This first Issue of 2012 consists of a series of papers that have employed different approaches to researching practice. Each of the approaches is consistent with current systemic thinking and between them they allow comparison of the advantages of different research methods. We start from the intensive method of conversational analysis applied to a single family, then widening to discourse analysis, followed by interpretative phenomenological analysis, but now with workers about their service; and then the big one, Grounded Theory plus attachment analysis of videos of sessions, on interviews with family therapists. Finally a wide ranging analysis of the relationships between reflexive constructionist systemic therapy, and a practice action research positioning.
Meanwhile we learn about families discussing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and chronic fatigue syndrome, workers’ experiences of a highly successful innovation of systemically based social work units, and resonances between therapists’ personal experiences and their understanding of their clients.
The final paper by Gail Simon provides a sophisticated analysis of action research applied to reflexive systemic practice. I mention it first because I want to invite you to read the paper first, as an orientation to the ways of researching our practice that are described in the other papers. But it is very rich in ideas both about research and about systemic thinking: about systemic therapy as a fast science changing its model by the moment in the doing of the activities. So I expect you will want to return to it once you have read the specific research studies.
The first paper is by Rudi Dallos, Katie Denman, Jacqui Stedmon and Cordet Smart and uses Conversational Analysis (CA) to examine in depth the conversational processes of a single family as they discuss the labelling of their adolescent son as suffering attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and self harm.
CA is one of the most intensive qualitative methods and therefore appropriate for detailed analysis of the moment-by-moment discourse of a session. But like the therapist, the researcher must attend to the detail while maintaining and developing a perspective on the whole. The difference is that the researcher (and the clinician making use of these techniques between sessions) is freed from the responsibility to instantly respond, and also has the luxury of cycling around the data and so interpreting the earlier material in light of their developing understanding of the whole. This paper shows how a detailed consideration of the speech forms (emphases, eye contact etc) can be so informative. The extensive Verbatim material allows you to see the author’s processes of judgement. And it is an interesting example that clinicians could use to gain a deeper understanding of brief transcripts of crucial moments in the therapy.
Doug Crix, Jacqui Stedmon, Cordet Smart and Rudi Dallos apply Discourse Analytic Methodology to consider how talk about illness is locally negotiated by a family in the context of a single family interview. This is one of the first studies to research family processes organised by the diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis). This diagnosis attracts considerable dispute among professionals and family members equally. It therefore presents a challenge to therapists whose own beliefs might make a properly therapeutic stance difficult. This paper offers an understanding of these processes in one family that is likely to be transferable to help clinicians engage in constructive and collaborative dialogues in such sensitive areas.
Cinzia Taffagli reports from her work in the project set up by Isabelle Trowler and Steve Goodman in the London Borough of Hackney. They took a systemic approach to what came to be called “Reclaiming Social Work” which involved the creation of new social work “units” which consist of a consultant social worker, a social worker, a child practitioner, clinical therapist and a unit administrator working in equal partnership. Cinzia’s research applies Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) to interviews with four workers with different professional backgrounds. IPA is designed to enable the researcher to engage with and report on the phenomenological understandings of the participants, so that we gain a direct feeling of what the experience of working in this way is, and how it differs from individually oriented work contexts.
Per Jensen used Mony Elkaim’s concept of resonances to make connections from personal and private lives that may add meaning to the therapist’s practice. The participants were seven professionals with family therapy training. Interviews were analysed using Grounded Theory while therapist and researcher also viewed videotaped therapy sessions. The interest was in connections between the content of the videos of therapy and the personal and private lives of the therapists. Interpretative theme analyses were used for the videos and the aim was to “understand and represent the participants’ point of view”
Grounded Theory is a well specified research approach in which primacyis given not to the researcher’s theories and hypotheses but to the material generated by the participant. When it is used effectively, as in this study, the analyses give rise to a theory which can be shown to be fully grounded in the data. From this carefully conducted research process Per has created the theoretical construct of the “Map of Relational Resonances”.
Smaro Markou Tsangaraki offers a different perspective that reflects current moves to recognise Couples work as a distinct specialisation within SFT. The article also in one aspect picks up Per Jensen’s interest in resonances from the therapist’s personal experience of relationships that influence how they construe and work with the relationships of couples in therapy. Smaro Markou reports experimentation with different ways of using visual images in pictures and other provocations to open up the thinking of trainees about relationships and the assumptions that they make during couples therapy.
Returning to Gail Simon’s article, this offers an informative and sophisticated analysis of “collaborative-dialogical-social constructionist-systemic practice”, leading to a formulation of a new approach to practitioner research. A form of action research for reflexive practice or practice-based action research, which she abbreviates to “Praction Research”. Her view is that action research was intended to be a form of activism and therefore connects therapeutic practice and research.
At this point we proudly initiate a new section in Human Systems: ‘Conversations with Inspiring Voices’. This section will each time comprise an interview with a colleague acknowledged in areas of systems epistemology and practice, therapy, research and/or training.
Through these interviews we aim at providing space for opening up conversations with and among various inspiring voices in our field. We invite you to send in your comments on the views expressed in these interviews. Comments will be published in the following issue of HS so as to develop an interactive process of exchange.
In this issue, we are very pleased to have Professor Maurizio Andolfi, a very important pioneer in psychotherapy and training both in his motherland of Italy and internationally, discuss with Kyriaki Polychroni. He shares aspects of his personal journey, describes his three-generational, developmental approach to therapy and outlines what he views as the values essential to therapy. Andolfi also expresses his concerns for the current field of family therapy and refers, not only to the importance of therapists ‘opening up doors of the family’ so as to regain important supportive connection with the family of origin and the community, but also to the opening doors of the ‘churches of therapists’ so as re-establish dialogue and co-create a common mission for family therapy. The interview finishes with Andolfi’s belief that, as always, crises particularly of the present psychosocial context may bring forth new opportunities and ideas.
Our final item is Paula Boston’s lively review of Stephen Madigan’s (2011) Narrative Therapy. This account is informative not just about the book but much more widely about narrative therapy and Paula Boston’s own well-informed position on current narrative practice.
Peter Stratton & Kyriaki Protopsalti Polychroni
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