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What is Contextual Therapy?

As I wrote in Doing contextual Therapy (W.W. Norton): “Contextual therapy has become a model of human experience, family life, and therapy whose goals are widely admired, whose assumptions are widely endorsed, and whose concepts are widely borrowed. It is difficult to find an experienced therapist who would argue with the notion that knowledge of a person’s past and present family relationships is crucial to understanding and helping the person, or one who would deny that issues of fairness and loyalty are central to life and to close relationships.

But many who would practice contextual therapy, and many more who would incorporate contextual concepts such as loyalty or destructive entitlement, or treatment strategies such as multi directed partiality into their work feel that this practice is shrouded in mystery.” This statement is as true today as it was in 1996.

I am writing this series of posts to introduce the approach to those who are unfamiliar with it, to add to the knowledge of those who are in the process of learning about contextual therapy, and especially for those who are doing contextual therapy-incorporating its powerful concepts and techniques into their practices with families, couples, and individuals.

Contextual therapy integrates two powerful and deep ways traditions in psychotherapy: psychoanalytically oriented approaches and family systems approaches. Like many therapeutic approaches, contextual therapy also emphasizes the importance of individual and family history. In addition, the contextual approach is unique among therapeutic approaches in explicitly providing a language for the ethical aspect of interpersonal relationships.

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