What does a truly relational professional practice look like? I expect it is one in which both colleague and client relationships are held in both tenderness and respect. A relational practice is an open space that is able to work with dynamic tensions rather than needing to find ways to resolve them. A relational practice is one in which practice informs research and research informs practice. A relational practice sees wisdom emerging from the collective and from collaboration.
Does such a practice exist? My answer after reading Patterns in Interpersonal Interactions: Inviting Relational Understandings for Therapeutic Change is a resounding “yes”!
On reading and re-reading this invitational work, I am compelled to be bold enough to invite myself to the Calgary Family Therapy Centre! I imagine entering into the collaborative circle of the authors–Karl Tomm, Sally St. George, Dan Wulff, and Tom Strong. I would bring forward this question: “How do we apply the relational understandings you describe so well from your work in therapeutic settings to the world of global peacemaking?”
The subtitle of Patterns in Interpersonal Interactions is Inviting Relational Understandings for Therapeutic Change. It could just as well be Inviting Relational Understandings for Global Change! Clearly, I have accepted the challenge of the editors to extend the relational possibilities laid out in their work to other domains. Indeed, their findings are “readily generalizable” (p. 247).
The possibilities are unlimited when we “opt for more time and energy in wellness patterns rather than pathologizing ones” (p. 246) (emphasis added). As one who has been involved in conflict resolution work for decades, I find the relational approach developed in this family therapy setting to be both relevant and compelling for international peacemaking.
The conviction that for peace negotiations to succeed, relationships must be valued above agendas, has been the cornerstone of my peacemaking work (http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/The-Intersection-of-Peacemaking). I describe this broadly as relational presence in peacemaking. (http://youtu.be/X99u4Ki_lkk). I am often asked: “What does it look like to value relationships above agendas?” My journey to articulating an answer to that question has been greatly enriched by my reading of Patterns in Interpersonal Interactions.
The authors “place the emergence of relationship as prior to and more fundamental than the emergence of individuals” (p. 234). I concur and suggest that relationships must also be prior to agendas. Building on the authors’ relational approach, we can begin to formulate a significantly new and life-giving way of looking at decision making generally and decision making in conflictual contexts specifically.
Patterns in Interpersonal Interactions plants fertile seeds for understanding effective approaches to peacemaking, whether at the family, community or international level. Indeed, “our individual separateness may be regarded as an illusion” (p. 234) when we begin to understand the complexities of relational interconnectedness.
In a conflicted world that is increasingly damaging our fragile planet, Patterns in Interpersonal Interactions presages hope for a better way. If family relationships can be healed, surely our relationships across cultures, religions, country borders and even our relationship with our environment can be healed as well. Arguably, the healing of interpersonal and family relationships is a stepping stone toward the healing of the planet.
But, the authors leave us with much more than an idealized alternative view on relationships and how they can move toward wellness. With great care and scholarly insight and self-reflection they elucidate a practical and innovative approach for a ‘thickened’ description of the complexities of human interaction. Their system approach describes both pathologizing patterns and wellness and healing patterns. They allow room for both complexities and “the dynamic nature of interaction” (p. 19).
The approach is deeply grounded in the social constructionist lens. It is richly multi-voiced and multi-textured. The texture of the narrative of this work is fully as rich as the texture of the bright colors on the cover! The approach of Patterns in Interpersonal Interactions is refreshing in its refusal to be reductionistic. It is an approach that tenderly nurtures accountability. In the social constructionist world “everyone has a role to play in making change” (p. 98).
Change can be a tender process and the authors are as tender with their readers as I expect they are with clients in therapeutic settings. I deeply appreciate that the tile of this book is inviting of relational understandings. The authors of Patterns in Interpersonal Interactions skillfully manage to be faithful to the invitational approach through the construction of their approach in every chapter. Throughout this work, they invite both reflectivity and dialogue. It is evident that both are a component of how they work with mentees and interns in the Calgary Family Therapy Centre and they extend this approach to the readers.
Karl Tomm, Sally St. George, Dan Wulff, and Tom Strong have each made profoundly significant individual contributions to the discourse on family therapy and human services. Yet, in the finest tradition of relational constructionism, they focus less on their own achievements and more on setting the stage for an emerging relational dance that is inclusive of scholars, practitioners, clients and readers.
Psychology and therapy have, for some time, been struggling to free themselves from the individualistic, reductionistic, pathologizing and diagnostic paradigm. Patterns in Interpersonal Interactions brings forward an alternative life-giving paradigm that is grounded in both research and successful practice.
In the tender approach of Patterns in Interpersonal Interactions there is great wisdom. The significance of this work reaches far beyond therapeutic practice. Are you looking for a deeper understanding of the interpersonal patterns in which we participate every day? Do you care about being an agent of healing and wellness at the local, community or global level? Accept the invitation of this work to an essential and generative conversation!
Patterns in Interpersonal Interactions is published by Routledge (2014) and available from Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Patterns-Interpersonal-Interactions-Understandings-Therapeutic/dp/0415702836