Social Therapeutics as Play, Performance and Becoming - Lois Holzman, Ph.D.

Social Therapeutics as Play, Performance and Becoming – Lois Holzman, Ph.D.

Social therapeutics as a playful, performatory, philosophical methodology for person and community development is the topic explored in this episode. Influenced by three intellectual traditions, it seeks to bring meaning to our relational processes in collaborative and appreciative ways to elevate human connection and bridge cultural divides.

Season 5 is a Collaboration with the Taos Institute

This season of the Positivity Strategist podcast is a collaboration with the Taos Institute. We’re focusing on the topic of Constructionist Practices as Social Innovation. My guests in this season are Taos Institute Associates who’ve contributed to The Sage Handbook of Social Constructionist Practice. [Links are below.]

Author Bio and Chapter Title

Social Therapeutics Author Lois Holzman
Lois Holzman Ph.D., Taos Associate, Contributing Author to The Sage Handbook of Social Constructionist Practice

Lois Holzman, Ph.D. is Director of the East Side Institute and Chair of the Performing the World conferences. She is mentor and coach to hundreds of scholars, educators, artists and community activists around the globe, who are creating performance activism as a new approach to community development and social change. Her latest book is The Overweight Brain: How our obsession with knowing keeps us from getting smart enough to make a better world. Previous books, chapters and articles focus on social therapeutics, performance, play, Vygotsky and postmodern-critical-cultural psychologies, and educational practices.

Chapter Title: Constructing Social Therapeutics

Social Therapeutics’ Origins

Social therapeutics innovative therapy
Photographer: Jens Johnsson | Source: Unsplash

Social therapeutics is a term created by Fred Newman (1935 – 2011), Lois’ colleague and co-founder of the East Side Institute. Newman was an innovator and a revolutionary. The three intellectual traditions that most influenced social therapeutics are Karl Marx, the Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky, and the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, all of whom had radically social understandings of human life and activity.

Newman, as a philosopher, therapist and activist sought to find new ways of speaking with people who are in emotional distress. He challenged them to talk about themselves differently. He invited them to play with language in group settings because if therapy is meant to help people regain their “social-ness,” it would seem more effective to help them in social groups rather than being alone in a room with a therapist. Social therapeutics, therefore, with its origins in social therapy was Newman’s innovative approach emphasizing that human beings are a social process.

As an example of social therapeutic play, Lois invites us to deconstruct and reconstruct the term “revolutionary.” Traditionally, the word refers to taking arms, or perhaps to a bold marketing campaign that calls a new product “revolutionary,” as in revolutionary hot dog, sold not out of a stand but out of a store. The provocative label could also be applied in another way, such as to a newborn baby who totally deconstructs a household at first: the routines, the relationships between family members, the environment by “baby-proofing” the house, and language which now includes babbling. “Isn’t that a revolution of some sort?” Lois provokes. This story show how social contexts change under different circumstances. In social therapeutics, clients are invited to grow their awareness of the impact of relationships on who they are, and to amplify this realization through social processes.

Social therapeutics – radical humanism

There are four pillars of social therapeutics that underscore human beings as the creators of the community they create and seek to sustain.

  1. • We are performers
  2. • We are social beings
  3. • We are improvisers
  4. • We are revolutionaries

You can read more social therapeutics radical humanism on East Side Institute

Social Therapeutics Meeting Social Construction

Play - man photographing child in fountain
Photographer: Tatiana Rodriguez | Source: Unsplash

In the late 1990’s, members of the East Side Institute and the Taos Institute came together, bringing a new understanding and new language to therapy. It has become a symbiotic relationship where each is concerned about how meaning is created and believing that “language is both a curse and a blessing.” The Taos Institute’s orientation challenges the way research is done and the until-now-accepted way new knowledge is found. What social therapeutics contributes is that it’s through play and performance that emotionality and intellect develop. The grounding of both institutes is in relational theory.

A Message of Hope

Even when going through a really difficult time, hope is just below the surface. The simple things, if done or said differently, can have a tremendous impact on people’s experiences of the world and, therefore, of themselves. For example, take introductions in a group setting. Invite participants to get up from their seats and walk really fast around the room until someone stops and introduces themselves. Start walking again. Stop. Introduce yourself. This process continues until everyone has spoken. Amazingly, the stories that come up are completely different from those that would have come out of a traditional setting sitting in a circle where participants take turns to introduce themselves. When done in this dynamic way, the room, and the group, become a playing field:

In less than 10 seconds, you can transform the environment into one where there’s joy and laughter, where tension is gone and everyone feels safe.

To quote Lois’ chapter in the handbook

We human beings do more than respond to stimuli, acquire societally determined and useful skills, and adapt to the determining environment. We engage in qualitative and transformative social-cultural activity; we create culture; we transform both ourselves and the circumstances determining us. Human development is not an individual accomplishment but a socio-cultural activity.

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