What Is Social Therapeutics?

By Ofer Zur, Ph.D.


The principles and practice of social therapy originated in the 1970s through the work of philosopher and psychotherapist, Fred Newman.. Conceived primarily as a critique of mainstream pathologically focused and individuated psychotherapy, social therapeutics has evolved to become one of the most innovative and practical of the postmodern approaches.

Primarily a group approach, in which clients learn to create their group-therapeutic environment, social therapy has been practiced in the US and across the globe in diverse therapy settings including clinics, hospitals, schools, community centers and youth programs. Like narrative, social constructionist, collaborative and other postmodern therapies, social therapeutics challenges many of psychology’s presuppositions about therapy, the therapeutic relationship, illness, cure and treatment.


Social Therapeutics 101

  • Social therapy a positive, relational psychotherapy with special focus on emotional development and group creativity.
  • This approach is practiced in clinical settings, schools, hospitals and social service organizations in dozens of countries.
  • It draws upon socio-cultural and activity theoretic views on learning and development.
  • The writings of Lev Vygotsky and Ludwig Wittgenstein have helped shape the social therapeutics understanding of people’s capacity to change.
  • It works with an appreciation that people are socially connected and always creating things together.
  • The practice is premised on the fact that people have access to creative, emotional and social resources.
  • It is grounded in a psychology of “what is becoming” rather than a psychology of “what is.”


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