A Postmodernist Vision of Counseling

“If the patient doesn’t fit the book, throw away the book, and listen to the patient”
Betty Friedan

James T. Hansen’s (2010) abstract entitled “Consequences of the Postmodernist Vision: Diversity as the Guiding Value for the Counseling Profession” shares that many realms of the counseling profession are still guided by modernistic thought and could be significantly enriched by a foundational shift to post modernistic concepts.

Hansen uses the example of how strongly the counseling profession has identified with the multicultural movement with its deep ideological roots within postmodernism theory and how multicultural diversity has had a positive influence on how we see and treat clients.

Hansen shares in his abstract two specific areas in the counseling field that could be positively affected by a paradigm shift from modernism to post modernism and they are professional identity and the helping relationship with clients.

Critical Analysis

Hansen describes modernism as a paradigm that presumes that the singular essences of objects in the material universe can be either accurately or inaccurately represented by immaterial human minds (Rorty, 1979).

Hansen uses the example of birds to describe the differences between modern and postmodern thought. Modernist perception of birds might be inaccurately describing birds as Gods, use scientific methods to discover bird’s essence and mentally represent birds as flying organisms (Anderson, 1990; Hansen, 2007). In a nut shell, modernism is looking for singular truth to reality.

Postmodernism defines thought as being in the eye of the beholder. To postmodernists, there is no correct essence; each one’s perception as in the example of birds may be justifiable, depending on the needs of a particular community of perceivers.

Examples of postmodern thought include:

  • Multiple perspectives without labeling one right or wrong.
  • No singular truth.
  • No culture closer to the truth than they other.
  • All species including humans are to be appreciated rather than judged. Diversity is the key even to the point of one being able to construct multiple realties (Hansen, 2004).

Professional Identity

One of the issues profoundly affecting the counseling profession is lack of a professional identity.

The diverse aspects of counseling have made it extremely difficult to pinpoint what the nature of the counseling profession exactly is and in so being, it is difficult for counselors to agree on what precise identity factors are there that distinguish counselors from other helping professionals.

Postmodernist influence on professional identity for counselors would allow:

  • Freedom rather than being fixed and congruent.
  • Identity would be fluid and diverse.
  • Individually determined versus socially constructed.
  • Local and pragmatic versus universal.

Hansen uses the example of professional identity as analogous to national citizenship. Citizens of democratic countries are not usually defined by a particular identity. Rather, citizens are defined by the fact that they are part of a particular country and usually have some knowledge about the history and values of that country.

Under the postmodern structure, counselors can be conceived of as citizens of the counseling profession who have been exposed to the literature and values of the profession but an identity is created by local demands not by influential members of the profession (Hansen, 2010).

A Postmodernist Vision of Counseling