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Postmodern Approach to Social Constructivism

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Postmodern Approach to Social Constructivism
Laura Romine
Liberty University
Abstract
As the world looks at the reality of communal exchange, thumbing back to historical debates of empirical and rational schools of thought, delineations from dualism to social interchange and collaboration refine hypothesis’ of undisputable truth. Reminiscent of the psychoanalytic movement with greats such as Freud, Jung and Adler, therapy, more of an art than science, and current day philosophies drive which models influence today’s truth. Reality is fashioned by language, how we feel, act and think, revealing “stories” we tell the self as contextual meanings. These beliefs now evolve one’s creation and truth. The therapist, joining in recognition of new perspectives, empowers and helps the client see that forward progress is strength within oneself. In a social constructivist point of view, the therapist detaches from the expert status of defining the problem. From family therapy and the multicultural lens, therapists now challenge cultural factors that, in turn, shape the client’s perceptions in the format of brief therapies. Keywords: brief therapies, collaborative, family therapy, social constructionism
Postmodern Approach to Social Constructivism In the 21st century a paradigm shift motivated the field of psychology to unlock a fresh world view revealing the objet d'art of collective exchange. Referring to the modernistic creation of self, it is said that the anthropological essence and the search for truth is being reworked within a flowing social change (Young and Collin, 2004, Corey, 2005, Gergen, 1985). A developing kaleidoscope, swirling within the consciousness of man today resonates not of absoluteness, but, of social stories revealing multidimensional perspectives. Truth, thus, is then replaced with the concept of communal stories created through the perspective lens of an individual and their surroundings. History The postmodern approach of social constructivism does not have one relevant founder, but, input from many. Gaining a substantial foothold in the 1980’s, it proposed modern perspectives of reality exist in multiple interpretations. The truth, in this faction, is not an absolute connotation. At the beginning of the 21st century technological advances in television and internet, as well as other media sources, provided a plump basket of variables for this perspective. International communications and multicultural perspectives ripened the model to deliver expanding social perceptions. You can now Facebook in Thailand and communicate with a teenager in Los Angeles, thus, reinforcing the supposition that different cultural and contextual backgrounds help form the basis of one’s reality. Emerging interactions among people catapulted the social constructivist modalities into the spot light. It is interesting to note here that social constructivism is certainly a small part within a larger conceptual move that influenced molding the postmodern perspective. Succeeding the beginning stages of family therapy wherein psychoanalytic and cybernetic system models focused on intra-psychic processes and the past is Virginia Satire’s early theories of the family system. Satir emphasized and defined meaning through social organization (Goldenberg and Goldenberg, 2013). The expert therapist now becomes external to the problem and family system remedying through observations and direction of the systems orientation. Moving to second order cybernetics allowed the therapist to become changed within the system itself. Therefore, as one can see, social constructionism is not entirely new to family therapy, but, elevating prominence of customary terminology to fit a postmodern perspective. As Gergen (1989) solicits, cognitive solutions for human interactions became timeworn and hindered the possibility of social understanding and conceptualization of problems. He pondered therefore; if social constructs cease to exist, there would be a void in defining the relational quality of cognition and the action itself (Gergen, 1989, Sharry, 2004). Applying social epistemology as the primary way of relating to the world in which the person resides now subsidizes cognition with language. Social constructivism allocates social relationship as the focus instead of cognitive factors alone. For a social constructivist, creating psychological and social realties is not universally instituted, but, evolves within a specific framework and community of people. Truth then becomes unleashed from the bindings of history and frameworks of objectivity as absolute facts (Corey, 2005). Objective reality, as presented by modernistic and systematic theories, sought return to normalcy by labeling the problem abnormal. This concept contrasts with the enlightened social constructivists approach. Postmodernist perspectives support subjective realties and impart the importance of the client’s reality without labeling as abnormal or, better yet, irrational. Language and the use of stories now take center stage in eliciting meaning to the self (Gergen, 1985, Sharry, 2004, Corey, 2005). Fixating on cooperation and a basic tenet that the family possesses solutions drove the model into the social constructivist amphitheater. Emphasizing conversations, a step beyond constructivism, language now abets individual constructs (Norum, 2000). Supported by Berger and Luckman’s (1966) central concept of social construction as early as 1966, and Gergen around the 1980’s, the primary components and language of postmodern thinking took shape (Norum, 2000, Corey, 2005). Rooted in Bateson’s work in communication and Erickson’s idea of sidestepping hypnotic resistance, an approach to therapy emphasizing interaction between members or individuals and the larger social context model ignited (Norum, 2000). Cyberneticists Bateson and Watzlawick, around the 1970’s to 80’s, proposed that realities were invented (Cheung, 1997, Corey, 2005, Goldenberg and Goldenberg, 2013). Satire then engaged relaying that self-esteem and communication are central tenets to family therapy (Cheung, 1997). The problem is then redefined in terms of being driven by differing perspectives within the family system bound by context. Advocates like White and Epston (1990), Goolishian and Anderson (1988), and Karl Tomm (1987), have further sponsored ideas of social construction as well. Coauthorship and mutual influence start to enter the defining lexis of social constructionist’s records.
Contemporary Founders Contemporary founders of postmodern theories are many yet; three in particular stand out in the social constructivist arena. Insoo Kim Berg; co-founder of the Brief Family Therapy center in Milwaukee, Steve de Shazer; founder of Solution Focused Therapy, and Michael White and David Epston; co-founders of current day Narrative Therapy (Iverson, 2002, Corey, 2005, Lipchik, 2002). All utilize language as a function of the social context in which reality is constructed. Each technique employs the importance of a consenting family and collective work among the therapist and client, leaving behind the directive therapist. Storied lives of social construction therapies involve modalities such as collaborative language, solution focused treatments, and the popular narrative therapies (Cheung, 1997, Corey, 2005, Goldenberg and Goldenberg, 2013). The social constructivist family therapist views the world with a genuine, communal exchange, through human interaction. Referencing the seat of civilization, communication and meaning change constantly during narratives. Therefore, it in an essence is a lens within a lens. Widening new directions and redefining the truth dilemma, strengthened the social constructivist camps employing an eclectic toolbox of reinforcements (Cheung, 1997, Lipchik, 2002).
Concept
Social constructionism contextually makes sense when dealing with individuals or families. Often when therapists and clients get stuck in therapy the therapist is holding onto their own set of rigid perceptions (Iverson, 2002, Bender and Messner, 2003). However, through engaging in conversation, limits to perception mandate revisions and co-creation to fit within the uniqueness of the client’s expertise; their life. Purely then, societal norms are satisfied in achieving solutions to their issues and change begins to happen. This is not a matter of being right or wrong, but, a perspective of one’s own truth in the experience. This deconstructs the modernist’s universal view of an absolute truth in defining man and his reality (Sharry, 2004, Corey, 2005, Goldenberg and Goldenberg, 2013). The ethical presentation then, requires therapists to redo or supplement models in turn becoming more beneficial to the client. Sharry (2004) points out this self relfexiveness and criticalness is what the social constructivist seeks to attain. Being able to abandon a truth as perceived by the self for another way of viewing reality is the preferred discourse for social constructivists. Collaboration is the main tenet and lends credibility to the client as experts in their own realties (Young and Collins, 2004, Sharry, 2004, Corey, 2005). Eloquently stated by Sharry (2004), one must not forget that “the map is not the territory” ruling that the uniqueness of reality resides within the client. This lends inspiration to thinking in an original manner relevant to postmodern times. Social constructivism makes sense within the field of family therapy and multi-cultural counseling. It is not just one perspective that employs the group or individual, but, the sharing of experience located within society’s expectations, historical, and cultural aspects. Through dialogue, one can see the underpinnings of alternative beliefs if one listens closely enough. Systems in common with social constructivists change the way one views the locus of study. While some center on the internal process such as seen in closed systems, social constructivism relies on the relationship as the focus of study. In this way, the social structure is relative to the context in order to change (Gergen, 1985, Cottone, 2007, Raskin, 2008). When exploring the functionality of change then, one has to look at other earlier theories in defining context. Evolutional characteristics are then functionally important within this paradigm. In order to survive one must transform. Adaptability then is tied to the relational surroundings engaging relativism. This is pertinent to the social constructivist discussion. This simply means that knowledge also continues evolving and the lens through which one filters this knowledge is dualistic in dimension as well. How one constructs and what reality consists of, helps delineate social constructivism. In defining social constructionist, one must also encompass the wording of constructivists as well. Both see frameworks of human meaning, yet, where the focus lies is the distinction. Constructivists focus on the individual while social constructivists focus on the relationship. Bridging the gap between the word plays is interesting as there is an overlap of social constructs within each of theories. Denying that social evolution does not touch most philosophies also holds true in the argument of religion and marital developments; the group context is always in the loop (Gergen, 1985, Cottone, 2007, Raskin, 2008). Grounded processes, whether biological or psychological, make sense when one incorporates the naturalistic and evolutional aspects. Dyadic relationships and social construction then inter-relate to the linguistic aspect of social constructivism further grounding the epistemology. Causal in shaping, the end results also deny the social constructivist from taking a back seat to the product produced. The main social constructivists focus relies on how change is organized while other paradigms rely on how the structures are changed. Cottone (2007) suggests then that change is only structured when it falls in relationship with us. References to linear causality or circular reasoning reveals there is no absolute direction (Sharry, 2004, Cottone, 2007). As an example; a person’s symptom may be viewed as reciprocal evolving into disturbing circumstances over time, or, linear resulting in distress being caused by a traumatic incident affecting the person physically or psychologically. The focus of treatment is different in both cases.
Paradigm Insurance Testing verifies the attention to narrative approaches and de Shazer’s (1988) Solution Focused Therapy is consistent of the postmodern rational with problems such as depression, and marital problems. There is evidence that there are other bodies as seen in Maturana’s (1978) collaboration with cognitive mental health ideas embodying the principals of social constructivism. Social constructivism then can be used to align with results of more traditionally accepted therapies with already established paradigms. On the issue of philosophical underpinnings the theory is resting on clear ontological tenets. The assumption of continuous change provisions the nature of reality as essential (Cottone, 1989). The result focuses on the consensual, in contrast to other paradigms that focus on what needs to be changing structurally (Gergen, 1985, Young and Collin, 2004, Cottone,1989, 2007, Raskin, 2008). Therefore, causality is defined within the therapist client relationship, wherein other paradigms have a cause and effect modality. Social constructivism is uniquely flexible and responsibility supports a circular causation taking the blame off of linear, biological, or psychological factors alone (Cottone, 2007). It offers an integrative aspect for several modalities of treatment. As seen in the multicultural movement, embracement of social constructs is realized in the preamble of the American Counseling Association (ACA) (2005) code of ethics and Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) (2006) standards.
Techniques
Through dialogue and language, the therapist and client enter into a conversation employing new perspectives for understanding of the presenting problem, which in turn, leads to modifications. The goal is to liberate one from a narrow definition and operate from a perspective that allows for hope. Phases shape the stories of a family or individual and are part of a larger system (Sharry, 2004, Young and Collins, 2004). Techniques employed within the model of social constructivist’s offer an eclectic army of possibilities which are easily integrated with other perspectives. Solution-focused brief therapy (de Shazer, 1988), solution-oriented therapy, (O’Hanlon, 2010) collaborative approach (Goolishian and Anderson, 1988), and narrative therapy (White and Epston, 1990) are among popular techniques. Common techniques involve the use of open-ended questions. The solution-focused miracle, exceptions and scaling questions are good examples of techniques’ questioning practices (Young and Collins, 2004, Eriksen, 2012). Defining narrative therapy lies with the ability to separate from the problem itself. Both facets center on developing conversations of deconstructing the problem and manifesting new directions. The strength of this technique lies in open ended questioning about thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and individual perceptions of the presenting problem. Respectful listening coupled with open-ended questions, a client can then deliberately move towards change. Also, questions that are oriented to the future can help the client see what skills can be applicable to potential, yet, to come problems. All models presented within this paradigm resonate with many traditional therapies such as Beck’s (2011) cognitive behavioral, and Roger’s (1959) unconditional acceptance, as well as other strength based approaches.
Integration
In the field of Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) integrative aspects of Hope Focused Approach Solution Focused Therapy, and Positive Psychology techniques strengthen the experiential learning processes guiding one to healing (Rogers, 1959, de Shazer, 1988, Ripley and Worthington, 2014). Keeping the Christian perspective first allows one to be guided by the Holy Spirit and foster hope within the therapeutic setting. Psychotherapists do not practice in a vacuum; therefore, further applications are also applicable to domains such as educational, governmental, and managed care institutions conveying research opportunities for programs and legislation. Eclectic modalities and integration strengthens the therapeutic experience fostering a greater opportunity for individual uniqueness and perspective within the postmodern view of social constructivism. The test for the counselor remains in working with a strength based approach is in adhering to the perspectives of clients both culturally and experientially. To be able to see through their lens lends value and autonomy to their healing opportunities. By drawing on their stories of genuineness, change and growth cross boundaries into the therapist’s development of the self as well. Following is an outline of such integrative potential, although a paper in and of itself, allows a glimpse of the aspects centering on an Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) model. There are five key theoretical applications in EAP; Cognitive Behavioral (CBT), Reality Therapy, Solution Focused Brief Therapy and a Systems epistemology in dealing with the family unit (Mandrel, 2006, Sudekum, 2012). Basing assumptions on the client’s perspective for rational or irrational thought processes, implementing the constructs of CBT’s (also known as Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, REBT) self-defective thinking patterns works towards transforming thinking and behavior (Mandrel, 2006). Utilizing the construct of human potential then reinforces the integrative aspects of postmodern approaches seemingly well. Viewing human nature as originating from within the individual suggests that behavior is purposeful. Emphasizing responsibility, Glasser (1998) reinforces the control each individual can influence on their lives. Using the EAP model notably allows the therapist to remain openly genuine within the process, emphasizing the self -healing that lies within the client. Utilizing the horse in various aspects for transference and metaphorical provisions helps the client implement their own meaning into their treatment success (Mandrel, 2006, Sudekum, 2012). The basic goal of attaining awareness is important within this healing model. Solution oriented brief therapy is a strong component positing that the individual can honor the way they think about change as much as in the way they chose to change (de Shazer, 1988, O’Hanlon, 2011, Mandrel, 2006). Removing the client from the position of a disabling label can foster the balance the client needs to see through and around their dilemma. The job remains for the therapist to negotiate solvable issues with realistic treatment goals as defined in collaboration with the client. Thinking of one’s self as a systems theorist, actions hence cannot stand alone and separate from interactions within the cultural or family unit. Also, recognizing that change has a ripple effect within the system itself further strengthens the end result. Reconstructing or constructing through personal choice and responsibility is instrumental when one needs to make sense of what they have or are experiencing within and without. As Haley (2003) states, defining the issue in solvable terms helps the client move to a new position of discovery and a second order change. These theories implied above all are reflected within the horse itself, not so much a tool, but, a therapist themselves. The EAP experience for the client has the opportunity to open a unique method in which to heal benefitting the solution for brief, effective problem solving. Treating traumas, depression, and fostering hope within the relationship with an equine offers many integrative aspects outside the traditional therapeutic settings. Often seen as a containment system in which stabilization is useful, or fostering the opportunity for the client to become unstuck in the traditional therapeutic setting, is empowering not only for the therapist, but, the client as well. The cooperation and collaboration of social constructionism is implemented within this perspective highly influencing many other domains and abilities. Adapting and modifying techniques from the Hope-Focused Approach presented by Ripley and Worthington (2014) such as; time out intervention (p 177), incorporating the four c’s of clue, commit, cool down, and come back, for teens struggling within the family unit to communicate effectively or for marital problems, is inspiring. Many implementations of their interventions would be an effective way to integrate Hope Focused concepts into the session for reinforcement and even homework opportunities. Utilizing the horse in this aspect is very stimulating and creative adding to the therapeutic toolbox. Interventions are too numerous to list, but, transference and hope interventions can foster a number of Christian integrative aspects for the clients providing more of a unique perspective. Drawing on the Christian perspective of EAP, authors Pease, Harris and Williams (2013) of Christian Equine Assisted Learning activities, notably reference integrative aspects pertaining to biblical and spiritual aspects. Job 39: 19-25 (NIV) discourses the strengths of the equine essentially emphasizing the opportunity to draw on their presence within a counseling setting in an empowering and majestic way. Incorporating spiritual growth and direction or numerous other biblical principles of Christianity, remains the focal point throughout the activities. Being adaptable to the unique perspective and spiritual reflection of the family is a guiding light with the incorporation of Christianity as a focal point. Not all activities need to be faith based to be effective, but, the integrative quality that is afforded within equine activities is an easy parallel and transferable concept for the client. For example, the Trinity itself has power within spiritual grooming exercises (bringing dirt and impurities to the surface and grooming them away) purveying the lessons of a growing relationship with Christ and how the Holy Spirit guides the client in their healing. To be able to get the client to consider their family, community or their own relationship within the Trinity is a powerful demonstration of the integrative ability of Christian counseling into not only EAP, but, all the above mentioned cognitive and strength based techniques. Upon further research into the Christian aspect solution focused therapies and combinations of cognitive behavioral, reality, and acceptance theories, integration of Christianity within the social constructivist’s orientation is permeable (McMinn & Campbell, 2007). Social constructivism, therefore, fits handily into our operating models within equine assisted learning and psychotherapy camps. Drawing on the antenna and congruence of the equine is therapeutically applicable to empowering the client within the scope of finding their own strengths and utilizing solutions for change. In researching this modality narrative therapy has emerged and incorporated within the equine model and is highly effective as well (Rector, 2005). Conclusion In sum, refinement and understanding social constructivist’s perspectives are not in isolation. Comparing to other approaches, then, focuses on distinguishing between cognitive entities and relational qualities of which are filtered through the social conduit (Gergen 2001). Again, adding to the terminology consensus, social language is important. Matura (1998) posited long ago that language is a large part of the social equation. The counselor then is left to fall somewhere in between the culture of dictating sociologic systems defining behavior, and the knowing client. From a multicultural standpoint, social constructivism defines truth through diverse world views. This seemingly contrasts to traditional psychotherapy in which the dominant beliefs are defined within mental health models. This could also be construed as a weakness in that the not knowing stance can weaken the professionalism as many groups revere professional expertise. Contrary to this viewpoint of the expert, the therapist has to distinguish the process of therapy itself, from that of the client as the expert. Becoming an expert in brief therapy, therefore, can be limiting; attention is needed to refrain from a mechanistic viewpoint. Attention to the therapeutic relationship has to balance techniques within the process. Techniques such as narrative therapy and solution focused therapies are impacting the field with the assumption that people can make quick progress within a short time frame. Postmodern perspectives add value and integrative aspects within the profession. Critically examining the newer inventions, such as Equine Psychotherapy, are needed necessities to keep the social constructivism guides clearly defined or one can be swimming in an overwhelming sea of unproven techniques. Keeping a professional perspective, while not making the art of questioning a glorified technique, encompasses the scope of challenge within the art of brief therapies.
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