Penn considers therapy to be a process of social construction: the naming of events by several people, thus creating a reality. A therapeutic conversation is then one in which meanings may be reconstructed by a patient and therapist working together.
New ways of speaking about the patient and his/her relationships are discovered. This means that patients may view their relationships in a different manner, and also may alter their self-conception.
This approach stands in contrast to many current therapeutic schools of thought, where the goal of a therapeutic conversation is to expose personal or family problems so that the correct therapy may be applied.
Language, or rather what the therapist and patient discuss, is a key concept in this form of therapy. Even better results may be achieved with the integration of writing therapy. For instance, Penn discovered that rape victims benefit enormously in describing the traumatic event, first aloud, and then on paper. In so doing, they reshape the reality, partly through applying a process of social construction. This way, they may add a person to their recollection who could rescue them from the undesirable situation which caused the trauma. Patients thus create a new reality, reducing the severity of their 'flashbacks' and ultimately dispelling them altogether.
Peggy Penn (1931, McKeesport, US) worked from 1983 through 1998 at the Ackerman Institute for the Family, serving as director from 1985 on. Additionally, she is the author of several books on therapeutic practice. Since 1996 she has been affiliated with the Taos Institute for social knowledge in the United States.
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