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|Beyond the Consulting Room - Page 3|
When it comes to bridging social divisions, I think of Boston family therapist Laura Chasin and her colleagues at the Public Conversations Project. After being disgusted by a televised shouting match on abortion, Laura decided to bring the principles of respectful dialog to the public sphere, beginning with a discussion of abortion and moving on to many of the polarizing issues of our time.
These citizen-therapists use their relational and systems skills in broader environments, but unlike previous generations, who tended to see their mission as bringing powerful professional know-how to underresourced communities, today's citizen-therapists believe deeply in the capacities of communities to change and heal themselves. Such therapists are catalysts more than direct-change agents—facilitators more than teachers. They differ from an earlier generation of preventive mental health professionals, who disdained therapy as a Band-Aid. Today's citizen-therapists practice the healing art of therapy in their offices, but they don't believe we're going to treat our way out of the social problems affecting our communities and nation; they know we must be actors on a bigger stage than that offered by our practices or clinics, and that our clinical knowledge and skills carry over to community work, even if we aren't the most important actors on that stage.
There's one other difference. The new breed of citizen-therapists operates with a 21st-century consciousness of nuance and collaboration, instead of the 1960s consciousness, which saw the world starkly in terms of oppressors and victims, with classes of people assigned to each category. In a more complicated century, the '60s perspective offers two dead-end paths to community solutions: the confessional approach, in which oppressors admit their privilege and guilt (which they aren't inclined to do outside of diversity workshops and graduate school courses), and the advocacy approach, in which professional elites lobby political elites on behalf of nonelites. But now, as we invite everyone to the work of public problem-solving without ideological litmus tests, may the '60s—a decade of activism that accomplished major social changes and started a needed cultural revolution in our field—rest in peace.