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The hero(ine) on a journey: a postmodern conceptual framework for social work practice.

MANY CHALLENGES AWAIT the instructor who attempts to teach students innovative practice approaches such as the strengths perspective, narrative theory, and solution-focused therapy. These approaches have arisen as a critique to traditional approaches of social work interventions. Yet when attempting to learn these approaches, students commonly struggle with breaking free from their traditional (i.e., modernist) understanding of social work as an effort at problem solving--an effort predominated by concerns over functioning and adapting to the environment. Teaching various postmodern theories--such as social constructionism that all three of the approaches embrace (Berg & De Jong, 1996; Saleebey 2006a; White & Epston, 1990)--provides a new philosophical base of understanding on which students may stand, and thus better grasp these new approaches. Yet such theories are often a bit esoteric for students to deeply comprehend. When this is the case, a good conceptual framework can serve as a bridge between esoteric theoretical concepts and their practical application in an intervention (for example, person-in-environment serves such a purpose). The purpose of this article is to introduce such a conceptual framework: The hero(ine) on a journey.

In their critique of the medical model and embrace of social constructionism, the three aforementioned approaches seek to move away from interventions based on concerns over functioning. This postmodern stance is reflected in the following statement made by Saari (1991):
   [T]he adaptive point of view has provided
   an inadequate foundation for
   clinical social work theory. A theory of
   meaning in which psychological health
   is indicated by a constructed personal
   meaning system (or identity) that is
   highly differentiated, articulated, and
   integrated is proposed to take the place
   of conceptualizations about adaptation.
   (p. 4)

Saleebey (2006b), for the strengths perspective, speaks of painting new brushstrokes of identity "that depict capacity and ingenuity" (p. 88); White (2004), for narrative therapy, emphasizes giving attention to "constructions of men's and women's identities" (p. 45); and De Jong and Berg (2001), for solution-focused therapy, speak toward "the co-construction of competence that is characteristic of solution-focused work" (p. 365). The concern over helping the client articulate his or her identity in a life-enhancing way (i.e., depicting competencies and strengths) is apparent in each of these approaches. But how does this translate into a guide for intervention efforts? Such a question often befuddles students.

One way to elucidate the central importance of the social construction of identity in these interventions is by offering another theory. The theory of mimesis--first offered by Aristotle (1996/c. 335 b.c.) but recently updated by Ricoeur (1984-1988)--offers a theory of human action based within identity (a brief explanation of mimesis is offered in the following section). Yet this also illustrates the challenge faced when attempting to teach students; a common way to elaborate an esoteric theory is often through reference to another esoteric theory. This makes the need for a conceptual framework to act as a bridge even greater.

This article takes the position that the following basic elements are at work in each of the three approaches (strengths perspective, solution-focused therapy, and narrative therapy). Based on their critique of the medical model, each is concerned that the presenting problem is exerting undue influence on shaping the client's identity. The helping response thus involves assisting the client in socially constructing an alternate identity, an identity that is more life-enhancing and empowering. To embrace the idea that an alternate identity is possible (i.e., multiple realties exist), the client must undergo an expansion of consciousness (i.e., consciousness-raising). An alternate identity is then constructed that depicts strengths and successes. Once this new identity is constructed and embraced, it serves as the new source directing client actions, which in turn leads to amelioration of the presenting problem.

Postmodernism has been concisely described as "the linguistic turn" (e.g., Munslow, 2005) due to the importance it places on the role and influence of language in human endeavors. As these practices are based within theories of language, the analogy being made here draws on the notion that the client's lived experiences are viewed as comprising a narrative, or behavioral text (White & Epston, 1990). The emphasis on highlighting client strengths, competencies, and successes speaks to placing the client as the protagonist (i.e., hero or heroine) of one's life narrative. Hence, presenting problems are framed as issues concerning confronting oppressive or problem-saturated narratives, and thus helping the client achieve a transformation from a debilitating self-identity to one that is life-enhancing (De Jong & Berg, 2008; Saleebey, 2006c; White & Epston, 1990). The metaphor of the intervention process as a journey undertaken by the client, a journey of self-discovery, has been evoked by a number of practitioners and authors advocating these approaches (Duncan, Miller, & Sparks, 2004; Rapp & Goscha, 2006; White, 2007).

The theory used as the inspiration for the Hero(ine) on a Journey (HOJ) conceptual framework derives from noted anthropologist Joseph Campbell's (1968/1949) theory of the monomyth, which he outlines in his seminal work The Hero With a Thousand Faces. The monomyth captures all of the basic elements previously identified: breaking free from an established identity and constructing a new one via an expansion of one's consciousness. However, before describing Campbell's theory of the monomyth and how it supports HOJ, it is important to look at the theory of mimesis. The HOJ conceptual framework is undergirded by a conception of causality that arises in narrative--one that explains present actions of persons/characters by their imagined future identity of who they would like to be (hence the focus on capturing the dreams and goals of the client). Ricoeur (1984-1988) expertly details this conception of causality--an updating of Aristotle's conception of mimesis--in his three-volume work Time and Narrative. Although a thorough description of Ricoeur's elaboration of mimesis and its implications for social work has been provided elsewhere (Dybicz, 2010), it is useful to briefly review the major concepts before moving on.

Ricoeur on Mimesis

As first conceived by Aristotle in his Poetics (1996/c. 335 b.c.), simply put, mimesis is the process of having an image of who we are and who we would like to be, the latter motivating our present actions. As Davis (1992) notes concerning Artistotle's Poetics, "All human action is always an imitation of action--Achilles is living up to his own image of himself ... like all brave men, he wants 'to die like Achilles'" (i.e., courageously; p. xviii). Building on insights from social constructionism in his examination of a broad scope of narrative, Ricoeur (1984-1988) updates Aristotle's concept of mimesis by splitting it into three parts: prefiguration (mimesis (1)), configuration (mimesis (2)), and refiguration (mimesis (3)).

Prefiguration (mimesis (1)) is the proposition that humans intuitively and naturally seek to understand their lived experiences by placing them within a narrative structure. When one tells a story about oneself, one does not begin with one's birth and give a minute-by-minute account of what has happened. Rather, one selects a beginning point, then selectively chooses from a wide array of experiences to include as pertinent to the middle of the story, and then usually projects an ending to the story in one's future. This is what clients do when they access services for an issue they are facing. From this narrative structure a theme arises. It is the theme that serves to determine whether or not a particular lived experience (i.e., event) is considered appropriate to fit within the narrative. Unfortunately, when most clients access services, they walk in with a theme of dysfunction (a dominant theme within the modern discourse): The pertinent events related by the client, and often asked for by the social worker, are those that speak to the underlying causes of the problem. This theme of dysfunction is unfortunate because the theme used to organize the events also speaks to defining the identity of the main character in the narrative (i.e., the client): Within mimesis, one is defined by one's actions.

Configuration (mimesis2) is a consciousness-raising process. As previously mentioned, pre-figuration is an intuitive process; we intuitively use thematic templates from culture that we carry around within us. The first step in this consciousness-raising process is the recognition that the current theme being used to organize one's events is undercutting one's self-worth. Next is the recognition that one can consciously select different events to comprise the story, causing a new theme to arise that enhances one's self-worth: In short, one can construct a new reality. This consciousness-raising process captures the metaphor of author-editor that is often used in postmodern practice literature (Goldstein, 1990; Saleebey, 2006b; White, 2007) to describe the client-social worker collaboration. It is important to note that there are some limitations in this endeavor. First, one must choose from one's actual lived experiences (when creating the beginning and middle of the narrative). Second, some events are absolutely necessary to the story, what Abbott (2002) describes as constituent events. So, for example, if a pregnant teenager comes in for services, the event of her pregnancy is a constituent event; it cannot be ignored.

Yet Abbott (2002) notes that supplementary events also make up a narrative. Supplementary events are not essential for defining the story, yet they are fully responsible for the theme that arises: For example, a story of pregnancy can have various possible themes. With configuration, it is these supplementary events that are consciously selected to be placed within the narrative. Thus, a client's strengths and successes are looked for in relation to the issue. Including these successes--and the new theme that arises from their inclusion---does more than simply enhance a client's self-worth. It opens up new possibilities for attainable preferred identities in the future (e.g., being a good mother). By viewing these preferred identities as attainable and seeking to embrace them (i.e., who I want to be), it causes one to act in the present in accordance with this preferred identity (Brubaker & Wright, 2006).

There is also refiguration (mimesis (3)). This happens simultaneously with configuration, so the consciousness-raising effort is actually a configuration-refiguration process. Refiguration refers to the proposition that we all act as audience members to the narrative being created. The person creating the narrative simultaneously acts as an audience member, as well as other important individuals in the person's life. It is important to note that the social construction of reality is a social process. For a narrative to "ring true" it has to achieve a level of verisimilitude within the public sphere. This is where the importance of caring relationships comes into play. When a narrative is being configured, caring individuals within the client's life are able to reflect back to the client the message "Yes, I see you that way too" (e.g., "Yes, I see those same qualities within you that will help you to be a good mother"). It is this process that lends the newly created narrative verisimilitude, thus constructing a new reality. Ultimately, this new thematic template becomes the natural and intuitive way for the person to organize his or her lived experiences for this particular narrative, and thus he or she falls back into the stage of prefiguration.

Joseph Campbell's The Hero With a Thousand Faces

Campbell's work (1968/1949) is a comparative analysis of myths from around the world: He analyzes myths across numerous cultures and across the centuries. Through his extensive research, Campbell uncovers a basic structure that is common to all myth; he labels this basic structure the monomyth. Myths are particularly relevant in this analysis in that they represent the poems of Aristotle--the goal being to provoke an intellectual insight, or consciousness-raising experience, in the audience. They all speak to the notion of a rite of passage taking place, or in other words, a transformation of identity. The events that the hero(ine) experiences lead to a new theme arising concerning the hero(ine)'s life, and consequently, the hero(ine)'s identity. Noble and admirable qualities arise and are highlighted, befitting to the present role of the main character as that of a hero(ine). The analogy being drawn to HOJ is that this basic structure--this rite of passage to a new identity--strongly reflects our own efforts to grasp meaning from the narratives that we create through the configuration-refiguration process when facing challenges in our lives.

Campbell's monomyth can be succinctly described as that of a hero(ine) on a journey. Thus the monomyth's fundamental structural elements concerning this journey of transformation are adopted as the basic elements for the conceptual framework of HOJ. Arising from his analysis of thousands of myths, Campbell (1968/1949) identified five fundamental narrative elements common to myths across cultures and across historical epochs: a Call to Adventure, Crossing Beyond a Threshold, Overcoming Trials and Tests, Receiving Aid, and Facing a Supreme Ordeal Yielding a Reward. These basic elements, expressed in one particular way or another depending on the culture, are what comprise the monomyth.

Campbell (1968/1949) elaborates as follows. The hero(ine)'s journey begins with a "call to adventure." The hero(ine) is either lured away, carried away, or voluntarily proceeds. Sometimes a hero(ine) may seek to refuse this call, but this always results in turning the hero(ine) into a victim to be saved and one's world turning into a wasteland. For those who choose to proceed, they "cross beyond the threshold" of their world. "Beyond the threshold, then, the hero [sic] journeys through a world of unfamiliar yet strangely intimate forces, some of which severely threaten him (tests), some of which give him magical aid (helpers). When he arrives at the nadir of the mythological round, he undergoes a supreme ordeal and gains his reward ... intrinsically it is an expansion of consciousness and therewith of being" (p. 246). Thus the next elements that the hero(ine) faces are a number of "trials and tests," but he or she also "receives aid" to help with these challenges, with the final challenge culminating in facing a "supreme ordeal yielding a reward." As Campbell states, "This popular motif gives emphasis to the lesson that the passage of the threshold is a form of self-annihilation.... the hero goes inward, to be born again" (p. 91).

The Hero(ine) on a Journey (HOJ)

HOJ, informed by Campbell's analysis, is not directed toward providing a template in which to create narratives but rather as a conceptual framework informing the consciousness-raising process linked to creating a new narrative--and the resulting journey of self-discovery that inevitably results. One thing that immediately becomes apparent to students who are introduced to this framework is that the intervention is not speaking to concerns about adaptation. As noted earlier, these practice approaches rely on seeking, elaborating, and developing noble qualities of the client (i.e., strengths, successes, and competencies). Within HOJ, the client is cast as a hero(ine)--the identification and elaboration of the client's noble qualities serves an important and critical role. A key focus is on how societal narratives shape (and potentially undercut) one's identity and self-worth, directly influencing levels of personal agency and empowerment. Casting a client as a hero(ine) underscores his or her personal agency, enhances his or her self-worth, and facilitates his or her empowerment.

In addition, as described earlier, these same postmodern practice approaches draw on the metaphor of the client undertaking a journey, resulting in a transformation of being. As reflected by Ricoeur's (1984-1988) theory of mimesis, the social construction of a counterstory is a consciousness-raising experience--and the resulting change in consciousness prompts a change in one's identity (from "dysfunctional" to valiantly struggling "hero(ine)"--arising from the newly configured narrative).

The HOJ framework serves to connect the theoretical concepts of mimesis and social constructionism to the various practice approaches that employ them. Hence, various metaphors guiding postmodern practice--such as the client as the expert, the client-social worker relationship as author-editor, the client as hero(ine) of his or her life story, and undertaking a journey of self-discovery--become theoretically grounded concepts guiding practice. To begin with, the case study of Nick offered by White and Epston (1990), broken up into a running commentary, is used to illustrate the various steps of HOJ in its application to narrative therapy in a thorough manner. Space limitations allow for more abbreviated explanations to follow under applications to the strengths perspective and solution-focused therapy.

HOJ Applied to Narrative Therapy

This classic case study is chosen because it makes for an excellent learning tool for students. This is because Nick's presenting problem---encopresis--at first glance seems to clearly be a problem of functioning, and hence leads one to believe that it should be treated in this way. Yet White (acting as therapist) treats it as a problem in identity construction (White and Epston, 1990). And in the short span of three sessions, Nick achieves dramatic progress in what had before been an intractable problem.

Call to Adventure

Nick, aged six years, was brought to see me by his parents, Sue and Ron. Nick had a very long history of encopresis, which had resisted all attempts to resolve it, including those instituted by various therapists. Rarely did a day go by without an "accident" or "incident." (White & Epston, 1990, p. 43)

The hero(ine)'s "call to adventure" is the confrontation of a dramatic event (lured or carried away) or the desire to reinterpret an existing narrative (voluntarily proceeds). This first stage represents when the client is engaging in the prefiguration process ([mimesis.sup.1]): The client is engaging in understanding of one's world at an intuitive level. The dramatic event represents a recent event or series of events that cannot be successfully (i.e., in a life-enhancing way) accounted for within one's present orientation (i.e., current prefigurative understanding).

In this particular case study, it would be Nick's repeated incidents of encopresis that paint him as a "bad boy" or dysfunctional. Within his present orientation, a "good boy" does not defecate in his pants; hence, he cannot account for these repeated incidents in a life-enhancing way. Although the narrative "good boys don't soil their pants" serves a useful purpose at a societal level, within the particular experiences of Nick, it is overly defining who he is, and thus undercutting his self-worth. This dilemma marks one's "call to adventure."

Crossing the Threshold

In helping these family members separate themselves and their relationships from the problem, externalization opened up possibilities for them to describe themselves, each other, and their relationships from a new nonproblem-saturated perspective; it enabled the development of an alternative story of family life, one that was more attractive to family members. (White & Epston, 1990, p. 39)

The next stage is that of "crossing the threshold." It represents the client's willingness to engage in a consciousness-raising effort via the configuration-refiguration process. This stage represents a movement from prefiguration ([mimesis.sup.1]) to configuration ([mimesis.sup.2]). One's current orientation is not able to account for the event(s) in a life-enhancing way; therefore, one must pass beyond the horizon of one's world (Ricoeur, 1984-1988) to achieve a reorientation that will successfully account for the event(s). This requires a consciousness-raising experience. This crossing of a threshold can be likened to the move of "making the familiar strange" that is promoted by some postmodern theorists as a means to spark this consciousness-raising (for example, Bakhtin's [1984/1929] use of the carnival).

For the aforementioned case study, White (White & Epston, 1990) uses the technique of externalizing the problem to make the familiar strange. Nick's presenting problem of encopresis is depicted as a force outside of Nick, acting on Nick in an attempt to trick him and corrupt him, and is even given a name by Nick, "Sneaky Poo." This externalization frees up Nick's consciousness to begin exploring other qualities about himself--positive, noble qualities--that can now be accessed to primarily define himself.

In summary, the hero(ine) crossing the threshold and entering a strange new land represents the step in the helping process when the problematic theme and identity is identified (one is dysfunctional, a failure, broken, etc.) and questioned regarding its veracity. New possible themes are now open to be explored, themes arising from client strengths and successes in relation to the presenting problem.

Overcoming Trials and Tests

When mapping the influence of family members in the life of what we came to call "Sneaky Poo," we discovered . . . Although Sneaky Poo always tried to trick Nick into being his playmate, Nick could recall a number of occasions during which he had not allowed Sneaky Poo to "outsmart" him .... There was a recent occasion during which Sneaky Poo could have driven Sue into a heightened sense of misery, but she resisted and turned on the radio instead. (White & Epston, 1990, p. 46)

"Overcoming trials and tests" marks the next stage. This is when the client begins actively engaging in the configuration-refiguration process. To transform a debilitating narrative into one that is life-enhancing, one must begin configuring the problematic experiences into a plotline of overcoming trials and tests (e.g., marking strengths and successes). In Nick's case study, this occurs after the encopresis is externalized as an oppressive influence in his life (in effect, excising it from Nick's identity and transforming it into a foe to be combated). His lived experiences are now mined for examples of his successes: occurrences when he successfully acted in resisting this influence in part or in full. White and Epston (1990) term these as "unique outcomes." These unique outcomes are moved to the foreground and form the building blocks of the new plotline and theme (for Nick, one of defiance). Consequently, previous failures are transformed within this new context. No longer serving the role of determining one's identity, their meaning is transformed into that of representing setbacks. These setbacks occur precisely because one is human, and thus not perfect. This new plotline (i.e., overcoming trials and tests) and the theme(s) that it engenders (e.g., defiance) begins coalescing a new meaning for one's identity--for Nick, a new meaning for what it means to be a "good boy" (someone who actively fights against the influence of "Sneaky Poo")--and consequently how one would like to be. This in turn begins to guide one's present actions, emboldening one to continue to add to one's successes and thus further build on this new plotline, as illustrated herein.

In response to these questions, Nick thought that he was ready to stop Sneaky Poo from outsmarting him so much, and decided that he would not be tricked into being his playmate anymore. Sue had some new ideas for refusing to let Sneaky Poo push her into misery. (White & Epston, 1990, p. 47)

Refiguration ([mimesis.sup.3]) accompanies configuration ([mimesis.sup.2]) at this stage. As new events are added to one's narrative, one acts as audience member: judging whether these new events fit the emerging theme(s) well (i.e., possess verisimilitude).

After identifying Nick's, Sue's, and Ron's influence in the life of Sneaky Poo, I introduced questions that encouraged them to perform meaning in relation to these examples, so that they might "re-author" their lives and relationships. (White & Epston, 1990, p. 47)

The role of the editor in this step is to get the client/narrator to reflect on the significance of placing such events in this new life-enhancing narrative. Special attention is given to the theme that emerges from

this new narrative, and consequently, how this theme reflects on the identity of the client. This serves to further contribute to the consciousness-raising experience. As configuration ([mimesis.sup.2]) involves the conscious selection of lived experiences, knowledge of the theme at work and the client's new identity feature arising from this theme enable the client to more easily recognize lived experiences that support this new theme. In addition, having a sharper focus on the new identity arising from this theme--by plugging into mimesis' causality of seeking "who I want to be"--gives clearer direction to consciously directed future actions. This is how a change in the client's behavior occurs through these approaches. Finally, one may act as audience member to the stories others communicate about your experiences as was described in the previous section within the context of caring relationships. This is described in the next stage, "Receiving Aid."

Receiving Aid

"Receiving aid" is a stage that occurs concurrently with that of "overcoming trials and tests." Within HOJ, receiving help or aid is not conceived of as a need arising from dysfunction or weakness. Rather, one receives help because one has journeyed to a strange land (i.e., passed beyond the horizon of one's world--prefiguration). Because one is a hero(ine) possessing noble traits and values, one is deserving of aid for one's valiant struggle. This aid serves the purpose of helping the client achieve his or her preferred identity. This aid can take many forms. As discussed earlier, it may come in the form of a caring relationship. This is the form it takes for Ron and Sue:

Sue was making good her escape from guilt. This had been facilitated, to an extent, by the fact that she and Ron had been talking more to other parents about the trials and tribulations of parenting. In so doing they had learned that they were not the only parents who had doubts about their parenting skills. (White & Epston, 1990, p. 48)

The social worker acts in the role of editor: assisting the hero(ine) in the configuration and refiguration process, affirming the client's narrative, and/or directing the client to share this narrative with others (e.g., family members; for Sue and Ron, other parents) who will affirm it.

In addition, help may come in the form of material aid--such as the linkage to resources, a common element of social work practice. Whether in the form of material resources, advice, or emotional support via a caring relationship, aid serves the same purpose: It helps move the client along in further strengthening the newly constructed narrative. It aids the configuration process by helping the client build experiences reflective of the new plotline and thus the client's new identity. For example, Brubaker and Wright (2006) write about the experience of pregnant teens and their effort to build an identity as a "good mother." They elaborate on how caring relationships help support these teens in their early efforts at building this new identity. But information and advice given by experienced mothers also help these teens in acquiring skills of motherhood, and thus aid them in building experiences reflective of good mothering. Along these same lines, linkage to material resources--such as a health clinic and prenatal care--serves to aid them in building these experiences of good mothering in the same fashion.

The Supreme Ordeal Yielding a Reward

"The supreme ordeal yielding a reward" marks the final stage of HOJ. It is the final step of both configuration and refiguration. The supreme ordeal is simply the experience that completes the new narrative for the hero(ine). This yields a reward of a potent insight: All doubts fall away as to the solidity of the new identity one has assumed (e.g., "good boy," "good mother"); the plotline and themes of one's new narrative are firmly established. This results in a reorientation to one's understanding of one's life experiences. This particular journey of the hero(ine) has ended; the individual moves back to the intuitive stance of prefiguration. This usually happens in a gradual, progressive manner. However, it can also happen in a dramatic instant, as another case study by White and Epston (1990) illustrates when Carol discards her identity as a deserving victim and embraces her new identity of someone worthy of respect:
   I didn't know what happened but it
   felt like something had snapped. I felt I
   was outside my body. I was screaming
   and crying at the same time: "I've
   given, given, given and I've got no
   more to give." I saw a big deep hole:
   "Get out or I'll call the police." All my
   fear went ... I felt terrific--I'm not
   afraid anymore. "You can do nothing
   to me." I was surprised it was happening....
   Kicking him out--that was the
   solution in the back of my mind. It
   happened just like you said it would....
   A whole new life can start for me.
   There was no room for compromise
   once I started. (pp. 139-141)

HOJ Applied to the Strengths Perspective

Call to Adventure

There is no difference in the elaboration of this step in all three applications. The "call to adventure" represents the particular presenting problem that has led the client to seek services--and the sense that one's prefigurative (mimesis1) understanding no longer adequately captures one's positive qualities, resulting in a diminished identity.

Crossing the Threshold

If we are to help throw off the yoke of oppression, enhance a people's sense of empowerment, and help them achieve whatever is important to them, we must remove the pathological imagery that our current assessment methods indicate.... It [a strengths assessment] does not reduce the complexity of the person to a diagnosis or set of problems, but rather it is used to search for understanding and meaning from the person's viewpoint. The creative practitioner does not see the strengths assessment as paperwork, but rather a canvas on which to create a portrait of the unique person that is before them. (Rapp & Goscha, 2006, pp. 93-94)

Early in the engagement process, social workers are urged to conduct a strengths assessment. A key dynamic at work in this process, highlighted by the quote, is how this process serves to help the client question an old identity based in pathology and provide a framework in which to begin the process with the client of generating a more life-enhancing identity reflecting his or her lived experiences. This is an endeavor in consciousness-raising.

Overcoming Trials and Tests

Personal planning reinforces the client as the director of the helping process because it focuses on the person's unique journey of recovery. Goals are highly individualized and the paths toward goal achievement are limited only by the creativity generated through the helping process. (Rapp & Goscha, 2006, p. 121)

In a sense, what is happening at this point is the writing of a better "text." Reframing is a part of this; not the refraining of so many family therapies, but adding to the picture already painted, brush strokes that depict capacity and ingenuity, and that provide a different coloration to the substance of one's life ....And all of this must ring true to the person and be grounded in the dailiness of life. (Saleebey, 2006b, pp. 88-89)

The next step of the strengths perspective is to encourage the client to develop goals to which he or she aspires, and then provide assistance to the client in helping him or her achieve these goals. As Rapp and Goscha (2006) note, this goal setting flows directly from the strengths assessment. Hence, these goals are a continuation of the identity transformation process begun in "crossing the threshold." What is most important about them in terms of directing behavior (i.e., mimesis) is that they empower a client to establish a new "who I am" and enable him or her to conceive and then project a preferred identity of "who I want to be." This dynamic is best illustrated via the case study offered of Mrs. J:

Mrs. J. was due to be discharged into the community after several years of hospital residence.... Mrs. J. divulged that she hated the idea of living in a home and going to day centers, and that she really wanted to be the Queen [of England]. She challenged the Practitioner to work toward that aim. Without promising too much, the Practitioner began to work out with Mrs. J. what she felt the Queen did that was worth aiming for. It emerged that Mrs. J. believed that the Queen did not have financial or administrative worries, she always knew where she was going to live, people respected her because she helped them, and most importantly, she had "companions" and "ladies in waiting" who helped her and kept her company. The subsequent assessment stated that Mrs. J. needed a strong sense of financial security and the guarantee of help with day-to-day organization, she needed to move to one location and be promised that she need never move again, she needed to feel that she was helping people and feel respected for it, and she needed some "old-fashioned" companionship. (Bleach & Ryan, 1995, p. 175 quoted in Rapp & Goscha, 2006, p. 133).

Rather than looking at Mrs. J's goal concretely, the thoughtful practitioner in this case study recognized her goal as representing a theme of a preferred identity. As such, the practitioner was able to creatively develop workable, concrete goals that retained Mrs. J's theme. Importantly, as noted in the quote by Saleebey (2006b), this new description offered by the practitioner must "ring true" for the client (i.e., possess verisimilitude).

Receiving Aid

Resource acquisition and advocacy have always been central themes in the strengths perspective. From the beginning these activities have been highlighted as important in bringing the model alive. (Sullivan & Rapp, 2006, p. 275)

The strengths perspective places major focus on the role community resources play in helping the client achieve his or her goals and achieve "who I want to be." It's authors also recognize the important role played by caring relationships, as described previously, of mirroring or reflecting back to clients, "I see you that way too" (Rapp & Goscha, 2006; Saleebey, 2006b).

The Supreme Ordeal Yielding a Reward

As previously described, intellectual insight occurs that moves the client to begin intuitively constructing events within a narrative that supports his or her preferred identity, prompting termination.

HOJ Applied to Solution-Focused Therapy

Call to Adventure

As stated previously, the "call to adventure" represents the particular presenting problem that has led the client to seek services, the sense that one's prefigurative (mimesis1) understanding no longer adequately captures one's positive qualities, resulting in a diminished identity.

Crossing the Threshold

Furthermore, the miracle question requires an alteration in both the therapist's and the client's everyday way of thinking. And this is a rather rapid paradigmatic shift from the way most people conceptualize and talk about problems both in therapy and everyday life .... We think it makes a difference whether or not the therapist assumes that clients have the capacity to create meaningful descriptions of what they want their lives to look like and how they want to be in the world. Asking the miracle question both implies and demands faith in the client's capacity to do this and the question needs to be asked in a manner that communicates this faith. (de Shazer et al., 2007, pp. 38-39)

For solution-focused therapy, the miracle question acts as the main therapeutic tool to facilitate movement by the client from prefiguration ([mimesis.sup.1]), or "the client's everyday way of thinking" (de Shazer et al., p. 38) to achieve the "paradigmatic shift"--or raised consciousness--necessary to begin configuration ([mimesis.sup.2]). By laying the groundwork on which to begin configuration ([mimesis.sup.2]), the miracle question seeks to help the client elaborate the causal mechanisms underlying the configuration process: the image of "how they want to be in the world" (de Shazer et al., p. 39).

Overcoming Trials and Tests

Exceptions are those past experiences in a client's life when the problem might reasonably have been expected to occur but somehow did not.... Once the client has identified the exception, you should ask for details. In doing so, pay special attention to the ways in which this exception time was different from the problem times. Whereas a problem-focused interviewer would explore the who, what, when, and where of client problems, you should be interested in exploring the who, what, when, and where of exception times. (De Jong & Berg, 2008, pp. 103)

Exceptions become the building blocks of the newly configured counterstory that the client is developing--similar to the role that unique outcomes play in narrative therapy and the role that successes and strengths play in the strengths perspective. Flowing from the miracle question, goals are developed by the client. These goals direct the client (and therapist) where to look for exceptions and encourage the client to start thinking in terms of solutions rather than problem mechanics.

Consequently, once a client has made an initial statement about what differences he or she would like to see, the next task for the practitioner is to open a conversation that transforms abstract and vague definitions into a concrete, vivid vision of what life will be like when the problem is solved. (De Jong & Berg, 2008, pp. 77)

As was illustrated with the strengths perspective, broadly sweeping goals are useful in capturing and elaborating the theme (and preferred identity) of the client, but ultimately, concrete well-formed goals are sought. Tied to one's preferred identity, these concrete goals establish the causal mechanisms (i.e., "who I want to be") that will produce change in present behavior. "Solutions" are not solutions to a technical problem (such as fixing a sink); rather, they represent an avenue for reaching a preferred outcome: a preferred identity.

As described earlier, this stage also involves engaging the client in refiguration (mimesis3): reflecting on the emerging counterstory as a means to solidify and enhance its construction. Solution-focused therapy uses scaling questions as the method for prompting refiguration.

By means of scaling questions, a practitioner can help clients to express complex, intuitive observations about their past experiences and estimates of future possibilities. (De Jong & Berg, 2008, p. 106)

Receiving Aid

In formulating feedback for clients, we recommend you adopt the structure developed by de Shazer and his colleagues (de Shazer et al. 1986). There are three basic parts to this structure: compliments, a bridge, and usually a task or suggestion. All are designed to convey to the clients that you have been listening carefully and agree with their views about their problems, what they want to have different in their lives, and the steps they might take to make their lives more satisfying. (De Jong & Berg, 2008, pp. 115-116)

As this is a session of therapy, the aid that the hero(ine) receives comes in the form of feedback (although this does not preclude the addition of material aid as well). It seeks to aid clients in their construction of their counterstory: advancing them on their journey toward reaching a new consciousness (i.e., their preferred identity).

Compliments are affirmations of the client. First, compliments affirm what is important to the client.... Second, compliments affirm client successes and the strengths these successes suggest.... The bridge is the part of the feedback that links the initial compliments to the concluding suggestions or tasks.... The content of the bridge is usually drawn from client goals, exceptions, strengths, or perceptions.... These tasks fall into two main categories: observation tasks and behavioral tasks (de Shazer, 1988). In an observation task, based on information gathered in the interview, the practitioner suggests the client pay attention to a particular aspect of his or her life likely to prove useful in solution building.... Behavioral tasks require the client to actually do something, to take certain actions the practitioner believes will be useful to the client in constructing a solution. (De Jong & Berg, 2008, pp. 116-117)

Compliments play the role of reinforcing the emerging theme from the client's counterstory by communicating, "I see you that way too." The bridge accesses this theme as a way to generate possible future "exceptions" that the client may add to his or her emerging counterstory as a means of strengthening it. Observational tasks alert the client to take note of these exceptions as they arise in the future. Behavioral tasks encourage the client to directly create these exceptions.

The Supreme Ordeal Yielding a Reward

Again, intellectual insight occurs that moves the client to begin intuitively constructing events within a narrative that supports his or her preferred identity, prompting termination.


The novelty and apparent strangeness of postmodern theoretical concepts present many challenges for students to comprehend them. Metaphors, such as "the client as the expert" and the client-social worker relationship being described as that of an author-editor, help to aid students in their efforts at understanding. The hero(ine) on a journey offers a conceptual framework to aid students in reaching the next level of comprehension: the often difficult task of applying theoretical concepts to practice. This article has used the framework to elaborate the application of two such concepts: mimesis and social constructionism. Elaboration of the application of other postmodern concepts may be possible as well, such as Foucault's (1980) notions of "power" and "discourse," Bakhtin's (1984/ 1929) notion of the "carnival" and "multiple voices," and Wittgenstein's (1968/1953) theory of "language games." All of these concepts ultimately speak to notions of identity and how it may be transformed--the central tenets the HOJ framework seeks to apply. Thus this framework may be used to aid instruction at the PhD level, wherein an in-depth exploration of various postmodern theories and their applications might take place. Also, as described in this article, it can be used to aid instruction at the MSW level of linking a few basic postmodern concepts to their applications via various practice approaches.

Similar to person-in-environment, the hero(ine) on a journey prominently features the individual as a focus for intervention efforts, and this article has kept to elaborating such a focus. However, also similar to person-in-environment, the hero(ine) on a journey does not preclude macro-level attempts at intervention. The hero(ine)'s journey takes place in a setting; the client's lived experiences arise from interaction with society. The success in HOJ's ability to elaborate macro-level interventions has yet to be explored. Yet both Foucault's (1980) notions of "power" and "discourse" and Wittgenstein's notion of "language games" (O'Conner, 2002) can speak to how oppressive narrative structures of understanding get reified into oppressive structures in society--and hence, become targets for macro-level intervention efforts. As is the case with micro-level interventions described herein, the focus of macro-level interventions through this framework would be on confronting oppression and transformational change, not on enhancing functioning and adaptation efforts.

DOI: 10.5175/JSWE.2012.201000057


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Phillip Dybicz

Keimyung University

Accepted: 03/11

Phillip Dybicz is assistant professor at Keimyung University.

Address correspondence to Phillip Dybicz, Keimyung University, Department of Social Welfare, College of Social Science Building, 2800 Dalgubeoldaero, Dalseo-Gu, Daegu 704-701, South Korea; e-mail:
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Author:Dybicz, Phillip
Publication:Journal of Social Work Education
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Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2012
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