"After all, what is reality anyway
? Nothin' but a collective hunch. My space chums think reality
was once a primitive method of crowd control that got out of hand"
This paper examines some political
implications of therapies which focus on the individual and their
immediate systems. I am suggesting that, as therapists, we need
to review what we consider to be an appropriate system in focus
within therapeutic conversation and address the ethical relationship
between change occurring at a level of the individual and their
immediate, smaller systems and change taking place in a wider
system, at a level of society, of community.
I am proposing that by focusing on
smaller systems alone, we are i) setting limits on the resources
which a therapist and client may draw on and ii) undermining the
potential for change on a larger scale in society through the
individual not being invited to locate or identify their personal
experiences or accounts within the broader or more public arena
of a wider system.
As therapists concerned with ideology,
I suggest that we need to develop more of a critique of the liberal
humanist and postmodernist ideologies, so considering the influence
and implications of these ideologies for practice and for the
role our practice might play in maintaining or disrupting power
relations in society. In particular, attention is paid to the
social construction of the individual and the diminishing idea
of group membership. With reference to clinical material, the
paper goes on to propose some possible ways of expanding the client's
and therapist's audiences, so increasing the ideas available through
identification of and with a wider system. In particular, I introduce
the notion of the hypothetical audience and its
use with wider system questions.
The hypothesis in this paper is that
therapy, including social constructionist practices, undermines
or, at least, does not contribute sufficiently to a notion of
group identity, potential group strength and the possibility of
group action. I would suggest that this undermining takes place
in the therapeutic conversation by the system in focus
most frequently being constructed as involving only smaller, more
local systems of the individual, family or work place etc.
I suggest we need to examine how are
we limiting the stories and experience which clients and therapists
draw on if the larger, specific groups, of which people are also
members, are left out of the conversation. Are we overlooking
the significance of that membership for the individual and undermining
that individual's potential for participating in collective action
and other discourses?
Given the level of abstraction involved
in these concerns, I show, later in this paper, how I have experimented
in practice with creating hypothetical or imaginary situations
with clients in which they access multiple voices evoking the
experiences, advice etc. of others. I call these voices hypothetical
audiences. I have developed the use of wider system questions
to facilitate such conversations.
In the interests of space in this paper,
I have limited the discussion to the role of the therapist and
have not focused on the co-constructive element in the therapy
which I regard as central to social constructionist practice.
From Home Town to Cyberspace: Stories
of Group Membership
My interest in group membership has
been fuelled by my experience of growing up in a small town with
an absence of others with whom I could identify. As a lesbian,
as a jew, as an unconventional woman, I recognise the value in
being able to identify the existence of others like myself. I
have found strength in this identification and experienced the
creativity of groups producing and participating in political
In my experience of groupwork, both
as a therapist and as a client, I have experienced how powerful
groups can be in bringing forth accounts of experience in broader
social contexts, particularly of commonalities and especially
where encouraging a critique of dominant culture in groups, in
The civil rights and protest movements
of the 1960s gave rise to a notion of the validity of subjective
experience and drew attention to the wider socio-political contexts
as discriminating against certain groups of people. The consciousness-raising
and self-help groups of the 1970s and '80s developed this shift
and encouraged people, particularly women, to create their own
accounts of the problems they were experiencing. In the context
of these groups and movements, descriptions emerged which spoke
both of individualised and shared struggles. People started to
develop politicised accounts of personal difficulties, locating
them in the contexts of gender, sexuality, class and race politics.
People were not solely individuals with personal problems but
peers, social critics and agents of change amongst other things.
A more current example of the potential
uses of groups can be witnessed on the internet which offers the
possibility of bringing together groups of people with similar
interests or concerns who would otherwise not necessarily be able
to create a sense of community. For example, there are newsgroups
for people who have been sexually abused in which people can write
openly about their experiences and the effects of their experiences
and get feedback, advice or information about resources from other
people who have also been abused. Another example is that of a
mailing list for lesbian and gay narrative therapists who are
geographically scattered and isolated which offers many people
the possibility of entering into an international discourse about
practices and theories and of "meeting" the occasional
person with whom they feel they have something in common .
The postmodernist paradigm lends itself
well to exploring the themes of individual identity and group
membership because of its emphasis on the centrality of subjectivity
in what becomes established as "truth", "knowledge"
or "reality". Descriptions of experience from within
or between people are valued more highly than those generated
by outside experts or those acting on behalf of others.
In practising a social constructionist
therapy, I am interested in exploring the narratives through which
people's ideas about themselves, their choices, their "realities",
are constructed. In addition, I find social constructionism to
be a useful methodology for examining the practices of therapy.
By focusing on the ideology behind the methodology we can examine
what ideas therapist and client are bringing to bear on a subject.
I understand "reality" as something we construct socially
when we "'actually live in language', (which
is to avoid saying that individuals live in a real world and simply
use language as a tool to denote and do things.)" (Leppington,
1991). Through language we can, to varying degrees, bring forth
or reproduce our realities.
Social constructionism can be a useful
framework in which to use and critique ideas from other discourses
and from other paradigms. Ideas, for example, from a Marxist discourse
might make a unique contribution but overlook the importance of
language and yet the ideas need not be discarded. In this paper
and in the context of my clinical work, I find it useful to draw
on postmodernist and modernist theories arising out of the discourses
of social constructionist therapy, literary criticism, critical
art theory, cultural studies and sociology which appear to me
to create contexts for each other. As Frazer and Williams (1993)
remark, "The communitarian subject is exposed not just to
one predominant cultural discourse but to multiple discourses"
(cited in Williams 1995).
It may be useful here to contextualise
social constructionist practice by exploring some of the ideological
influences of both postmodernism and liberal humanism as I see
The Politics of Postmodernism
and Some Expectations of "Change"
Postmodernism is steeped in political debate. It has been described as a-political, anti-political, politically ambiguous or politically ambivalent (Rosenau 1992). This relates largely to how the postmodernist idea of relativity is often misunderstood to mean "all ideas are of equal value" and is taken up by different groups to justify conflicting points of view at a moral level. Postmodernism may lack a particular political identity but this does not mean it can be politically "neutral". White (1991) has said that not everything is relative, not all stories are equal. Some stories are better than others in terms of the effect on an individual or society. I understand postmodernism is more of a paradigm for critiquing paradigms as well as a perspective in its own right. It does not have a theory of change as do many other paradigms such as Marxism. What it has is a theory of the reproduction of culture and, by implication, power relations and a status quo.
Jacques Derrida's ideas of deconstruction
(1981) have been treated by the left as revolutionary with the
possibility of destabilising the status quo, challenging modernist
and hegemonic discourses and opening the way for marginalised
groups and those oppressed by capitalism. Postmodernism has been
seen by the right as overthrowing traditional methods without
providing an alternative and as promoting a value relativism which
does not distinguish between right and wrong. Some right wing
theorists support postmodernism for having a value relativism
which can break down specific political allegiances across groups
One criticism by Marxists of postmodernism
is that, in paying strict attention to discourse, it can be seen
"to set up language as an alternative to the social problems
which plague society." (Eagleton 1983). Leppington (1991)
uses the drawing by Escher of ants to visually convey the relational
impact between ideas, practice and data in a reflexive figure
of eight - but the image itself does not change: the ants
are on a treadmill. There is no suggestion of any alteration in
the environment of the ants. Is that their choice? An implication
of this might be that it is our language, our accounts of what
is happening that need to change and not our material environment.
The Construction of the Individual:
A Liberal Humanist Creation
Liberal Humanism emphasises the rights
of the individual above all else and has an "all people must
be treated equally" philosophy. It has been criticised for
denying differences between people (Kitzinger 1989, Eagleton 1983)
and the contexts in which they live. Social constructionists encourage
the recognition, valuing and generation of meaning of differences
between people and across varying contexts but how do we recognise
and challenge the structures which maintain inequalities based
on difference? Are we running the risk of modelling an inactive
response to social inequality by accepting differences in individuals
without reference to the experience in a larger socio-political
Kitzinger (1989) describes an example
of this with reference to the apparently accepting attitude of
liberal humanists towards lesbian individuals. She points out
that this acceptance is conditional upon lesbians being quiet
about their experience, unchallenging, not too different from
heterosexual women etc. Difference is underplayed with liberal
humanism stressing "the essential personhood of the lesbian
and the relatively trivial nature of her sexual preference"
(Kitzinger 1989). The lesbian is assured of her relative social
acceptability so long as she does not challenge the dominant heterosexual
group nor define herself in a way that does not fit with the idea
of the (acceptable) individual lesbian.
In short, difference can be acceptable
in the individual. It is more threatening if demonstrated by groups
or if the individual does not conform with being a "nice"
version of a lesbian, black man, person with HIV etc. Individuals
from oppressed or minority groups are unlikely to communicate
parts of their identity which may be experienced as threatening
to a therapist perceived to be from a more dominant cultural group.
I am proposing that a liberal humanist
ideology is, in part, responsible for our focus on smaller systems.
Let us consider further the hypothesis that therapy, including
social constructionist and narrative therapies, might be contributing
to the maintenance of ruling classes and dominant oppressive structures
through the separating of the individual from the group, for fear
of its potential strength or threat, and by constructing the individual
as a local site for treatment. Philippi (1991) draws attention
to the political significance of focusing on the individual:
"Site marks the cross-roads of
relations of power and their effectiveness on the level of the
real, on the subject's very body; the site becomes a specific
point of collision of forces - social, political, cultural - which
can be distinguished from the ...... [institution] ..... where
they are enacted."
Kitzinger (1989) asserts that liberal
humanism takes identity and experience out of the public and political
arena and relocates it in the personal zone.
If we are to review where we focus
- on the notion of the individual or on society - perhaps we can
consider Leppington's suggestion (1991) of a shift in focus from
the individual to the social context. "The question then
is not 'How does the individual rational consciousness account
for the social world?' but 'How, in a social world, to account
for the culturally specific notions of the individual?'"
(Leppington 1991) [my italics].
Such a shift is obviously not straightforward.
Even in leaving behind modernist discourses, Eagleton (1983) proposes
that literary theory, for example, reveals an "unconscious
complicity" with them. I would suggest these influences are
still affecting social constructionist therapy practices. "It
assumes, in the main, that at the centre of the world is the contemplative
individual self ..... this individual is in personal relationship
with others ...... but it is noticeable how often such individual
consciousness, set in its small circle of relationships, ends
up as a touchstone of all else." (Eagleton 1983)
Therapy and the Reproduction of
the Status Quo
Focusing on the Smaller System
When I was studying sociology and social
work in the late 1970's, the thinking was that social workers
were tools of the state, agents of social control. The role of
psychotherapists was similarly regarded, namely, by treating the
symptoms of individuals or of individual families the therapist
was seen as ignoring the social and political causes of their
distress. Further, by developing a particular story with the individual
or family of their own pathology being the sole or main cause
of their difficulties, the therapist decontextualised and, by
implication, depoliticised the client's plight. I do not believe
that all therapists are, by virtue of being therapists, inclined
to act to maintain the status quo but I believe that therapy is
often practised without sufficient recognition of the political
impact of dominant ideologies.
Most social constructionist and narrative
therapists have adopted a framework which is less likely to participate
in a discourse of "pathology" and take into account
the various social contexts in which people are living, particularly
with regard to race and gender, and some also recognise the oppressive
discourses which maintain an imbalance of power. However, the
system in focus in the therapy does tend to be only known, nameable
others from within a person's immediate social or professional
circles. The accounts, then, that emerge are likely to be drawn
from the "knowledge" and descriptions of experience
available to the individual, their smaller system and the therapist.
"Leave it to the politicians......."
Recently, while addressing these issues
at a conference, I heard the following questions: "Is it
really the job of psychotherapists to concern themselves with
the way society works?" and "Shouldn't our focus be
our [sic] client?". There are ethical questions for us to
consider here. Should we, as therapists, have an analysis of how
society works for and against peoples? Is life what you make (of)
it? Where do our responsibilities as therapists begin and end?
Where do our responsibilities as human beings begin and end? Are
therapists and human beings one and the same thing? Are they compatible
It is interesting to speculate as to
how the implied dualism of either acting for the individual (or
smaller system) or acting for the state or larger system
has come about. I do not see this dilemma as being connected with
a question of who is commissioning the work so much as raising
a question about where therapists see therapy as located.
I locate the practice of therapy in
the context of our communities. I understand therapy as occurring,
not "on the margin of society" (which would suggest
a modernist notion of objectivity), but within social contexts
which participate in power relations and which cannot be free
of prejudices. We will all have investments in maintaining certain
accounts and structures but as therapists we particularly need
to address how we exercise reflexivity about our most fundamental
ideological assumptions of which we are often least mindful; assumptions
which will be influencing our practice and by implication what
gets brought forth through therapeutic conversation. What might
be some of the implications of reviewing our relationship with
these ideas? Would we feel comfortable enough to remain therapists
or heterosexual, retain certain gender specific behaviours or
cultural norms? Could we feel safe, protected and part of a solution;
that we were always likely to be on the "right" side
of the law?
In proposing a shift from knowledge
to ethics, Leppington (1991) suggests that all actions in the
world are moral actions and therefore have political implications.
Languaging, conversing, communicating are considered political
acts in that they have social repercussions. "Words are
deeds and action is discourse, both construct and express
reality." Therapy is not exempt. White (Allen & White,
1993) remarks "Without doubt, the psychologies and psychotherapies
play an entirely significant role in the reproduction of the dominant
culture" and Eagleton (1983), speaking of literary criticism,
makes the comment "The idea that there are non-political
forms of criticism is simply a myth which furthers certain uses
of literature all the more effectively." Substitute "therapy"
Ethical Dilemmas in Questioning
Social constructionist and systemic
therapists are constantly faced with decisions about the implications
of where to focus in the therapeutic conversation. I want to illustrate
with a case example some of the political implications certain
questions. (I am not intending here to pay attention to the context
for the conversation, who is asking, the hypothesising, the client's
expectations from the conversation etc.)
Case Example I
David , a forty five year old man
who has been unemployed for two years complains of social isolation.
His colleagues served a social purpose and he now sees no-one
socially outside of his mother and his brother. He feels very
bitter about being unemployed and wants another job but feels
his prospects are very poor.
Therapist - If you were never going to find another job, what do you think you would do instead?
['Job' is reframed as merely an activity;
the right to work/earn is not taken into account.]
Therapist - What does having a job mean to you?
[Deconstruction of 'job'; possible implication that unemployment is not a 'real' issue; localising of meaning within the individual.]
Therapist - If you were never to find another job, who, out of all the people you know would be most affected?
[Implication of coming to terms with unemployment. Reference to smaller system voices only.]
Therapist - If you weren't to think of yourself as 'unemployed', how would you describe yourself?
[The deconstruction of 'unemployment'
could trivialise its significance; an invitation to an individualised
Therapist - Can you think of other situations in which you have felt pessimistic about your prospects?
[May be empowering but is individualising;
implication that his worry is not a 'real' problem.]
Therapist - Perhaps you should join the Socialist Workers' Party in their fight for jobs or help the Labour Party by stuffing envelopes for their campaign against unemployment.
[Similar to Response 1 in focusing
on alternative activities and making suggestions which do not
necessarily address his concerns.]
Therapist - If we were having this conversation as a group of marchers on a demonstration about unemployment on the way to the Houses of Parliament, what might we be saying to each other about the effect of unemployment on social isolation?
[Wider context introduced for conversation.
Relocating of David's individual concerns into a wider context.]
Therapist - If, in the next room, there were a hundred or so other men in their mid forties who had also been unemployed for a while, what sort of advice might they give you?
[The individual's experience is being
relocated in a wider system of hypothetical others.]
The last two questions allow for reference
to a collective experience by creating a hypothetical audience
or virtual group and manage to avoid imposing solutions or attempting
to deconstruct the client's concerns.
Critical Therapy prompts us to constantly
review the thinking that shapes our practices in therapeutic contexts.
Connerton (1978) described critical theory as "resistant
to summary; not least, because almost its only unchanging basic
thesis is that it is itself changeable." Such an approach
invites and encourages reflexivity and account-ability:
how we account for our actions as therapists, how our accounts
in turn influence what we notice and treat as meaningful, what
we include and exclude.
Leppington (1991) proposes a way of
thinking about practice by looking at the reflexive and recursive
relationship between our methodological assumptions, which are
incalculably influenced by dominant cultural ideology and epistemology
(ways of thinking about what we think we know), theory, method
and data (what we do, learn and feedback). This diagram demonstrates
a relationship between these components which allows for change
- encourages change - at any level, at any point in the
therapeutic process although change at a methodological level
may be the hardest to change as it is influenced by our ideologies.
Each level acts as a context for each other.
The following examples based on Leppington's
diagram, (1991) illustrate some differences between the influence
on therapeutic practice of a liberal humanist ideology and a more
Fig. 1 - Liberal Humanist Therapy
In discussing the relationship between these different levels, Leppington (1991) proposes taking an ironic stance to one's work and to the conversation by asking questions of oneself:
What are the stories I am drawing on?
What might be some consequences of my ideas?
How are they influencing what is being
brought forth or not being brought forth?
As Weingarten (1992) points out, the
therapist "is constantly selecting aspects of the conversation
to amplify or diminish" and "that this process of selection
is guided by a number of variables including the therapist's experiences
gained by virtue of being located in a particular racial, gendered
and class position in the wider socio-political context within
which therapy takes place."
There are problems in identifying what
one is overlooking, not bringing forth. Leppington suggests exploring
a person's "final vocabulary" which shows itself in
half finished sentences or phrases like "You know what I
mean". White (1991), is also interested in what might be
"present" in conversation but not said and asks how
certain ideas are privileged and come to dominate a person's "reality".
He uses Derrida's ideas of deconstruction (1981) to explore these
absent voices, why they have been silenced and make explicit the
dominant narratives in people's lives. "Deconstruction has
to do with procedures that subvert taken-for-granted realities
and practices; those so-called 'truths' that are split off from
the conditions and the context of their production, those disembodied
ways of speaking that hide their biases and prejudices, and those
familiar practices of self and of relationship that are subjugating
of persons' lives." (White 1991)
I am using the term "deconstruction"
in this paper to refer to a questioning process which explores
taken-for-granted descriptions associated with particular voices
and which encourages openness and curiosity to enquire about meaning,
how it is attributed, its contexts and its exceptions. By using
a hypothetical audience, one can create additional contexts
in which further or preferred descriptions of self can emerge.
White (1991) sees an integral part of a politicised therapeutic
practice as going beyond the deconstructing of ideas and going
on to "develop alternative and preferred practices of self
and relationship - counter practices."
Hypothetical Audiences and Wider
I have created the term of hypothetical
audience to describe a group of other people who may not be
physically present but who undoubtedly exist and on whose stories
the therapist and client may be able to draw.
Hypothetical audiences can be used
to bring forth multiple descriptions or offer support for personal
views which do not find support in their immediate systems.
The hypothetical audience can take
many different forms. The therapist can invite the client to participate
in an imaginary scenario with a group of others of whom the client
might ask questions.
The use of the hypothetical audience has proved useful in a practice context where
a client has a strong attachment to a decontextualised description of their own difficulties
clients sometimes present as isolated
with no peer group or community on whose experience or advice
they might draw.
Using a Hypothetical Audience and
Wider System Questions with Clients
When co-constructing a hypothetical
audience with a client, I have found it most fruitful to "invite"
a group of people who might directly relate to the client's situation.
The audience will still contain different points of view. Selecting
a more general or very different audience has often proved too
difficult for the client to identify with and can exacerbate any
sense of isolation. Being very specific seems to help the client
to identify with or conceptualise of such a group; for example,
a hundred other mothers with children under five who have been
living in poor temporary accommodation for over six months; a
hundred other men in their fifties who have been made redundant
for whom work was their life; a hundred other single gay men who
have considered coming out to their parents as gay since finding
they were HIV positive.
It is also an intervention with the client to create such a group. Individuals become mindful of themselves as members of a group that does exist albeit not immediately or visibly.
Inviting a large number of people allows
for the possibility of more variation in audience response. I
have found that the first responses which clients bring forth
"from" their audience are usually their most familiar
and least supportive voice - what Michael White might refer to
as the dominant description (1991): "They would think I am
crap", "They would think I should try harder",
"They would be shocked". It is important to enquire
beyond these initial voices to invite the alternative descriptions
of other voices not yet heard.
A shift can also be seen here from
an idea of interviewing a named 'internalised other' (Tomm,
1991) to exploring 'internalised discourses' (Allen & White,
Case Illustration II
Clara, a woman in her late twenties
from near Dublin, was approaching the end of her four years in
therapy and was still very much under the influence of an individualised
description of her struggles which she had been recruited into
and which did not include systems greater than her family and
colleagues. Working here as the therapist, I thought I would see
what other descriptions might be brought forth with a wider audience.
Clara - I don't know. I must be mad.
Therapist - I wonder what a hundred other young women, also from or near Dublin,
living in London, would think of your struggles over the past four years? What
sense would they make of it?
C - [Pause] I don't know. [Looks puzzled]
T - Well, if someone had made a movie of your life over the last four years or so,
including our conversations, edited clips, a two hour movie maybe and had
shown it to these other women from Ireland, in their late twenties, what sort of
comment would they be making on coming out after the film?
C - Women from Ireland?
T - Women from Ireland who now live in London.
C - Oh. They'd know what I'd been through. They'd understand the isolation and not
understanding how things work here, living in poor accommodations, feeling lost
and confused. [Pause] I don't know. They'd probably think I was mad.
T - All of them?
C - Yes. No.
T - Out of a hundred women from Ireland of about your age, now living in London,
how many would think you were mad and how many would understand your
C - [Contemplative pause] Maybe sixty would understand what I had been through.
The others might think I was mad. But they might have it yet to come. They
might be trying to fit in and
suffering like the rest of...... like I used to.
This conversation begins to locate
the client's experience within wider systems: a cultural context,
a religious context, a political context of immigration, ethnic
prejudice. The conversation strengthened the client's positive
identification with others from a similar background to herself
with an analysis which highlights the plights and strengths of
Irish People in London and more generally, of immigrants received
by the English. By relocating her experience from the personal
to the political or social arena, she loosens her attachment to
the personalised story of inadequacy and madness. It was interesting
for me to see a shift in the client's posture which seemed to
indicate more confidence. She also sounded more confident and
In the past, in enquiring about the
meaning of the word "mad", I called on the voices in
her smaller, known systems. It might have been useful to have
interviewed the movie goers about their interpretations of the
word "mad" and so used a wider system to deconstruct
The following examples demonstrate
the use of wider system questions in bringing forth other audiences
which offer further contexts for exploring the meanings of personal
Case Illustration III
Bimla and Rachel, age 29 and 32, had
been together three years when they came to counselling. They
were having regular arguments which were exhausting them, leaving
them feel the only alternative was to split up. Their problems
were compounded by living in a small town and not having friends
who understood some of the issues they had to deal with in an
racially mixed relationship.
I asked them some wider system questions
to help them find validity for their experiences in a group
beyond their immediate friends, families and therapist. (Simon,
By using a hypothetical audience (the conference of other couples) with wider system questions we are drawing on a range of experience which might not otherwise find a voice or an audience and, hence, validation. Another advantage to using these questions is that the counsellor does not need to be an "expert" in the area of the clients' concerns - on the other hand, in many situations some "knowledge" of other groups is necessary in order to know what questions to ask. In this instance, the couple find their own solutions and at the same time relocate their experience into a more public or political arena.
Shotter (1989) writes, "I act
not simply 'out of' my own plans and desires but in some sense
also 'into' the opportunities offered to me to act, or else my
attempts to communicate will fail or be sanctioned in some way."
He stresses the importance of audience in bringing forth different
"you's" and emphasises the co-constructive nature of
the relationship between "you" and an audience whose
expectations organise the emergent "you". These accounts
says Shotter (1989), are "constitutive of our actual relations
to one another, and to the extent that we constitute ourselves
in our relations to others, constitutive of ourselves." Identity
is something which is performed to and brought forth in conjunction
with an audience.
Obviously different questions bring
out different voices. For example:
- what effect would that have on you?
- how might you understand differently what you have been saying?
- what might the range of opinions be?
- what do you think you would remember most five years down the line from the experience of hearing hundreds and hundreds of people say the
same as you said?
Or in instances where diversity in opinion is hard to bring forth:
Appraising Some Issues, Identifying
Brad Keeney was asked by Stephen Madigan
(1994) whether he saw the individual as an isolated unit 'pulling
themselves up by their bootstraps' or whether Keeney thought that
empowerment happened "in a community of conversation"?
Keeney replied, "Nothing so abstract. Just a community, one's
family, one's clan, one's tribe etc." He locates the individual
in a larger system, asking, "What is your part at the community
table? What is your offering to the whole?"
Butler (1991) asks "Can the visibility
of identity suffice as a political strategy or can it only be
the starting point for a strategic intervention which calls for
a transformation of policy?"
Perhaps it is important for therapists to re-examine their own membership to groups - actual and virtual, present or hypothetical.
One thing systemic and social constructionist
therapists have not yet developed is an analysis of change at
a level of the larger system, of society. I feel strongly that
we should concern ourselves with this issue so we can have a coherent
analysis of change at both a level of the smaller system - the
individual, the family, the workplace - and at a level of wider
systems. The ethical implications of actions between human beings
are a central concern for postmodernist therapists. I have suggested
the use of wider system questions using hypothetical
audiences as one response to this issue. But this is a
small contribution and the question remains of how else systemic,
social constructionist and narrative therapy might go on to contribute
to a notion of group membership, group responsibility and group
action with a view to changing institutionalised discourses
and practices which maintain an oppressive status quo.
I understand postmodernist therapy
as the practice of inciting people to riot - against oppressive
discourses and the structures or institutions which thrive on
them. "Riot" is often used to refer to an idea of "mindless",
uncontrollable or "anti-social" group behaviour and
"incitement", in a therapeutic context, reminds me of
the revised ideas about maintaining neutrality or non-directive
therapy. But "to incite" can be taken to mean to provoke,
arouse, call forth and "riot" to mean disorder, confusion
or revolt. The practice of deconstructing dominant, oppressive
discourses is no less than a calling forth of disorder as part
of a process of change which can create the conditions for other
alternative and challenging voices, practices of power and structures
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Narrative Therapy email@example.com (with message: subscribe MFTC-L yourname) ]
[Footnote 2: All case examples have
been changed to protect client identity.]
Butler, J. (1991) Imitation and Gender Subordination. In Inside/Out Lesbian Theories, Gay
Theories. Ed. Fuss, D. Routledge, New York
Connerton, P. (1978) Critical Sociology. Penguin.
Cronen, V. & Pearce, W.B. (1980) Communication, Action and Meaning: The Creation of Social
Realities. Praeger, New York
Derrida, J. (1981) Positions. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Eagleton, T. (1983) Literary Theory.
Foucault, M. (1976) The History of Sexuality: An Introduction. Peregrine (reprint) 1984. UK
Foucault, M. (1977) Language, Counter-Memory, Practice. Ithaca. US
Foucault, M. (1979) Discipline and Punish: The Birth of Prison. Peregrine London.
Foucault, M. (1980) Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings. Pantheon, New
Williams L. (1996) Neither Liberal Nor Communitarian: Feminism, Political Theory, Possibility. Review of The Politics of Community: A Feminist Critique of the Liberal Communitarian Debate. C THEORY. http://english-server.hss.cmu.edu/ctheory/ctheory.html
Keeney, B. & Madigan, S. (1994) A Conversation with Brad Keeney. Dulwich Centre
Newsletter, 1994 South Australia.
Kitzinger, C. (1988) The Social Construction of Lesbianism
Kitzinger, C. (1989) Liberal Humanism as an Ideology of Control: The Regulation of Lesbian
Identities. Texts of Identity. Eds. Shotter, J. & Gergen, K. Sage, London
Leppington, R. (1991) From Constructivism to Social Constructionism and Doing Critical
Therapy. Human Systems: Journal of Systemic Consultation and Management. Vol.2.2
Pearce, W. B. (1989) Communication and the Human Condition. Southern Illinois University
Philippi, D. (1994) Invisible Sites. Siteworks.
Polkinghorne, D. E. (1992) Postmodern Epistemology of Practice, in Psychology and
Postmodernism ed. Kvale S. Sage.
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Shotter, J. (1989) Social Accountability and the Social Construction of "You". Texts of Identity.
Eds. Shotter, J. & Gergen, K. Sage, London
Simon, G. (1996) Working with Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Couples. In Pink Therapy. Eds.
Davies, D. & Neal, C. Open University Press. UK
Simon, G. & Whitfield, G. (1995) A Discourse-in-Progress: Gay Affirmative Practice and A
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Sarup M., (1993) An Introductory Guide to Poststructuralism and Postmodernism. Second
Edition. Harvester Wheatsheaf.
Tomm, K. (1991) Ethical Postures in Therapy: Facilitating Client's Empowerment. Workshop at
the Kensington Consultation Centre.
Weingarten, K. (1992) A Consideration of Intimate and Non-Intimate Interactions in Therapy.
White, M. (1988) Externalising the Problem. Dulwich Centre Newsletter
White, M. (1991) Deconstruction and Therapy. Dulwich Centre Newsletter, No 3, Australia.