Series Title: Rethinking Research and Professional Practices in Terms of Relationality, Subjectivity and Power

Art Psychotherapy & Narrative Therapy: An Account of Practitioner Research

Volume 1

eBook: US $21 Special Offer (PDF + Printed Copy): US $129
Printed Copy: US $119
Library License: US $84
ISSN: 2210-2833 (Print)
ISBN: 978-1-60805-167-0 (Print)
ISBN: 978-1-60805-118-2 (Online)
Year of Publication: 2010
DOI: 10.2174/97816080511821100101


This book is a personal, political and philosophical exploration of doing both therapy and research: an enquiry into how the process of therapy shapes the therapist as well as the client, and how the researcher is shaped by her research. A guiding theme is the proposal, following Foucault and Nikolas Rose, that psychotherapy is constituted, through forms of modern power, as a crucial contemporary site of both governance and resistance. As well as giving an account of the author's clinical and research practices as an art psychotherapist and narrative therapist, the book offers a highly readable introduction to poststructural theory and innovative social sciences methodologies, while expanding the understanding and practice of these theories and methodologies. The book embodies and performs what it describes, engaging readers far more strongly in complex theoretical material than is possible in an expository text. The poststructural, autoethnographic approach taken in this book is unique in the field of the arts therapies.

Indexed in: EBSCO, Ulrich's Periodicals Directory.


This wonderful book by Sheridan Linnell, Art psychotherapy and narrative therapy: an account of practitioner research, is the first volume in this new e-book series. Each book in the series develops an approach to research and practice that takes up the radical potential of philosophers such as Foucault, Deleuze, Butler and Nancy. Each book provides a radical model for re-thinking research and professional practices in light of poststructuralist reflections on subjectivity, relationality, ethics, spatiality, and power. This series will have an ongoing focus on the relations between individual subjects and the social, discursive and spatial relations within which they are produced, and produce themselves, as subjects.

Poststructuralist theory made a significant break with Hegel’s structuralism, with its “model of history’s unbroken intelligibility” (Foucault, 2000, p. 248). In poststructuralist theory the familiar, repetitive, and habituated practices through which the creation of individual selves is done is interesting so far as it reveals the changing practices that produce, over time, different kinds of subjects. Seeing history as discontinuous opens up the possibility that modernity’s subject too can change. Rather than being locked into present crises and patterns, such as neoliberalism and its devastating production of global economic crisis and of global warming, poststructuralist theory seeks the ways in which we might break loose from the already known, habitual practices, and in which we might produce difference in ourselves rather than sameness.

In the modern world we have placed the sovereign individual of humanism, the agent in command of and creating his/her own life, on centre stage. Poststructuralist theory decentres that individual, examining instead the repeated citations through which “individuals” are produced. It thus cuts loose from phenomenology and existentialism with their maintenance of “the primacy of the subject and its fundamental value” (Foucault, 2000, p. 248). This is not to deny the existence of the subject, but to open up questions about its origin, its beginning point. From a poststructuralist perspective our individual agency is an effect of the ways in which we are constituted; it was not through our own agency that we were made what we are, but through our location within particular histories and cultural practices. We are generally unaware of the way discourse works through us to create us in predictable, historically specific ways. Poststructuralist theory suggests it is the very conceptualisation of the individual as primary, and as originary, that blocks this awareness.

Phenomenology is a philosophy that makes the individual subject its foundation, and sets out to “recapture the meaning of everyday experience in order to rediscover the sense in which the subject that I am is indeed responsible, in its transcendental functions, for founding that experience together with its meanings” (Foucault, 2000, p. 241). In contrast, Foucault sees his own work, following Bataille and Blanchot, as using experience to wrench “the subject from itself”, to find ways to make the subject “no longer itself” (2000, p. 241). He wants to annihilate the subject of phenomenology, the subject that endlessly repeats its self, that understands itself as its own origin – to dissolve it, through what he calls a “project of desubjectification” (2000, p. 241).

Writing against the grain of the already-known is central to this radical project of opening up the not-yet-known. The already known for Foucault, in his early years in particular, was the subject capable of permitting Nazism, or the bourgeois intellectual choosing between Truman’s America or Stalin’s USSR. Whereas other post-war scholars sought to realize an ethical and responsible subject no longer capable of mindless obedience, Foucault’s project was more radical. He wanted to write his way into new understandings of how we become, in one historical period or another, subjects. His books are, he says, “experiences aimed at pulling myself free of myself, at preventing me from being the same” (2000, p. 242). It is the possibility of this kind of difference that is the driving force of his work. He seeks to open up an experience of modernity that generates a transformative effect.

The work that has grown out of Foucault’s programme of writing, and the writing of other poststructuralist scholars, has also had a second and more recent driving force. That is the advent of the intensified individualism of neoliberal governmentality. Capitalism, according to Deleuze and Guattari (1987), is schizophrenic. It needs to control its labour force in order to extract maximum productivity from it, while at the same time enhancing the production of new and creative ideas. It convinces individuals they are free at the same time as it shapes them to be whatever capital thinks it wants. This madness of the modern capitalist state has had devastating effects on individuals and on the professions. The program of desubjectification is thus also aimed at the hyper-individualism of modern capitalism, that produces sameness and repetition under the banner of freedom.

Foucault also had an abiding interest in madness. He worked to re-think the ways in which madness is produced. Talking in an interview about his writing on madness Foucault says that his aim was: “that at the end of a book we would establish new relationships with the subject at issue: the I who wrote the book and those who have read it would have a different relationship with madness, with its contemporary status, and its history in the modern world” (2000: 242). Such thought does not discover subjects but changes them in relation to others. Poststructuralist researchers are not interested in representing a pre-existing order of things, but in changing how they are thought and thus how they are produced. Foucault’s book, Madness and Civilization is, Foucault says:

a book that functions as an experience, for its writer and reader alike, much more than as the establishment of a historical truth. For one to be able to have that experience through the book, what it says and does need to be true in terms of academic, historically verifiable truth. It can,t exactly be a novel. Yet the essential thing . [lies] in the experience that the book makes possible. . [This] book makes use of true documents, but in such a way that through them it is possible not only to arrive at an establishment of truth but also to experience something that permits a change, a transformation of the relationship we have with ourselves and with the world . in short, a transformation of the relationship we have with knowledge. . [That transformation] is not just mine but can have a certain value, a certain accessibility for others, so that the experience is available for others to have. (Foucault, 2000, p. 243-4)

Through coming to know differently, as writer, and as reader, Foucault shows how we might detach ourselves from the habitual repetitions of thought and practice through which we previously accomplished ourselves as predictable maintainers of the status quo. The individual is thus for Foucault, not the end-point of a process of subjectification, but the potential sticking point, the place where thought gets stuck. Writing is the medium through which both thought and the writer/reader can be changed.

Foucault was delighted when correctional officers and social workers said of Madness and Civilization: “The book is paralysing. It may contain some correct observations, but even so it has clear limits, because it impedes us; it prevents us from going on with our activity” (2000, p. 245). He said in response:

My reply is that this very reaction proves that the work was successful, that it functioned just as I intended. It shows that people read it as an experience that changed them, that prevented them from always being the same or from having the same relations with things, with others, that they had before reading it. This shows that an experience is expressed in the book that is wider than mine alone. The readers have simply found themselves involved in a process that was underway—we could say, in the transformation of contemporary man with respect to the idea that he has of himself. And the book worked toward that transformation. To a small degree it was even an agent in it. This is what I mean by an experience book, as opposed to a truth book or a demonstration book. (Foucault, 2000, p. 246)

This book by Sheridan Linnell, Art psychotherapy and narrative therapy: an account of practitioner research, is just such an experience book. It draws on her own experiences as practitioner and teacher, to write a transformative book, a book through which she transforms both thought and herself, and potentially her readers. She has engaged in an experience/experiment in writing that taps into a change already underway, taking it further, participating, in doing so, in a transformation of the fields that she writes about. She does not set out to produce the truth about art and narrative therapies, as if they were objects capable of being studied. Rather she shows how truths function within these discourses to produce the practitioners and clients, and the Deleuzian flows between them that are called “therapy”.

The theoretical net she casts over the complex waters of poststructuralist theory brings together the challenges of Foucault with other important poststructuralist thinkers. She begins with Foucault’s call for us to practice an aesthetics of existence, and an art of self rather than a hermeneutic of self. To this she adds Derrida’s notion of writing ‘under erasure’, Couze Venn’s metaphor of apprenticeship to the Other, along with his elaboration of the choreography of early relationships, and his call for a poetics as well as a politics of transformation. To these she adds Judith Butler’s exploration of the citational and performative dimensions of subjectivity, and of the limits of anyone’s ability to give an account of themselves.

This book sets out to disrupt narrative and subjective coherence, creating and unravelling theoretical, clinical and personal accounts, in order to critique dominant theories and practices while at the same time unsettling the assumption of a decisive critical agency. In this way, the book constructs an aesthetics of self together with an ethics of uncertainty and of obligation to the Other, producing a new kind of knowledge of narrative and art therapies.

Foucault (2000) makes an important distinction between two kinds of knowledge: savoir and connaissance. Savoir involves doing work in order to know differently, and in the process, being modified through what one comes to know. Connaissance makes possible the knowledge of objects, that is, it makes those objects intelligible, while leaving the subject, the determinate knower, untouched. Linnell’s book generates savoir—a knowledge of art therapy and of narrative therapy, not as objects that leave the writer and reader untouched, but as knowledge that has implicated the writer in changing herself in the process of thinking and writing, and that will invite the reader to be similarly changed. In order to facilitate this shift in self and subject matter, Linnell occasionally stands aside from herself, or beside herself, and tells us stories from her experience of self as writer, self as researcher, self as therapist, that cast her differently from the familiar, repeated patterns of “I-I-I”. This is not experience drawn on to tell us the true story of this particular author/subject, but stories that set the subject loose from its moorings in this process of coming to know differently.

Linnell has been a counsellor since 1984, a narrative therapist for more than two decades, and an art therapist for 15 years. She has been a teacher of art therapy at the University of Western Sydney since 1995. She has written an important handbook for practitioners (Linnell and Cora, 1993), and has been publishing her re-thinking of therapies since 2003. She is also a talented poet (Linnell, 2001) and artist, and this is important for understanding her writing in this book, which is often playfully poetic, and artfully conceived. She does not present herself as the author with authoritative knowledge, but as a multiple and contradictory figure, setting out a complicated and yet playful work in which she comes to think differently—to be made different in that process. Savoir rather than connaissance. She offers her readers a transformative experience if they go with her, shifting the ground of what might be thought and done.




Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. (1987). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. London: Athlone Press.

Foucault, M. (2000). ‘An interview with Michel Foucault’. In Faubion, J. (Ed.). Essential works of Foucault 1954—1984, Volume 3, Michel Foucault: Power (pp. 239—297). London: Penguin Books. Original interview conducted 1980.

Linnell, S. (2001). Cutting room. New Poets Series 8. Wollongong: Five Islands Press.

Linnell, S. & Cora, D. (1993). Discoveries: a group resource guide for women who were sexually abused in childhood. Sydney: Dympna House.