Therapist for over 30 years, and a Registered Psychologist in Alberta for 27 years, working in: children’s mental health as a: Front-line counsellor Clinical supervisor Program developer and director (two school-based programs) Employee assistance programs Private practice
Clinical Supervisor at Calgary Family Therapy Centre since 2011 Karl Tomm
Working at a day treatment program for children with behavioral problems, my supervisor introduced me to the work of Steve de Shazer
“Keys” was an attempt to systematize brief strategic therapy Characteristic of problems linked to types of interventions – a practical approach to Ericksonian utilization “Skeleton keys” – usually something to do with asking about what was different when the problem was not occurring
Moved to Calgary and saw Michael White for the first time, as Karl Tomm had brought him to Calgary. Calgary, along with Tulsa, OK, were among the first places in North America Michael taught
Michael came again to Calgary and spent a day at our agency, Wood’s Homes, an adolescent residential treatment centre I was thrilled to bring a family for Michael to interview. Kori, an unruly 15 year old girl, had the agency chasing our tails. Michael’s relentless curiosity, refusal to pathologize Kori and her family, and his invitation to reflect on a preferred future, were compelling.
My colleagues and I began to notice, and then present locally, on the similarities and differences between Michael’s work (at that time we were only vaguely aware of his partnership with David Epston) and Steve’s work (along with Insoo Kim Berg, Eve Lipchik, and others). I learned of an upcoming conference “Generating Possibilities Through Therapeutic Conversations” (TC I) to be held in Tulsa, OK, in June 1991. I managed to talk my way into doing a presentation…
“TC I”, Tulsa, Oklahoma, June 1991 TC I was an inflection point!
Resulting in…. Chang, J., & Phillips, M. (1993). Michael White and Steve de Shazer: New directions in family therapy. In S. Gilligan & R. Price (Eds.), Therapeutic conversations. New York: Norton.
Michele Phillips and I noticed primarily the emphasis on asking about what clients were doing when clients are experiencing a preferred outcome We attempted to find some common conceptual roots (Bateson, sociology, deconstructionist philosophers [Derrida, Heidigger], Milton Erickson!?) We suggested that what Michael and Steve were doing was “theoretically very compatible…” but “stylistically and operationally very different.”
In Steve’s commentary on our chapter, he disagreed with pretty much everything we said. He noted a “radical distinction” between “unique outcomes” and “exceptions,” and between “anti-problem” and “solution.” He suggested that Michael’s 1986 description of “a new code book” constituted an “objective reality” and the therapist imposing “a better way”
Michael commented that Steve’s description of his work “rendered it mostly unrecognizable to me….” Michael identified Steve’s intellectual rigour and the non- pathologizing nature of SFT, continuing:
“… If [my] reflections on the… of Steve's work are reasonably well founded, then I do believe that my work can, to an extent, be aligned with his. This reflection enables me to entertain the idea that we might share some common purposes, and it might further explain why others have, on occasion, made the assumption that we are kindred spirits….” They agreed that their approaches had a certain “family resemblance” – like apples and pineapples
Movement from charismatic (usually male) therapists being very directive, and pronouncements from behind the one-way mirror (it really was “one way”), to: Reflecting teams (Andersen, 1989) “Glasnost”(Furman, 1992) Problem determined systems – Collaborative Languages Systems (Anderson & Goolishian, 1989, 1992) The Milan team – circular questioning (Cechin, 1992; Fleuridas, Nelson, & Rosenthal, 1986)
Solution-focused therapists: Recognized the centrality of the interview, as opposed to the “intervention” (pronouncement from behind the mirror) (Lipchik & de Shazer, 1986) Going even further, de Shazer cited Wittgenstein: “The limits of my language means the limits of my world. Future questioning (Penn, 1982, 1985) Interventive interviewing (Tomm, 1987a, 1987b, 1988) Interventive interviewing
“It was a very exciting and generative time. Structural and strategic approaches were dominant then. The field was shifting from a first order perspective, in which therapists were operating upon clients, to a second order perspective in which the therapeutic system included the therapist. The field was undergoing a shift in how it viewed epistemology and the nature of truth, and [TC I] accelerated that shift. The conference made it possible to transcend schools of therapy and look at collaborative practices that had much more in common than people acknowledge.” Karl Tomm, April 22, 2011
Steve and Michael presented together in 1994 at TC II The hoped-for (at least on my part) cross-germination seemed to stop after 19961996 What stuck? A postmodern view of language: Language constitutes or constructs reality, as opposed to representing reality Michael referred to this as “constitutionalism” “There is no reality apart from language” (de Shazer, 1994)
As Shotter (1993, p. 20) observes, in a constitutive view of language: “We unknowingly ‘shape’ or ‘construct’ between ourselves... not only a sense of our identities, but also a sense of our ‘social worlds.’” Narrative and solution-focused therapists knowingly shape identities and social worlds through the interview process, but differ “about the most helpful way to steer... the conversation...” (Mills & Sprenkle, 1995, p. 369).
In keeping with the macro/micro distinction solution- focused therapists steer the conversation toward hypothetical solutions, exceptions to the problem, and solution descriptions. From the inside out Narrative therapists elicit descriptions of a client’s agency in relation to the problem, and deconstruct the discourses that support the problem. From the outside in
Narrative therapists deconstruct discourses that support problems, such as: Gender stereotypes Traditional conceptions of sexual expression Ideas of ability and disability Conceptions of physical beauty Colonialism Medicalizing discourses…
… which leads us to question the premises of these discourses … which leads us to reflect on how life is lived… … which leads us live consciously position ourselves in relation to these discourses… … which (may) lead us externalize the problem… … which leads us to resist in in solidarity with one another… … which leads us to document our resistance and solidarity… … which results in more socially just practice
Yvonne Dolan on Steve’s approach to social justice: “What I heard him say is that he thought they were apples and oranges. And the funny thing is, you know, as a person, he was a complete lefty. I’ve watched him take out every dime and dollar in his pocket and give it to a street person. He was absolutely prejudiced [in favor of] minorities of any kind.... However, he felt that to try to look at that in terms of therapeutic approach, for him, interfered with him being able to figure out what he called external signifiers—the way that the client [and therapist] would recognize... that things were better or worse....”
“… But, he... could not entertain both at the same time. He felt very strongly, as a person, that [he should be acting to correct] injustices. However, he did not find it meaningful, or he did not find a way, or both, to put that in his therapeutic approach. But I think that he would have been very disappointed in someone as a person if they saw an injustice going on [and did not try to correct it].”
These approaches are embedded in curriculum and textbooks in counselling, psychology, clinical social work, etc. We’ve left the therapy room Narrative community work Solution-focused coaching Solution-focused community development
We are part of a big family of post-modern or social constructionist practice Jakko Seikkula, Finland, Open Dialogue Method Ben Furman, Finland, KidSkills and Reteaming Imelda McCarthy, Ireland, The Fifth Province Olga Runciman, Denmark, Hearing Voices Network Karl Tomm, Canada, Calgary Family Therapy Centre Andrew Turnell, Perth, WA, Signs of Safety David Cooperrider, Appreciative inquiry We still don’t talk with each other much More differentiation and not much cross-pollination
For better or for worse, we are lumped in with: The “Resiliency” approach “Strengths-Focused” work Positive Psychology The Recovery Model Focusing on what is going well is good, right? On the other hand, both Michael and Steve disavowed the idea that they are looking for “strengths” that reside within individuals, for this would logically require us to locate deficits within individuals
SO WHAT? For some, mixing and matching approaches is fine Practitioners gravitate to ways of working that “fit” For others, it’s more important to reflect closely on our work Engaging in self-clarification, part of which is differentiation