Peggy Penn


Joined Imaginations

My dissertation is called, Joined Imaginations. In the mid-nineties, my late colleague, Marilyn Frankfurt, and I were investigating what language is and what it does and had already begun a project on language and writing. We had read and studied Mikhail Bakhtin and were intrigued by his idea of “dialogism in therapy”. In conversation, the words we say to others, the effect our words have on each other is how Bakhtin claims we author ourselves in conversation with others. Through Bakhtin’s eyes we looked at language from a completely different perspective, and though we still thought of language as an experience generating the need for a reply, that was not all it did. When we could finally put our experience into words, it came out like this: with all of our new understanding of inner and outer dialogue, coupled with my understanding of subtext, an idea I learned long ago from working in the theatre, we began to see our work with clients as though we were creating a text. We were building a new story constructed by all of us together. Since we were also specializing in using writing in our practice, the actual creation of the text could be understood as a “participant text”. Something we were all doing together. All of the writing is done by the client but from new and appreciative views so that in fact the way one is living one’s relational life changes. The result was a “kind of” literature.

We have observed repeatedly, that in the act of writing, meanings that have been ignored or have remained unspoken are invited into the relational field by way of the text. Words cross or bump up against one another when captured in writing, cracking open and revealing other words that may evoke experiences of self with others.

I hope it is clear that in writing in conversation and therapy in particular, especially when we discover new voices – it is an invention of more than one self. We call that “narrative multiplicity”. So if we are eager to have a new story or a new voice is needed in the story we invite our clients to write a letter and try out how their particular letter might elicit that new voice.