Encyclopedia of Couple and Family Therapy

Living Edition
| Editors: Jay Lebow, Anthony Chambers, Douglas C. Breunlin

Postmodernism in Couple and Family Therapy

Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-15877-8_218-1

Name of Theory




The “postmodern turn” in social sciences has not bypassed couple and family therapy. Lyotard defined postmodern as “incredulity toward metanarratives” (p. xxiv). Postmodernism entered family therapy in 1980s (e.g., Anderson and Goolishian 1988; Hoffman 1990; White and Epston 1990). It brought along a radical reconceptualization of family therapy practice and concerns and experiences families bring to therapy. Postmodern therapies – also referred to as relational, dialogical, discursive, conversational, open-dialogue, poststructuralist, and constructionist– share in common an interest in meaning-making, language, and stories. Postmodern influences originate in the work of constructivist and social constructionist scholars (e.g., Maturana, Varela, von Foerster, von Glasersfeld, Watzlawick, Dell, Gergen, Berger, Luckmann). Most commonly cited postmodern approaches include narrative therapy, collaborative therapy, and...

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Alvesson, M. (2002). Postmodernism and social research. Philadelphia: Open University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Anderson, H. (1997). Conversation, language and possibilities: A postmodern approach to therapy. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  3. Anderson, H. (2012). Collaborative relationships and dialogic conversations: Ideas for a relationally responsive practice. Family Process, 51(1), 8–24. doi: 10.1111/j.1545-5300.2012.01385.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Anderson, H., & Goolishian, H. (1988). Human systems as linguistic systems: Preliminary and evolving ideas about the implications for clinical theory. Family Process, 27, 157–163. doi:10.1111/j.1545-5300.1988.00371.xCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Barad, K. (2003). Posthumanist performativity: Toward an understanding of how matter comes to matter. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 28(3), 801–831. doi: 10.1086/345321.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Combs, G., & Freedman, J. (2012). Narrative, poststructuralism, and social justice: Current practices in narrative therapy. The Counseling Psychologist, 40(7), 1033–1060. doi: 10.1177/0011000012460662.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Dickens, D. R., & Fontana, A. (1994). Postmodernism in the social sciences. In D. R. Dickens & A. Fontana (Eds.), Postmodernism and social inquiry (pp. 1–22). New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  8. Friedman, S. (Ed.). (1993). The new language of change: Constructive collaboration in psychotherapy. New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  9. Gergen, K. J. (1994). Toward transformation in social knowledge (2nd ed.). London: Sage.Google Scholar
  10. Hare-Mustin, R. (1994). Discourses in the mirrored room: A postmodern analysis of therapy. Family Process, 33(1), 19–35. doi: 10.1111/j.1545-5300.1994.00019.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Hoffman, L. (1990). Constructing realities: An art of lenses. Family Process, 19, 1–12. doi: 10.1111/j.1545-5300.1990.00001.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Marecek, J., & Hare-Mustin, R. T. (2009). Clinical psychology: The politics of madness. In D. Fox, I. Prilleltensky, & S. Austin (Eds.), Critical psychology: An introduction (2nd ed., pp. 75–92). London: Sage.Google Scholar
  13. McDonough, M., & Koch, P. (2007). Collaborating with parents and children in private practice: Shifting and Overlapping conversations. In H. Anderson & D. Gehart (Eds.), Collaborative therapy: Relationships and conversations and make a difference (pp. 168–181). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  14. McNamee, S. (2004). Therapy as social construction: Back to basics and forward toward challenging issues. In T. Strong & D. A. Paré (Eds.), Furthering talk: Advances in the discursive therapies (pp. 253–270). New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. McNamee, S., & Gergen, K. (Eds.). (1992). Therapy as social construction. Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  16. Paré, D. (1995). Of families and other cultures: The shifting paradigm of family therapy. Family Process, 34(2), 1–19. doi: 10.1111/j.1545-5300.1995.00001.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Seikkula, J., Aaltonen, J., Alakare, B., Haarakangas, K., Keränen, J., & Sutela, M. (1995). Treating psychosis by means of open dialogue. In S. Friedman (Ed.), The reflecting team in action: Collaborative practice in family therapy (pp. 62–80). New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  18. Shotter, J. (1993). Conversational realities. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  19. Susen, S. (2015). The ‘postmodern turn’ in the social sciences. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Toulmin, S. (1990). Cosmpolis: The hidden agenda of modernity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  21. Weingarten, K. (2016). The art of reflection: Turning the strange into the familiar. Family Process, 55, 195–210. doi: 10.1111/famp.12158.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. White, M., & Epston, D. (1990). Narrative means to therapeutic ends. New York: Norton.Google Scholar

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of GuelphGuelphCanada
  2. 2.University of CalgaryCalgaryCanada

Section editors and affiliations

  • Margarita Tarragona
    • 1
  1. 1.PositivaMente & Grupo Campos ElíseosMexico CityMexico