Stancombe, John and White, Sue (2005) Cause and responsibility: towards an interactional understanding of blaming and ‘neutrality’ in family therapy. Journal of Family Therapy, 27 (4). pp. 330-351. ISSN 0163-4445

This paper aims to shed light on the ways in which ‘neutrality’ is both produced and resisted by socially competent actors in family therapy sessions. It draws upon recent and previous papers in this journal (Stancombe and White, 1997; Stratton, 2003a, 2003b), which highlight the importance of blame in therapeutic encounters. When families come to therapy, individual members frequently deliver competing accounts about the family troubles and who is to blame for them. This produces particular challenges for the therapist. We examine the practices of therapists in managing accountability in the session and in their own discussions. Family therapists operate with a professional ethic of neutrality, or multi-partiality. This paper is concerned with the linguistic strategies used by therapists to deal with overtly blaming accounts, how these strategies are responded to by family members in talk-in-interaction and how therapists go about crafting accountability-neutral versions. We show that the social and moral context of family work makes the therapist's job of communicating multi-partiality precarious. In producing accountability-neutral versions of families' troubles, therapists are forced to make practical-moral evaluations of competing versions of events. We conclude by arguing for a more explicit engagement with the moral nature of therapeutic practice

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