I am delighted that Chris Beels agreed to  respond to NPCI Study Group reflections and questions after reading his article, “Some Historical Conditions of Narrative Work” (in the Family Process 2009 special section on the legacy of Michael White). This conversation began September 10, 2009.


Chris Beels: I’m happy to be a guest author. I think the best way for me to participate is by getting posts in the mail from Peggy rather than trusting my computer skills in the hurly-burly on line.  I understand this will just be for the first one or two weeks at the beginning of the course, unless some further conversation starts.To introduce myself, I’m a psychiatrist who has specialized in work with the families of the severely mentally ill, helping to form institutions and narratives that make use of their numbers and their common experience. At Bronx Psychiatric Center my colleagues and I  founded an inpatient and outpatient service that served the mentally ill of a large area of the Bronx with multi-family groups as the centerpiece of their psychiatric services. Moving in 1975 to the Psychiatric Institute affiliated with the Columbia Psychiatry Department, I founded the Public Psychiatry Fellowship, a program that introduces psychiatrists after residency to the possibilities of a career in the public sector. Narrative work has helped to form a bridge between working with individuals and families, and working and training in institutions.

I just received this email from Chris Beels. I am grateful for Chris’ generous contribution to this conversation, and for the ample food for thought. Really, it’s awe-inspiring, like the  full moon rising in tonight’s starry night sky. Dear Peggy –

I almost tried to jump into the stream of the on-line discussion, but got cold feet at the last minute. Even in the midst of such an affirmative and accepting discussion of my paper about Michael and narrative work, it feels like an unaccustomed way of responding, so here I am again writing this email to you in hopes that you will post it and it may start a discussion that I can join later. I was especially grateful for your introductory review of my book, Peggy, and to Sarah, Bonnie, Mohammad and Andre for their comments. It feels good to be so clearly understood. The questions people raised got me thinking, and I will try to thread some of them together in this letter.

Mohammad expressed surprise at Epston’s background in hypnotism, and I agree – many of  us don’t credit that part of the history of therapy. Epston’s main teacher of hypnotism was a surgeon he knew who used it as an adjunct to anesthesia. From there he went on to study some of the work of Milton Erickson. I put a chapter about hypnotism in A Different Story to try to pull this together — it’s a “secret” thread that goes back to the 18th century and Anton Mesmer, and is rarely acknowledged because it has too many creepy associations. I learned my part of it from the Neuro-linguistic Programming people in the 70s, but I wouldn’t have gone near them if I hadn’t been introduced by a trusted guide, Nina Evans. Bandler and Grinder, the originators of that work, presented their method in a popularized glossy format too close to the advertising business  for me to trust it. They were even willing to train car salesmen!

This reminds me of Bonnie’s comment about the importance of training — sometimes unacknowledged training — and Andre’s question about the importance of the humanistic school in the history of narrative. That’s so interesting. Michael once told me that Carl Rogers’ method was the first form of psychotherapy that he learned. I think he moved on from it because it was too lacking in what he later called “thickening,” but I’m not sure. You can certainly see the positive and encouraging response of Rogers in Michael and David’s writing and work. I haven’t read in the later evolution of Rogers’ and other humanists as you have, Andre, so I find your description persuasive and helpful. Another early influence for both of them was Bateson’s group, which I think for all of us set a standard of theory in the workings of social systems so that, even though the field of family therapy moved on from its obligation to be “systemic” in all things, nevertheless once we had been part of that conversation, there was an open-ness to taking ideas from other disciplines seriously that you can see in the way narrative people listen to each other.

I noticed with much sympathy Sarah’s response to her supervisor’s comment — “Don’t forget, she is a borderline and they will use you..” Someone else ( I’m sorry  I can’t find who at the moment) talked about her pleasure in the return to the clinic of someone previously labeled “borderline,” now quite changed. It reminded me of my own struggles with deciding whether to have anything to do with the that way of defining people, some of which is taken up in “A Different Story.” I realize that since I wrote that book I’ve been invited into a very different orientation by a psychologist, Perry Hoffman, who involved me in a support group for the families of people who had received that diagnosis. What was interesting about the meeting I attended — a conference of many such groups — was that there was also a group of young women there who identified themselves as survivors of the diagnosis, and who reported that, seen from the group’s perspective, the diagnosis and treatment process had been positive. For one thing, they had found each other. But apart from that, they acquired a way of thinking about their skill in dealing with people that came in part from owning the diagnosis in order to resist its implications, perhaps in a similar way to the attitude David Epston recommends to people struggling with anorexia or asthma.

Hoffman later edited a book “Borderline Personality Disorder Perspectives:From Professional to Family Member” for which I wrote a foreword. It has a chapter (Barbara Stanley and Beth Brodsky) with one of the most interesting and useful discussions of the tendency of people who’ve had this experience to contemplate suicide. I remembered also that the treatment called Dialectical Behavior Therapy pioneered by  Marsha Linehan especially for this problem (re-labeled “parasuicidal behavior” — which the consumers seemed to prefer) was one in which in addition to individual therapy the patients engaged in weekly group exercises in which they practiced developing greater skills in interpersonal encounters. How did their experience of each other contribute to the evolution of their ideas about themselves? Anything like the experience of the Power to Our Journeys groups that Michael led?

For years now I have been wondering about the fit between narrative work and “borderline” problems. Some of the ways they don’t fir are obvious. Narrative workers have an understandable suspicion of psychiatric diagnoses in general, and “borderline” has been not only a clinical description but a term expressing annoyance and exhaustion, especially during the early period of our training when we are most aware of and sensitive to discouragement.  And perhaps especially for narrative workers, who expect our work to produce more optimistic re-formulations of “problems”, it is daunting to meet someone whose approach to ambiguous encounters is to see them as threatening. I forget who first suggested to me that such people have discovered the power of anger, and find it incredibly liberating, a key to all uncertain locks. Certainly one of my own attraction for narrative work is the immediate search for positive outcomes, and I really don’t like it when I think I’ve found one and it gets me a punch in the nose. My first such encounter was “Dolores,” described in the book.

So the question I want to throw out is, should the problem of parasuicidal or borderline clients be of special interest to us as a limiting case — something for which our method is least apt without modification, and can we learn something from that? I heard from Jack Saul that in his last years when he was home, Michael asked a local clinic to refer borderline patients to him so that he could see what he could do for them. Isn’t that interesting? I wonder if he told anyone what he was finding out.

I still avoid “borderline” encounters — easy for me to do, at my point in life — but I have recently heard some good news about them. An issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry this spring is devoted to comparing treatments, and the winners at first glance look very different from narrative work. But maybe not — maybe “mentalization” is a form of externalization. And there is a wonderful essay about the whole problem by my old friend John Gunderson that sums up the history of the problem and points to some new syntheses:Borderline Personality Disorder: Ontogeny of a Diagnosis by John G. Gunderson Am J Psychiatry 2009; 166: 530-539.

Thank you for giving me an opportunity to ask these questions, which have been sitting unassembled in the back of my mind for a long time. I’d be interested in any responses or ideas you all have.

Best, Chris

Let the conversation begin!

Sarah Hughes

Sarah Hughes (October 5,2009): Thanks Chris!  ANd peggy for passing this on.  I read this letter last night and have been pondering since….

I was really struck by the comments about “borderline” diagnosis/descriptions as I am working in mental health and as Michael’s ideas around trauma and the connection to this diagnosis really interest me.  I can imagine Michael asking to work with people with this diagnosis and the amazing work he must have done.  Ahhh – I really wish I could talk to him about this.
I also welcome the chance the work with people with this diagnosis as well, let me think about this… I think it is because when I hear this description or feel some of the traits listed in the diagnosis in the room – I tend to well first of all be in close consultation with my inner Michael, I really think about trauma and narrative ideas around resistance/response which helps me think about double storying and really being attuned to the person and honouring rather than judging their way of being in the world. I also think a lot about attunement and scaffolding and I slow down and really listen and try to avoid jumping to my own conclusions. The anger does not scare me (as it seems to some workers I’ve witnessed and they then seem to become very rigid in their thinking)  For me it, I think maybe, it tends to open up my curiousity.  I really like the description of anger as “a key to all uncertain locks”  I need to think about that some more but I like it.
OK I really need to do my file work which does not open up my curiousity as I have such rigid rules I need to follow.  I am hoping after I get a bit more established in my position I can find ways to resist and be a bit more ethical (my personal ethics) and creative in my “case notes”… Mohammad might be able to help me with that…
Thanks again for your thoughts.
What  are others thinking about?

andreAndré Grégoire: Thanks a lot, Chris! I really like the diversity of ideas or directions expressed in your text, mostly in relation to “borderline disorders”, and also your openness to ask if narrative therapy is appropriate for these “symptoms”…

Anyway, all along these paragraphs about “borderline” situation, it made me reflect about the “labelling” of borderline, and the “intense signification” (negative) that has became attached to that label in our psychological subculture. So, I liked very much reading Chris’s comments about the “power of anger” that these people might have found… or the “parasuicidal behavior” label which appears to me less negative… I found myself thinking that maybe the “diagnosis survivor” might be called instead “diagnosis resilient”, as the notion of survivor carries indirectly the idea that someone was really that type of problem at one point, although the concept of resilience carries for me the idea that somebody resisted more clearly to the problem…

Another thought about that specific diagnosis. Even if I have not worked extensively with people acting and labelled that way, a few times working with these people I strongly had this impression that the borderline diagnosis produces what it describes. I mean that sometimes, I had the impression that the people were reacting with anger (or at least more anger) because some professional had called them “borderline”. And even if it’s an expert wording, these people knew quite clearly that it was a strong negative diagnosis, and I could not find out really which part of their behaviour was a reaction to that labelling and which one was in their “spontaneous behavior”.

Another short note about the “mentalization” part. In my opinion, yes I think that externalization is a mentalization feature. And also I think that all the “relational questioning” ( “What do you think your brother might say if…”) that is so much present in narrative work help and sustain, in my view, mentalization processes. Michael White was good at that type of questioning, and David Epston seems to go in that direction also when he talks so elegantly about “questions that captures the curiosity” of people… questions that people cannot leave aside…

Thanks again, Chris, for being part of this discussion!

André Grégoire

peggyProfile2012Peggy Sax (October 9, 2009)TO MUCH TO SAY AND TOO LITTLE TIME!…I think this might be true for many of us. For me, there is the extra distraction of keeping up with study group details. On my morning walk, I thought of the analogy of hosting a party. While I want most to linger with conversations,  I also have my eyes on ensuring the happiness of the guests, making sure they are well fed, the ambiance is hospitable, etc…I like this role a lot – I just wish there was more time in the day.

Anyone heard the inner voice: How would my thoughts contribute to such a brilliant exchange? None of us want such a rich thoughtful dialogue to have silencing effects. Remember: this is a very friendly group of people.

I want to explore thoughts on two topics that have particular relevance to the history and future of narrative practice.

1)hypnosis, humanism and other developments
2) the borderline phenomenon

Breakfast is served so I can only begin.I am going to experiment with writing bits. Otherwise – if I wait til I have a full hunk of time to do justice to this conversation – I fear I’ll never get anything written. I invite others to do the same.

Andre, you asked a question about humanism that deserves a longer response. I am happy to hear your question. I want to honor our intellectual ancestors, and to move beyond a kind of narrative preciousness. At the same time, I really apprecitate the sense that Carl Rogers offers a good beginning but not enough “thickening.” But you know…I too am not a scholar of humanism. Or of psychoanalysis (where I hear current thinking has new possibilities beyond my judgments. I want to open dialogue and to create space where we don’t have to leave everything at the door in order to embrace narrative. Andre, can you tell us more about what you have learned from your studies humanism?

Ever since reading this exchange, I have been thinking about the borderline diagnosis: the power of anger, respect for people open to exploring possibilities (rather than simply taking the expert stance).  I looked up Perry Hoffman and https://counsellingresource.com/distress/personality-disorders/foundation/. I too have avoided such work ever since I got “burned” by intense anger directed my way more than 20 years ago as a relatively young practitioner. How might I experience this differently now? What was Michael learning?  Why are the voices of the people so often left out (I wish I could come to one of those support groups)? Why is it that in other professions – such as medicine – the more experienced practitioners take on the more complex situations (the brain tumor that no one else will operate on..) yet in therapy/counseling, the more experienced practitioners  often seek easier situations in private practice…where people can afford to pay (no salary) and there usually aren’t the benefits of teamwork/community supports offered in agency work. With more support, we might take on more challenging situations. I want to learn more.

I’m late for breakfast! It feels good though to get started.


JamesPhoto-150x150 2James McCracken: October 4, 2010

I’m a year behind everyone else… but why not heat it back up?!

Thanks, Chris, for your thoughtful response.  I recently moved away from NYC a few months ago, and now knowing that you are up there, I sure wished I had had some way to reach out to you while I was living there… I would have loved to pick your brain a bit.  I had such a hard time finding narrative thinkers/practitioners until I found  my way into a small learning circle in Westchester County (they were/are such a gem!).  It makes me wonder who in my environs now (Chapel Hill, NC) are narrative-interested peoples.

There’s so much about your article on psychotherapy history and on everyone’s responses in this conversation, that I could easily trail off into 100 different ideas, but instead I have been drawn to a thought about a recent experience I had last week.  UNC-CH School of Medicine’s psychiatry department has organized a reading/study group that is multi-discipline, and they had a very interesting meeting last week that I attended.  The group has 4 psychiatrists, most are bio-based thinkers, one classical analyst, 4 doctoral level philosophers, 3 doctoral level political scientist, two social workers (myself included), and one sociologist.  The group spoke about Ian Hacking’s chapter on “Madness: Biological or Social?” from his book “The Social Construction of What?!”  This was my first meeting with this group, but it was really quite energizing and helped me talk out some of what I’ve been taking in from my various studies (this online study community in particular).  My summary of Ian Hacking’s chapter may not be terribly accurate and will be incredibly brief (if you want to read more of this, it’s available for the most part on Google books for free), but here it goes:

He proposes there are two camps of thought about diagnostics: real, or natural, kinds, and interactive, or social, kinds.  Real kinds are things that do, in fact, exist, even if we don’t understand them… the underlying assumption is that we can eventually understand them enough to use that knowledge to our advantage.  Interactive kinds are things that we only “know” exist, and we therefore create language for these things in order to better understand them and integrate them into our cultures.  Natural sciences use real kinds, social sciences use interactive kinds to described phenomena.  Question: Is psychiatry a natural or social science?  He uses the examples of schizophrenia, mental retardation, and autism as examples as there are instances of these phenomena in every human culture known, and each has their own understanding of these phenomena.  So are they natural, or social; real, or interactive?

A debate ensued, and it got pretty “hot” at times.  Ian Hacking effectively split thought in two, and people took up sides, or switched between the two to try out ideas.  This went on for about an hour, and then I spoke up and said something along the lines of:  Why can’t you honor both?  According to this idea of the two ways of thinking about things, everything is both… this table is a real something, but it isn’t a “table”… that’s just what English speakers call it.  Why can’t schizophrenia or autism be the same?  Clearly people we diagnose with schizophrenia and autism experience something very different from those of us who make the diagnosis.  These particular diagnoses carry with them some particularly harsh stigma, and tremendous implications for prognosis, so we should be careful about how we use these words and stamp them on files, and on people’s lives, but perhaps they don’t have to be a bad thing.  I asked the psychiatrists at the table the medical purpose of diagnosis, and they said “To treat… no… to help.”  So if a diagnosis can be used for the purpose of helping, and are evaluated on their ability to do so, then perhaps diagnosticians could be trained better to use their language to help people and not just label them for sorting purposes.  We can’t uninvent a word… I think we have a few options: to hope that the word and the meaning that it carries dies along with a language (takes forever), to invalidate others who use the words (if they have power, doesn’t serve to do much than just start a nasty fight), or have open dialogue about how to better use these words… give power back to the people these words are supposed to serve, and examine the ethics of those responsible for giving them out… while at the same time respecting the words people come up with to describe their experience.

The group went silent and then convened.  I hope that was a good thing.

I can only assume that my studies with this online narrative group have helped to better bring me to the understanding and respect that I am having for multiple perspectives.  Chris, your article has been very helpful to help me respect where all of this work comes from (I also read some article of yours not so long ago about “Communities of Concern” having to do with young persons with psychosis… excellent writing.  The psychiatrists and psychologist I work with really liked it too).  I found it very balancing.

It can be so easy to jump on one side of an argument or another… but just like a horse, I think we can stand to ride on the middle of the horse if we can appreciate both sides and find a good balance.

I want to know more about hypnosis now… I held a prejudice about it.  I could stand to examine it. James

peggyProfile2012Peggy Sax: October 10, 2010

James, I love the way you warm up older conversations! Your posts spark so many thoughts for me, and I want very much to jump right in to this conversation.

Your experiences with the UNC-CH School of Medicine’s psychiatry department multi-disciplinary reading/study group sound fascinating. I was particularly drawn to this part:

I asked the psychiatrists at the table the medical purpose of diagnosis, and they said “To treat… no… to help.”  So if a diagnosis can be used for the purpose of helping, and are evaluated on their ability to do so, then perhaps diagnosticians could be trained better to use their language to help people and not just label them for sorting purposes.  We can’t uninvent a word… I think we have a few options: to hope that the word and the meaning that it carries dies along with a language (takes forever), to invalidate others who use the words (if they have power, doesn’t serve to do much than just start a nasty fight), or have open dialogue about how to better use these words… give power back to the people these words are supposed to serve, and examine the ethics of those responsible for giving them out… while at the same time respecting the words people come up with to describe their experience.

James, I really wish I could be a fly on the wall to hear/see what comes next after the silence. Do you sense that you are being accepted as a respected member of this group? Do you experience yourself as  equally confident in voice as in the written word? (I imagine getting nervous speaking up in the context you describe). You said this study group is contributing to your perspective in holding multiple perspectives. Are you also saying this study group – and Chris Beels’ article –  contribute to your confidence to speak up in a mixed perspective group of collegues? Wow. That makes me very happy.

Please keep writing! I know your words are read and appreciated by many. It’s just a matter of finding the time to respond!

I just sent your reflections to Chris Beels. …I know he will very much appreciate reading these reflections. Maybe he’ll even share a few more of his experiences with us.


JamesPhoto-150x150 2James: The readings of articles and people’s thoughts in this study group is definitely helping me better understand narrative practices in theory and in action, and this is indeed providing more confidence to speak up in such an academically elite group!  I think I may have pissed some people off last week, but I must have made the moderator/organizer’s good list as he asked me to come back for the next meeting.  It will certainly be interesting to see how this group develops.

I’m looking forward to anything Chris may have in response… and everyone else of course!

Respectable, no?

Sarah Hughes

Sarah Hughes (Oct 7, 2010)

I am out of time for a proper response but want to say – wow, what a great story James.  I am in awe of what you were able to say and like Peggy I look forward to hearing about what happens next!  It made me think about Karl Tomm’s words in his article about deconstructing the DSM.  Something about what it might have looked like if it was – ok I looked it up
The priority became one of precision and accuracy in making diagnoses. This was based on the medical assumption that “planning a treatment program must begin with an accurate diagnostic assessment”. (p.7) I wonder in what direction the manual might have evolved if, instead, it was based on a humanistic assumption like “planning a therapeutic response must begin with empathy and compassion”.
OK I really must go get ready for work but thanks so much for this story…

Regina-150x150 2Regina Jardim: October 10, 2010

Dear friends
Yesterday I red Chris Beels article to make a start on my assignment for module 1. Now that I´ve seen the on going conversation I fear that my post will kind of look schizophrenic and out of path.

Nevertheless…there it goes:
Being now officially in module 1, I need to generate 4 posts on any of the issues related. To start such a task I red several times the guidelines and to make this first post I used the following statement: “What gets my attention?”

Many topics fell into this category but I chose the History and Context Theme because somehow it opened up the possibility to link with my own career development. Under the topic was the article by Chris Beels and it was also decisive in my choice the expanded possibility to receive any comments from the author himself, since he is guest author on the NSCG site.

Histories within histories

The feeling of joy while reading  Chris Beels´article manifested itself at various forms and times. Firstly I would mention the joy of reading about a very similar experience with my own. I took my first degree in psychology in 1977 from the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro. At that time we lived an ideological duality at all levels. In politics, the capitalism, represented by the USA; and the communism, represented by the Soviet Union. In Psychology  the dispute was between psychoanalysis and behaviorism. Now we know that beyond the content discussed, it was the paradigm of absolute and objective truth. Today one can understand that in fact, the contest was about who was right and who was wrong. More than that, today, from the encounter with poststructuralist thought, we can understand how reductionist the absolute truth paradigm may be.

After  graduation I moved to England. During my stay in England, which lasted five years, I choose to invest my time in three main areas: 1 – work, even voluntarily, in NHS hospitals, 2 – do the specialization course in psychoanalysis to psychologists at the Tavistock Clinic in London and 3 – do an MA in clinical psychology at the University of Birmingham. During the Master´s degree I found family therapy, systems theory, the famous book “Pragmatics of human communication” and  the thinking of the strategic school of Milan. The encounter with the system theory could not be better described than with the words of Beels “seismic shift under our feet with Bateson’s re-location of mind in the system of interactions between communicating organisms rather than inside the brain”.

That was a welcome revolution. From the modern paradigm, that forced us to choose between two poles, to the new proposal which allows the integration of understandings, considered in their respective contexts.

I returned to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1982 and began searching for other family therapists. In 1985 I began a formal certification as a Family Therapist. The training took place in a clinic created by one of the pioneers in family therapy in Brasil. Soon it was created the Brazilian Association of Family Therapy which could recognized the good formation institutes. The literature cited by Beels in his article was the same that I followed. Uncommon Therapy by Jay Haley on the techniques of Milton Erickson and “The power tactics of Jesus Christ”, along with others not directly mentioned in the article such as “The pragmatics of human communication”; “Paradox and counter-paradox” by the Milan´team.

Currently I have been showing my students the family therapy history of evolution through the reading and reflection on three articles by Cechin and his colleages: 1- Boscolo L, Cecchin G, Prata S & Selvini P- “Hipothesising, circularity, neutrality: three guidelines to the family therapist (Family Process, v19, n1, 1980); 2- Cecchin G- “Hipothesising, circularity, neutrality revisited: An invitation to curiosity” (Family Process, v26, n4, 1987). 3- Cecchin G- “ Social constructionism and therapeutic irreverence” (in Dora S- Novos paradigmas e subjetividade. PA, Artes Médicas, 1996).

Writing this post  also brought me to realize that I am taking the same path again with this new epistemological change to posestructuralism. Another earthquake of understanding. After years of study, research, trial and error, trial and settlement, workshops and talks I am seeking a certification in Narrative Therapy to demonstrate to the outside world the legitimacy, integrity, respect and care that I intend to work either in public or private practices.

Another exciting point of reading Beels´ article was his description of the workshops developed by White, Epston and The Dulwich Centre. Firstly is the fact that the next workshop of the Dulwich Centre will be here in Brazil in the city of Salvador which is the capital of Bahia state. Exciting!  Bahia was the first place where the Portuguese arrived at the time of discovery. Salvador was the first capital of Brazil. Perhaps the city of Brazil that received the largest number of slaves and therefore now-a-days has a huge diversity and miscegenation. It will be an absolute delight to be able to watch how the workshop organizers will contemplate all the pungent diversity present in this city and, why not say, in our country.
Such reflection involves questioning the “Easier Said Than Done.” Although the basic premise of social constructionism is very simple: “There is no absolute or objective truth “; is not a simple task to live up to that premise. Especially considering we were all educated in the premises of objective reality…right and wrong…better and worse. This seems a good argument for the leadership which is attributed to White and Epson. We need models of how to transform our believes in useful and consistent talks.

From the place of emotion (and the benefit of making excuses for our own incompetence) other rallying point was reading the description of the event as focusing on respect and appreciation of the contributions, subverting the dominant paradigm that is always focused on failure, lack and deficit. What Beels calls “penetrating good question implicity critical” is the dominant posture in our professional field and has intimidated me, and for sure, some other people to write more. I mean, if you fear to be criticized, you may become very poor on your production. I  hope to overcome such fear and I have a feeling that being part of the NSCG will help me a lot with that.
best regards, Regina Jardim

peggyProfile2012Peggy Sax: Oct 10, 2010

Regina, thank you so much for this! You and James aren’t just warming up old conversations – you are bringing them to life, infusing them with new tastes, colors and sensations and really getting the synapses firing up in my brain…. I got up early this morning hoping to write in response, but my time disappeared. Most of all, I want you to know how much I enjoy reading  and rereading your words. I experience pleasure in knowing we are on this journey together. I especially enjoyed reading your personal account of  histories within histories through territory of psychoanalytic thinking, Tavistock pschologies, systemic family therapies, into “another  earthquake of understanding – this new epistemological change to posestructuralism.” This is my personal history as well.

It’s also good to know someone else who gets burst of joy reading  Chris Beels´article. Does this make us “nerds”? I am proud to be a nerd at this moment.

I am writing to you from Northampton, Massachusetts. I’m looking forward to spending time today with Lynn Hoffman. A small group of us are taking her out to lunch.  I will share your story with her.

I also just wrote to Chris Beels. I know he will take delight in reading both James and your reflections.

If you write this well in English, I can only imagine what you might convey in Portuguese.

I do have one concern. Your post – and James’- are exceptional, and would be hard acts to follow. I want to remind everyone that all reflections, big or small, are most welcome!

peggyProfile2012Peggy Sax:  Oct 12, 2010
Hi James & Regina –
I just got this message in an email from Chris: “I’m looking forward to responding to the very interesting and challenging posts on your study group site. It will take a few days — just wanted you to know I’m thinking of you all.”   Chris

With delight, I have something new from Chris Beels. Chris would like to share with us the attached paper on Commentary: The Uses of Diagnosis (Published in Family Process, (1993) 32:405-408.) Before posting it here, we had to get permission from Family Process/Wiley. As author, Chris has the option to share a pre-publication version with us. This is a treasure for James, Regina  and the rest of us.

In addition, here is Chris’ response to James and Regina. He asked that I post this for him.


Hi James and Regina – What a pleasure to read about your adventures in connecting narrative work with traditional academic disciplines. This has always been a fascinating conflict of cultures for me. I noticed that both of you are travelers and translators by experience, and that must help a lot with the task of turning other “experts'” work into something you can use.

James, it seems that although you didn’t get an immediate response to your suggestion, you gave the seminar members a both-and connection to think about in place of their either-or thinking. Did that feel like an anti-competitive opening for a situation that was framed as a competition? Anyway, it sounded like  that kind of moment in my experience. I agree with you that it’s hard to find narrative discussion, especially of practical cases, in New York. Jack Saul is a person whose work Michael visited when he came here.

Regina, what a journey you have had! Your description of the Rio de Janeiro conference made me wonder, what is it about Central and South American contexts that brings out the best in intellectual encounters these days? I listen to an early-morning radio program from Pacifica Radio where Amy Goodman interviews Latin American critics of American economic policy. I also think, of course, of the contributions of Sal Minuchin, Braulio Montalvo and Carlos Sluzki to our field, and I’m happy to see that there is a new generation. But what is the special energy that sparks the criticism of North American ideas and institutions and leads to something new?Maybe I am just coming to this question with too little experience, but I’d be interested in what you think.

The discussion of diagnosis brought to mind a paper on which I was asked to comment – “My Son Andrew” by Debora Wright. It was a personal account by a woman who is a psychologist with a very difficult relationship with her son. She sought consultation with a psychiatrist because she assumed there had been something wrong with the way she and her husband had raised him, and that there must be something they should do differently to make amends, and to re-establish contact, since Andrew had disappeared from their lives and claimed not to want to have anything to do with them, in spite of having no other means of support.

I was reminded of this discussion by your both-and position, James.

I’m writing in haste, getting ready to go to Belgium for a week, a pilgrimage to the work of Rubens. This is a rehearsal for my retirement in December.   Chris

JamesPhoto-150x150 2James: October 21, 2010

“James, it seems that although you didn’t get an immediate response to your suggestion, you gave the seminar members a both-and connection to think about in place of their either-or thinking. Did that feel like an anti-competitive opening for a situation that was framed as a competition?”

Chris, I like this “both-and” idea.  In remembering the situation, perhaps what I had suggested felt like an anti-competitive… intended as pro-cooperative… remark.  I actually received an email from one of the moderators today that said something along the lines of “I hope I didn’t offend you by my criticisms of your post-modernist position.”  I don’t remember being offended at all!  Perhaps my remark landed in an area that felt offensive or defended in origin.  It is so interesting to me how differently we can perceive what happens in any given situation, particularly in conversations that have polarized elements.

Chris, thanks for your response.  Ill be sure to read the article soon… sounds like it could be helpful to some of the ongoing discussion this group and the one I attend nearby.

I sure wish this group were a nearby group too… but it’s also such a luxury that I can “log in” from anywhere with an internet connection. James