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Running Head: Postmodern Ethics in Narrative Therapy

PSYC 6738 Narrative and Brief Therapy Postmodern Ethics in Narrative Therapy Emaline Friedman University of West Georgia

Postmodern Ethics in Narrative Therapy

PSYC 6738 Narrative and Brief Therapy Postmodern Ethics in Narrative Therapy As a therapeutic modality, narrative therapy considers itself having successfully encapsulated the principle tenets of postmodernism through its social constructionist worldview, adherence to the ideological aspects of narrative philosophy, and reconsideration of the therapist/client relationship. All of these factors merge to scaffold a distinct set of ethical values which speaks volumes to the utility of adopting postmodernism into the therapeutic setting and marks a contribution to a pluralistic, social constructionist account of ethics from a psychological/mental health system perspective. Further, the ethical ideas embedded in the practice of narrative therapy indicate great congruence between a postmodern perspective and the narrative therapeutic perspective. This paper will begin with a short exposition of the way that the ethics of postmodernism, rendered in Freedman and Combs, 1996, are integrated into (and in fact, emerge descriptively and epiphenomenally from) the practice of narrative therapy. The ethical stance(s) will be unpacked and critically assessed in contrast to more traditional and fixed notions of ethical practice in other psychotherapeutic systems. Then, a view of these principles in action, albeit in a non-clinical context, will be offered as a guide, pointing out different ways that a social constructionist worldview may serve as a flexible and highly useful method for reflecting on an ethics of interaction both inside and outside of therapy settings. Journal excerpts will be analyzed vis--vis narrative therapys postmodern ethical principles discussed previously, exposing some of the merits of this system as a worldview.

Postmodern Ethics in Narrative Therapy Following the principles of postmodernity, the ethics of narrative therapy are centered on the idea that the communities, discourses, and worldviews which come to bear on our senses of self and thus our ideas of and possibilities for well-being are choices (Freedman & Combs, 1996). As such, many of the entities established as unchanging in other forms of psychotherapy, like self, personality, and corresponding relational and achievement potentialities are portrayed as molded by their co-construction from moment to moment. Another major contrast between the postmodern ethics of narrative therapy and rule-oriented ethical systems which connote objectively good and bad practice is the formers emphasis on effects. Thus, these ethics pose questions to the narrative therapist that requires that he or she be unceasingly vigilant of the therapeutic relationship at hand. This heightened awareness of the way that people are viewed and power is distributed (and by whom!) simultaneously invites an opening of possible effects on the client based in the contingent nature of these constructs. Put another way, thinking deeply about the social scene in the therapy room allows the therapist to fully appreciate and enact changed based upon that scenes malleability. In place of the universally applied stringent protocols that are meant to ensure traditional methods of therapy be ethically sound, narrative therapys ethics allow for each clients case to be handled in a way form-fitted for their unique situation. The relationship between client and therapist is managed with respect to the likelihood of different worldviews and sensitivity to expectations and beliefs of the client which, as socially-constituted and often fluctuating, dictate frequent reassessments and postures that liberate rather than constrain new renderings (Epston & White,). Here, we see great similarity between the management of the client/therapist relationship and the way that substantive issues are handled in narrative therapy. In both cases, the highest priorities are letting such priorities, along with all values, relationships, and concepts,

Postmodern Ethics in Narrative Therapy remain open to reconfiguration when considered appropriate. Where most forms of therapy contort facets of clients lives such that they fit happily into ideas about the self, which are understood as stable in comparison to life circumstances and situations, narrative therapy challenges the self as stagnant paradigm. This challenge tacitly suggests that the freedom that comes with reconfiguring and re-appropriating attitudes ultimately behooves the client much more than clinging to a self that is idealized as predetermined or inescapable. Despite the wide array of benefits afforded by an ethical system which is self-critical to the point that it remains perpetually open to new ethical postures, a few difficulties are cause for remaining cautious and questioning in application of the tenets discussed. Of greatest concern are a few of the complications that arise in the wake of always newly establishing facets of the client and his or her convictions, previously conceptualized as marking that which is certain and comfortable. Implementing a deconstructive therapy involves the same willingness to problematize systems of understanding (which can feel rather personal!) as deconstructive work in postmodern philosophy. This method of questioning carries with it the latent assumption that, if posed, a client somehow knows what sorts of modifications to their conceptions will be of benefit to them. Should he or she elicit a great deal of suggestion from the therapist, there exists the threat that the latter assumes more of an expert role which attributes and invites more assumptions about the needs and views of the client. Further, the preference for coherence in empowering oneself and others a la Karl Tomms model is outlined by Freedom and Combs as noting inconsistencies between intent and effect and privileging emotional dynamics in order to seek intuitive consistency (p. 271). Coherence as described imputes a form of essentialism about motivation and agency which interferes with the postmodern spirit of questioning and modifying feelings and reactionseven those as central as

Postmodern Ethics in Narrative Therapy intuitive consistency. It may also be dangerous insofar as it connotes that certain value systems yield certain results that the client must be aware of. Although some connections between probable causes and effects can be useful in some instances, narrative therapists may be weary of implanting reveries of linearity instead of practicing and inspiring openness to uncertainty that stands to better prepare the client for lifes anomalies and incongruences. These concerns speak to the ongoing relational dance between therapist and client and the imperative that postmodernisms ethics must obey their prescription to continuously rethink and recalibrate power dynamics. In order to grasp the breadth of possibilities for the principles of postmodern ethics as they are engendered in the social constructionist worldview of narrative therapy, we now turn to the analysis of a particular problem through the lens here explored. This scenario, experienced as problematic and upsetting by Lucy, is meant to be generic in the sense that it is not necessarily an issue with which therapy is known to deal. Although this story is nuanced and presents as a very specific instance, we can understand it as exemplary of a non-clinical situation which may be supported, if not entirely rectified, by enacting the shift in worldview and corresponding set of ethics of postmodernism. The analysis itself will be executed through a narrative recounting of facets of Lucys plight, supplemented by a postmodern ethical voice (denoted by bold font) which will interject with ideas toward reconfigurations of the undesirable and frustrating aspects of Lucys account. The interjected postmodern voice will intentionally bracket the explicit use of any of the methods used by narrative therapy practitioners, instead vying to consider only its stated ethical principles. This execution will serve two purposes. By remaining nave to the prescriptions and suggestions oft-used in narrative therapy, a portrait of a pure application of postmodern ethics

Postmodern Ethics in Narrative Therapy may begin to emerge. Also, this will give a sense of the interaction and degree of consistency between narrative therapys worldview and its application. Lucy is a 22 year old graduate student who, short on time and money, made the decision to donate her eggs to an infertile couple of hopeful parents-to-be by responding to an advertisement online to register with an agency that matches donors and recipients, in addition to facilitating the complicated and logistically messy donation process. The following are firstperson journal entries describing and reflecting upon various stages in the process, including a Skype video conference with the infertile couple, explaining her decision to undergo the medically risky procedure to her father, and handling logistical details of the donation cycle with a representative of the matching agency. Skype Conference with the Couple When the call ended I had a little bit of that same feeling that I always get with Skype calls, that Ive connected with the people on the other line and at the same time that I didnt at all. The mom seemed like a decently nice woman, although she seemed a little more interested in the fact that were both vegetarians than about anything very substantive. Maybe a more expansive notion of what is considered substantive might be helpful to be more understanding of different concerns that different people have. Although you may not be in a stage of life where eating practices are important, there may be any number of reasons that can be imagined from her past experiences of a vegetarian lifestyle or her current values that would very justifiably make her entertain this topic extensively. She told me a little bit about having existential angst about not being able to get pregnant through normal means, which I guess is normal. Is this labeling of normal a good idea in terms of having an open and nonoppressive relationship with the mom (who it seems Lucy wants to like)? Instead of

Postmodern Ethics in Narrative Therapy describing her feelings as normal, which could cause Lucy to set up expectations of the mom based on her own, situated idea of what normal is, Lucy could consider that angst as valid in itself purely by virtue of it being an honest emotion. Like everybody else she assumed that Im a very understanding person just because of the psychology degree Im earning, but then again, how else could she have judged me? She knows everything there is to know about me on paper, actually way more than I ever would have without having to call up a ton of family members to fill me in on all my roots and everything that I really should know about myself. Rather than playing to others preconceptions about her, even down to the socio-culturally determined set of things one should know about [oneself], Lucy might combat a self-conception that is contingent upon anothers uncontested discourse by thinking about the way she would structure her own self-knowledge and determine independently what type of self-knowledge would satisfy her. The father was different though, that was WEIRD. I keep telling everyone I just spoke to the first father of my children not necessarily a point of pride, but at least its not something one does every day. I always make jokes about this whole thing, but I dont know how it will feel to know that someone else is really raising my biological child. In order to assuage her own trepidation, Lucy could rethink her joking designation of the first father of my children. It can be said that Lucy is responsibly using humor to make light of a very serious situation. However, this joke indicates and reifies a construction of the situation as serious. A label like the recipient of my gift might take switch the interpretation of the donor/recipient relationship from carrying the finalizing decree of a father of her first children to one that marks her act as kind and giving. Announcing the Decision

Postmodern Ethics in Narrative Therapy Today I finally told Dad about the egg stuff. I felt kinda shitty telling mom not to tell him, I just know how weird he is about health stuff and I thought I should just lay it down for him myself. I hate it when things just get around through the grapevine, which they tend to do when my moms involved. Anyway, all I did was explain that doing this would give me enough money to let me breathe a little easier throughout my 20s, which I think is really important. He seemed to understand that, which I think is pretty consistent with the way hes always let me make my own choices. Does this attribution of consistency to dad take into account the way he himself might strive to act, or does it deprive him of the freedom to assess news and lend support to the best of his abilities? Afterward though, he kept sending me all these emailsresults of medical research, articles, what have you, all showing the horrors of egg donation and basically suggesting that Im going to have serious side effects. He probably thinks Im just one of a hoard of nave, lazy girls with good genes who think they can get rich quick. Instead of assuming that she understands the tacit suggestion of her own inadequacy, Lucy could try following the thread of a different possible meaning that her fathers emails emanate that does not assume an agenda that he has not explicitly stated. Lucy might also reposition herself by acknowledging that the nave, lazy girls with good genes is her own indexing of a possible type of girl to be in the dominant discourse that she alone has the choice to accept or contest. I know what Im in for, and I dont get why no one else realizes that this is WORK. Work is not supposed to be easy or even risk free, really. If he wants to support me by scaring me and insinuating that Ive not even thoroughly considered what Im doing, then I dont want that support. Here, Lucy might benefit from questioning where her own notion of support comes from, and whether or not she would be willing to expand this notion to include alternate conceptions like her fathers. This might also gear her toward an understanding

Postmodern Ethics in Narrative Therapy of the mismatch between her and her fathers inclinations about what type of support would be most accommodating based on their respective positions vis--vis the egg donation topic, their relationship as father and daughter, and their social contexts. Handling Logistical Details I am so fucking done with corresponding with all these women who have their cute electronic signatures and are so polite and probably are just eating their little probiotic yogurts and patting themselves on the back for giving the gift of life on a daily basis. Its so obnoxiously transparent to me that all they care about is making sure the whole process is legally sound and that the people who are actually paying them, the couple, is happy. Lucy could reassess her characterization of the women with whom she is working by drawing from positive instances and consider the other values and forces (besides money) driving the others involved in the egg donation process to foster respect for different methods of communicating. I only have a two other jobs and a five class semester on my hands, so of course Im delighted to answer 7 emails from 3 different representatives a day asking me to drive an hour away to pick up medications and fax and overnight documents. I know I tend to take on too much, but these people just dont have any sense for the fact that I have a life too and my first priority isnt to run errands for them. To contrast the victim role enacted in hyperbolic complaints, Lucy can practice telling about her plight by situating herself as a hard worker, go-getter or a different portrayal that allows her to feel free as opposed to oppressed. Lea, the manager of the whole thing, always responds to my concerns in rote fashion. I told her the other day that I wanted to be reimbursed for all that I paid up front for gas and parking and she sent me the part of our contract that outlines reimbursement procedures and asked me to mail her my receipts. Why do I have to do all this when Im the one giving the eggs?

Postmodern Ethics in Narrative Therapy The whole point of this is to earn money I dont have, not to lose it on being some egg-producing machine. These methods for reconfiguring how Lucy conceptualizes and behaves with respect to juggling all of the emotionally taxing facets of an egg donation cycle seemed to fall out naturally from holding in mind the preceding discussion of a postmodern ethical standpoint. Overall, the types of suggestions constructed exclusively through a close reading of Lucys journal excerpts seem to invoke several of the tools advocated in narrative therapy. This lends convincing support for a positive response to the question of congruence between a postmodern ethical system as elucidated by narrative therapy and its application. As such, this analysis can be understood finally to be making a case for many of the methods employed by narrative therapy practitioners. The interspersed analysis has the quite transparent shortcomings of (1) lacking evidence about whether or not the ethical suggestions indeed aided the development of the desired changes or other effects on Lucys life and (2) embodying my best but still limited effort to bracket the actual methods of narrative therapy, to which I had previously only had meager exposure. The absence of these constraints could indeed cause a reader to draw very different conclusions about the utility of applying postmodern ethics. This concern notwithstanding, the analysis here instated is only meant to highlight the types of changes that appear when attention is paid to the values articulated by a social constructionism perspective. The fluctuation between suggestions for changes in a more broad attitude held vs. an assessment of a particular situation harken back to the postmodern allowance of non-mandated fluidity of traditionally-viewed deeper ideas related to self and world.

Postmodern Ethics in Narrative Therapy Particularly notable in the analysis was the appearance of re. Redefining, reimagining, and rearticulating figured in chiefly as markers of having deconstructed particular ideas and assessments in Lucys excerpts. The all-important re also points to the unique possibility of imagining and choosing different possible framings of events and emotions. Therefore, rigid fixity of people and situations that can provoke anxiety and constraint was replaced by an acknowledgment and transcendence of the notion that our ideas about things represent only one of an unthinkable amount of discourses.

Postmodern Ethics in Narrative Therapy References Freedman, J. & Combs, G. (1996). Narrative therapy: The social construction of preferred realities, chapter 1. New York: Norton. White, M. & Epston, D. (1990). Narrative means to therapeutic ends. New York: Norton.