The 2022 International Conference on Pluralistic Counselling and Psychotherapy: A Personal Introduction to the Speakers and What their Work has meant to me –John McLeod
The 5th annual conference on pluralistic practice is being held on 3-4th June 2022. As in previous years, the aim of the conference is to provide an inclusive space for counsellors, psychotherapists, and other mental health and care practitioners to come together to share ideas about how to work together with clients and service users in ways that are open to multiple perspectives and client preferences. The theme of the 2022 conference is The Power of Collaborative Relationships: Working Together to Rebuild Lives and Communities. It is easy to attend the conference: it is on-line, on a self-select fee basis, and offers a facility to catch up on presentations after the event. Further information (including interviews with each of the keynote speakers) is available here.
As someone who has been closely involved in the development of pluralistic practice over the last 20 years, I would like to share some of my own experience on how the three conference keynote speakers – David Denborough, Lisa Goodman, and Pratyusha Tummala-Narra – have influenced my own thinking and practice. In doing so, I also hope to convey how delighted I am that they have agreed to contribute to the conference.
My own training as a therapist was in the person-centred approach – a set of ideas and skills that I still find enormously useful. After a few years, as a result of working with particular clients, I began to be interested in the significance of how clients told the story of their life. This led me to narrative therapy, which I also found very helpful at a personal level. However, I struggled to see how I could accommodate narrative therapy into my predominantly person-centred practice – they drew on very different philosophical assumptions, and one of them involved asking a lot of questions while the other largely avoided asking questions at all. It was through the tension between these contrasting ways of doing therapy that I came to see that a ‘both/and’ position, that involved dialogue with the client on what worked for them at a specific moment, might be a possible way forward.
The first version of pluralistic therapy, produced by Mick Cooper, Julia McLeod, and myself, offered a framework within which concepts and methods from the narrative therapy of Michael White and David Epston – who had worked primarily with individuals and families – could be integrated with concepts and methods from other approaches. There were also aspects of the pluralistic framework for practice that were quite similar to standard narrative therapy practice, such as attention to the cultural resources that were available to the client.
A later set of developments in narrative therapy opened it out to incorporate working with communities. Although many other people have been involved in this endeavour, David Denborough (see video interview here) and Cheryl White have been key figures who have encouraged and supported colleagues in all parts of the world. Examples of this form of practice include using activities that are meaningful within the specific cultural group, such as singing or playing football, and creating opportunities for stories of resistance and survival in one set of people to be communicated to others (Denborough et al., 2006; Denborough, 2002, 2008). Behind the scenes, the capacity to undertake this kind of work is built on a deep respect for cultural traditions and commitment to collaboration and co-creation. I believe that these practices go beyond current pluralistic practice, and give an indication of what is possible.
More recently, David Denborough has been involved in developing a distinctive perspective on research and inquiry, consistent with the values of narrative therapy. He has also produced accessible and interesting critical reviews that offer a socio-cultural take on current topics such as the use of neuroscience and emotion theory in psychotherapy (Denborough, 2019) and the concept of moral injury (Denborough, 2021).
Lisa Goodman (see video interview here) is an American psychologist who has made an enormous contribution to the promotion of research and practice around a social justice perspective in counselling and psychotherapy. Her practice initiatives and research on how therapy can be helpful for women who were economically disadvantaged, or subjected to intimate partner violence, provided me with real light-bulb moments in relation to appreciating the importance of a flexible approach that took account of practical as well as psychological/emotional recovery tasks, and that actively promoted involvement in supportive social networks. Her writing also allowed me to see that sometimes psychotherapy might need to be called something else (e.g., advocacy) to be meaningful and acceptable to certain groups of clients. It also showed – in similar fashion to narrative therapy – that therapy is always political. Examples of early studies by Lisa Goodman’s team include Goodman et al. (2009, 2010, 2013) and Latta and Goodman (2011). More recent work has continued to build on these achievements, while also broadening it out to incorporate crucial analysis of principles of trauma-informed practice.
One of the big ideas in pluralistic practice has always been that of acknowledging and harnessing difference. The client and therapist have different life experiences and different ideas about what might be helpful and healing: how can we combine these contrasting knowledges in ways that assist the client to move on in their life? For me, and I think for a lot of colleagues, speakers at the 2020 pluralistic conference pushed this focus to another level, by talking about their own experiences of oppression and inequality, and emphasising the necessity of taking colonialism, white privilege and fragility, and intergenerational trauma, much more seriously. These issues are increasingly highlighted by students at Abertay University and other training programmes, and within various pluralistic network working groups. The clinical writing and research of Pratyusha Tummala-Narra (see video interview here) has provided to be an invaluable resource in relation to these efforts. Her study of how experienced psychotherapists make sense of how to address issues of diversity and cultural difference generated a richly-described set of themes that – from a pluralistic perspective – can be read as potential therapy tasks as well as offering an agenda for personal and professional development (Tummala-Narra et al., 2018). Her reflection on the emergence of skin colour as a topic in her work with clients provides an example of how difference can be approached in a straightforward, down-to-earth manner (Tummala-Narra et al., 2007).
David Denborough is a narrative therapist with a background in social and community work, Lisa Goodman is a feminist community and counselling psychologist, and Pratyusha Tummala-Narra is a psychoanalyst. The fact that all three of them have produced ideas that are of great interest and relevance for plastically-oriented practitioners is testimony to the capacity of a pluralistic framework to be open to whatever might be of value, regardless of where it comes from. One of the strengths of a pluralistic perspective is that it actively encourages curiosity and dialogue across disciplines and traditions.
The papers referenced in this article do not in any sense reflect the entirety of the outputs of the speakers, but have been selected to illustrate specific points of context with pluralistic practice, or that have been personally meaningful for me. They were also chosen because they are readily available though Google Scholar or websites: the majority of pluralistic counsellors and psychotherapists are front-line practitioners who do not have ready access to university libraries.
In my view, the keynote speakers for the 2022 conference are among the most significant and influential voices within contemporary psychotherapy, and we are fortunate to have this opportunity to learn from their experience.
Denborough, D. (2002). Community song writing and narrative practice. https://dulwichcentre.com.au/community-song-writing-and-narrative-practice/
Denborough, D., Koolmatrie, C., Mununggirritj, D., Marika, D., Dhurrkay, W. & Yunupingu, M. (2006). Linking Stories and Initiatives: A narrative approach to working with the skills and knowledge of communities. International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, No.2 https://dulwichcentre.com.au/linking-stories-and-initiatives.pdf
Denborough, D. (2008). Collective narrative practice. Adelaide: Dulwich Centre Publications.
Denborough, D. (2019). Travelling down the neuro-pathway: Narrative practice, neuroscience, bodies, emotions and the affective turn. International Journal of Narrative Therapy & Community Work, (3), 13-53.
Denborough, D. (2021). Moral injury and moral repair: The possibilities of narrative practice. International Journal of Narrative Therapy & Community Work, (4), 24-58.
Goodman, L. A., Pugach, M., Skolnik, A., & Smith, L. (2013). Poverty and mental health practice: Within and beyond the 50‐minute hour. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 69(2), 182-190.
Goodman, L. A., Glenn, C., Bohlig, A., Banyard, V., & Borges, A. (2009). Feminist relational advocacy: Processes and outcomes from the perspective of low-income women with depression. The Counseling Psychologist, 37(6), 848-876.
Goodman, L. A., Smyth, K. F., & Banyard, V. (2010). Beyond the 50-minute hour: increasing control, choice, and connections in the lives of low-income women. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 80(1), 3.
Latta, R. E., & Goodman, L. A. (2011). Intervening in partner violence against women: A grounded theory exploration of informal network members’ experiences. The Counseling Psychologist, 39(7), 973-1023.
Tummala-Narra, P. (2007). Skin color and the therapeutic relationship. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 24(2), 255–270.
Tummala-Narra, P., Claudius, M., Letendre, P. J., Sarbu, E., Teran, V., & Villalba, W. (2018). Psychoanalytic psychologists’ conceptualizations of cultural competence in psychotherapy. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 35(1), 46–59.