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Exchanging Voices

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For this book, Lynn Hoffman has not only compiled her writing for the last ten years, but she has written her own commentary about the personal and intellectual journey which led her from one paper to the next. The papers themselves read like a chronicle of the major ideas of the past ten years, but her commentary sheds a new light on the process of learning. It enables the reader to understand the way one woman has listened to the voices of a changing environment, and listened to the changes in herself in order to expand her thinking and her practice as a therapist.

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1. The case against power and control

ePub

How did I begin this journey? In 1981, as I was finishing Foundations of Family Therapy, I was trying to write an epilogue for that book and had the problem that my prophetic abilities weren’t working. The reason was that the road ahead had a ninety-degree turn in it, which I at that time couldn’t see. However, clues were appearing, as if to a cosmic puzzle. I was fascinated by Harry Goolishian’s and Paul Dell’s interest in applying the ideas of the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Ilya Prigogine to family systems (Prigogine & Stengers, 1984). Prigogine believed that time was a one-way street into the future and that change was not the exception but the rule. However, which change would happen depended on how far the system in question was driven from equilibrium and which pebble in the dam, so to speak, began to crumble first.

I liked that notion. I had come to feel that human events meandered messily like bad eighteenth-century novels instead of occurring neatly in nice repetitive turns. So instead of imposing upon them the feedback loops of cybernetic theory, I began to contemplate them as if they were like waterfalls and streams. I said to myself: “Don’t think of repeating cycles, think of rivers in time.”

 

Beyond power and control: towards a “second-order” family systems therapy

ePub

While in the first quarter of this century physicists and cosmologists were forced to revise the basic notions that govern the natural sciences, in the last quarter of this century biologists will force a revision of the basic notions that govern science itself,

Heinz von Foerster “Notes on an
Epistemology for Living Things” (1981, p. 258)

THE “LOST ATLANTIS”

When I first encountered the remains of Gregory Bateson’s research project in Palo Alto in 1963, I had the sense of stumbling on the ruins of an old and remarkable civilization. In the grip of this conviction, I talked to everybody who had been there. I attended the Thursday bag lunch meetings organized by Don Jackson. As part of the editing job I had been hired by Jackson to do on Conjoint Family Therapy (Satir, 1964), I watched Virginia Satir interview families. I ended up begging Jay Haley to let me do a book with him. All the same, I felt that I was merely watching ripples in the wake of a departed genius. I had a keen sense of disappointment about this.

 

A constructivist position for family therapy

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Copernicus … successfully abolished the egocentric notion that the little planet on which we live must be the center of the universe. We know that it was a difficult step to take and that resistance against it lasted longer than a century. It seems that now there is yet another, even more difficult step in that direction we shall have to make, namely, to give up the notion that the representations we construct from our experience should in any sense reflect a world as it might be without us.

von Glasersfeld (1987b, p. 143)

Periodically (though not many times in a lifetime) there comes a shift that is so radically different from one’s previous framework as to qualify as a shift in Gestalt, if not of paradigm. When I discovered family therapy in 1963, I experienced such a shift. I moved from the position that a symptom was a property of the individual to the idea that it had to be understood in the context of the family “system”. For twenty years thereafter, I studied families with an eye to discerning what interaction patterns or relationship structures were connected with the kind of problems a family therapist might be asked to treat.

 

2. Joining theory to practice

ePub

I In the next two pieces—the “Foreword” to Tom Andersen’s The Reflecting Team (1990), and Richard Simon’s 1988 interview with me in The Family Therapy Networker—I was focusing on ways to apply my Zen-like philosophical ideals to clinical work. Basically, I was looking for elements of practice that would not only fit within a non-objectivizing and non-pejorative framework but also offer a style of working that was congruent with my “different voice”, even though at the time I did not know exactly how the details of that practice would look.

Some aspects of the work of the two Milan men, Luigi Boscolo and Gianfranco Cecchin, were already moving towards this style (Boscolo, Cecchin, Hoffman, & Penn, 1987). I liked their emphasis on questioning as a substitute for interventions and their focus on beliefs instead of structures. However, I was becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the secret discussions of the team behind the mirror and also with the so-called positive connotation, which was often experienced as the reverse.

 

Foreword to “The Reflecting Team”

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One could call this a book but one could also call it the description of a new flying machine. When I first heard from the book’s primary author, Tom Andersen, about the Tromso team’s idea of the Reflecting Team, I was enchanted by its simplicity and stunned by its radical implications. I was once the interviewer in a family where a very angry and drunken father threatened to come back with a pocket full of stones to throw through the one-way screen. It never occurred to me to ask him and his family to change places with the team. But that is exactly what the reflecting team allows people to do.

In this sense, it is a statement that dramatically alters a family’s position in relation to the professionals they have come to see. I talk about ways to “put the client on the Board of Directors”. One family outreach worker I know invited representatives from a mother’s group, whose families had all been troubled by problems of alcoholism or violence, to attend the Annual Banquet of the Board of Directors of her agency. They were asked to critique the services that they had received by recommendation of the court. They did so with great dignity, despite severe stage-fright beforehand. These mothers, many of whom had been sexually abused, and some of whose children had been abused, have now been given a small grant by the agency to put together a Handbook of Child Sexual Abuse for other families like theirs.

 

Like a friendly editor: an interview with Lynn Hoffman

ePub

Richard Simon

Lynn Hoffman is not one for clinical razzle dazzle and instant problem solving. There’s even a sly note of pride as she describes herself as a “boring” therapist someone whose style is likely to elicit such comments as, “You must have a lot of patience to work like that”. As she readily acknowledges, she is not likely to spellbind many audiences on family therapy’s workshop circuit—or, as she puts it, our “dog and pony show”.

With a dedication rare in a field known for its indifference to theoretical issues, Hoffman has established a reputation as an illuminator rather than a clinical innovator, a student of ideas who explicates the abstract concepts and assumptions her more pragmatically minded colleagues take for granted. Through a series of papers examining the enigmas of systems theory and, most notably, in her book, Foundations of Family Therapy, she has brooded over the fundamental assumptions of clinical practice and served as an intellectual pathfinder connecting family therapy to developments in the wider scientific community.

 

3. The shift to postmodernism

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Towards the end of the 1980s, I was beginning to criticize the entire systems model, start to finish. “’Constructing Reality: An Art of Lenses” was the result. I had much support from Harry Goolishian and Harlene Anderson, with whom I checked in from time to time. Harry had never really been a systemically oriented person anyway, and his scepticism about the cybernetic model continued to deepen and support mine.

Harry and Harlene were also beginning to question constructivism. Harry pointed out that this view was basically tied in with the biology of cognition and was extremely skull-bound. I thought he was right; examined closely, these ideas had very little to do with what happened in therapy from a relational point of view. For a while, along with Harry Goolishian and Lee Winderman (1988), I had tried to counteract this problem by putting the word “social” in front of constructivism. Then it became obvious that this misrepresented the constructivist position. The nervous system was portrayed by constructivists as “informationally closed” even though it was open from the standpoint of material exchanges with the environment. I had earlier used the image of separate bathyspheres to dramatize this informational isolation, and it came back to haunt me.

 

Constructing realities: an art of lenses

ePub

Believing … that man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun, I take culture to be those webs, and the analysis of it to be therefore not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretive one in search of meaning.

Geertz (1973, p. 5)

The terms in which the world is understood are social artifacts, products of historically situated interchanges among people. From the constructionist position the process of understanding is not automatically driven by the forces of nature, but is the result of an active, cooperative enterprise of persons, in relationship.

Gergen (1985, p. 267)

I begin this essay by calling attention to a massive challenge to the mode of scientific reasoning that has dominated our century. This challenge has crystallized in the term “postmodern”, which amounts to a proposal to replace objectivist ideals with a broad tradition of ongoing criticism in which all productions of the human mind are concerned. Theory and research in the human “sciences” fall into the category of written texts that can be analysed for their often hidden political and social agendas rather than statements of objectifiable fact.

 

4. Constructing realities: an art of lenses

ePub

And now my river, or rather the journey I am taking on it, comes to a stop and I rest on the bank while I try to construct a map for my position. Since postmodernism is new territory for both me and most of my colleagues in family therapy, I feel some obligation to construct a bridge. This bridge would take us from the engineering universe of cybernetics to the diverse encampments of a more language-oriented world.

In the course of my inquiry, I looked into postmodernism (Kaplan, 1988), poststructuralism (Poster, 1989), critical theory (Held, 1980), deconstructionism (Berman, 1988), the discourse theory of Michel Foucault (Cooper, 1982), hermeneutics and narrative theory (Messer, Sass, & Woolfolk, 1988), social construction theory (K. Gergen, 1985), and feminist positions on postmodern theories (Nicholson, 1990). I will offer my own explanation of these concepts from the point of view of their relevance to family therapy.

First of all, the word “postmodern” seems to be a catch-all term for a change in the Zeitgeist that has been taken up by many persons in academic and non-academic fields here and abroad. Similar terms would be “classic” and “romantic” as applied to the literature or painting of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In fact, “romantic”, “modern”, and “postmodern” are labels that some postmodern critics use for the cultural periods of the last two centuries and the one to come. I had often wondered what would replace “modern”, and think that “postmodern” is at least logical, if a bit of an and climax. The book that was most useful to me in explaining this sequence was Kenneth Gergen’s The Saturated Self (1991).

 

5. Definitions for simple folk

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Leaving my island and embarking once more on my river steamer, it felt clear to me that a postmodern framework supported my vision of a different voice for family therapy. It was also extremely useful for another project I had: to challenge the clinical discourse of the field. A medically minded mental health establishment and a medically minded public had begun to locate, describe, and normify every facet of human thought and behaviour. There seemed to be no community that did not have its trauma, no family that was not dysfunctional, no woman who was not co-dependent, and no activity from love to work that could not be thought of as an addiction.

To this psychologized outlook was added an ever-lengthening list of negative terms for people who were really in trouble. And for every new problem that came to light, a new industry sprang up to treat it. The uncovering of family violence, this most hidden of our social ills, had been long overdue, but solutions were elusive and sometimes seemed to compound the original horror. Given the increasing confusion, I felt it was high time to “deconstruct” psychiatry, psychology, and the proliferation of psychotherapies that had grown up around them, including family therapy.

 

6. A reflexive stance

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During the past five or six years, a view has emerged among a small sub-group of family therapists that offers something different enough to qualify as a new approach. This approach is more participatory than others and less goal-orientated—some would say it has no goals at all. It enrages some people; others applaud. It is represented by a few groups here and abroad, notably the Galveston group (Anderson & Goolishian, 1988), the Tromso group (Andersen, 1987), and the Brattleboro group (Lax & Lussardi, 1989), although its adherents are growing. Having been one of the people groping towards this something, I have also been struggling to name it. But so many streams of ideas are flowing together into a larger tributary that it is hard to find one common ancestor.

In certain respects, our present dialogue is congenial to the movement known as postmodernism—with its implication that modernism is now dead and new perspectives are in the making. Without overstating the matter, one could say—that many adherents of postmodernism have taken on the project of dismantling the philosophical foundations of Western thought. Sometimes the term “poststructural” is used as if it were synonymous with postmodern. A poststructural view of the social sciences, for instance, challenges any framework that posits some kind of structure internal to the entity in question, whether we are talking about a text, a family, or a play. In family therapy, this has meant that the cybernetic view that sees the family as a homeostatic system is under attack. Because postmodern and poststructural ideas were originated by people in semiotics and literary criticism, it is becoming increasingly common in talking of social fields of study to use the analogy of a narrative or text.

 

7. A reflexive stance for family therapy

ePub

My next to last article, originally named “Kitchen Talk”, is based on a series of presentations I did in five cities across Australia in the summer of 1992. It has been published in the proceedings of the 1992 Australian and New Zealand Family Therapy Conference held in Melbourne. This piece was an account of a quite literal journey, informed by the invisible journey of my thought and work. As I moved on, the script kept changing, and the final version is only a version. However, I kept the parts that were successful.

To begin with, I decided to use one-liners instead of a theoretical outline at the beginning of my talk. Some of these were funny, some just poetic, but they all made some point that had to do either with my philosophy or with my practice. Putting on a postmodern head brought with it the wish to rely on stories and images rather than intellectual disquisitions.

Second, it seemed important to make even more than before out of the way that my life and my work had intersected. In my presentations, I included anecdotes of my early life as a wife and mother, as well as of my meetings with the men and women pioneers in family therapy who had influenced me throughout my career. This was not for touchy-feely reasons but because I wanted to stay close to the idea of standing within personal experience and speaking subjectively rather than taking the usual objective stance of scientific papers.

 

8. “Kitchen talk”

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Instead of a theoretical framework made of the usual building blocks called concepts, I decided to start my presentations in Australia with a series of one-liners. I like one-liners because they are what I call “meanings in a fist”. I also wanted to introduce some ideas from the welter of confusion known as postmodernism, but I didn’t want to go into a huge disquisition on the matter. The one-liners give the gist of it. Using one-liners instead of a theoretical framework fits with the postmodernists’ distrust of what they call “normal social science”. I also invented a new acronym, PMFT, for Postmodern Family Therapist.

One reaction to my presentation at the Melbourne conference was: “I feel as if you had pulled the rug out from under me and then left me holding a plate of fairy cakes.” I had not heard about these cakes, which turn out to be little party cakes covered with pink and white icing. I liked the rug idea because it was close to my intention, but I was not so sure about the fairy cakes.

 

7. Trying to write a postmodern text

ePub

My own private voyage continued after I left Australia but the next lap of my travels was of a different nature. By this time I felt that I was somewhere near the mouth of the river, and I got out to visit a family in a village, so to speak, on the edge of the delta. The story of that family, “Tekka With Feathers”, was composed by myself and Judith Davis in collaboration with the family in 1992. It represents an effort to demolish the idea of the case history as a text. The authors are not authors, the narrative is not a narrative, and the story will never have an end. Read on and you will see for yourself what happens when one takes one’s theories seriously in writing up a case.

“Tekka With Feathers” is one of the chapters in Steven Friedman’s 1993 book, The New Language of Change: Constructive Collaboration in Psychotherapy. Tekka was a twenty-year-old college student who had just come out of hospital. She and her mother and stepfather wanted help in getting her off medication and planning what to do next. Judy Davis was the interviewer for the four family sessions, and I was on a reflecting team for the last two, together with Brian Lewis and Bill Lax. We were all consciously trying to explore a collaborative approach.

 

Tekka with feathers: talking about talking (about suicide)

ePub

Lynn Hoffman & Judith Davis

INTRODUCTION

This is a story about an encounter with a family at the Brattleboro Family Institute.1 It is told by Judy Davis, who was the interviewer, and added to by Lynn Hoffman, who was a member of a reflecting team2 (Andersen, 1990). The story is commented on by members of the family, who read our version, and further expanded through answers to questions from the editor.3

We understand this experience not as a coherent story, but as a fragment of a less tidy process. The narrative view, popular in psychotherapy nowadays, implies that therapy is like a story, with a beginning (recently hospitalized daughter and distraught parents come in for a consultation), middle (they engage in a conversation with therapist and team), and end (in the process they learn how to talk differently to each other so that daughter no longer needs to know herself or be known by others as “strange”). Our view is that therapy is more like a canoe trip on a river. It starts when we “put in” and ends when we “put out”. There is no necessary structure to the events at all except the ones we invent ourselves. Thus we can only claim to present some disparate points of view about an experience in this family’s life and in our own lives as they intersected for a few hours over time. Our hope is that in putting these several versions down on paper we will be, as Mary Catherine Bateson (1992) put it, “surprised into new learning”.

 

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