Postmodern Therapies

In a special issue of the Journal of Systemic Therapies on Teaching and Learning Postmodern Therapies (Vol 25 -Issue 4), the editors, David Paré and Margarita Tarragona contemplate pedagogical questions for teachers and trainers of postmodern therapies that “share a respectful, collaborative spirit that reflects a loosened grip on truth claims and purported expertise” (Paré & Tarragona, 2006), p.2). They describe postmodern epistemologies as “reminding us that knowledge is not so much handed over as it is co-constructed through mutual talk.”

Narrative therapy and Poststructuralist inquiry

Jill Freedman and Gene Combs

Jill Freedman and Gene Combs

On the Evanston Family Therapy Center website, Jill Freedman and Gene Combs generously share notes taken from handouts that they have used in their workshops over the years. They include a few pertinent assumptions of the narrative approach, characteristics of the Narrative Worldview, distinctions between structuralism and Post-Structuralism as applied to therapy (Narrative therapy is a post-structuralist therapy), a glimpse at the day-to-day work of narrative therapy, and some questions pertaining to ethics from a narrative perspective.Click here for Jill & Gene’s online notes. Please feel free to use them and circulate them, as long as you are careful to credit the source.


Structuralism and Post-Structuralism

(Narrative therapy is a post-structuralist therapy) – How each approach views identity, personhood, and power

Structuralist View

  • Seeks to classify individuals in terms of general classes or types.
  • Expert knowledge is valued. (Experts have the power to define people’s identities. They know more about people’s personhood than the people themselves.)
  • Surface phenomena hold the clues to deep identity. Only expert specialists have the power to accurately decode surface clues.
  • Individual lives are interpreted and valued according to rules or norms.
  • Experts have the power to assign meaning to people’s life stories by decoding the formulas that underlie their structure.
  • Thin conclusions are valued.

Post-Structuralist View

  • Seeks specific details of people’s identity.
  • Local knowledge is valued. (People have the power to define themselves based on their own knowledge of the details of their lives.)
  • Surface phenomena are all we can really know. Each of us has the power to interpret surface phenomena.
  • Individual lives are valued and interpreted in terms of how they embody exceptions to what might have been expected.
  • People have the power to construct meaningful lives through the stories they enact, tell, and remember with one another.
  • Thick descriptions are valued.

Michael White’s Workshop Notes

Michael White offered a brief description of distinctions between the Structuralist and post-structuralist approach in his workshop notes:

“The distinction between structuralist and post-structuralist thought is enormously important in understanding narrative work. I have found, however, that it is quite difficult to fully comprehend this difference, since structuralist thinking is such an integral part of our culture and language. In other words, we have constructed many ways of looking at the world and ourselves, and we have become so used to such understandings that we have forgotten that they are constructions. In narrative work, it is very common to deconstruct these understandings. Through such deconstructions, the doorways to new understandings and new options are revealed. …” – Michael White

Click here to read more (as posted by the Pratique Narratives website). [hr] Poststructuralism and therapy – what’s it all about? (Leonie Thomas) This article was first printed in: International Journal of Narrative Therapy & Community Work, Volume 2002 Issue 2 (2002). It is also a book chapter in Shona Russell & Maggie Carey’s “Narrative Therapy: Responding to your questions” (Dulwich Publications).