Christian Beels, USA


New York, New York is a helluva town.
The Bronx is up and the Battery’s down.
The people ride in a hole in the ground 
(On the town)

At first, it seems hard to describe Michael’s impact on the New York setting because there is no setting. As the song says, there are many neighborhoods connected mainly by the transportation system, and you never know when you leave home what is going to be happening  at your destination – interestingly, this is a description that Michael often used to describe the practice of therapeutic conversations. New Yorkers take pride in being a melting pot. Michael’s visits were very much in that spirit – he made a different kind of presentation depending on the unique character of each audience. His ability to sense the local culture was remarkable.

Perhaps one of the peculiarities of our practices in New York is the likelihood that people arrive to consult us as family therapists after years of traditional individual therapy. They have learned well-formed personal narratives about themselves grounded in the theoretical precepts of these therapies. Michael would have described these narratives as accounts of personal failure. The stories are glossed with expert opinions by former therapists about how their problems came about and what should be done about them. These stories have been learned so well that they often have to be recited again before we can begin to ask about alternatives. Michael’s kind of questioning of the person’s experience in terms of preference, hope, and intention is often quite a surprise to veterans of traditional psychotherapy. People feel relieved not to be asked to learn a new belief system that will ‘shrink’ their self-esteem. The letters and comments we have received over the years thanking us for the introduction of a refreshing and encouraging point of view are really tributes to Michael.

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