Expanding Experiences: A Culturally Immersive Experience in Collaborative Therapy

By Caroline Harris, M.A., LMFT-Associate

This post is the first of a two-part series on Collaborative therapy and the International Summer Institute. Click here for Part II.

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On June 14, 2015 I traveled to Isla Mujeres, Mexico with a colleague to attend Harlene Anderson’s annual International Summer Institute. We expected to learn about collaborative language systems therapy, we expected to watch collaborative therapy in demonstrations and we expected to engage in collaborative conversations. What we didn’t expect was for the entire experience to shift our personal understanding of meaning-generating conversations and impact our philosophical understanding of collaborative therapy in professional practice.

The client is the expert of their own life, they have the answers within themselves.

In comparison to modernist views of therapy, Collaborative therapy is a relatively new therapeutic concept. It challenges the traditional understanding of how therapy is done, what therapy looks like in session and what metrics are used to measure therapeutic success. At the heart of our collaborative experience at ISI was the importance of conversations. Conversations about conversations; maintaining a circular dialogue that allows each person to listen and respond in a uniquely authentic voice while continually creating new-meanings and understanding as the dialogue unfolds. Inherent in the perspective of the collaborative therapist is the notion of curiosity and tentativeness, both in thought, language and understanding of therapeutic conversations. Dialogue with a client is truly collaborative when both the therapist and client approach the interaction with uncertainty, curiosity and shared inquiry. In Collaborative therapy, the client is the expert of their own life, they have the answers within themselves. The therapist exercises the expertise of facilitating conversations and dialogue.

Traditional practices of therapy are entrenched in hierarchy and diagnosis, wherein a client is automatically placed in a one-down position and participating in a chain of command experience. Collaborative therapy lends itself to an on-going conversation that creates an ever evolving understanding of life and experiences. The process of collaborative conversations is circular and incorporates the possibilities and experiences from our past, present and future. The conversation that creates new meaning and change in a client’s life emerges from the diversity, culture and subjective experience of each individual participating.

Collaborative therapy lends itself to an on-going conversation that creates an ever evolving understanding of life and experiences.

While at ISI, I shared a daily conversational group with members from Argentina, Sweden, Austria, Taiwan, Belgium and Mexico; all members actively engaging in collaborative practices in their respective cultures and countries. Through a natural flow of conversation and dialogue about our lives and experiences we organically co-created an appreciation and understanding of our differences and similarities. What we came to find was that we felt united through the human condition and compassionate towards our quest to learn from one another and understand people more. A guest speaker at the conference, John Shotter, eloquently described our small group experience when he said, “Being immersed in the flow of activity affects us more than we affect it. We only exist as humans because we sustain the flow of interacting and relating with the world around us; we require the flow of activity to sustain who we are.” 

For more information about Harlene Anderson and the International Summer Institute click here

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