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" Steps towards fourfold vision: From the myth of power to a cybernetic unity of healing

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" Steps towards fourfold vision: From the myth of power to a cybernetic unity of healing

Abstract

Th is article revisits the legacy of Gregory Bateson (1904-1980), whose infl uence upon the fi eld of systemic therapy was signifi cant, particularly in the earlier years, although it could be argued some of his thinking was misinterpreted by others, leaving us with models of therapy that continue to conceptualise and treat relationships and systems as ‘things’ rather than ideas. Bateson’s exasperation at his ideas not being understood became apparent with his disagreement with Jay Haley regarding the concept of power, and this issue will be explored in some detail to off er a perspective on Bateson’s epistemology that might be helpful for therapists.
10 Context October 2014
May God us keep
from single vision and Newton’s sleep
Steps towards fourfold vision:
From the myth of power to a cybernetic
unity of healing
Hugh Palmer
William Blake, 1802.
Introduction
is article revisits the legacy of Gregor y Bateson (1904-1980),
whose in  uence upon the  eld of systemic therapy was signi  cant,
part icularly in the earlier years, although it could be argued some of
his thinking was misinterpreted by others, leaving us with models of
therapy t hat continue to concept ualise and treat relationships and
systems as ‘things’ rather than ideas. Bateson’s exasperation at his
ideas not being understood became apparent w ith his disagreement
with Jay Haley regarding the concept of power, and this issue
will be ex plored in some detail to o er a perspective on Bateson’s
epistemology that might be helpfu l for therapists.
Bateson was primarily known as a scientist, rather than
an anthropologist. He actually considered himself, foremost,
a biologist. He was precise and loathed ‘muddled’ thinking,
something he frequently made clear in writing and lectures.
Bateson also advocated being human with patients (he actively
treated patients between 1948 and 1963) and part of what he
a empted was to help them  nd valuable pa erns in their lives.
Bateson was able to incorporate both the precision of being
‘scienti c’ and the empathy and intuition of ‘being human’ in his
interactions with others, including patients with schizophrenia
and their families. It could be argued that he considered the  eld
of psycholog y was broadly evolving in two similar directions; the
consciously scienti c ‘circularist’ and the more intuitively based
‘humanist’ orientations (Charlton, 2008).
e in uence of the English poet and mystic William Blake
on Bateson’s thinking should not be underestimated; Blake’s work
was collected by Gregory Bateson’s father, William Bateson and,
according to Nachmanov itch (2007, p. 1124), the “…things for
which Blake stood – a sense of wholeness, a recognition of the vastness
of unconscious activity, and love”, were elements Bateson integrated
into the epistemology of science.
Many readers will be familiar with talk of the ‘art and science’
of practices such as medicine, nursing or therapy, where art
and science are seen as forming separate domains, parallel but
di erentiated and not necessarily proportionate with each other.
Here, I will outline an approach to therapy, in uenced by Bateson,
that eschews the idea of separate domains and, instead, integrates
the scienti c and aesthetic, the ‘circularist’ and humanist, through
using the concept of “ fourfold vision” described in Blake’s le er to
omas Bu , wri en in 1802 (Keynes, 1956).
Bateson as therapist
Many commentators were struck by the wisdom and
compassion evident in Bateson’s interactions with others, and
Lipset’s biography (1980) reveals this was also the case with his
work with patients.  e following transcript of a 1958 patient-
interview (Bateson, cited in Lipset, p. 220-221) illustrates the
disarmingly open way Bateson connected with the family of a
young man diagnosed with schizophrenia, here in a conversation
about why a family moved location so o en:
Bateson: I agree with much of what you say.
Mother: Moving is just for the birds.
Bateson: Having been an old …
Father: [laug hing]
Mother: And even birds stay in the same nest [la ughs].
Bateson: … been an old mover myself. I spend time in New Guinea,
in the Dutch East Indies, and God knows what else.
Mother: Well …
Bateson: But …
Mother: It’s all right if you’re built that way. I mean each person has
to do …
Father: No.
Bateson: I don’t know.
Mother: e reasons have to be voluntary. Mine are involuntary, I
know …
Bateson: I was  ankly running away  om all sorts of things.
It is apparent that Bateson felt comfortable in disclosing
personal information about himself and in admi ing his
vulnerability or weak ness. Perhaps Bateson was in tune with
writers who – nearly half a century later – advocate a degree of
transparency in their interactions, although it takes li le e ort
to imagine some modern readers will recoil from the idea of
admi ing to their clients that they were “running away  om all
sorts of things”.
Jay Haley, in a personal le er to Lipset, suggested Bateson
would “… stay up all night with alcoholics, to get them through … He
felt that being human with people was good for them” (Lipset, 1980,
p. 215).
William Fry, another of Bateson’s colleagues, suggested
Bateson was like an anthropologist w ith families; more of an
observer than clinician or therapist, and would, “... switch between
that role and a sort of  iendly mother’s brother ... raising tantalising
Steps towards fourfold vision: From the myth of power to a cybernetic unity of healing
11
Context October 2014
and signi cant issues ...  ey were very intuitive and hit the nail on the
head, and would do all sorts of terrible things ... creating insights and
stirring family pa erns up (Lipset, 1980, pp. 219-20).
From these observations of Bateson’s clinica l practice, two broad
themes become apparent: he showed compassion and int uition in
his interactions, and emphasised the importa nce of therapists and
doctors ‘ being human’ with their patients (Bateson, 1961); yet he was
also able to take on a more ‘scienti c observer’ position, and seemed
to be able to shi between these di  erent positions.
Bateson – disil lusioned with ps ychotherapy, part ly because
of Haley ’s i nability to u nderstand fu lly the epistemologica l issues,
part icularly with regard to power – le the Palo A lto group to stud y
dolphins.  e thorny i ssue of power was never fully resolved, and
still rema ins problematic for many readers of Bateson. However, his
position on power revea ls a vigorously et hical sta nce with rega rd to
being in relation w ith others; a position echoed by more recent aut hors
who, whi lst they may not over tly discuss ‘power’, advocate non-ex pert,
collaborative a nd non-direct ive methodologies t hat echo aspects of
Bateson’s approach. Like Guddemi (200 6), I see Bateson’s position on
power as placing us in a double bind; a bind that encourages creativit y
and o ers a route towards thi nking more w isely about how Bateson’s
legacy c an inform a nd shape therapeutic practice.
The problem of power: A double bind that leads to
creativity
Bateson o ered us an epistemology of unity and, through the
use of various metaphors and descriptions, he o ered glimpses of
a universe that is complex and interrelated beyond our perceptual
abilities and comprehension. A empts to create boundaries or to
selectively take only piecemeal bits and pieces of his epistemology
represent a gross misunderstanding of what he was a empting to
convey.
Bateson’s view that power is a myth insofar as relationships are
concerned is central to his epistemology, for his world was one of
‘ideas’ not ‘things’; a world where power simply cannot exist in the
realm of mental process. According to Bateson, power is simply
a myth based on a  ction of unilateral control, and Guddemi
(2006) notes that Bateson’s distaste for power as explanation was
aesthetic and moral as well as scienti c. To appreciate Bateson’s
position fully, it is worth quoting him at length on this ma er,
rstly from Steps to an Ecology of Mind (Bateson, 1972):
“ ey say that power corrupts; but this, I suspect, is non-sense.
What is true is that the idea of power corrupts. Power corrupts most
rapidly those who believe in it, and it is they who will want it most.
Obviously our democratic system tends to give power to those who
hunger for it and gives every opportunity to those who don’t want
power to avoid ge ing it. Not a very satisfactory arrangement if
power corrupts those who believe in it and want it…
…But the myth of power is, of course, a very powerful myth and
probably most people in this world more or less believe in it. It is a
myth which, if everybody believes in it, becomes to that extent self-
validating. But it is still epistemological lunacy and leads inevitably
to various sorts of disaster” (p. 462).
And secondly, from Angels Fear (Bateson & Bateson, 1987):
“Consider on the other hand the popular verbal cliché – the
power of mind over ma er.  is li le monster contains three
Steps towards fourfold vision: From the myth of power to a cybernetic unity of healing
‘Newton’ a 1995 bronze sculpture by Eduardo Paolozzi, after a painting of Issac Newton by William Blake, located on the British Library concourse on
August 4, 2013 in London, UK. Ron Ellis / Shutterstock.com.
12 Context October 2014
combined concepts, ‘power’, ‘mind’, and ‘ma er’. But power is a
notion derived  om the world of engineers and physicists. It is of the
same world as the notions of energy or ma er. It would therefore be
quite consistent and sensible to speak, say, of the power of a magnet
over a piece of iron. All three items – the magnet, the iron, and the
power – come out of the same universe of discourse.  e magnet and
the iron and the power can meet each other in the same statement.
But mind, since Descartes split the universe in two, does not belong
in that world. So in order to give physical power to mind, we must
give it materialistic existence” (p.60).
Haley, in a personal le er to Lipset, elaborated on Bateson’s
position with speci c reference to therapy:
[Ba tes on] didn’t like power. He didn’t even like the word ...
Anybody who said, ‘I’m going to change this person’. If they said, ‘I
will o er this person some ideas, and if they change , it’s up to them,’
then Gregory would have no trouble with them. But if you take
responsibility for changing people, then you would have a problem ...
Any in uence outside the person’s range is odious to him. Any indirect
manipulation is [also] out of the question” (Lipset, 1982, p. 226).
While Bateson did agree with Haley that power is a central
human concern, he wished we humans would stop believing in
power because the pursuit of power entails the epistemological
lunacy of erroneous thinking that always causes trouble, for
example the idea that ‘bigger (or more) is be er’.
Assertions about power by current sociological writers may
continue to re ect the self-validating nature of the myth of power,
and repeat the mistake of selectivity made by those who only took
piecemeal from Bateson. Guddemi (2008) notes that, despite
interpretations of many writers regarding his discourse about
power, the view of Michel Foucault is surprisingly close to that
held by Bateson:
“ e exercise of power is not simply a relationship between
partners, individual or collective; it is a way in which certain
actions modify others. Which is to say, of course, that something
called Power, with or without a capital le er, which is assumed to
exist universally in a concentrated or di used form, does not exist”
(Foucault, 1982, p. 426).
Since Bateson originally challenged the concept of power,
some authors have o ered ways out of the double bind he le
us with, and the following section will outline two a empts to
wriggle free; one considering power in wider contexts, the other
considering the problem of power as confusion between di erent
domains. I will argue for a third way out of the double bind; a path
that leads to a cybernetic approach to working with others that is
very much in keeping with Bateson’s epistemology.
Wider contexts
Traditional linear views of power tend to conceptualise one
part y having power over another, and  rst-order cybernetic views
tend to view both parties having some kind of complementary
relationship where the ‘powerless’ party in some way requires the
other party to have power over it and vice versa.  e di culty with
both views is that they de-contextualise the relationship, thus
ignoring, for example, historical and cultural aspects.
Harries-Jones (1995) suggests that, instead of thinking of
power in human relationships, we would be be er served by
re exive dialogue about the ‘metaphor of power’, and see ourselves
as simply parts of a larger situation.  is does indeed o er a
partial resolution to the problem; if we widen the context, then
the relationships may be seen as part of wider circuits. Simply
focusing on individual injustices risks ignoring the wider, cultural
injustices in which the actions are located so, by broadening the
focus, the ‘power’ of one person over another person may be seen
to take place within wider pa erns of human domination and
violence towards others, of patriarchal societies, of international
con ict, of elites and the arms trade and so on. However, simply
shi ing our focus to a wider context is not adequate; to have a
greater understanding of the relationship, we need to shi focus
between contexts, to move from detail to context and back again.
Diff erent domains
Dell (1989) a empted to explain the problem of power as
a confusion between two profoundly di erent and separate
domains, suggesting that Bateson talks of power and lineal control
in the domain of scienti c explanation, whereas, as therapists,
when we talk of “power,” we are speak ing in the humanist domains
of experience and description. W hilst this may appear on the
surface to be an a ractive resolution to the double bind, thinking
of ‘domains’ suggests separateness, which is antithetical to
Bateson’s epistemolog y of unity, so is not an adequate solution;
what is required is a means of thinking that respects Bateson’s
concept of unity and recognises the importance of shi ing focus
between contexts.
Steps towards unity
Consideration of power as an issue that relates to either context
or di erent domains is inadequate, although both positions have
value. A third way of conceptualising the problem of power would
be to consider it as being a problem of both contex t and domains.
Charlton (2008) proposes that Bateson considered psychology
to be evolving in two direct ions, ‘humanist’ and ‘circularist’ and
suggests Bateson saw the way forward as being a compromise; a
working together of both types of practice; between intuition, and
examination and description, each informing the other. Charlton
adds that other aspects that might be impor tant: “Humanist,
scientist, artist and theoretician are all needed to form the cybernetic
unity of healing” (p. 94).
Towards a fourfold vision
erapy truly in uenced by the spirit of Bateson would
involve mov ing between all four positions identi ed by Charlton
(humanist, scientist, artist and theoretician) and having the
wisdom to value them all. A conceptualisation of these positions
that also o ers a means of being able to shi focus from detail
to context and avoids separate ‘domains’ was o ered over two
hundred years ago by William Blake:
Now I a fourfold vision see,
And a fourfold vision is given to me;
Tis fourfold in my supreme delight,
And threefold in so Beulah’s night,
And twofold Always. May God us keep
From Single vision & Newton’s sleep
(William Blake, le er to  omas Bu , 22 November 1802).
Blake’s fourfold vision has been discussed by literary scholars,
including Northrop Fr ye (1947) and later by Rose (1962) who
recognised the unit y that is inherent in Blake’s concept of fourfold
vision: “ at is, four is really one all the time, but in order to describe
unlimited perception, a paradox is stated” (p. 173).
Steps towards fourfold vision: From the myth of power to a cybernetic unity of healing
13
Context October 2014
e following is a necessarily simpli ed over view of the four
types of vision Blake o ers us:
Single vision: Blake refers to th is as “Newton’s sleep” and it is
characterised by atomistic, reductionist thinking. It is to focus
on linear cause and e ect, on rational knowledge and on what is
material and physical.
Two fo ld v isio n: is vision is concerned w ith appreciati ng our
connection with nature and the environment. Here, Blake includes
the obser ver within the obser ved, which connects w ith what is o en
called ‘second-order cybernetics’.
reefold vision: “Beulah’s night, is our awareness of unconscious
processes, memory and intuition. Blake incorporates the
imagination and creativit y of the observer within threefold vision.
Fourf old vision: e delight of ex periencing si ngle, twofold and
threefold vision, wit h constant twofold visioning i n daily li fe.  is
might be thought of as an aest hetic, systemic way of t hinking, with
the facility to sh i between li near thin king, relationa l think ing and
intuition.
A version of fourfold vision for therapists
I have linked Blake’s four types of vision to Charlton’s four
positions of humanist, scientist, artist and theoretician and relate
these to t herapeutic pract ice. Whi lst reading these, it is important to
appreciate that, a lthough they are presented as separate entities , we
should bea r in mind these a re descriptions of iterative processes, not of
separate domains.
Single vision – therapist as scientist
Single vision is concerned with observational skills and the
ability to focus on detail.  is incorporates being able to make linear
descriptions of the client(s) and what is presented, including:
• What is the issue?
• Who is involved?
• When does it happen?
• Where does it happen?
As part of the focus and a ention to detail, I would also give due
considerat ion to the possibilities of alternative explanat ions for the
presenti ng issues; for ex ample, underlyi ng physical il lness or disabilit y.
Twofold vision – therapist as theorist
Twofold vision moves the focus from speci c details to more
relational aspects of interest and wou ld incorporate consciously-
scienti  c observation of pa erns within the family system. Internal
systemic relationships, including  rst-order-c ybernetic pa erns
such as circular causality, would be an obvious consideration,
although I would a lso include within this focus, thinking about
second-order pa erns that would include the new unit of client(s)
plus therapist(s).
Threefold vision – therapist as humanist
is focus of a ention is around the human aspects of t herapy,
where the therapist might make connection with their personal
experiences a nd be mindful of any intuitions they m ight have
in relation to the therapy or the clients. Within this focus, other
important aspects of the self of the therapist will be acknowledged
and considered, including embodied aspects of practice and
empathy. How these will be used in terms of re exiv ity and
disclosure and transparency will depend on the preferences and
constraints of the therapist and agency.
Fourfold vision – therapist as artist
Similar to Blake’s sentiment, fourfold vision could be thought
of as the aesthetic delight of working with and between single,
twofold and threefold visioning. Fourfold vision is akin to the
phenomenological notion of the hermeneutic circle, although the
scope of a ention is variable – moving between detail and wider
contexts.  e a ention of the therapists moves re exively between
levels of detail, relationship and broader context.  e process is
not static; focusing re exively on particular details, widening the
context, and then focusing again, perhaps on di  erent details.
Nora Bateson (2012) uses the helpful analogy of a telephoto lens
in this context, and calls the process of shi ing between detail
and wider context ‘zooming in’ and ‘zooming out’. Focusing in
on a detail and then ‘zooming out’ to a wider context permits the
viewer to re ect upon where next to ‘zoom in’.
It is within this evolving, ever-shi ing fourfold vision that
‘sparkling moments’ or the emergence of deep connection and
empathy can occur, along with an appreciation of the wider
connections that hints at a greater unity; that which Bateson
considered to be the sacred.
The problem of ‘power’ from the perspective of
fourfold vision
e dynamic nature of fourfold vision allows exploration
of power from a more critically, re exive position. Single vision
allows us to look re exively at the protagonists: who is the
perpetrator and who is the victim? W hat is happening, and how
is it happening? Twofold vision would encourage us to look at
the relationships between the parties and to consider our own
relationship to them.  reefold vision allows for empathy with all
the actors – what are our intuitions and embodied responses to the
situation?  is position does not mean being neutral or condoning
violence by being able to appreciate both sides, but equally it
does not encourage polarisation of issues, either. Fourfold vision
encourages us to shi to broader contexts and perspectives. If we
explore the violence of a male to a female partner, we can begin to
look at how violence is used at all levels of society in a empts to
exert control; from individuals using their  sts through to nations
using bombs and un-manned drones. We can explore international
dependence upon the arms trade, appreciate that weapons used
to kill and maim women and children may be manufactured in
your locality, perhaps making your neighbourhood more a uent.
We can wonder if bombing a population makes them more or
less inclined to conform, and how useful v iolence is in changing
people’s minds or having any long-term in uence in controlling
others. Moving back to single and twofold vision, we can look at
and locate local episodes of violence and a empts to control as
Steps towards fourfold vision: From the myth of power to a cybernetic unity of healing
14 Context October 2014
being part of a wider problem.  e myth of power is self-validating
at all levels of society, from individuals through to nation states
and, whilst we might condemn the individual perpetrator of
violence, we must also condemn the patriarchal structures, many
of which are born from violence, where individual acts take place;
the very structures that we are part of.  us, it can be seen that
Bateson’s denial of power was simply an aspect of his rejection of
a non-relational, one-dimensional epistemology. Power is not the
problem; rather it is how we think about our relationships with
each other (and the environment) that is the problem and our
challenge.
Fourfold vision: Nested, not separate domains
What has been presented here is analogous to the hermeneutic
circle familiar to those who use phenomenological approaches.
However, in fourfold vision, the therapist (or observer)
continuously moves between detail and wider, relational contexts,
whilst simultaneously re ecting on the process, allowing personal
intuitions and embodied sensations to create shi s in a ention, so
di erent details and contexts continuously move in and out of the
frame.
Whilst it may be convenient to think of fourfold vision as
a means of describing what might be happening in therapeutic
practice, I have also been exploring how to use it to guide my own
practice and as a concept to help clients in their thinking too. A n
obvious example is where a client who focuses on minutiae and
details to the detriment of seeing the bigger picture (or vice versa)
is invited, with support, to shi the focus in re ecting upon the
process, including noticing and exploring di erences in feelings as
the focus moves around.
e following section is an a empt to illustrate the process
used when working with an extremely traumatised client
experiencing multiple di culties in her life. I gained permission
from the client to share this information, and con dentiality
is maintained through the use of a pseudonym (chosen by the
client).
Working with fourfold vision: The descent into Hell
A.K. is 32, and has been ‘clean’ for  ve years. Previously, she
worked as a prostitute and was addicted to alcohol and other
drugs, including cocaine. In the four years preceding this, she
had been kept as a sex slave, locked in a room and routinely
tortured and degraded by her male partner, who regularly
‘pimped’ her out to groups of men.  e torture and degradation
included severe beatings, partial drowning, being made to eat
faeces and being forced to watch video footage of herself being
raped, whilst simultaneously being sexually assaulted. Whilst
A.K. has wri en a blog about her experiences and campaigns
against pornography, she came for therapy with the belief
that she now needed to talk with another person about her
experiences. She felt fragmented and identi ed di erent ‘parts’
of self, some of which despised other parts, and found many
activities of life, for example eating, bathing, or hearing men
laughing, could o en precipitate overwhelming memories and,
when this happened, she would  nd herself frozen and unable
to speak or move. A.K. found it hard to remember much of her
earlier life; the more recent terrible events had more or less
obliterated memories from her childhood. She recalled that
her life began to spiral out of control when she was eighteen;
her mother became seriously ill and, when she was admi ed
to hospital, her father and elder brother informed A.K. of
her mother’s illness in a local café, and then admonished her
for showing distress in public. Her mother eventually died,
following a di cult illness lasting a few years, and it was
during this period she began drinking, although, despite this,
she managed to go to university and obtain a degree. It was at
this time her life became increasingly chaotic and she met the
boyfriend who later became so abusive.
A.K. identi ed many cruel and terrifying incidents that she
wanted to surface and speak about, yet all of these incidents
blurred together. She was not sure of the timescales, as many of
the ordeals were similar in nature and she would o en black out
or dissociate from her body during these episodes. We needed to
nd a way for her to begin to talk about these events, and for the
talking to have some meaning. She found it easier for me to not
look at her during times she spoke of her memories and, together,
we devised a process where I would look away from her and ask
questions that might prompt particular memories and then,
still not looking at her, respond to what I heard.  e questions
would o en be drawn from current di culties that A.K. was
experiencing in her life. One example of this was around her
discomfort with Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, where
she found si ing in a circle with other people was becoming
increasingly distressing. I became curious about the signi cance
of si ing in a circle and asked what might circles of people mean
in the story of her life? She described a particular memory in
relation to this and recounted how she was upstairs in her room
and heard the laughter of men downstairs as they watched a
pornographic video. She knew it would soon be time for her to
go downstairs to be subjected to whatever degradations they
might subject her to, usually based on the contents of the video
they were watching. She vomited with fear, and had to clean
herself up and re-apply her make-up.  en she descended the
stairs and, in the front room was a circle of men, all of whom
stared at her. She then described what they did to her. In the
middle of a circle of men both watching and participating, she
was repeatedly raped, with some temporary relief when she was
able to dissociate or brie y passed out. I then retold her story
and described my experience of listening to her account, about
how distressing it was to hear, and articulated connections I
made. Some of this was with links to my own experiences or with
theory, for example, Foucault’s notions of ‘gaze’ (1975), and of
Dante’s Inferno, with the descriptions of descent through the
nine circles of hell. A.K. described how helpful it was to hear my
retelling of her story; how it felt as though she was no longer on
her own in that particular memory.  is became an on-going
process, with much work being done by both of us to encourage
the surfacing and telling of stories, sometimes hampered by the
nature of her disassociation, but A.K. was able to express that she
felt we made signi cant progress.
Working with fourfold vision: Making (some) sense
of it all
Working with A.K., as with most clients, the aspect of
single vision is pretty much self-evident; the initial focus
is upon her story, and the meanings she has made. In her
situation, single vision would also take into consideration
explanations such as post-traumatic stress disorder that
Steps towards fourfold vision: From the myth of power to a cybernetic unity of healing
15
Context October 2014
might account for her difficulties; for example, how ordinary,
everyday physical sensations can precipitate overwhelming
emotional responses. At the same time, it was important to be
consciously aware of the particular details that attention was
being given to, with some ref lexivity regarding the rationale for
these choices and decisions.
Twofold vision, in the case of working with A.K.,
incorporated interest in her relationships with others,
including family members and the abusive boyfriend.
However, a significant element of the focus of twofold
vision is the therapeutic relationship between A.K. and I; how
is it emerging, and how do we manage and discuss issues like
gender, age or spirituality? Regarding the relationship, it may
be helpful at this point to share A.K.’s own words:
“I needed someone who knew me, to whom I wasn’t
anonymous, to see at first hand the different heads, the
frozenness, to spend time with me and get to know me so that
they could understand me and what it’s like to be me, and help
me to move forward. The last six months have seen that change.
You listen rather than telling me how it is, you check out if you
are getting things right and I find myself able to trust you”
(2012).
A.K. noted I was compassionate but more constructive, I
listened and had a better understanding of her than anyone she
had seen before.
The significance of threefold vision emerged in the process
of therapy. Whilst listening to A.K. giving an account of a
particular experience, I found that, while I was not looking
directly at her, I would be much more aware of my inner
experiences as I reflected upon what I was hearing. Rather like
listening to a (horrifying) radio drama, I constructed images
of what I imagined to be happening; trying to feel what it would
be like to be so vulnerable, exposed and naked, punched,
spat at and penetrated so violently by groups of faceless,
laughing men. The process of listening and responding
was slow, difficult and very moving. This process has led to
significant shifts in my position regarding pornography, the
objectification of women and feminism, which link very much
with the concept of fourfold vision. As well as being beneficial
for the client, the process has changed me, too. I can shift from
compassion and empathy to dismay about living in a society
that implicitly privileges the objectification of women that
creates the context for the sort of abuse A.K. experienced.
Conclusion: Fourfold vision is only a map
Hopefully, this concept encourages a move towards thinking
in terms of the re exive shi ing of focus within a greater unity
rather than thinking in terms of separate domains; to separate
things into domains, categories or groups may be convenient,
but it is not systemic, and is certainly antithetical to Bateson’s
thinking.
e concept of fourfold vision o ered here is simply an
a empt to articulate and share a way of thinking about our
work with clients and families that is respectful of Bateson’s
cybernetic epistemology, and includes a ention to detail,
‘facts’, relationship and intuition.  e concept is still a ‘work in
progress’, and should be viewed as such; it is merely a map, and
incomplete at that.
Acknowledgments to ‘A. K.’ and Nora Bateson.
References
‘A.K.’(2012) Personal communication.
Bateson, G. (1961) Perceval’s Narrative: A Patient ’s Account of His Psychosis,
1830 -1832. New York: William Morrow & Company.
Bateson, G. (1972) Steps to an Ecology of Mi nd. Chicago: The University of
Chicago Press.
Bateson, G. (1991) Sacred Unity: Further Steps to a n Ecology of Mind. New York:
Cornelia & Michael Bessie Book s.
Bateson, G. & Bateson, M.C. (1987) Angels Fear: Towards an Epistemol ogy of
the Sacred. New York: Macmillan.
Bateson, N. (2012) Personal communication.
Charlton, N. (2008) Understanding G regory Bateson: Mind, Bea uty and the
Sacred Earth. New York: SUNY Press.
Dell, P. (1989) Violence and the systemic view: The problem of power.
Family Process, 28: 1-14.
Foucault, M. (1975) Discipline and Punish: T he Birth of the Prison. New York:
Random House.
Foucault, M. (1982) The subject and power, Afterword to H.L. Dreyfus & P.
Rabinow, Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics. Chicago:
University of Chicago Press.
Frye, N. (1947) Fearful Symmetry: A Study o f William Blake. Princeton:
Princeton University Press.
Guddemi, P. (2006) Breaking the concept of power (and redescribing its
domain): Batesonian and autopoietic perspectives. Cybernetics And Human
Knowing, 13: 3-4, 58-73
Guddemi, P. (2008) “You are adapting more to me than I am adapting to
you” (but what does more mean?): Cybernetic and Foucaultian explorations
of the domain of power. Proceedings of the 52nd Annual Meeting o f the ISSS.
University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin. Accessed 20/09/2014 http://
journals.isss.org/index.php/proceedings52nd/article/view/939
Harries-Jones, P. (1995) A Recursive Vision: Ecological Unders tanding and
Gregory Bateson. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Keynes, G. (ed.) (1956) The Letters of Willia m Blake. London: Nonesuch Press.
Lipset, D. (1980) Gregory B ateson: The Legacy of a Scientist. Boston: Beacon
Press.
Nachmanovitch, S. (2007) Bateson and the ar ts. Kybernetes, 36: 1122-1133.
Rose, E.J. (1964) “Mental Forms Creating”: “Fourfold Vision” and the poet
as prophet in Blake’s designs and verse. The Journal of Ae sthetics and Art
Criticism, 23: 173-183.
Hugh Palmer was a lecturer in higher education for nearly 20
years, having worked in two Universities in the UK and also in New
Zealand. He currently works as a senior systemic psychotherapist
in the NHS, working with children, young people and their families
and also teaches for the Relate Institute. Hugh maintains a small
private practice near York providing psychotherapy, supervision and
training.
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