You are on page 1of 12

Running Head: Postmodern Ethics in Narrative Therapy


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

exposing some of the merits of this system as a worldview. 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.Postmodern Ethics in Narrative Therapy PSYC 6738 Narrative and Brief Therapy Postmodern Ethics in Narrative Therapy As a therapeutic modality. 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. the ethical ideas embedded in the practice of narrative therapy indicate great congruence between a postmodern perspective and the narrative therapeutic perspective. narrative therapy considers itself having successfully encapsulated the principle tenets of postmodernism through its social constructionist worldview. 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. 1996. rendered in Freedman and Combs. Further. This paper will begin with a short exposition of the way that the ethics of postmodernism. will be offered as a guide. social constructionist account of ethics from a psychological/mental health system perspective. adherence to the ideological aspects of narrative philosophy. Journal excerpts will be analyzed vis-à-vis narrative therapy’s postmodern ethical principles discussed previously. albeit in a non-clinical context. a view of these principles in action. are integrated into (and in fact. Then. emerge descriptively and epiphenomenally from) the practice of narrative therapy. .

As such.). thinking deeply about the social scene in the therapy room allows the therapist to fully appreciate and enact changed based upon that scene’s malleability.Postmodern Ethics in Narrative Therapy Following the principles of postmodernity. personality. . In both cases. many of the entities established as unchanging in other forms of psychotherapy. like self. and corresponding relational and achievement potentialities are portrayed as molded by their co-construction from moment to moment. we see great similarity between the management of the client/therapist relationship and the way that substantive issues are handled in narrative therapy. Thus. In place of the universally applied stringent protocols that are meant to ensure traditional methods of therapy be ethically sound. the highest priorities are letting such priorities. relationships. Put another way. and concepts. 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). narrative therapy’s ethics allow for each client’s case to be handled in a way form-fitted for their unique situation. 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. Here. as socially-constituted and often fluctuating. 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. Another major contrast between the postmodern ethics of narrative therapy and rule-oriented ethical systems which connote objectively good and bad practice is the former’s emphasis on effects. the ethics of narrative therapy are centered on the idea that the communities. dictate frequent reassessments and postures that liberate rather than constrain new renderings (Epston & White. along with all values.

271). a client somehow knows what sorts of modifications to their conceptions will be of benefit to them. a few difficulties are cause for remaining cautious and questioning in application of the tenets discussed.Postmodern Ethics in Narrative Therapy remain open to reconfiguration when considered appropriate. 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. Further. previously conceptualized as marking that which is certain and comfortable. which are understood as stable in comparison to life circumstances and situations. This method of questioning carries with it the latent assumption that. Where most forms of therapy contort facets of clients’ lives such that they fit happily into ideas about ―the self‖. the preference for coherence in empowering oneself and others a la Karl Tomm’s 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. narrative therapy challenges the ―self as stagnant‖ paradigm. 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. if posed. 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. 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. Implementing a deconstructive therapy involves the same willingness to problematize systems of understanding (which can feel rather personal!) as deconstructive work in postmodern philosophy. Should he or she elicit a great deal of suggestion from the therapist. Coherence as described imputes a form of essentialism about motivation and agency which interferes with the postmodern spirit of questioning and modifying feelings and reactions—even those as central as .

Postmodern Ethics in Narrative Therapy intuitive consistency. is meant to be generic in the sense that it is not necessarily an issue with which therapy is known to deal. This scenario. we now turn to the analysis of a particular problem through the lens here explored. 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 life’s anomalies and incongruences. 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. instead vying to consider only its stated ethical principles. 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. 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. by enacting the shift in worldview and corresponding set of ethics of postmodernism. if not entirely rectified. The analysis itself will be executed through a narrative recounting of facets of Lucy’s plight. a portrait of a ―pure‖ application of postmodern ethics . This execution will serve two purposes. The interjected postmodern voice will intentionally bracket the explicit use of any of the methods used by narrative therapy practitioners. By remaining naïve to the prescriptions and suggestions oft-used in narrative therapy. supplemented by a postmodern ethical voice (denoted by bold font) which will interject with ideas toward reconfigurations of the undesirable and frustrating aspects of Lucy’s account. These concerns speak to the ongoing relational dance between therapist and client and the imperative that postmodernism’s ethics must obey their prescription to continuously rethink and recalibrate power dynamics. experienced as problematic and upsetting by Lucy.

Lucy is a 22 year old graduate student who. 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. short on time and money. that I’ve connected with the people on the other line and at the same time that I didn’t at all. Although you may not be in a stage of life where eating practices are important. in addition to facilitating the complicated and logistically messy donation process. which I guess is normal. Maybe a more expansive notion of what is considered “substantive” might be helpful to be more understanding of different concerns that different people have. 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. Also. She told me a little bit about having ―existential angst‖ about not being able to get pregnant through normal means.Postmodern Ethics in Narrative Therapy may begin to emerge. including a Skype video conference with the infertile couple. The following are firstperson journal entries describing and reflecting upon various stages in the process. The mom seemed like a decently nice woman. this will give a sense of the interaction and degree of consistency between narrative therapy’s worldview and its application. 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 . 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. 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. although she seemed a little more interested in the fact that we’re both vegetarians than about anything very substantive.

Announcing the Decision .Postmodern Ethics in Narrative Therapy describing her feelings as normal. how else could she have judged me? She knows everything there is to know about me on paper. However. but then again. The father was different though. this joke indicates and reifies a construction of the situation as serious. Rather than playing to others’ preconceptions about her. I keep telling everyone ―I just spoke to the first father of my children‖ –not necessarily a point of pride. but I don’t know how it will feel to know that someone else is really raising my biological child. In order to assuage her own trepidation. that was WEIRD. but at least it’s not something one does every day. 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. It can be said that Lucy is responsibly using humor to make light of a very serious situation. Lucy could consider that angst as valid in itself purely by virtue of it being an honest emotion. I always make jokes about this whole thing. Lucy could rethink her joking designation of “the first father of my children”. which could cause Lucy to set up expectations of the mom based on her own. 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. Lucy might combat a self-conception that is contingent upon another’s 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. even down to the socio-culturally determined set of things one “should know about [oneself]”. situated idea of what “normal” is. Like everybody else she assumed that I’m a very understanding person just because of the psychology degree I’m earning.

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

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. the couple. go-getter or a different portrayal that allows her to feel free as opposed to oppressed. Lea. I know I tend to take on too much. To contrast the victim role enacted in hyperbolic complaints. but these people just don’t have any sense for the fact that I have a life too and my first priority isn’t to run errands for them. their relationship as father and daughter. It’s 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. Why do I have to do all this when I’m the one giving the eggs? . the manager of the whole thing. is happy.Postmodern Ethics in Narrative Therapy of the mismatch between her and her father’s inclinations about what type of support would be most accommodating based on their respective positions vis-à-vis the egg donation topic. and their social contexts. so of course I’m 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 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. 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. Lucy can practice telling about her plight by situating herself as a hard worker. always responds to my concerns in rote fashion.

The absence of these constraints could indeed cause a reader to draw very different conclusions about the utility of applying postmodern ethics. 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. . 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. to which I had previously only had meager exposure. This concern notwithstanding.Postmodern Ethics in Narrative Therapy The whole point of this is to earn money I don’t have. the types of suggestions constructed exclusively through a close reading of Lucy’s journal excerpts seem to invoke several of the tools advocated in narrative therapy. The fluctuation between suggestions for changes in a more broad attitude held vs. this analysis can be understood finally to be making a case for many of the methods employed by narrative therapy practitioners. As such. 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. not to lose it on being some egg-producing machine. 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 Lucy’s life and (2) embodying my best but still limited effort to bracket the actual methods of narrative therapy. Overall. 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.

The all-important ―re‖ also points to the unique possibility of imagining and choosing different possible framings of events and emotions.Postmodern Ethics in Narrative Therapy Particularly notable in the analysis was the appearance of ―re‖. Redefining. and rearticulating figured in chiefly as markers of having deconstructed particular ideas and assessments in Lucy’s excerpts. 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. Therefore. reimagining. .

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