Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice

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Volume 78 Issue 4 (December 2005), Pages 331-569

Negotiating a pathological identity in the clinical dialogue: Discourse analysis of a family therapy (pages 493-511)

Within the framework of social constructionism, psychotherapy has been re‐conceptualized as a semiotic process, which consists of the creative generation of new meanings in the context of collaborative discourse. In recent years, research approaches that draw from social constructionism, such as discourse analysis, have been fruitfully employed in the study of psychotherapy processes, whilst being in line with the contemporary emphasis on language, narrative, and meaning making. This paper aims to further the exploration of the usefulness of discourse analysis in the study of psychotherapy processes, and in particular, in situations where the medical discourse is powerfully implicated in the construction of a person's identity. It is based on the analysis of a family therapy with a family whose child has a diagnosis of autism. The analysis focuses on two features of the family's talk, namely shifts in the flexibility of employment of a diverse range of discourses and subject positions, and shifts in the ways agency is constructed and discursively negotiated in the clinical conversations. It is suggested that these shifts can be used as indications of change in the family's network of meanings. The analysis suggests that an important aspect in clinical work with families with a member with a psychiatric diagnosis lies in decentring, or deconstructing, the dominant, pathology‐maintaining accounts, and allowing for a wider range of less problematic narratives and subject positions to emerge.

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