About 200 psychologists, researchers and therapists gathered in Norway in June at Beyond the Therapeutic State: Collaborative Practices for Individual and Social Change, organized by Ken Gergen and other social constructionists. The event drew 200 participants from 24 countries, including several colleagues, kindred spirits and longtime collaborators, along with Social Therapy Group Director Christine LaCerva who, along with Institute alum and practicing psychologist and family therapist Pal Carlin, led a workshop, entitled, Therapy Interrupted. A dominant sentiment at the conference was the urgent need to challenge the discourse of traditional therapy and to build an alternative therapies movement.
In his plenary presentation, Gergen spoke out against the therapeutic state, the damage done by the medical model and psychiatry’s need to label, predict and control. “Can we come together to do something about the oppression of diagnostics and forced medication?” he asked. “Can we find new ways of helping people with emotional difficulties?” “How do we take more responsibility for what’s going on in the world?”
Other highlights included a short film and presentation by Carina Håkansson, founder of the Family Care Foundation in Sweden. Håkansson places people with serious emotional difficulties on neighboring farms, where their therapy includes taking care of the farm animals. Documentary filmmaker Brian Mackler portrays patients’ development in the course of living on the farm — an environment where they are freed-up from diagnostic labels and constant pathologizing.
La Cerva and Carlin’s workshop introduced social therapeutics as a cultural, performatory approach to human development that “interrupted” patients expectations of what therapy was supposed to be (i.e., “about Me!”) Says LaCerva:
We talked about how social therapy interrupts our fascination with the self and helps us shift our gaze to the group. It stops us from digging deep into our patients’ psyches in favor of helping them create new ensemble performances. It disturbs our patients’ notion that therapy is all about them and introduces them to the other. It challenges the model of traditional psychology in favor of exploring, creating and playing with subjectivity as social relational and cultural activity.
LaCerva and Carlin showed a video clip of a conversation between Gergen and social therapy founder Fred Newman from a 2001 Performing the World plenary session in which they discussed the importance of performance for human development. In a performatory therapy, the group is less concerned with what they are talking about and very concerned with how they are talking.