Structuralism and non-structuralism

by Leonie Thomas

Structuralism thinks
The aim of inquiry is to search for “deep structures” or “essential truths” about people
Such a search for “deep structures” or “essential truths” can be objective
It is “deep structures” (eg. Inner-self) that shapes life
Our ideas, problems, qualities, are linked to some internal self
Our identities are fixed and essential – to be found within our inner-self
Our identities are always consistent

Non-structuralism thinks
It’s important to draw attention to the real effects of the process of looking for “deep structures” or “essential truths”. One of these effects in the health professions has been the development of various norms and ideas about what people’s lives should look in order to be healthy.

What we are looking for, what we believe and where we come from will shape both how we look and what we’ll find.

Language and the use of language plays a vital role in shaping life.

What people say and do and how we relate to each other shapes life.

The meaning that we give to the events in our lives, and how we organise these into stories about ourselves and others, shapes life

Our ideas, problems, qualities are all products of culture and history. They have been created over time and in particular contexts.

Our identities are constantly created in relationship with others, with institutions and with broader relations of power.

Our identities are made up, and continually being made up, of many (sometimes contradictory) stories.


Non-structuralist thought invites us as therapists to…
Assist people (where relevant) to stop measuring their lives according to what certain social norms says life should be about.

Question therapist ‘objectivity’, ‘expertise’ and ‘practices of interpretation’.

Question taken-for-granted ideas and assumptions that might be sustained through the language we are using in therapy.

Consider how stories and rituals and other performative aspects are relevant to understanding the process of therapy.

Externalise ideas, problems and qualities in therapy conversations.

Take seriously how every therapy conversation will shape the identity (to some extent) of both the person consulting the therapist and the therapist.

Think through how we can involve appreciate witnesses to the work that is occurring in the therapy room.

Develop accountability practices to check out the real effects of therapy conversations on those who consult with us

Consider how stories of our lives shape our lives and how therapy might enable the rich description of preferred stories of identity.

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