for family therapy (Larner, 1994).

Regardless of its paradigmatic associations, in many ways therapies grounded in postmodernism resemble "good therapy"- truly listening to clients, encouraging clients to take responsibility, recognizing the importance of language and narrative, and considering contextual influences. …

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