We have always been postmodern: A new past for a future postmodern psychotherapy

Stenner, Paul and Nichterlein, Maria (2024). We have always been postmodern: A new past for a future postmodern psychotherapy. In: Strong, Tom and Smoliak, Olga eds. The Routledge International Handbook of Postmodern Therapies. London, UK: Routledge, (in press).


This chapter offers a new historical and theoretical perspective on postmodernity and postmodernism which broadens the frame of the debate. We give the name ‘pomo2’ to the more familiar version of postmodernism, inspired by Lyotard and others. In this received version, postmodernity begins in the second half of the 20th century and is associated with the post-industrialization of the dominant western nations during the rise of the computer age. We give the name ‘pomo1’ to the postmodernism informed by ‘process thinking’ that arose around 1875 and reached a zenith between the two world wars. Pomo1 arose as the modern system of supposedly sovereign nation states entered into widespread collapse. Reframing the more familiar description of postmodernity as pomo2 by incorporating pomo1 into the picture makes better sense both of the philosophical bases of postmodernism and of the broader historical context, such as the collapse of the empires that had fed the illusion of national sovereignty undergirding a few centuries of Western global dominance. After outlining this new perspective we offer seven observations, each supported by a relevant pomo1 quotation, about how it might serve to re-orient practice-relevant theory development in the world of postmodern therapy. Our reframing aims to re-energise the vital sense of purpose that once animated the pomo debate, but that has been degenerating under conditions in which the alleged linguistic relativism of postmodernists is being blamed for opening the floodgates to a crisis-ridden world of ‘post-truth’.

Plain Language Summary

This chapter is generally about the meaning of postmodernism and postmodernity. More specifically it is about types of psychotherapy which describe themselves as postmodern. A new historical and theoretical framework is provided for understanding what postmodernity is and how it relates to postmodernism. Advice is then offered for how this new framework might influence postmodern psychotherapy.

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