Thursday, June 19, 2008

Eyes, Hands and Words

The Work of Harlene Anderson

I wish to focus within this posting upon a particular person, one who I have come to deeply admire and respect, and one who over the last couple of years I have also come to call my friend.

Her name is Harlene Anderson.

Harlene is known for her pioneering work in the family therapy field, beginning many years ago with her friend and colleague, Harry Goolishian. But, in this posting my purpose is not to reiterate Harlene’s many accomplishments in family therapy and beyond -- though it would be a privilege and a delight to do that. I encourage the readers to learn of Harlene’s work, beginning with her own website, And of course one must read the many books and articles she has authored.

But here I wish to talk of Harlene as I see her, as I experience her in her life and work. These are my own words.


Harlene talks much about collaboration. She writes and speaks of the Collaborative Therapies. But this collaboration is much more than words.

For one, this collaboration is an inescapable impulse evident in the eyes – and it appears in Harlene’s eyes. Connections merge into life as eyes speak and as eyes meet. Such engagements of eyes, through words unspoken, or perhaps with words, but words which dance with the unspoken, pull together many lines of community and awaken a commonwealth of collaborative becomings.

There is an unpreventable honesty in such collaborations. In this vein, it seems that Harlene’s eyes are not particularly well equipped in the ways of deception, for collaboration refuses to hide, appearing even in the silences. One could be deaf in Harlene’s presence and the movements of collaboration would still be most evident, there is no keeping it secret, it would repeatedly appear in every passage of her eyes.

Keeping close to the spirit of collaboration, Harlene knows it’s not just about her eyes; it’s about many eyes, rhizome lines connecting between looks. Not the look of the gaze as described by Foucault, but relations between countless eyes, circulating care, respect, love, the humour of living, the delights of friendship. Harlene’s eyes, and her words, become a one-among-many, one net of influences joining with a world of influences, small and large, near and distant. And, is this not the very work she repeatedly talks of, and the very joy which she cannot hide?

A democratic work! Harlene becomes a one amidst many communal becomings, but a one with influence, along with the rest of us. An irony appears here, for Harlene has often been uncomfortable with the talk of the political within our work, but in a way her own work becomes, and she becomes with her work, a certain becoming-democracy. Joining in this democratic impulse is a host of dear friends, including, of course, Lynn Hoffman and the late Tom Anderson.


It is not that Harlene talks much of hands; it’s that I see hands – moving, working, touching -- within Harlene’s ongoing interactions. Such hands are in movement upon the front page of her website. She invites people to be “inquisitive, creative, authentic, and open to the ever-present possibilities for newness in others--and in themselves.” This is a call to create, to make something specific -- to repeatedly produce ways whereby we are able to open ourselves and others to the plenitudes of life and newness.

This is a call for hands creating together. Watch what happens at those events she helps organize. A buzz of making occurs, in the meetings and out of the meetings. Many things – thoughts, relations, joys and other gifts – created together. I think that for Harlene the hands of creation and the language of collaboration are one and the same thing.


We return to words. Many years ago Harlene and Harry Goolishian engaged in their own creating, and they called what they produced, Collaborative Language Systems. The landscape of therapy was forever altered. Harlene persists in talking about the way we talk together, particularly about the way professionals talk within their work. But as I watch Harlene she continually endeavours to create words, particular kinds of words – words which return. That is words returning to the movements of life, to the curiosity, the creativity, the newness and hope that life calls forth.

I invite you to read Harlene Anderson... encounter the creations and the many processes of creations she unravels. For words continue to meet eyes and hands upon her pages.


Anonymous said...

Chris, You ROCK. These pictures are beautiful. I had a great time and it was very nice seeing you again. Hugs, Amanda

Christopher Kinman said...

Amanda... same to you!! You certainly are one of those Citizens of the World!! Hope to see you again sometime soon... who knows... Mexico?? Texas?? Somewhere else??

Take care... Chris

MM said...

Chris, We have at least one thing in common: You and I are inspired by and admire Tom Andersen and Harlene Anderson. Thank you for your beautiful tributes to each of them on your blog. If you are ever in Austin, let's talk. Marsha

Christopher Kinman said...

Thanks Marsha!!

And yes... if I am in Austin I will look you up! And, I must say, Austin is one great city! I love that town...

Jessica Ochoa said...

I love the picture of Harlene and Carol. Can you e-mail it to me at I work for Carol Ramirez and she and Harlene would like a copy. Thanks! 281-922-6000 P.S. We will credit you as the photographer :)

Christopher Kinman said...

Jessica... all you have to do is click on the picture you want and a larger one will appear, then right click to copy that picture... then you have it!