change and transformation

how does change occur? this is what nancy asked on her blog a few days ago. a money coach, she was confronted with a client who wanted to get some assurance that, were she to use nancy’s services, change would indeed happen.

lots has been thought and written about this topic. three people who have influenced me quite a bit on this issue are jack mezirow, virginia satir, and scott miller.

what i will offer you here is based to a good degree on jack mezirow’s ideas. it is an excerpt from my master’s thesis, which was about transformative learning in distance education. in the next little while, i’d like to share with you what i’ve learned in my research about the “before and after” process of transformative learning.

let’s start with “before”:

the following three excerpts hint at the developmental aspect of the transformation. they show a glimmer of a possibility beyond the person’s situation before the transformation; the person seems to be at the edge of something new:

when i worked at the mine [as a secretary], my daughter said to me, “how much money do you make?” i said, “you know the man who digs the ditch? i make less money than him.” and my daughter couldn’t believe it. and i said, “that’s the way it is.” i didn’t like it and didn’t feel it was right but i didn’t see myself in any other role, just couldn’t do that.

one almost gets a sense of paralysis here. something is clearly wrong but nothing can be done about it. another person recounts,

i enjoyed motherhood but was losing my sense of self and … a course would help regain back some of the interests of my own that i didn’t have to share.

here, something existed has been lost. there is a drive to regain it.

prior to the course i spent journaling time ruminating over life events with little sense of personal power.

this person already uses reflection as a tool but it is not working; like the first person, she is stuck. this is a particularly interesting statement because it shows that not just any reflection will do in order to bring about a transformation. mezirow (1998) might say that what is needed is “critical self reflection on assumptions”:

[this] creates awareness and critical insight pertaining to assumptions governing one’s problematic feelings and related dispositions, and their action consequences. it is a type of problem-posing and problem-solving in which one examines the sources, nature, and effect of assumptions governing the way one feels and is disposed to act upon his or her feelings.

however, this view is centered around a cognitive model of therapy (and, by extension, of the human experience), which does not always fit.

would brookfield’s (2000) very concise definition of critical reflection be helpful here? “… making explicit and analyzing that which was previously implicit and uncritically accepted.”

he also says that “by turning logic on its head, looking at situations sideways, and making imaginative leaps we realize that things are the way they are for a reason.”

louise de salvo (1999, e.g. p. 25), in writing as a way of healing: how telling our story transforms our lives, referring frequently to research done by james pennebaker (e.g. pennebaker, 1990, p. 45) talks at length about the effect of what the above respondent refers to as ruminating – at best, this ruminating has little effect, at worst, it actually makes a person’s situation worse.

in order to effect a transformation, the recounting of (reflecting on?) a story needs to be connected to feelings and to the rest of the person’s life. it needs to be made coherent.

next time around, we’ll talk about the moment of transformation itself.

(that post can be found here.)

isabella mori
counselling in vancouver

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