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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
A book you must have 5 Jun. 2006
By Lois Shawver - Published on
Format: Paperback
It was a few weeks ago, sitting here in my California study, that I looked on Amazon to see if they had yet listed my book. Ah, there it was. Then, I thought I'd search around for other related works, works I might want to refer to -- but, to tell you the truth, I thought I knew them all.

Then, lo and behold, right here on my screen, Amazon showed me the aqua cover of a book written by Del Lowenthal and Robert Snell, a book called "Post-modernism for psychotherapists." A few weeks later, sitting here in the very same chair, I read the book -- and I quite liked it.

Like myself, Lowenthal and Snell are captivated by their glimpse of the importance of postmodern philosophers for therapists. Like me, they feel that the time has come for those of us so inspired to send out guides and invitations to all our therapist colleagues telling them about the importance and practical relevance of what we have found.

I particularly liked the first page of their introduction, where they said:
We are not trying to peddle something called 'post-modern therapy', as
yet another 'school', theoretical breakthrough or new market brand. Rather
we are looking at the implications of some Continental, post-modern thinking
for practice - we are interested in implication rather than application, in
thoughtfulness rather than technique. We believe post-modern thinking can
provide useful pointers as to what may most help us within our current

What an important introductory statement. The postmodern movement is not just one more theory of therapy. It is a complete turn of mind.

Many of you have already made this turn and simply not learned the word for it -- it's your "postmodernism". If you identify as eclectic and take formulae about therapy, all research conclusions and all therapy theories, with a grain of salt, knowing you can never apply any of them without a substantial bit of your own contextual judgment, then you are at least a little "postmodern". You know that once in a session, you are largely on your own, using your education and life training, not as formulae for success, not as scripts or rules to follow, but as resources to help you make contextual judgments, struggling more to overcome pat answers, than to find them. What you need, what we postmodern therapists all need, is writing that speaks to us, not just more theories "peddled" as though things have finally been figured out and reduced to a technical formula. Postmoderns turn up their noses at such pat theories. Someof us even call them "meta-narratives".

For Lowenthal and Snell, and for me, too, some of the answers of what to do now are suggested in the postmodern literature. The question is how to make sense of these sometimes obscure philosophers without turning their philosophies into just one more "pat answer". I think you must just bite the bullet read postmodern writing. Find the postmodern authors that most inspire you now, move on to others later on, and know that these authors are just educating your contextual judgment, not giving you an algorithm for doing therapy, for that, you will be on your own, in the moment, in the context. If you put some time into reading the literature, though, and choose your what you read carefully (not too much overyour head, and not to much beneath you), gradually, it just all comes together and leaves you on your own course that we other postmoderns out here will recognize and appreciate, even though our path, and our distinctive contextual judgments, may be a little different from yours.

Lowenthal and Snell are here to help. With grit and courage, they bring you right into the turgid writing of the postmodern philosophers themselves, with selected excerpts, carefully arranged on a bed of their own thoughtful commentary. All told, they give excerpts from twenty-one key philosophers organized around the following five chapters:

1. Introduction
2. Phenomenological and Existential Roots
3. Other Roots
4. Post-modern Continental Philosophers
5. Some Critiques of Postmodernism

It's a good book. I am so glad that they made the last minute decision to include Wittgenstein in their book, even though there really was no good place to put him. They attached him, awkwardly I think, at the end of chapter four. Wittgenstein might have been born in Austria, and written in German, but his philosophy was not "postmodern continental philosophy". He lived and wrote within the philosophical problematic of early-middle twentieth century in Cambridge England, dealing with issues being discussed and debated by local thinkers at that time like Bertrand Russell, G.E. Moore, J. L. Austin, and Gilbert Ryle.

It is true he was often critical of their work, but their work, nevertheless, defined his topics, not Descartes, not Heidegger, not even Sartre or Saussure.

Here is how I see it: Wittgenstein's influence on postmodernism popped over the English channel, remarkably, when Lyotard (the man who made postmodernism a household term) somehow stretched his mind across the channel to read someone outside his continental tradition. What happened, was a wonder and a beautiful melding of two very different traditions, and both traditions were made the better when they were reborn as "postmodernism," a kind of synthesis of continental philosophy and English philosophy. Wittgenstein contributed his brilliant sensitivity to the way language functioned, and Lyotard's contributed his depth of thinking about social phenomena, politics and late twentieth century technology and promise. From the day of his Wittgensteinian inspiration forward, Lyotard, apparently, made his version of Wittgenstein central to all his thought. This gave Lyotard, it seems to me, a unique place forever in the literature of postmodern philosophy. I like Lowenthall and Snell placing him up front, as the first author mentioned, in the section of "Post-modern Continental Philosophers."

If I have captured your interest even a little, then you have the postmodern spark yourself, and I hope you gather some good theoretical resources around you and join this movement. There are no rules as to what you should think or believe. You simply need to read enough to know that you belong with us. Then we all talk and learn from each other, mostly in little local discussions, educating our continuously evolving contextual judgment without any unbreakable rules to guide us. It is kind of like learning to walk all over again - and, remember, we didn't follow rules to learn to do that, either.

Lowethall and Snell's book, Postmodernism for Therapists, should be an essential volume on your shelf, even if you use it mostly for reference. After you have educated yourself as to how postmoderns talk, we need you on the philosophical frontier. As Lowenthall and Snell tell you, we are not designing just another school. And, as I say: We postmoderns are collaboratively composing a new and evolving language and together with you, hopefully, we are learning how to help our clients figure out for themselves how to reweave the tapestry of their lives, just as we are busy reweaving the tapestry of our own professional thinking about how to do therapy.

Lois Shawver
Nostalgic Postmodernism: Postmodern Therapy
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