+Theoretical Gems that Inspire My Practice and Hold Me Up
HILDA NANNING, RSW, MSW, RCC
Some of us want to know all the ingredients of what we are choosing to digest. We may read the fine print on the labels and may be inclined to deep dive into some research to expand our understanding of a thing further. In support of the curious folk and the theory geeks, here are the theoretical sources that I have selectively foraged over the four decades I have been doing this work. I continue to find companionship in these ideas and they help me anchor my values into practice for the betterment of those I work with, and for my own wellness.
These handpicked gems inform my inclination (and bias) to cite the client’s therapeutic discoveries and our collaborative knowledge. I have many other theoretical sources, but for now, I invite you to have a bite or two of some that specifically relate to my interest in acknowledging client and collective knowledge/experience.
The consideration of research as core to therapeutic change and the orientation of the therapist and client relationship as co-researchers. You will hear me invite into the therapeutic conversation a research orientation in support of situating our therapeutic exploration beyond the confines of the problem story(ies) that might be heavily asserting and somewhat reluctant to giving up the limelight. I remain greatly influenced by the principles of feminist participatory action research.
Citing as ethical accountability and evidence of walking the integrity talk.
Praxis as core to change and the embodiment of the ideas/intentions for choice and transformation.
Narrative orientation that situates the client as an expert of their experience, therapist reflexivity and a constructionist, post-structural situated practice as supportive to that.
(Blog post continues below)
Take a peek at HNC’s Instagram. You may find your own transformative moment, or one just as meaningful.
What the Theory? An Exploration of Ideas that Inform My Practice
PRAXIS: The process by which a theory or intention is enacted, embodied, or realized. “Praxis” is about engaging, applying, exercising, realizing, or practicing ideas.
Praxis has been topical in the philosophical explorations of Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine, Bacon, Kant, Kierkegaard, Ludwig von Mises, Marx, Gramsci, Heidegger, Arendt, Sartre, Freire, Rothbard to name a few.
Praxis to me has supported the sentiment of walking the talk into action — and the idea of accountability.
I came to this idea as a home for a deeply disturbing tension I was experiencing in my years working in the mental health, social services, counselling institutions, and in academic and ‘helping professional’ business worlds. This tension involved what I experience as a systemic corruption that rendered invisible the biases and potential harm of the rhetoric, when institutional good intentions/missions were postulated in a silo that did not translate as supportive to client/patient/family empowerment and equanimity. I leaned into the promotion of praxis as a site that could promote integrity of this systemic power-over normativity.
The world of psychology has historically neglected to acknowledge those they work with and learn from, and in doing so, in my opinion, continues to profiteer and exploit.
FEMINIST PARTICIPATORY ACTION RESEARCH (FPAR) challenges the notion that the communities of study are devoid of knowledge and passive objects of study. In FPAR, any external researchers similarly develop capacity through the process and learn and with from the community researchers and participants. Feminist action researchers seek to connect the articulated, contextualized personal with the often hidden or invisible structural and social institutions that can define and shape our lives. FPAR takes a stand to mitigate exploitation of those it researches and profiteering to include its skill development, book writing inspiration and material, or growth of a business (eg: therapy practice)
FPAR holds the question: Are those researched getting acknowledgment or payment, is their community being compensated or is their information benefiting/profiting the researcher?
CITING AS AN ETHICAL ACCOUNTABILITY: When we cite, we contribute an idea to furthering its life and its power. Historically white people, men, colonizers and people with money (to name a few) have built an empire brandishing eurocentricity, hegemony and cultural genocide upon the ‘disenfranchised’ while exploiting their cultural experience/knowledge for personal profit. Researchers have been at the forefront of exploiting local knowledge for profit. Psychology has been and continues to be no exception in my view. I hold a disdain for the invisibility of the exploitative and just as intense a respect for ethical integrity where ideas and values are translated to action. What can appear as a small action for me can add up to a formidable opportunity for change and choice.
“Citing a client is taking the knee for me.” —In therapeutic conversation with client T and HNC
NARRATIVE ORIENTATION: Narrative therapy seeks to be a respectful, non-blaming approach to counselling and community work, which centres people as the experts in their own lives. It views problems as separate from people and assumes people have many skills, competencies, beliefs, values, commitments and abilities that will assist them to change their relationship with the problems in their lives. Curiosity and a willingness to ask questions to which we genuinely don’t know the answers are important principles of this work. There are many possible directions that any conversation can take (there is no single correct direction). The person consulting the therapist plays a significant part in determining the directions that are taken.
CRITICAL REFLEXIVITY: The goal of critical reflectivity as a practice approach supports the therapist to be mindful of personal assumption and bias directing the therapeutic exploration and invites a deepening awareness both of the socio-historical reality which shapes lives and of the capacity to transform that reality (Freire, 1970). Reflexivity supports the kind of questions that invite consideration of how knowledge is generated and relations of power influence the processes of knowledge generation (Fook, 1996).
CONSTRUCTIONISM: In a social constructionist oriented therapy, the client and therapist work to co-create new, more satisfactory ‘stories,’ in ways that recognize their social, relational character. Social constructivism is a sociological theory of knowledge according to which human development is socially situated and knowledge is constructed through interaction with others. Like social constructionism, social constructivism states that people work together to construct artifacts. Social constructivism is a learning theory propounded by Lev Vygotsky in 1968. The theory states that language and culture are the frameworks through which humans experience, communicate, and understand reality.
POST-STRUCTURALISM is associated with deconstructivism, postmodernism, and neo-neitschzianism Harcourt (2004). Sociological theory site Glossary defines ‘poststructuralist’ as: “a style of critical reasoning that focuses on the moment of slippage in our systems of meaning as a way to identify—right there, in that ambiguous space—the ethical choices that we make, whether in our writings or in everyday life, when we overcome the ambiguity and move from indeterminacy to certainty of belief in an effort to understand, interpret, or shape our social environment. Poststructuralism concentrates on the moment when we impose meaning in a space that is no longer characterized by shared social agreement over the structure of meaning. It attempts to explain how it comes about that we fill those gaps in our knowledge and come to hold as true what we do believe—and at what distributive cost to society and the contemporary subject. By so clearly identifying points of slippage, poststructuralism clears the table and makes plain the significant role of ethical choice—by which I mean decision making that is guided by beliefs about virtue and the self, not by moral or political principle.”
Why Cite a Client?
Why would you not??
“Let us put the broken bits and pieces of our hearts together again. This is the way healing begins… Love is an action.” —bell hooks