At the Edge of Safety: Moral Experimentation in the Case of Family Therapy
- 465 Downloads
“At the Edge of Safety” argues for thinking of structural family therapy as a “moral laboratory.” Borrowing a trope from Cheryl Mattingly’s recent book Moral Laboratories, the article reconsiders a therapeutic style that was once controversial by analyzing personal stories of supervision—i.e. professional training—in light of Mattingly’s suggestion that a social space in which people conduct experiments on themselves and their lives may be considered a moral laboratory. Family therapy is especially good to think with, because it is simultaneously a real and a metaphorical laboratory, physically lab-like in its use of visual technologies, yet moral in the way it puts the possibility for situational change in the hands of human actors. The technological apparatus stages evidence for sub-visible, interpersonal dynamics, while the provocative quality of not only therapeutic actions, but also of supervision, points to an ethos of experimentation. Stories of supervision reveal how personal of an experience being supervised can be. Trainees are pushed to become something otherwise, in learning to “expand” their styles. Sometimes the push is just right. Sometimes it goes too far. Whatever the case may be, the stories analyzed speak to anthropological questions concerning the uncertainty of human action and the many ways people can unknowingly injure one another with small hurts.
KeywordsPsychotherapy Family therapy Ethics Morality
I am grateful to Lone Grøn for her support and encouragement, and for thinking of organizing the AAA double panel on moral (and other) laboratories in the first place, which led to this special issue. Many thanks to Tanya Luhrmann and Cheryl Mattingly, who served as discussants, and to the anonymous reviewers, who gave the manuscript a meticulous read and lent their expertise on family therapy and anthropological theory. All shortcomings are my own.
This study is part of a larger project funded by the Research Grants Council, University Grants Committee, Hong Kong (14610115).
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of interest
Teresa Kuan declares that she has no conflict of interest.
This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by the author.
For this type of text-based study formal consent is not required.
- Arendt, Hannah 1998  The Human Condition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
- Bateson, Gregory 2000  Toward a Theory of Schizophrenia. In Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology, pp. 201–227. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
- Bray, Francesca 2013 Tools for Virtuous Action: Technology, Skills and Ordinary Ethics. In Ordinary Ethics in China. Charles Stafford, ed., pp. 175–193. London: Bloomsbury.Google Scholar
- Bronfenbrenner, Urie 1989 Ecological Systems Theory. Annals of Child Development 6: 187–249.Google Scholar
- Brown, Steven D., and Ian Tucker 2010 Eff the Ineffable: Affect, Somatic Management, and Mental Health Service Users. In The Affect Theory Reader. Melissa Gregg and Gregory J. Seigworth, eds., pp. 229–249. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
- Chen, Wenrui 2015 Invoking Personhood in Contemporary China: Seeing through the Lens of a Beijing Family Therapy Center. Ph.D. Dissertation, Department of Anthropology, New York University.Google Scholar
- Galison, Peter 1987 How Experiments End. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
- Latour, Bruno 2005 Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Lee, Wai-Yung 2006  The Shit-Painter. In Mastering Family Therapy: Journeys of Growth and Transformation, pp. 215–242. 2nd Edition. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.Google Scholar
- Ma, Joyce L.C. 2011 Anorexia Nervosa and Family Therapy in a Chinese Context. Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press.Google Scholar
- Mattingly, Cheryl 2010 The Paradox of Hope: Journeys through a Clinical Borderland. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
- McLean, Athena 1990 The social production of clinical knowledge: A case study of family therapy in the United States, 1937-1978. Ph.D. Dissertation, Department of Anthropology, Temple University.Google Scholar
- Minuchin, Salvador 1974 Families & Family Therapy. London: Tavistock Publications.Google Scholar
- Minuchin, Salvador, Wai-Yung Lee, and George M. Simon 2006  Mastering Family Therapy: Journeys of Growth and Transformation. 2nd Edition. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.Google Scholar
- Montoya, Michael J. 2015 Politics of Relationship: Moral Experiments of Urban Health. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association, Denver, November 18.Google Scholar
- Robbins, Joel 2004 Becoming Sinners: Christianity and Moral Torment in a Papua New Guinea Society. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
- Taussig, Michael 1980 Reification and the Consciousness of the Patient. Social Science and Medicine 14: 3–13.Google Scholar
- Tunnell, Gil 2006  “The Oedipal Son” Revisited. In Mastering Family Therapy: Journeys of Growth and Transformation, pp. 215–242. 2nd Edition. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.Google Scholar
- Williams, Bernard 1981 Moral Luck. In Moral Luck: Philosophical Papers 1973-1980, pp. 20–39. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar