Four Assumptive Worlds of Psychopathology I: Setting the Social Constructive Stage

Four Assumptive Worlds of Psychopathology I: Setting the Social Constructive Stage

The fourth tenant is particularly important to engage when we turn specifically to the assumptive world of psychopathology. As an example, David and I noted that Sigmund Freud based his drive theory in part on the recent invention (in the late 19th Century) of the pneumatic pump. One pushes down on a piston in one part of the room and then a piston in another part of the room moves upward with great power. The power is being transferred via air (or a liquid) from one domain to another domain (this is where our psychological concept of “energy flow” comes from – not the flow of electricity, rather the flow of air or a viscous liquid). Thus, we “push down” a disturbing thought or feeling, which travels to another location and reemerges with great power (as a physical symptom or self-destructive act).

In contemporary times, we find a similar borrowing of models and technical terms from the computer technologies. We use terms and models such as “interface” and “processing.” The other very special technology of our era is space travel. From this domain we have borrowed such words and related models as “module” and “launch”. The “ghosts” (assumptions, values, fears, hopes, conflicts—even paradigms) that emanate from these technologies are brought along (unconsciously) with acquisition of the new technology. The haunting of these ghosts shows up in the inappropriate assumptive worlds associated with specific models (and practices).

Our third tier, practice, is associated with its own set of tenants. David and I proposed that practices are:

(1) Based on models that are usually conscious (explicit knowledge): though the espoused practices (articulation of the model) might not align with the enacted practices
(2) Many in number, and
(3) Much less powerful or influential than models or paradigms

We can readily transform this Three Level categorization to a three-level analysis of social construction. I would suggest that we see the world through a set of social constructive lens that are paradigmatic in depth and influence. These social constructions, like all paradigms, are simple and small in number. They frame the basic way in which we interpret and predict what is occurring in our world. These are the firm convictions that are circling around us and preventing us from being surprised by what we see in the world.

Our tri-partite categorization also leads us to consider a second level of social construction. This is the level of socially constructed models. While paradigmatic constructions are usually not readily acknowledged by us—being tacitly held beliefs and frames of reference that are never examined or even discussed in a specific society—some social constructions are acknowledged or at least pervade our language and portrayals. The paradigmatic assumptions embedded in an analytic approach to studying biological systems (“the smashed frog”) are assuming to be “obviously true” and need no justification. Conversely, a model such as “launch” or “processing” is clearly visible and is vulnerable, therefore, to inspection and even criticism. For instance, we find that a model such as “teamwork” (borrowed by business from the domain of sports) is sometimes subject to critical review: “a group of people working on an important project are doing something much more important than scoring a touchdown.” “There are no quarterbacks on this team, only co-workers and co-learners.” While this kind of push-back is rare, it is done and is viewed as legitimate. Socially constructed models, in other words, are not “God-given.” (as are paradigmatic constructions). They are made by humankind and are contained in our everyday language. Using the term introduced by Argyris and Schon, models are discussable (rather than being “self-sealing”).


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William BergquistWilliam Bergquist, Ph.D. An international coach and consultant in the fields of psychology, management and public administration, author of more than 50 books, and president of a psychology institute. Dr. Bergquist consults on and writes about personal, group, organizational and societal transitions and transformations. His published work ranges from the personal transitions of men and women in their 50s and the struggles of men and women in recovering from strokes to the experiences of freedom among the men and women of Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In recent years, Bergquist has focused on the processes of organizational coaching. He is coauthor with Agnes Mura of coachbook, co-founder of the International Journal of Coaching in Organizations and co-founder of the International Consortium for Coaching in Organizations.

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