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Decentering Therapy: Textual Analysis of a Narrative Therapy Session


  • We thank Dr. Patricia Bell-Scott and the anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments in the preparation and revision of this article.


Postmodern models of therapy stress the participation of the clinician in a nonhierarchical, non-objectifying role, and highlight the therapist's embeddedness in the same processes of social construction as are the individual and the family. While much theory has been published in recent years, the actual conduct of a therapy session derived from the premises of postmodernism remains unclear. We investigated how a postmodern therapist manages talk in an actual session. We used textual analysis to examine a couples therapy session conducted by a prominent narrative therapist. Analysis of the talk led to descriptions of the couple's and therapist's agenda, and their interaction. The therapist's agenda is described in terms of “decentering” both the local unfolding narrative and its embeddedness in larger cultural stories. Five conversational practices: matching/self-disclosure, reciprocal editing, turn management to de-objectify, expansion questions, and reversals are examined. These practices inform the deployment of a decentering agenda in this specific text.