I am just back from a very interesting three-day meeting in Malmo, Sweden. Bjorn Johansson and Eva Person of Clues decided some time ago to invite anyone interested in creating a better future for SF to gather and examine the issues, particularly connecting to academic connections and how we might continue to research and learn from what we do. Harry Korman, Gale Miller and I were invited to prepare some thoughts on key issues to get the discussions going. We were reminded that ‘summit’ is the top of a hill, and what we were doing was gathering to survey the view of the landscape from this particular hill.
22 people gathered at Harry and Jocelyne Korman’s offices in Malmo. Quite a few others had hoped to come, but were prevented from attending by family commitments, emergencies etc. Those present were drawn from many corners of the SF community – from therapy (including Harry K, Alasdair Macdonald, Peter Sundman), education (inc Michael Durrant, Kerstin Mahlberg, Sue Young), organisational work (inc Jenny and me, Kirsten Dierolf, Kati Hankovszky, Carey Glass), academia (inc Gale Miller and David Weber), managers and users of SF in Sweden and around the world (inc Jonas Wells, Stanus Kloete, Svea van der Hoorn) and others.
Harry Korman presented the latest work on microanalysis of SF therapy conversations in comparison to other modalities by Janet Bavelas and others. This is not yet published, so I can’t go into too much detail – suffice to say that the results bring a really bright spotlight onto the ways in which therapists and clients interact, with SF therapists taking great care to reflect a lot of the client’s language, with some interesting twists. This link with Janet Bavelas also takes us back to the Mental Research Institute days in the 1960s and 70s, where the ‘Interactional View’ was forged – the basis for SF practice (though we don’t always remember it).
My session was about how SF practice might be taken more seriously by academics, policy makers and so on. I surveyed the state of play – SF is much misunderstood, has disappointingly little serious academic reputation and is largely ignored (apart from the thousands of people using it!). This is not helped by a little anti-intellectual streak which appears from time to time, with some practitioners acting as if they can extricate themselves from any difficult discussion with a surprised “Wow, well, I don’t know about that….”. I repeated my call for serious thinking about SF at the level of a paradigm – a framework in which ideas fit together in a certain sense, opening the door for further research – as well as at the level of practical tools/questions. I think there IS (or are?) SF paradigms – within which our techniques make a certain sense. However, if the paradigm is not made somewhat explicit at some point, the risk is that people look at the tools within some other framework, where they may not make as much sense or be as much use. I handed out draft copies of a new chapter written with Gale Miller, ‘From Wittgenstein, Complexity and Narrative Emergence – Discourse and SFBT’, to be published later this year by Oxford University Press.
On the second day, Gale Miller spoke about SF practice as rumour, paradigm and imaginary. We are somewhat familiar with the idea of SF as a rumour, following Gale’s paper with Steve de Shazer in 1998. Rumours can and do exist without any grounding in a paradigm. Gale’s view of paradigm comes from Paul Roth’s 1989 paper on ‘How Narratives Explain’ – how sets of ideas are embraced and used by a community. An imaginary (from the work of Charles Tyler and others) is an orientation to how possible futures might emerge – how thought and practice gains a ‘social existence’ in a coherent way. This has to be grounded in something – the spoken and unspoken background to practice. The DSM is an imaginary. So is SF practice (in Gale’s view, and mine) – which means that there is some kind of paradigm in Roth’s sense to be explored. Gale proposed that complexity theory was an interesting element of paradigm to explore. He also suggested various practices, including questioning what we do, investigating our claims, trying on other points of view, asking what is glossed over or marginalised, and making new friends.
These three sessions, and the large amount of discussion they generated, took up the first half of the time. We then did some ‘miracle question’ thinking about what a better future might look like, and investigated what in the historical development of SF practice was useful to bring forwards and connect with the future (there was a lot of experience in the room, including several who were around in the very early days of SF).
On the final day we spend time in open space considering topics including the possibility of an academic journal for SF therapy, getting better at politics and advocacy, expanding the paradigm, fun things and the ‘SF-lab for unpredictable experiments’, a Swedish SF network (perhaps under the SFCT banner), combining tradition and reform, new research projects including a ‘diary’ project, small things we can do to promote SF and even a new name for our practice. Everyone took away small actions which we hope you will be seeing in the coming days and weeks. Many people said they would write up their views of the event, and Bjorn asked Jenny to take notes as we went along. We also had an excellent social time, with plenty of informal discussion and plenty of beer! Many thanks to Bjorn and Eva for taking the initiative to get this event together. I hope that our time will prove to have been well spent in continuing to move the SF idea onwards.