Critical Thinking

In this chapter we take a look at the ways critical thinking can contribute to our practice. Narrative practices invite us to be curious about where our ideas come from and their effects. Here we look at some of the theoretical assumptions of narrative practice, ways we can strengthen our critical thinking, and how this can influence our work.



Critical does not mean destructive, but only willing to examine what we sometimes presuppose in our way of thinking, and that gets in the way of making a more livable world”

Judith Butler reference

This paper by Mary Heath begins by defining critical thinking and setting out a personal history of the author’s journey toward becoming a critical thinker. Some dimensions of critical thinking are outlined, together with questions which might allow readers to apply them to specific contexts.

Critical Thinking | Mary Heath



An invitation to talk about privilege from Salome Raheim

The relations and practices of power that influence our lives are often invisible to us. If we do not proactively look at how relations of power operate to create advantages for some and deny these advantages to others, it hinders our work as therapists and community practitioners. Without examining the operations of privilege, we are unable to see the circumstances that create constraints on other people’s lives. We are unable to appreciate their daily efforts to work and live in the context of these constraints, or to resist them.

Furthermore, we are unable to see how our lives are made easier. We think that the ease with which we are able to operate in the world is the norm and become oblivious to the fact that everybody’s life is not like our own.

What is more, unless we routinely examine the operations of power and our place within these operations, we fail to notice how we are liable to inadvertently impose our expectations, our cultural ways, our ways of thinking, on the people with whom we work. These impositions tend to diminish those who consult us, and they are destructive to the good work that we wish to accomplish.

This examination and deconstruction of the operations of privilege improves our practice as therapists and community workers. It is only when we recognise what people are up against that we can notice and invite people to richly describe their stories of resistance. It is only in examining the operations of privilege that we can become more aware of the potential for our practice to have negative consequences of inadvertently marginalising and diminishing people’s lives and subordinating their stories.

This work has a particular resonance for those of us who are from marginalised groups. Examining the operations of power and privilege renders visible the constraints upon our lives. It helps us to understand that these constraints are not due to individual deficits, group deficits, or cultural deficits. The problem is not located within us. This lessens the influence of shame and makes resistance more possible.

In the following pages, we have enclosed a range of exercises that we hope will assist in exploring these issues further.

Please open this new page to read on.. : An invitation to narrative practitioners to address privilege and dominance


Narrative Therapy and Community work are considered Postmodern and Post-structuralist in theoretical orientation. Here Leonie Thomas helps us make sense of what this might mean and focuses on a few areas of Post-structuralism while offering some answers to commonly asked questions.

Leonie Thomas Post-structuralism Reading



For Reflection

What does ‘critical thinking’ mean to you?


How might your practice be different on account of your engagement with these materials?


Do you have any stories or sayings that keep you connected to ‘critical thinking’?



Please now respond to these questions in the forum below! Please include where you are writing from (City and Country). Thanks!

This Post Has 209 Comments

  1. Avatar

    I found this chapter to be very helpful and engaging. Much like Mary Heath described, I was not raised in a culture that valued critical thinking, and her statement that critical thought was “invisible” to her until late adolescence resonated with me. I feel that I, too, realized how limited my understanding of the world was around that same time, and I was able to expand my understanding and seek out the perspectives I had been missing. In terms of examining my privilege, I remember reading “unpacking the invisible knapsack” during my time in college and feeling that the veil had been ripped away. There are so very, very many ways in which my privilege as a white person was completely invisible to me, but now, I find that the differences are so glaring. I realize that I will always have more to learn. Being able to step back and examine what we think and believe, as well as why we believe it, it crucial in being able to stay aware of our biases and work to counter them. I do try to ask myself regularly, why do I think this? Why do I believe this? And trace that thought back to its origin to determine if I feel that it is valid and helpful. I also really appreciated the exercise on privilege which focused on the values of our ancestors, and which we want to pass along versus those we want to acknowledge and leave behind. I think this is such an important way to approach a topic that can make people feel very defensive. Maggie, Los Angeles

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    So many great insights here, and things are really starting to gel. I see the importance of using critical thinking with those we serve as well as with ourselves in the manner of self reflection as a way of engaging with poststructural thinking. I think i always used to jump to asking clients too abruptly about what their particular problem meant in terms of their underlying values – and this was a difficult question for many. Through the process of asking critically engaged questions, we are able to more easily unearth what our values are – it’s very much about the ‘process’ of unearthing those values that is the real work!

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    Anna Weber

    I especially appreciated the focus on privilege in this section and I am continuing to think about the specific question around how/in what ways I invite others to provide critical feedback on my perspectives/actions. As a White, non-binary person, I know that my racial privilege can cut off conversations, ideas, and engagements that do not center Whiteness. I can imagine that my approach with others could also open/close their feelings of safety in providing me with feedback. I am thinking about how to invite such critique through both verbal and non-verbal appreciation and approachability. At the same time, I am holding the responsibility to educate myself rather than consistently ask others to educate me.

    I also wonder about the power needed to move from critique to action. It feels sometimes very daunting and heavy to bring a critique to the table and then watch that critique fuzzle out into dominant systems. I am wondering how therapists work together to bring change to our field. What organizations/communities exist to help us join our power together for changes?

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    Differentiating Structuralism/ Post-Structuralism and reflecting in particular on alternative perspectives while examining assumptions, I find myself further aligning to a therapeutic approach that recognizes the immense value of critical thinking. How are we better able to understand ourselves as practitioners without considering our strengths and blind spots? Critical thought of self both personally and professionally falls within the boundaries of ethical practice for me and a feedback informed approach to living best lives is the key to self awareness. How do we appreciate the nuances of humanity from a structuralist lens that doesn’t account for intersectionality, generational trauma, and lives lived individually? I’m excited to understand and resonate with the description of post structuralism as I develop my foundational theories for not just proactive but also for life.

    Chris Sullivan
    Calgary, Canada

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    What does ‘critical thinking’ mean to you?
    Critical thinking to me is to consider, analyse and evaluate a situation or perspective with the ability to better understand what is occurring from varying viewpoints as well as potentially improve my own and others understanding to ensure we are not negatively making assumptions or judgements.

    How might your practice be different on account of your engagement with these materials?
    All of the materials have provided varying perspectives as well as considerations that we often overlook (e.g. Salome Raheim’s notation on white privilege).

    I also enjoyed Mary Heath’s “On Critical Thinking” article.

    Do you have any stories or sayings that keep you connected to ‘critical thinking’?
    I am yet to resonate with a story or saying that will keep me connected so I am looking forward to reading others’ responses to see if something strikes a chord with me.

    I did like the reference to Salome Raheim’s Unpacking shame and guilt question re. What is their history? I feel that by keeping this at the forefront on my mind when I am with clients will provide me with the space and prompting to ensure I am continually asking myself and reflecting on how I better understand what is occurring for this person.
    Riverland, South Australia

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    Holly Mak

    Mary Heath’s piece prompted me to examine my own relationship with critical thinking, and how this has informed the way I engage with the world. At school, critical thinking was always framed as an academic tool, and there was less emphasis on the political and personal implications of its use. I was really struck by Heath’s idea of examining in oneself where the impetus to use critical thinking stems from, e.g. from a place of self-criticism, or a place of wanting to minimise suffering, and that developing self-awareness and self-compassion in this regard is a constant process of collaboration with others. I like the idea that critical thinking, when used in a balanced and reflective way, is a tool — as well as a way of life — that can collectively help empower and equalise people, rather than further oppress and marginalise.

    Likewise, Salome Raheim’s conversations with colleagues was challenging and eye-opening, as they allowed me to reflect on my own complex relationship with privilege, and see the need to be more sensitive to the different intersections of privilege that can be present in any relational context. I see now that privilege infiltrates the very way we survive and relate to each other as humans, and would love to see it discussed more openly and safely (perhaps as was modelled in these conversations).

    – Holly (Vancouver, via Hong Kong)

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    Writing from Armidale, NSW, Australia.

    What does ‘critical thinking’ mean to you?
    Critical thinking, to me, means to consider, question and evaluate with curiosity. It means to be empowered in what you perceive to be true for you while understanding that each person you encounter potentially holds a vastly different understanding. To be a critical thinker means to have the skills to see a situation, person, experience from a multitude of perspectives, it is the ability to consider something in its totality rather than from a narrowed view.

    How might your practice be different on account of your engagement with these materials?
    These materials have been incredibly interesting and have sparked a great deal of personal reflection. Notably in relation to the areas of privilege in my life and experience, the importance of acknowledgement and awareness of these. The conversation around post-structuralism has been illuminating and has widened for me my vocabulary around ideas I have previously built. In terms of my practice these materials have highlighted areas for growth and have prompted further research for me into the impact of privilege on the therapeutic relationship, strategies and engagement.

    Do you have any stories or sayings that keep you connected to ‘critical thinking’?
    I would say a saying that would keep me connected to critical thinking as a practice would be “for who is this true?”. This question prompts me to think about a situation from a multitude of perspectives and to consider which voices are dominant and unheard in a space.

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    Sarah Kane

    This is Sarah from Davidson, NC, USA. I like the idea of taking critical thinking not just in the way I’ve usually understood it, but to examining the Structuralist frameworks embedded in many mental health practices. And even to the way that we think critically – in the kind of critical questions we ask in the first place. I resonate with the post-structuralist idea of identities not being fixed. I’ll take these ideas into the therapy room with me by continuing to be curious about fixed-identity and “deep truth” stories of problems.

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    This section helped me to clarify not only what I believe critical thinking to be, but how I want to respond to the world. I could not have said it any better than this: “should be undertaken as a process of collaborative support for rigorous thinking, rather than as a form of hostile criticism”. Working in a very overwhelmed system, there is sometimes an undercurrent more of hostile criticism rather than critical thinking. I would be lying if I said that I did not sometimes sway between the two. I think I am going to use this quote to distinguish between the two. I pair this with the other questions I try and reflect on: “Is this helpful? Is this moving things forward towards whatever goals have been identified? Is it mana enhancing?”

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    Critical thinking to me means attempting to build the habit of stepping outside of the assumptions I might have acquired. Mary Heath’s (2012) article poses many useful questions to help me to build the habit, and I was particularly interested in her thoughts on critical thinking versus criticism, and the value of collaboration and encountering different perspectives. Raheim’s (2004) questions for self about privilege are also helpful, especially asking myself how I can notice the way I inadvertently enact privilege in my work. I have a story I tell myself about looking out of a tower at the view, and remembering that there are many windows in the tower, each with a different view – I tell myself to remember to look out of different windows.
    Theresa – Cambridge, Aotearoa.

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    Sandra from Sevilla, Spain.
    Critical thinking means a constant questioning of my assumptions…keeping in mind “Does this erception reflect an objective reality or it it an assumption?”
    This sentence struck a chord “Sometimes acknowledging to myself that I have acted in ways I am not proud of are the most profound points of self-reflection” Judith Butler.
    Very interesting last article on post-structuralism specifically, the concept of identities as fluid, ever-changing social constructs.

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    Hey again, I am writing from Adelaide, SA. What does ‘critical thinking’ mean to you?
    How might your practice be different on account of your engagement with these materials?
    I found this section of the course to be one of the most important. I have a core belief of the importance of everyone acknowledging and being aware of privilege and the influence it has. This section reminded of me how it will be important in practice in a clinical sense. Even, when in the work force being mindful of coworkers and potential privilege I have over them and thought processes they may be having that someone like myself might not have.
    Do you have any stories or sayings that keep you connected to ‘critical thinking’?
    I just remember taking a class in second year uni Psych degree which involved questioning everything. When the world or society tells us something is the way it is- we are allowed to question things and not just accept things for what others say they are.

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    The stories that keeps me most connected to critical thinking are rooted in my experience working in a drop-in Centre in Toronto, Canada. The men and women attending the drop-in were street involved, and living with concurrent disorders. Many were also involved with the justice system and suffered from perpetual poverty. Desperate conditions would lead to a lot of escalated situations in the drop-in and more often than naught participants would be inebriated, high leading to rudeness, violence, and even personal attacks on the workers. It was challenging work and at the end of the shift, I would find myself in front of a supervisor asking the same questions: “Why can’t they appreciate what we do for them?” “Why can’t they be grateful?” “Why can’t they participate in the programs we have established to help themselves out of their predicaments?”
    I was new to the social work flied and had so much to learn, but it never occurred to me that I was speaking from such a privileged position, taking up space and power and speaking of these people without taking into account the poli-socio-economic forces and systemic injustices that they were subjected to every single day. My supervisor would always challenge my way of thinking and propose new ways for me to understand difficult situations. This process of constantly challenging myself to see difficult situations from different perspectives and to always weigh in privilege and dominance became a reflex and it is still one of the most significant part’s of my practice as a social worker.

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    The Leonie Thomas article was enlightening!
    It was interesting to think about the connection between structuralist thinking and traditional methods of therapy. It is a very pervasive belief that people have a true self that can be uncovered. And often, this true self is assumed to resemble the cultural stereotypes associated with a person’s demographics. I am so glad we are moving beyond that kind of thinking.
    It is worrying to consider how certain narratives help certain groups maintain power, and prevent other groups from living a good life. I find myself wondering how the scientific revolution, which seems like a valuable step for humanity, has led to outcomes that can be so harmful.

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    Glynis Thorp

    Writing from outback Australia. I am an Australian of mixed breeds having Irish, English and Viking heritage. I am a mature woman who grew up in the exciting 1960’s and the radical 1970s in the outback. I kept in touch with what was happening on Carnaby Street in London and the British pop scene via radio and magazines. I had a narrow view of what was happening in the USA from watching films. Eventually I would watch the world on black and white TV so I was influenced by journalism. I share the concept that every song has a memory as there was and still is fabulous music from this era. With the exciting times of change during these times comes sadness as well as there were many tragic situations happening in the world like wars, assinations and natural disasters and lack of recognition of some races of people with horrendous outcomes. For me critical thinking includes me being able to understand why i may see the world as I do and what has affected my values and opinions knowing that I am constantly evolving. Critical thinking to me was very difficult when i first started doing University level study which involved me reading papers and finding evidence of why something may not be true based on evidence and counter theories. Initially I thought who am I to question what this academic is saying and then I became aware of the importance of being able to look for counter theories and other evidence. Critical thinking to me is also something that I find is very important personally. As a therapist I must be aware and acknowledge that the struggles through the depression of my parents and grandparents and how this influenced their values and how I was raised. I must also be aware of the importance that I place on my core values and how I can be skeptical of those whom I see breach these core values. I must be aware how best to work with people who come from totally different backgrounds and ways of thinking who have had different experiences in their lives. The differences in opinion have become very evident during this pandemic and having to “counsel” people with entirely different view points to my own. It is challenging however i will use some of the material in this course to get them to explore flows of power as many people are angry that they feel they are being forced into things they do not wish to do. Critical thinking is also very important in this area so talking about counter theories and alternative perspectives and I am particularly interested to ask the question regarding who will bear the cost? I have enjoyed and remain inquisitive to learn more.

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    My name is Sami and I’m beaming to you from near Kingston, ON, Canada.

    Critical thinking for me started in high school, especially prompted by friends who, like me, listened to punk/anarchist music such as Anti-Flag. Because of their messages I developed a view of the world that noticed the contradictions and also developed a clearer idea of my beliefs and values. Unfortunately if it were not for them, I would not have developed critical thinking skills. A liberal arts education watered those seeds and amplified their effect.

    Because of those influences I am currently listening to Anti-Flag! Their song Fabled World (a new song to me) really resonates (and my context is that here in Canada, Sept 30 is the first ever Truth and Reconciliation federal holiday). The lyrics of this band point out how power, politics, and privilege affect so many people, and how political decisions systematically disadvantage certain groups of people. In my therapeutic practice, this attention to power and privilege comes into play, and I am ‘ruffled’ by injustices that are forced upon my clients. Behind the scenes of facilitating therapeutic conversations, I am attentive to the dynamics of the workplace that may hinder or help bring about policy changes within the agency or community. The feeling that there are barriers to change and improvement weighs upon me – for example, knowing that a client needs X but the systems that be will not make any adjustments.

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      My name is Lara and I am an Associate therapist in California.
      What does ‘critical thinking’ mean to you?
      ‘Critical thinking’, is essential to me, particularly as a mental health professional. It means I think logically and with my own mind toward a situation, rather than allowing a general consensus or another person or those who hold power to sway what I assess to be true. Even if this is difficult, especially when ethics come into play, it would question my integrity not to think critically.
       How might your practice be different on account of your engagement with these materials?
      My clients don’t need to share my views, values, and/ or beliefs. Whatever we are working on, I want them to have an identity and value system that are true to themselves. Even this is uncomfortable for me, I must address this via self-reflection.

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    Manpreet Kaur Mann

    I am a social work student, and I am studying at the University of Wollongong NSW Australia.

    What does ‘critical thinking’ mean to you?
    For me, critical thinking is to think in a logical way and use evidence to support personal opinions.

    How might your practice be different on account of your engagement with these materials?
    I will use my critical thinking while working with my clients. My critical thinking will help me to understand the problems of the clients and to make logical arguments in the practice.

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    I have been fascinated by critical thinking and post-structuralist ideologies – so much so that these ideas took me away from my study of psychology and onto the path of social work! Not only do we need to be mindful that there is no one objective truth, but we need to be aware that our involvement and engagement influences what we hear and how we perceive and understand what we hear! I love the exercises on unpacking privilege – and I intend to use these in my practice, and also in my personal life to start unpacking and addressing some of the ways I inadvertently use my privilege.

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    I am a cis-gender, white, heterosexual woman living in Victoria, BC, Canada. The city I live in (the warmest and driest during Canadian winters) has long been a destination for unhoused Canadians trying to avoid living on the street in below zero temperatures. The Covid pandemic amplified this problem and stripped back the thin veil of invisibility that often makes it possible to look away from social issues of power and privilege that create discomfort. I have seen this discomfort lead to reductive thinking, polarization, and pathologizing. Additionally, as a Canadian, this summer also provided clear evidence to support Indigenous accounts of deaths and burials on the grounds of former residential schools. The unmarked graves of hundreds of Indigenous “residential school students” have been located – and our nationwide acknowledgement of this cultural genocide has reached the mainstream. Across Canada, September 30th is marking the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation – another step toward accounting for the destruction wrought by colonialization.

    Both these examples are bound up in privilege. The conversations that are – and are not – happening are necessary to healing – at individual and community levels. I found this chapter on Critical Thinking to be so much more robust than I expected, and I am grateful for another opportunity and another place to delve into the complexities. I am hopeful that, enabled by humility, courage, and respect, this discourse will bring more dignity to more people and more situations.

    Finally, I appreciated the inclusion of Mary Heath’s article On Critical Thinking. It was not only a refreshing consideration of what critical thinking is, but also the reference to bell hooks’ ideas around safety and the need to build skills and take risks to understand our capacity to manage those risks (p. 15) – and conversations – blew my mind. Heath concludes her article by 1) explaining the power of writing in the first person, 2) moving beyond the stereotype of critical thinking as being individualistic, dispassionate, and callous, and 3) the importance of honouring and valuing relationships as a necessary tenet of critical thinking (p. 17).

    For me, this portion of the course has been the most impactful. Thanks.

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    Writing from Naarm

    What does ‘critical thinking’ mean to you?
    Critical thinking involves the capacity to engage in ideas that are confronting to you, and to do so in a way that takes into consideration other points of view. This consideration comes through actively seeking out alternate ways of thinking, and by having the awareness that your own personal way of thinking is informed by what you know, rather than any sort of objective ‘truth’.

    How might your practice be different on account of your engagement with these materials?
    Leonie Thomas’s piece on post-structuralism and therapy was particularly engaging for me. The discussion on how structuralist thought influenced therapy to ‘find the inner-self’ really assisted my understanding of how narrative therapy focuses on the relationships that people have with their ‘problems’ and the world around them. I think this understanding will assist my practice in re-focusing my attention to relationships and how relationships adapt and change, rather than seeking a single ‘truth’ about a person in order to understand them.

    Do you have any stories or sayings that keep you connected to ‘critical thinking’?
    ‘You don’t know what you don’t know’. Our selves, our opinions, are formed by the knowledge that we have access to in our immediate environment, which comparatively to the whole spread of knowledge that humanity possesses is quite narrow. It’s important to remember to stay curious and never assume based on personal knowledge.

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    Siobhan Neyland, social worker, Wurundjeri country

    Critical thinking, for me, is a skill which involves analysing and questioning the information and messages I receive – whether that be news, ideas, opinions, cultural norms, ideologies etc. It means breaking things down to investigate the dynamics of power, privilege, context, history, assumptions, values and norms that all help shed light on what is going on and what might be influencing the situation. It’s about not taking things as given, questioning common sense logic, looking deeper and reading between the lines.

    Engaging with these materials has deepened my understanding of privilege and power and the importance of ongoing critical self-reflection in relation to these things. A theme that really resonated with me in the readings about privilege was this idea of how structures of privilege limit everyone – while they obviously limit those that are oppressed/not privileged, they also limit those that are privileged as they prevent them from understanding other people’s experience, prevent them from empathising, connecting and supporting, and often breed defensiveness and unhealthy relationships of domination. In short, oppression limits everyone and none of us are free until all of us are free. There are lots of exciting possibilities for practice in this idea. It reframes the helping relationship from one of a benevolent professional helping someone more disadvantaged in a way that reproduces problematic power dynamics, to one where the worker/therapist locates themselves within a web of reciprocity with those they support and recognises that we all have responsibilities to show solidarity with each other in the work towards collective liberation.

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    Karen Becker

    Brisbane Australia
    What does ‘critical thinking’ mean to you?
    It means examining assumptions and beliefs. I found I am most aware of my own beliefs and values when I have an emotional reaction to something. I try to reflect why this affected me emotionally. It is also realising that my understanding is never objective, but shaped by my history, values, and experiences.
    I liked the article by Mary Heath, who made the point that critical thinking can include praise and affirmation, as well as critiquing. And if they are communicated well, critical responses should build relationships. In fact, if it is not done at all, it can leave people feeling isolated in their struggles. This should be the goal of critical thinking – to build and improve relationships as well as practice. For this to happen there needs to be a commitment to safety in situations where there is disagreement. This seems to be a space that is shrinking in Australian/Western culture. I hope the pendulum swings back to more being more comfortable in discussing ideas critically.

    How might your practice be different on account of your engagement with these materials?
    I liked what Leonie Thomas said about enjoying learning about the “quirks of life” and celebrating the different ways that people negotiate their lives. I also enjoy this, but did not have the words to explain it. I feel like this gives me permission to enjoy this interest.
    Do you have any stories or sayings that keep you connected to ‘critical thinking’?
    As a new social worker, my first job is in a team that really values critical thinking. This has been difficult for me to hear at times as my insecurities can make me feel threatened. But I am trying to use this practice to help me become a better social worker and enjoy the challenge. I liked the comment in Mary Heath’s article to draw a distinction between harsh criticism that attacks or trashes and critique that seeks to expand consciousness. Sometimes I need to consciously tell myself that the critiquing I am hearing is seeking to expand my practice and not meant to be an attack!

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    Rhian Holmes

    Wales UK
    I found this chapter in the course really thought provoking, and enjoyed opening up awareness of my assumptions, and potential power imbalances in my personal and professional life. The critical thinking exercises expose the hidden challenges that people face, and assumed lifestyles, linked to privileges. I will use the materials discussed to increase opportunities to receive feedback from those around me when I am enacting privileges, and to listen out for what people say when I have missed the mark. I have noticed how difficult it can be to have these conversations amongst professionals, and will try to do this is small groups or one to one to increase my learning and encourage others to talk about it. I feel that we should not be afraid to be curious about others experiences, and silence or guilt do nothing to address the power imbalances, so I will continue to question my assumptions, and seek views of those around me.

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    David Clayton

    Launceston, Tasmania, Australia

    I believe that critical thinking is about being able to understand the reasons for why we act, think and respond. It involves taking an investigative look at oneself. I constantly rely on critical thinking through the use of reflective practice. It allows me to constantly monitor my own perspectives and preconceptions towards others, so that they can be changed and monitored.

    I had a feeling that I had aligned more with structuralism before reading about post-structuralism. It deepened the idea of where I had been informed. I realise that by understanding myself in relation to others I can understand the relationship dynamics that exist, as well as being aware that what I say can affect others perceptions of themselves. I also believe that as a social work professional I need to focus on the collective identity as being as dynamic as the individuals that are within it.

    Think before you act, definitely comes to mind. I definitely feel that this is my mantra with everything that I do, as I can be prone to impulsivity at times and whilst it can be sometimes beneficial. It can also have strong disadvantages.

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    Marjorie, writing from Costa Rica.
    What does ‘critical thinking’ mean to you?
    This concept of Critical Thinking reminds me of the opportunity we find in any difficult circumstance, to look for perspective in order to clarify and make better decisions in life. Using the concept of critical thinking can also lead us to better results in our work-life as we always have an opportunity to improve actions and get better results.

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    Kylie Webster

    Critical thinking requires having the courage to truly understand our own bias and prejudice and the privilege with which we were born and that surrounds us throughout our upbringing. This involves self-reflection in a truly open and honest way. We need to delve into the privilege that we carry so that we can adjust throughout our therapy sessions so that we are not carrying this into our therapy sessions and we are able to approach these in a much less judgemental and biased way. This becomes a continual process to improve.

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    What does ‘critical thinking’ mean to you?

    In terms of what critical thinking means to me. I think it’s really interesting looking at these materials and mixing it in with what my thoughts already were around critical thinking. It’s about, I relate it to some other training I’ve done that is about observing self. I think it’s really not taking everything on face value, and really trying to gain a deeper understanding of a lot of things whilst still being purposeful and productive.

    How might your practice be different on account of your engagement with these materials?

    The piece from Mary Heath probably resonates most in terms of how my practice might be different and how I’m engaged in this particular material. Really interested to understand more and focus on some of her dimensions of critical thinking, and certainly around who benefits and who pays.

    And then also about examining the silences, basically, sometimes it can be challenged to speak up. And sometimes it can be just so simple to stay silent. And then also remembering those that are silenced, so it’s probably better if you can, to speak up.

    Do you have any stories or sayings that keep you connected to ‘critical thinking’?

    In terms of staying connected to critical thinking. I just think it has really been my practice of late, and really putting my clients at the front of everything I do in regard to my work. And I guess something I’ve been saying lately is “if nothing changes, nothing changes”. And this really does resonate in regard to critical thinking as well.

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    Cathy Elk from Melbourne

    Wow! So good to be reminded of the easiness with which I fall into comfortable practices and privileges which are to my advantage only. Whilst I’m “foreign-born” I am white and educated.
    There were many comments that caught my attention and pierced my soul. One was of the two couples going for a walk by a river. The author was in a heterosexual relationship and so walked hand in hand with her partner. But the other couple were homosexual – and although they were grieving they didn’t feel free to hold hands as they walked. The author felt awkward and privileged to be able to walk arm in arm with her partner. This brings to mind my experience recently of receiving a necklace from my partner and adult children with our names on it. Whilst I’ve been looking for an opportunity to wear it, I’ve often chosen not to because I’m meeting friends whose relationships are struggling or who are estranged from their children. I didn’t want to parade around my nuclear family at the cost of my friends.

    Regarding critical thinking, the definition quoted in Mary Heath’s article (Bell I think) … there is a “useful distinction between critique that seeks to expand consciousness and harsh criticism that attacks or trashes.”

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      How easy it can be to be comfortable and not think, or not critically think. WE all do it and we have this privilege or other privileges in other ways. Your comments really ring true with me. I meet a minority group tick box, but am still very privileged and wish to continue doing my bit where I can. Actually as simple as , “use my powers for good, not evil” is one way I talk about it often.

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    Megan M. Matthews

    Megan (“MEE-gan”), writing from Cleveland, Ohio, USA:

    What does ‘critical thinking’ mean to you?

    I completed my graduate internship in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at an agency that leaned heavily on cognitive behavioral therapy in its treatment services; thus my concept of “critical thinking” revolves around “thinking about our thinking”, both in the sense of thinking about *what* we’re thinking and in the sense of *why* we had those thoughts and *where* in our context the thoughts came from.

    How might your practice be different on account of your engagement with these materials?

    My engagement with these materials has increased my awareness of my privilege in an area not covered in this chapter: I am not and have never been a person living with a substance addiction, in contrast with every one of my clients. In response to this, my intent is to continue to be both sensitive and curious about my clients’ contexts and lived experience so I can learn these things directly from them.

    Do you have any stories or sayings that keep you connected to ‘critical thinking’?

    The last time my mother told me “Because I said so” when I asked “Why?”, I was three years old. I looked her straight in the eyes and replied, “That’s not a real reason!” She taught me the value of questioning rather than blind obedience when she first acknowledged that he three-year-old daughter was right, then honored that by never again giving me the “because I said so” answer. My mother didn’t teach me critical thinking that day; by her account, I did that instinctively on my own. What she did teach me was that questioning was a good thing and worthy of respect – even for a small child.

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    What does ‘critical thinking’ mean to you?
    I think critical thinking involves compassion and self reflection. I too was grown up in an environment with people I did/do love and appreciate who also harbored negative sentiments towards people of another race. This was hard to reconcile for me for quite some time and I remember being young and boldly carrying on those sentiments out of a sort of “tradition” or familiarity. Only when I got to become older was a able to challenge these assumptions about people and recognize that the power dynamics and discourses of the dominant society had really commandeered people in my family. I think that I was able to come to terms with this by exploring the history of racism in the area I grew up and have important (albeit uncomfortable) conversations with people in my family that I think softened the legacy of subtle racism.

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    Holly R

    As a social worker who has unearned privilege it is crucial I reflect on intersectionality and how my privilege affects my work with clients. The quote included in the article presented really resonated with me: “Examining the operations of power and privilege renders visible the constraints upon our lives, the problem is not located within us. This lessens the influence of shame and makes resistance more possible”. Critical thinking is not something that has come easily to me, it honestly requires a lot of work and learning how to honestly reflect on my work and how I practice. Completing my masters has really given me insight into social injustice, and has supported me in questioning things instead of just blindly going along. I think it is important to always be inquistive and question why things are happening and be sensitive to your client and allow them to do the same, and to really hear their perspective and their story in their own words.

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    debbie webster

    Critical thinking allows us to stand back from ourselves and the structured thoughts we have developed and allowed these ideas and thoughts to become ingrained without conscious questioning of their value. It also allows us to view the information non judgmentally from a client perspective and see that they are perceiving the information from their own life experiences.

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    Hi all, writing from Ontario, Canada.

    Although as a child going through the education system, we learn this surface level notion of critical thinking, usually in the form of critiquing something (which always was taught to me in a way of “lets pick it apart and highlight everything wrong with it”). It was not until my higher education and new learnings of post-structuralism in which I am feeling like I am finally understanding critical thinking. Critical thinking involves not passively agreeing or taking things at face value, but questioning, reflecting, exploring, and being curious as to what underlies these ideas or thoughts. We cannot merely walk through the world and expecting our lens to be that of other people’s lens and therefore, I keep grounded in critical thinking by adhering to the notion that there is no one story, one truth, one way of thinking or being. This reminds me to ask myself how else could this be perceived, what could be another experience of this?

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    Sandra Owen

    Critical thinking. My understanding of critical thinking is we become consciously aware of interpreting data and try to understand its meaning. Example what I hear from another or the written word. Then I ask myself how do I make sense of the information from the source and the responding data I have read or heard. My interpretation could be “I can imagine that the person felt that the other person was interested in him, which might explain the greater enthusiasm for telling their story.

    I believe critical thinking is essential for using a critically reflective practice that underpins an unbiased, un-discriminatory nonpower imbalanced way of addressing words or situations which is essential in any practice.

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    Grace Hammond

    Grace, Ohio, USA

    Critical thinking is a large part of what I teach as a high school librarian. In these times, teaching on this issue has taken on a specific type of urgency. This passage is one I will use with my students: “Sometimes the information or tools needed to engage in critical thinking are not readily available. I grew up in environments where I received a lot of training designed to persuade or oblige me to obey rather than to question. I know I am not the only person who has lived in contexts where, mostly, inquiry is actively discouraged and passivity is rewarded. This kind of training didn’t lead me to perceive critical thinking as inappropriate. It made the possibility of thinking critically invisible to me.” This is one of the complexities about talking to high schoolers about critical thinking – the possibility can be invisible to some, and to others, it can be the ONLY thing they see, particularly for those prone to conspiracy theories online. This section gave me a lot to integrate into my units on critical thinking, and my personal considerations of how to address privilege in my own life.

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    To me, critical thinking means continuously aiming to improve our thinking as therapists. It is a never-ending journey, which makes us reflect on our thoughts, behaviours, and actions every single day. It is also different from criticism, because critical thinking is always an improvement.

    Thanks to today’s lesson, I have realized that I have a name for my practice: it is a post-structural practice. What I mean is that I do not believe in one objective truth but multiple stands one may see from.

    Lastly, when thinking about a saying connecting to “critical thinking”, I immediately thought of this quote -> “Personal is political”. Each personal life holds power, privilege, oppression, and unique life experiences, which can be reflected on thanks to critical thinking.

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      Critical thinking can become shallow when we do not honour or consider our own privilege. The idea of post structuralism was new to me, and as a I read through it, I could see how it is a vast topic. For instance, I’d assume the medical model of treating pathologies would fall into post structuralism because of how Western societies developed accepted views of problems.

      If I ignored this knowledge I might make assumptions on how someone from another culture would observe these differences.

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    Kim Leebody

    What does ‘critical thinking’ mean to you? To me critical thinking is about being curious. It’s about looking at how as societies we search for truth, when in fact their is only perspective. Each perspective connected to the Social Graces.

    How might your practice be different on account of your engagement with these materials?
    The materials are a reminder to me to question understanding and to more acutely look for power and social constructs in every interaction I have. I think that it will be important for me in my work to assist people to understand oppression, prejudice and how these constructs May have disempowered and marginalised them.

    Do you have any stories or sayings that keep you connected to ‘critical thinking’?
    In relation to myself, I keep my connectedness to critical thinking by reminding myself that truth does not exist and that every story that I witness is based on my understanding, my position and positioning. I know that the story told and the story heard is dependant on a range of factors. I suppose my way of doing this in my work on a daily basis is to critically reflect either by myself of a team member or members who can question my practice and allow for critical thinking.

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    Hello, it’s Kay from Hong Kong. I was always looking for something about therapy that intrigues me in a way that I will look deep into that particular practice of therapy and start practising it once I have finished. Sad to say, I couldn’t find it til I have come across with the free online course and not until after reading this chapter I know, why narrative therapy has so intrigued me in a way that I want so much to study it after so many years of graduation from university.

    I’m thrilled that I have found this course as I find it suits me and many of the people (particularly kids) that I’m helping them to understand themselves because this course provides me opportunities to have a look back to my journey of my life and I found it’s so comforting as what it is described here resonates my journey here in Hong Kong.

    Once there’s a friend asking me why there are so many -ists now as it was used to be just some very typical professionals. Now, I know how to answer:

    Poststructuralism has widened the gaps of societies and norms that we people are actually more complicated that just a fixed structure. We are shaped by different backgrounds, stories and people/events/languages that we are meeting/attending/using. That’s why we now have so many -ists here as it fits not only me, but the world as we are with wide range of varieties of lives and people.

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    Adding to that, I also very much appreciated Leonie Thomas’s reminder that ” What we are looking for, what we
    believe and where we come from will shape both how we look and what we’ll find.”

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    Reflecting on the questions posed…
    • What does ‘critical thinking’ mean to you?
    From these materials, to me it means more about self-awareness. Awareness of my habitual, unquestioned thinking, and unchecked assumptions, about circumstances and events, about others and myself.
    • How might your practice be different on account of your engagement with these materials?
    I think it laves me determined to be more attentive to my own thinking, as well as hints and leaks of others thinking and experiences.

    The materials on privilege will also feed into changes in my practice. Reflecting on some of those questions…
    • What is it that you are feeling ashamed, guilty, and/or sad about?
    I find myself feeling guilty about my lack of self-awareness, and sad about the impact my language and ways of living may have had on others. As someone who’s lived and worked in multiple countries, I think my feelings of shame arise from becoming aware that I might not be the kind of person I wanted to believe I was.

    • Often when someone feels shame and/or guilt, this shame and guilt represents certain values that you feel you have let down, that you have strayed from. What values do you think you have strayed from?
    The values I wonder if I’ve strayed from are about being aware of my own cultural assumptions, being attuned to differences in experience and perceptions of others, and an awareness that I’ve never seriously recognised the ‘normals’ of my life as privilege. They were invisible to me. The readings have left me even more determined to listen to others differently, and check out my assumptions.

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