Social Constructionist and Systemic Therapy

Gail Simon and Gwyn Whitfield

The Pink Practice, London

Extract from Pink Therapy II.
Ed. Dominic Davies. Open University Press. London 2000


This chapter on Social Constructionist Therapy explores some of the ideas from systemic, narrative and social constructionist therapy practices and looks at how these ideas might apply to therapeutic work with lesbians, gay men and bisexuals. It identifies and contextualises some of the social, political and cultural discourses which influence counselling and psychotherapy practices.

Social constructionist therapy sets the individual or couple and their problems in a relational context of conversation and social discourses - be it with a partner, friends, family, school, workplace or culture. Therapeutic practice centres around enquiry into people's experiences and their description of their experiences so as to create opportunities to know how to overcome difficulties by elaborating and re-constructing therapists' and clients' stories.

Building on developments in systemic therapy, social constructionist therapy does not work with the notion of a pathology in an individual or social system (for example, a 'dysfunctional family' or a 'disturbed individual') but rather with how the description of the problem arises and how it may be a problem in itself. More attention is paid to the language we use and to the consequences of ideas we construct with each other. Social constructionism is concerned with meaning-making between people and the contexts in which the meaning arises which might influence the accounts we develop to describe our circumstances. A key hypothesis proposes that people are recruited into particular stories by more dominant discourses at the expense of other descriptions that might be differently useful.

From the perspective of the authors of this chapter who write as women, as lesbians and as therapists, social constructionist therapy offers some political and ethical coherence as a way of practising therapy and thinking about practice. Our work takes place in a variety of community settings, most significantly, in The Pink Practice, a lesbian and gay systemic and social constructionist counselling and psychotherapy practice that has been established for ten years. We regard social constructionist therapy as offering a more coherent framework for therapeutic work with lesbians, gay men and bisexuals because it pays attention to practices of power and challenges assumptions about pathology, sexuality, gender and life choices. It strives to promote a reflexive; co-constructive working relationship in which both therapist and client(s) can deconstruct the assumptions in the stories each brings and reflect on the effects of those ideas.

Chapter contents:

  • Locating social constructionist therapy
  • Social constructionist therapy exists - OK?
  • The Emergence of a Social Constructionist Therapy
          The Systemic Influence
          The Influence of Postmodernism
  • Discourse and Sexuality
  • Narrative and Power
  • Working Methods or Discursive Practices?
          Working with Colleagues
          Deconstructionist Practices
          Addressing Social and Cultural Systems
  • The Circulation of Therapeutic Stories in the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Communities
  • From Prescription to Description