Denis Postle on the Psychological Commons

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= Text specially prepared for the International Commons Conference - 2010. A Psychological Commons, By Denis Postle. Independent Practitioners Network, UK, October 2010

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This text outlines three topics:

  • The Psychological Commons – a conceptual proposal at an early state of enquiry and development;
  • The Independent Practitioners Network, or IPN – surviving and contradicting enclosure – lived community experience, governance and ethos;
  • The Mind Gymnasium FREE ebook Library – a contribution to the psychological commons which demonstrates the kinds of available resource

Is There a Psychological Commons?

Is there a domain of human life that merits the name Psychological Commons? A ‘Psychological Commons’ can be broadly defined as any form of knowledge about the human condition - from what it takes to be ‘streetwise’, through ‘how to love and be loved’, to strategies for talking people out of suicide and innumerable other accumulated learnings.

While the Psychological Commons includes myriad artifacts such as books, texts guidelines, criteria, competencies, standards and knowhow, this should not distract us from the essential component of it, relationship – from the primary version of face to face encounter with others whether individually or in groups or crowds - to mediated relationship through writing, telephone, the Internet etc.

A major distortion of the Psychological Commons is the extent to which it is believed that the only knowledge of value about the human condition is professionalised expertise. The intention of this proposal for a Psychological Commons is to open out the context in which this distortion sits so as to display a landscape and ecology of psychological knowledge and practice that is rich and freely available in many areas, and how it is enclosed and made excluding in others. Hovering over this commons landscape is the state doing what states do, grasping what seems to be out of its control, and corporate capital looking to commodify anything from which it might profit. Apart from its intrinsic value, a Psychological Commons may have the capacity to moderate or push back some of these developments.

Three enquiry tasks:

a. Producing the psychological commons as a concept.

The commons as a way of describing what belongs to all of us is increasingly well defined and described (Bollier 2010). A preliminary perspective for a Psychological Commons shows it as a landscape populated with the vernacular psychological knowhow of ethnic, employment, business, family and school peer groups; pharmaceutical science; tightly congested groupings of rivalrous professional enclosures - psychiatry, psychology, psychotherapy, psychoanalysis, counselling; pastoral care, coaching; mentoring, heritage religion; self help groups such as twelve step programmes and survivor groups; co-counselling, infant massage, spiritual counselling; media, print, broadcasting and the internet.

b. Growing the Psychological Commons

The psychological commons sometimes seems scarcely visible under the shadow of pharmaceutical, medical and scientific models of human functioning. In the UK, these factors coupled with the professional enclosures of psychology, psychotherapy, counselling and psychoanalysis in gated communities appear to promote scarcity – for example, through generating exclusivity via excessive academic and training requirements - the National Health Service sector restricts public choice by promoting narrow strands of psychological knowhow that have an openly declared agenda of getting people off state benefits and back into the workforce.

Growing a psychological commons entails honouring the strengths of these enclosures, and along with combating their limitations and voracity, of generating and making available at a vernacular level what is relevant and valuable for navigation through the human condition.

c. Making the Psychological Commons available

Vernacular psychological knowhow is abundant, articulated through celebrity and women’s magazines, TV and daily conversation. The fruits of professional psychological enquiry are also abundant, with hundreds of thousands of books, articles and conferences but are subject to artificial scarcity through mostly being available via professional channels. A Psychological Commons would facilitate open dissemination of ways and means for human condition survival, recovery and flourishing.

d. Protecting the Psychological Commons from enclosure

This should perhaps read ‘from further enclosure’ since the history of psychological culture has for the most part been one of enclosure and rivalrous enmity. There are probably two agendas here for a psychological commons: one to resist any further form of state endorsement that would make professional psychological knowhow official; and two to find more ways of enhancing voluntary non-commodified forms of psycho-practice, so that they become full partners in the Psychological Commons rather than poor relations as at present.

e. Why the psychological commons matters

In the background of most psychological knowhow reside or lurk hidden values, ideologies and worldviews, especially notions of what counts as normal, what is human and natural, i.e. definitions of human nature. Part of the agenda of a psychological commons is to bring and keep such perspectives into the open. In the face of incursions of the corporate and state interests, a psychological commons may also provide a way of articulating the public interest.

The Independent Practitioners Network [IPN]

IPN is a network of groups of psychological practitioners. IPN formed 15 years ago in response to enclosures of the psychological commons by developing cooperative non-hierarchical ways of holding civic accountability for clients.

Access to IPN is open, anyone can become a ‘participant’, an entry level intended to facilitate access to the IPN culture. There are currently close to 200 participants.

IPN is a network of groups, there is no individual membership. Becoming a participant is the first stage towards forming or joining an IPN group which has between four and eight or nine participants. The task of the group is to devise ways, based on full disclosure, of being able to stand by each others’ work as practitioners.

When a group has formed and each participant is able to stand by the work of the others in the group, the group devises and publishes to the Network a statement of their ethical commitments.

A further phase of IPN participation involves connecting with two other groups in the Network who are tasked with validating the group’s (continuing) process of ‘standing by’.

Network policy is discussed and agreed through consensus at thrice-yearly gatherings. Apart from a treasurer, IPN has no central administration or management.

The overall intentions of the IPN process of civic accountability is to minimize, through support for all aspects of the practitioner’s work and via ongoing scrutiny, the likelihood that practitioners will in any way abuse clients.

See for further details

The Mind Gymnasium FREE ebook Library

A huge proportion of books that contribute to the Psychological Commons are ‘about’ psychology, critical texts or textbooks for students or marketing a particular approach.

In contradiction of this, in these free ebooks I make a gift of some of what I learned in my 24 years as a humanistic psychology practitioner. During this time hundreds of people have trusted me to accompany them on sections of their life journeys. We all learned a lot on these travels and these ebooks contain some of the working methods, knowhow and recipes for action that seem consistently valuable for the people I work with, and for me personally.

The Mind Gymnasium FREE ebook Library is an Internet resource containing 29 sections from the 1200 pages of the CD-ROM edition of Letting the heart Sing - The Mind Gymnasium - a personal and professional development resource, translated in its paper editions into seven languages.

Topics covered include: Re-stimulation, Emotional Competence, Power – hidden presence, Projection, the Psycho-social field, Becoming a person, and Bringing About Change.

For access see


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