Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Pluralism Day Conference, Scottish Society for Psychotherapy Research

Entry for Sept 3, 2007:

Overview of the day. Today was the first event of the new Scottish local area group of the Society for Psychotherapy Research. Stephen Goss, a colleague of John McLeod’s at the University of Abertay, took the lead in organizing the day, which featured presentations by Stephen (on the philosophical background for pluralism), John McLeod and Mick Cooper (the latest installment of the pluralistic therapy model they have been working on), and me (Process-Experiential therapy as a Pluralist therapy; see previous blog entry), concluding with a final plenary discussion. The conference, attended by 40 – 50 people (mostly practicing counsellors), took place at Dudhope Castle. The castle sits on a hill above the city of Dundee, with a view out across the Firth of Tay and has a very nice garden, where many of us took our lunch and coffee breaks, enjoying the uncharacteristically sunny, pleasant day.

My presentation. I had worked on hard on my presentation, trying to articulate the somewhat ambivalent position of Process-Experiential/Emotion-Focused Therapy vis-à-vis pluralism. On the one hand, as I tried to explain in my talk, the original inspiration for PE therapy was fundamentally pluralist: that there is more than one kind of productive client process in therapy, and that the heart of PE-EFT is a kind of systematic therapeutic pluralism in various forms, the most obvious being therapeutic tasks. On the other hand, we have generally described PE-EFT as integrative rather than pluralist (it brings together person-centred and gestalt therapies, plus a bit of existential therapy), and I have long felt that my own practice benefited greatly from my becoming less pluralist after my transition in 1985.

The further complicate matters, I have been concerned about Mick and John running away with certain elements of PE-EFT (the idea of tasks and markers in particular) and claiming it for their own, which activated some territoriality in me. So I felt the need to be there to represent my point of view. Having volunteered myself, I then became concerned about making a reasonable contribution and not being obnoxious, so I felt I should really take a serious look at the relationship between PE-EFT and pluralism. And this is what I did, finally arriving at a positioning of PE-EFT as what I referred to as a form of “integrative pluralism”, and offering guidelines for the continued assimilation of other ways of working (e.g., CBT techniques) from other approaches into my approach.

Providing video of what it actually looks like in practice really helps to ground the theory, so in the end I was pleased with the content and presentation of my contribution to the day. But what made the day for me was the following two ideas that emerged:

Rigorous pluralism. The first interesting thing for me was that Stephen and John and Mick have all being thinking all the same lines about the limits of pluralism, so that each of us came up with our own qualified pluralism. Mine is “integrative pluralism”; Stephen’s is “systematic pluralism”; and Mick & John’s is “collaborative pluralism.” It appears that pluralism by itself just won’t do; it has to be tempered or balanced or combined with something else. This “rigorous pluralism” works for me!

The possibility of a task analysis of radical collaboration. The second thing that really struck me was that the heart of what John and Mick have been developing is really an intensely collaborative way of working with clients, which goes beyond what we have been able to articulate in the PE-EFT approach. I would call it “radically collaboration” (cf. Ann Weiser Cornell’s “radical acceptance”), even to the point of offering CBT techniques to a client with obsessive-compulsive difficulties (one of John’s cases he briefly presented today). The high level of therapeutic flexibility, via meta-communication, responsiveness to client needs, and in-session process evaluation was truly impressive.

In my opinion, the emphasis on the collaborative process would be an excellent way of addressing potential difficulties of lack of focus in writing, training and researching their collaborative pluralist model of therapy. I have long been concerned with the difficulty in carrying out interesting, focused research on integrative or eclectic therapies, and have been afraid that this would be the case with their pluralist therapy also. However, the articulation of the emerging body of therapeutic wisdom on the process of developing radical collaboration is eminently researchable.

For this reason, my first impulse is to encourage them to initiate a task analytic research program on establishing therapeutic collaboration. This would actually an elaboration and further development of the alliance formation task, which I have done some work on, but haven’t been able to develop in a really powerful or illuminating way. A task analysis of radical collaboration would be very interesting to see, and I’m sure that it could have a broad impact, sort of like Safran-Muran (interpersonal-psychodynamic) or Kernberg-Yeomans (transference-focused dynamic therapy), but humanistic rather than psychodynamic therapists!

Altogether a successful day, then! May Scottish SPR long prosper!

No comments: