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

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

Many readers will recognize that the distinctive between right and left branching is perhaps nothing more than the distinctive made between active voice (right branching) and passive voice (left branching). It is more complicated than this; however, in the present analysis we will consider the terms active and right (and passive and left) to be essentially equivalent. The term “right branching” usually refers to the preponderance of (and preference for) active voice in a particular language group, with “left branching” similarly referring to the preponderance of (and preference for) passive voice. With this clarification in place, I suggest that there is much more at play when we consider the syntactic structure of a sentence and the predominance of right or left branching communication. We are ‘in control” with right branching communication: we set up the subject for our reader and then go to work on it. Conversely, the left-branching statement is much less clearly in our control, for our reader is likely to set up their own assumptions about what we are about to say or write. While the left-branch can be dramatic and sometimes compelling (with the reader waiting for clarity), it can also be a source of not only misunderstanding but also distraction and loss of focus.

What then, does this have to say about psychopathology. I propose that there is at least a Soft Branching Hypothesis: the way in which we structure our communication is aligned with the sense we have about our own personal control over the content of the statement(s) being offered. When we are “out of control” we are likely to be left branching. There might be an even more forceful (and controversial) hypothesis. The Strong Branching Hypothesis would suggest that the nature of branching has a direct impact on the way in which we construct our reality – especially the way in which we identify and act upon our assumptions about what is called “locus of control.”

When assuming we have control over the domain of psychopathology (control in this instance being defined as a clear understanding of its nature, classification and treatment), then we are likely to be assertive and direct—we are likely to make extensive use of right-branching structures. Writing like Ernest Hemingway, we are likely to express ourselves in simple, declarative statements. We “know” what is true and what is false. We live in an objectivist universe. There is no constructivist hesitation. We are clear and in charge of our faculties and the facts. We live in an assumptive world of internalized control.

By contrast, what if we are living with a prevalent assumption of living in a world where we have very little control over the facts or actions to be taken based on the facts (whatever their source). This assumption leads us to (and is reinforced by) left-branching statements. We are hesitant about what is true and what is false. We qualify everything and “back into” our recommendations, rather than offering them “up front.” Our writing is speculative. We are less in the Hemingway camp, and more in the camp of those postmodern authors who can’t write an intelligible sentence! We are “out of control” and are without clear bearings or direction. The world of volatile and vulnerable constructivism is alive and well (or not so well).


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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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