|Beyond the Consulting Room - Page 12|
As parent Jael Weere from Ghana said in a meeting, "Back in Africa, we knew about pseudodemocracy; what I am seeing here is real, empowered democracy." Her citizen-action group, led by a marriage and family therapist, is tackling the challenge of the ongoing impact of war and trauma on children and families in the African immigrant community of Northwest Hennepin County, Minnesota. Their chosen path is to break the silence via improvisational theater performances that'll begin early in 2009. This isn't something that therapists would dream up in their offices!
Citizen-therapist work calls on our professional heritage of sensitivity to complex human needs and our ability to connect with people. Though I believe that any kind of therapist can learn to do this work, systems-trained therapists have special advantages at the outset. They know how to work with groups. They know how to connect with people who often begin with different needs and agendas, and have the skills needed to forge a common purpose across diverging viewpoints. They know how to create processes in which everyone has a voice and powerful individuals don't dominate the dialog. They know how to be central to the process when it's necessary to keep it productive, and how to be peripheral when they're getting in the way. They know how to inspire and be inspired.
All therapists committed to this great profession believe deeply in the human capacity for self-healing and constructive change. The world needs this faith and set of skills to bring renewed life into the public sphere, not just into the private sphere. The renewal of our commonwealth won't come from supporting a candidate and waiting for miracles. Nor, I might add, will it come from '60s-style polarizations between us good guys and the purveyors of "isms" that oppress people. We have to invent a new breed of public actor with great interpersonal skills: citizen-therapists for a new century. I'm betting we can do it.