The process of problem (re)formulation in psychotherapy1


  • 1

    An earlier version of this paper appeared in Dutch in Psychologie en Maatschappij 22 (Match 1983), pp. 59–79.


One frequently heard critique of psychotherapy, particularly in feminist circles, is that it individualizes client's problems, i.e. they are shorn of their social significance and reduced to personal (psychological) shortcomings of the client herself. The present paper attempts to demonstrate what this phenomenon might look like at the level of the actual conversational interaction between the client and her therapist. It will become clear that the (re)formulation of the client's initial version of her troubles is by no means a spontaneous artefact of the therapeutic interview, but the result of considerable interactional ‘work’ on the part of the therapist. The process of problem (re)formulation consists of three analytically distinct stages, which are accomplished primarily by means of the everyday conversational device of ‘formulations.’ By using formulations in a special way, the therapist is able to transform the client's difficulties in her situation as full-time housewife and mother into a typical ‘therapy problem’.