The juice is in the detail : An affordance-based view of talking therapies
The burgeoning interest in enactive paradigms of perception and cognition offers an opportunity to reconsider how we conceive psychotherapy – ‘talking cures’ as functioning. In the past many therapy modes have focused on the over-riding importance of giving insight to the patient; knowing what caused the ‘illness’ provides a solid way to deal with it. Over the past half-century, more pragmatic forms of therapy focusing on behaviour change through adjusted thinking (cognitive behavioural therapy) have become commonplace. But what does it mean to ‘change our thinking’ from an enactive perspective? If perception and cognition are direct engagement with the environment, what is changed by a therapeutic conversation? One answer lies in the idea of affordances (Gibson, 1979) – the relationships between features of the environment and the abilities of the animal/person to interact with them. Recent views of affordances as dynamic (Chemero, 2009) make even clearer the ways in which these factors may change and evolve. The paper compares an affordance based view with practical examples from solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT), where recent developments have pointed to the power of developing detailed descriptions of ‘better futures’ and ‘past instances’ (Shennan & Iveson, 2011). In such detailed conversations, everyday and overlooked events such as hugging a loved one when they return from work can become significant possibilities for building recovery. The paper will show examples and how such detailed descriptions can develop new affordances for clients. One key aspect is how these features emerge and are developed during the therapeutic conversation. Do they come from the therapist or the client? How can the therapist help the client develop new affordances that are relevant without intervening with their own ideas about ‘what ought to happen’? The ways in which conversations about affordances can be seen to connect to strong and modest ideas of narrative development will also be explored briefly.