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As can be seen, both the personification of the problem and the inventive nature of fourth wave therapy are reflected. As Tomm (1993) suggests, this kind of questioning can open space for some form of "protest against the problem". The incongruence between their expressed selves and internal experience has, according to some clients, increased their sense of motivation to make changes. This is often exemplified by clients talking about their recorded selves as competent people whom they would trust or look up to. It is only when they reflect that the person spoken about is themselves that they realize the extent to which they overestimate the extent to which their dominant story has contaminated them. In cases where clients underestimate the extent to which they look defeated it has been useful to look at the evidence that problem X uses to discourage them. For example; "If you were problem X what aspects of this person would you attack?", "Whose eyes does X use to condemn you right now?". It is also useful to get clients to speculate on the areas in which they would like to inaugurate some resistance: "What could this person do to signal to X that their resistance is about to begin?". Once this kind of inquiry has been explored, the client can then be invited into the therapist's chair.
Inviting clients to be their own therapists
As clients become more comfortable with exerting their own expertise, they can be asked to speculate firstly on how they would help the recorded self if they were the therapist and secondly on how the recorded self would help them if she/he was the therapist (interestingly, it has been the latter that has given rise to many novel outcomes). The following kinds of questions have been useful (where "the person" indicates the recorded client):
• Would you trust this person if they were your therapist?
• What would make you trust them?
• How do you think being in therapy with them would be different from this experience?
• What are you discovering right now as you think about being in therapy with this person?
• If you were the therapist, what are some of the major perceptual errors that you would address with this person?
• What strengths would you like to help them discover?
If clients have taken readily to this type of process, it can be useful to extend the inquiry to the therapy system including the therapist's behaviour. The observing system becomes a self-reflecting team for the observed system. In this way, some of the therapist's own constraints can be addressed, especially because "therapeutic curiosity that directs itself only to narrative accounts of client restraints, without publicizing and recognizing therapist restraints, continues to perpetuate modern myths of expert knowledge" (Madigan, 1993, p. 223).
The Client as Listening Therapist
Madigan's (1993) idea of listening therapist and performative therapist can be useful in this regard. He proposes that during therapy, two therapists swap roles when dealing with a client system. At designated points in the sequence, the therapist that has listened, asks the performative therapist in front of the client about some of the assumptions in the questions s/he has been using. The listening therapist also asks about some of the questions that have not been asked. They may during this discussion also speculate on the consequences of these restraints. Video feedback allows for a similar process in which the client can be asked to become the listening therapist and ask questions of the performative therapist. This can further allow for the flattening of the therapy hierarchy as well as open up new ways of relating.
The sorts of questions that reflect this process are:
• What signals of the client's competence eluded the therapist here?
• What questions would you have asked if you were the therapist at this point?
• Which of the therapist's beliefs or assumptions seem interesting to explore?
• What ways do you find the therapist trying to assume a one-up position?
• What aspects of the therapist's behaviour would you like to challenge?
When this part of the process goes well, the client has control of the remote pause button and can at will pause at particular points of interest (not unlike peer supervision). It is difficult to articulate why this is useful, but it does seem to be the discussion between two experts referred to earlier. The reciprocal relationship between identified therapist and identified client allows for some of the more generative and challenging discussions that we have had. Interestingly enough, for all the technology and artificiality of the process, the more memorable conversations have been about the sacredness of the ordinary. Clients have increasingly enjoyed seeing themselves not trying to be, not adhering to restrictive expectations and allowing a mutual shedding of the things we sometimes think make us valuable.
Our video camera is now broken and we haven't used it for the past few months. While I do not think that our practice has suffered, I certainly miss some of the anticipation and wonder about how I am going to be fired or challenged by my next client.
Bateson, G. (1979) Mind and nature: A necessary unity. New York: Ballantine.
De Shazer, D. (1993) Creative misunderstandings: there is no escape from language. In S.G. Gilligan & R. Price (eds), Therapeutic conversations. New York: Norton.
Duncan, B.L. (1997) Stepping off the throne. The Family Therapy Networker, 21, 22-32.
Madigan, S.P. (1993) Questions about questions: situating the therapist's curiosity in front of the family. In S.G. Gilligan & R. Price (eds), Therapeutic conversations. New York: Norton.
O'Hanlon, W.H. (9194) Not systemic, not strategic: still clueless after all these years. Journal of Strategic and Systemic Therapies, 10, 105-110.
Tomm, K. (1993). The courage to protest: a commentary on Michael White's work. In S.G. Gilligan & R. Price (eds), Therapeutic conversations. New York: Norton.
White, M. & Epston, D. (1990). Narrative means to therapeutic ends. New York: Norton.
Tim Barry is a partner with PlukeLangBarry and Associates, located in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa and a contributing editor to New Therapist.
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