What is Social Construction Therapy? 
Brian Milliken, LMFT

What is Social Constructionism?

Social Constructionism is a term used for introducing the awareness of how our ways of life are constantly socially developing and changing over time. The way we communicate with each other, how we get our needs met, how we organize ourselves, are all constructed relationally and are continually being redefined.

From this point of view the troubles and symptoms from which the patient seeks relief, and the unconscious factors behind them, cease to be merely psychological. They lie in the whole pattern of his relationships with other people and, more particularly, in the social institutions by which these relationships are governed: the rules of communication employed by the culture or group. These include the conventions of language and law, of  ethics and aesthetics, of status, role, and identity, and of cosmology, philosophy and religion. For this whole social complex is what provides the individual's conception of himself, his state of consciousness, his very feeling of existence. What is more, it provides the human organism's idea of it's individuality, which can take a number of quite different forms. (Alan Watts, Psychotherapy East & West, 1961)

Social Constructionism holds the view that there are no underlying processes at work; everything is in view and nothing is hidden.  In other words, there is nothing beneath human struggles; no problem or issue that is not intimately tied to our cultural ways and stories.  Therapy, then, becomes a way in which our social constructions are considered and refined relationally. 

Which models are considered to be included  in Social Construction Therapy?

This website discusses six approaches to therapy which can be called Social Construction Therapy.  These include SFBT (Solution Focused Brief Therapy), Possibility Therapy, Narrative Therapy, Collaborative Therapy, Relational Transactional Analysis (Two-Person Psychology) and Social Therapy.

What do the models of  Social Construction Therapy have in common?

The models presented on this website have a common understanding of our cultural conventions being connected with our human struggles.   Social Construction Therapists decenter themselves in order to utilize collaborative conversational discourse as a way to generate new possibilities.  Client and therapist co-create these possibilities so that a new adventure of living can be embarked by both.  The therapist must be willing to change along with the client as the new exploration of the adventure unfolds. 

How did Social Constructionism develop in the counseling field?

 In the late 1800's, the field of psychology was developed which was the study "ology" of the mind "psyche" and started an individual approach to resolving human problems.  A classification system was adopted in 1918 to meet the need of the Federal Bureau of the Census for Uniform Statistics from psychiatric hospitals which in the 1950's had developed into the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual for Mental Disorders.  Many therapists use this manual in order to treat disorders of behavior and mood.

In the 1950's a paradigm shift took place which opened up a new field called Family Therapy.  This "systems" perspective took human disorders of behavior and mood from an individual psyche perspective to a family systems perspective, which saw the symptoms as tied to family dynamics.  A systems approach to resolving human problems focused on the family stress, rather than viewing the symptom bearer as having an individual disorder.   Family therapy would be used to adjust the family system so the symptom bearer would be relieved of their symptoms.

In the 1980's another paradigm shift happened which is now approaching human problems with a social construction approach.  No longer is an individual psyche or the family system seen as developing disorders that need to be resolved.  This approach views that, when our social constructions no longer work for us, we need to develop new solutions, alternative stories, or find new possibilities of existing with each other.  No longer does the therapist utilize interventions which are "about" the individual or family.  Instead, the therapist collaborates "with" the individual and/or family to co-construct new ways of being.

What approaches to therapy would not fit within the Social Construction Paradigm? As a therapist, how would I know that I am not using a Social Construction approach to therapy?

Generally, approaches which embrace an individualist philosophy in the understanding of our human life and struggles would not be social constructionist.  For instance, approaches that would heavily rely on diagnosing problems within the individual.   Approaches that assume that any one socially constructed story can be more rational than another, would not be a Social Construction approach.

Where would I find Social Construction Therapy manifesting itself?

There are many different institutes and programs that are social constructionist around the world.  This website introduces some of them.  There are articles that have been written by leaders and pioneers of the movement. There are videos about the great thinkers behind the approaches, what others have to say about social construction therapy and demonstrations of the approaches.  The links supplied on this website can assist in furthering development and understanding.  May this start an interesting journey into the realm of social construction therapy.

How will Social Constructionism affect therapy theory and therapist education?

As you read the articles and watch the videos, you may see how there is such a new world of information about how we as humans converse and perceive life.  It is uncertain at this time how the education of therapists will be changed in the future when these new ideas come to fruition.  Graduate schools are already teaching classes in social construction therapy which has been a very recent change as we enter into the 21st century.  In a way it is like we are experiencing another enlightenment period as other fields of study such as physics and philosophy are moving in the same direction.  It is also exciting that our new social constructions such as the internet are changing the landscape of our lives.

What do Social Constructionists have to say about how to do therapy?

As you will find out in this website, there are many ways that therapy can be conducted from a social construction perspective.  The Solution Focused Therapy approach focuses on building solutions rather than solving problems. Possibility Therapy gives ideas to new possibilities towards a better life direction.  The Narrative Therapy approach focuses on deconstructing dominant narratives that are not serving us well and developing alternative narratives that may be more life enriching.  The Collaborative Therapy approach focuses on the use of dialogic conversation that generates new possibilities of how we language our lives.  The Social Therapy approach has a methodology that co-constructs new identities through performance within a context of improvisational social activity.  The Relational Transactional Analysis (Two-Person Psychology) approach focuses on the process of relational dialectics as a primary source for change.  This website will expand upon these approaches to give the reader a good start on how these approaches are utilized to assist individuals, couples, and families in their lives.

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