Neighbourly ways of being and communal ways of working by Peggy Sax

G’day and welcome to this Friday Afternoon! This presentation by Peggy Sax from Vermont, USA, explores intentional community-building practices that build “giving back” and “paying it forward” into therapeutic work. These ways of working challenge assumptions about working in individualised ways, and demonstrate how narrative practices can strengthen communities of supports that include but do not centre on therapists, coaches, consultants, and social workers. Peggy aspires to show how therapeutic work that restores a person’s sense of community mindedness, solidarity and connection is highly ethical yet beyond traditional understandings of psychotherapy and coaching.



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Published on January 24, 2013

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    Peggy Sax

    Greetings from Vermont,
    (with a special energetic hand wave to Cate, Mohammad and Yishai),

    Thanks Mohammad for the “Blue Moon” reminder. I love that together we share global evidence that “once in a blue moon” really does happen. Here in Vermont, USA, that gorgeous full moon shone brightly last night.

    I appreciate the opportunity to share this video with you, giving a glimpse at cherished ways of working- in Cate’s words, “the value and worth that can come about from people’s experiences being linked others of common knowledge and hope.” I agree that there is something so “real” and everlasting about practices that link people to naturally sustaining communities of support. I would like to enlist your help to further legitimize these practices – the supporting ideas and ethical foundations.

    I am currently redrafting a paper I called “Reclaiming Community Out of Catastrophe: Communal Practices That Build on Naturally Sustaining Webs.” I discovered that when sharing ideas outside of the narrative community, I need to build more of a theoretical base, and to render more visible these participatory practices that strengthen naturally sustaining communities. Your reflections – such as the way you, Mohammad, “rescued the said from the saying” in Joan’s words – are very helpful to me in the process. Mohammad, your poetic ways of writing stay with me. Thank you.

    Yishai, we are linked in the commitment to “get therapy out of the room and get the out of the room into therapy.” In my experience, this commitment is shared by practitioners in narrative therapy, home-based work and other family-centered approaches- yet not commonly in psychotherapy. What about in other fields such as in coaching? How are these “communal” ways of working treated in your country? Do they fit with established ways of practicing, or do you slip them in-between the more legitimized practices that center the office-based work of the therapist?

    Those of us who practice ethically in these ways also give particular attention to professional codes of ethics to preserve confidentiality, avoid exploitation and carefully consider ‘dual relationships. What evidence can we collect to support an approach where we also choose to solidly built ethical foundations based on collaboration, an ethic of circulation, relational ethics and choice?

    If identity is socially constructed, then what practices build on healing through social experiences. We practice as witnesses, facilitators, linkers, inquirers. If these practices aren’t “interventions” or “treatment” – what would you call them?

    Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about transference-based therapy, and wondering about widespread unexamined assumptions that psychotherapy prioritizes working with transference? Through a range of experiences (friendship with skillful psychoanalytic practitioners, teaching in the Smith College social work program), I have developed a deep respect for postmodern, relational transference-based therapy in the hands of particular practitioners… but…. what about the many opportunities arise when we making the choice to prioritize constructs other than transference?

    Do you also experience the implicit – and sometimes not so subtle- assumption that such “supportive” counseling is like a superficial “band-aide” and not as deeply impact-ful as intra-psychic work? How do you handle this?

    Making this video made it possible to share my work with friends and family, and to discover topics for future conversation. One family member who works as an ER physician wrote to me about “the overwhelming societal force sometimes pushing towards individualism and loss of social cohesiveness that seems at the heart of many of the problems we face today. “I’m reminded of this on a daily basis – I think a lot ER visits are because of lack of family and community support and ties, and less because of acute medical issues.”

    Every community is different. Do you also believe it is important to know local resources, not as “shoulds” but as possibilities? What about Internet resources such as support groups? What else are you finding in your communities? What kind of practices are you finding that offer practical and sustaining ways for people to re-construct the meaning of difficult problems and use that experience to give back to themselves, their families and communities.

    Okay – this is long enough. Sorry if it is too long. The topic is so riveting to me.

    One more thing. Yishai – you can find lots by Lynn Hoffman on Chris Kinman’s The Rhizome Way. You may need to register in order to view these materials, but it is free. This includes some new video interviews with Lynn such as:

    – Lynn Hoffman and the Rhizome Century

    – Lynn Hoffman, Aliveness and the Timeless way of helping

    Peggy Sax
    Middlebury, Vermont USA

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    Mohammed Arefnia

    Hi All,
    Hearing Joan’s voice, as she spoke of the devastation the set back that tropical storm Irene had wrecked in her community and saying that the devastation was such that what was lost could never be reclaimed and then amending that prediction, “that not never, it can be reclaimed but it is going to take a long time” just spoke to me of the hoping, the life that she now was so cultivating in her own heart after the devastation that her life partner’s taking of his own life had caused in it. Giving back, ice cream in the back of the truck weaving through country roads that are somehow had remained navigable speaks of as Peggy puts it that zeal to live by sharing it with neighbors, those who will come to one’s door to drop off some cookies they just baked just to acknowledge that another person walking this Earth also feels the pain that has taken hold in one’s heart and they too wish that one’s health soon be reclaimed.
    After the 9/11 tragedy, a neighbor in our little town in Maine, a neighboring state to Peggy’s home state of Vermont, stopped by my house with- I am not sure what, as it did not matter for the gesture, the steps she took, the knocking on the door that continues to touch me- perhaps a pie, just to say that my name, Mohammad, did not cause fear in her and in fact she extended her gentle and graceful touch of her hand to allay my fears.
    That in my mind is that unexpected shoot coming up out of the rhizome, the community that may not look like one, all of a sudden blossoming with kindness.
    I am touched to see in practice circulating a person’s story, to influence healing in her and others, and doing so ethically, guarding and protecting Joan’s identity to shield her from exploitation and harm. I am walking away feeling as though I know her, one of my neighbors, a member of my community, any community of caring, but I don’t know her. I hear her voice, hear the tenderness of a human heart, healing its wounds while reaching to others to heal their’s, as it was done for her, when she eagerly without hesitance in the midst of her tears agreed for a “stranger”, as she put it, to join her in her most intimate private time, to share with her how it may have felt and how she too had moved on forward after her life partner had taken his life toward reclaiming her life from the grief and pain, guilt and shame, to that which can still be possible, is the promise of sun. It will keep rising!
    Life will continue. The shoots come out of the ground, unexpectedly, sometimes even through the cracks in the concrete, to assert survival.
    I will take away that healing too is a communal process. Gifting forward is about hoping that life’s gentler touch can happen too, even more and more as Solnit poses the counter position to the dominant discourse. Little acts of tenderness do add up and ordinary folks can pull their remaining foods on the patch of green left untouched by the devastation to celebrate the life that remains, can still be had. People can always dance together to collectively get around the sorrow of the loss that is inherent in life!
    Thank You Peggy!
    Happy Blue Moon!
    May we all cherish many many more such blue moons!
    Mohammad Taghi Arefnia
    Baltimore, Maryland, USA

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    Cate Ryan

    Hi everyone,

    As a member of the online study group that Peggy mentions in this video, I’ve heard these thoughts and reflection before and once again I was struck by the value and worth that can come about from people’s experiences being linked others of common knowledge and hope. For me there is something so ‘real’ about these practices – that this ‘realness’ means the connections that are formed or strengthen when coming together around difficulties, can be some much more sustaining post formal support relationships or interventions.

    Hearing Peggy’s thoughts about the belief that if identity is socially constructed, then healing can also happen through social experiences, I’m draw to seeing neighbourly ways of being as another practice that enables people’s stories to be witnesses, and in this witnessing, it is possible to find even more ways to re-position the experience of surviving difficult times. In the area of work I do with young people and families, so much is spoken today about the need to develop or sustain ‘resilience’ and for me, these such practices offer a practical and sustaining way for people to re-construct the meaning of difficult problems and use that experience to give back to themselves, their families and communities.

    What do others think? Love to hear more

    Cate Ryan
    Brisbane, Australia

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