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Bradford Keeney, Ph.D. (3 April 1951) is an American psychotherapist, ethnographer, and cybernetician. Author of more than thirty books in the fields of psychotherapy, cybernetics, and ethnographies of healing traditions, many of his works are considered classics in their fields.
Bradford Keeney, born in Granite City, Illinois, grew up in Smithville, Missouri. In May 1969, he won first place at the international science fair with a project called “An Experimental Study of the Effects of Hydrocortisone, Insulin, and Epinephrine on the Glycogen Content of Hepatic Tissues Perfused in Vitro.” This award earned him a scholarship to M.I.T. where he was first introduced to cybernetics and systems thinking. Fascinated by cybernetics, Keeney sought out Gregory Bateson, one of the world’s leading cyberneticians, who became his friend and mentor. Keeney’s doctoral dissertation (Purdue University, 1981) became the book Aesthetics of Change (1983), considered a seminal work in cybernetic theory and heralded by the likes of cybernetician and systems theorist Heinz von Foerster.
Since 1995, Bradford Keeney has traveled the globe conducting ethnographic studies of ecstatic healing traditions, focusing on what he terms “shaking medicine”. Keeney’s work culminated in the creation of the Profiles of Healing series for the Ringing Rocks Foundation, describing ecstatic healing practices on four continents. Keeney’s experiences were chronicled in the biography American Shaman. Currently, Keeney synthesizes what he learned from traditional and ecstatic healers with creative psychotherapy to add recursivity and performance to psychotherapeutic encounters.
Dr. Keeney serves as project director for the Kalahari Bushman (San) N/om-Kxaosi Ethnographic Project. This project is a collaboration between the Institute of Religion and Health at the Texas Medical Center, Houston, Texas, the Kalahari People’s Fund, and the Rock Art Research Institute of the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. Since roughly 1995, data has been collected in Botswana and Namibia, focusing on the religion and healing practices of the Ju/’hoan Bushmen. Dr. Keeney presently collaborates with Megan Biesele, Ph.D., an original member of the Harvard Kalahari Research Project and the Director of the Kalahari Peoples Fund to both document the healing traditions of the Kalahari Bushmen or San people and apply what is learned to Western psychotherapeutic interactions.
He is the father of notable Los Angeles based DJ, DJ Skee.
Work in Cybernetics and Psychotherapy
Keeney is known for several important contributions to the field of psychology, through his application of cybernetics to the discipline. While serving with such institutions as the Menninger Foundation, the Philadelphia Child Guidance Clinic at the University of Pennsylvania, the Ackerman Institute for Family Therapy, and several universities throughout the United States, Dr. Keeney developed the following groundbreaking ideas.
Keeney is cited as one of the major sources on cybernetics in the Encyclopedia of Artificial Intelligence. In his early work, Keeney articulated patterns of communication for distinguished psychotherapists, later using his own psychotherapeutic cases to show how one can use psychotherapy as an art to create successful therapeutic transformation in clients. Some of his major works include Aesthetics of Change (1983), Mind in Therapy (1985), Bushman Shaman (2005), Shaking Medicine (2007), The Creative Therapist (2009), and the Profiles of Healing series on ecstatic healing traditions sponsored by the Ringing Rocks Foundation (1999 – 2008). In 2009, he founded the Institute for Creative Transformation.
Recursive Frame Analysis
- Main article: Recursive frame analysis
Keeney developed Recursive Frame Analysis (RFA) as a qualitative research method for discerning patterns in therapeutic conversation. It is a method he describes as “scoring” conversations, much as one would a song. Through RFA “…Keeney derived a series of distinctions which would allow therapists and researchers to describe interactional patterns in therapeutic discourse and to guide their practice in therapy.” RFA has been used in numerous dissertations and research studies. It is currently being used to demonstrate the different ways one can analyze conversation in a wide variety of conversational settings, including couples and family interaction, counseling, political diplomacy, and doctor-patient discourse.
Resource Focused Therapy
With his colleague Wendel Ray, Keeney created “Resource Focused Therapy.” Resource Focused Therapy is an approach to psychotherapy that pays little or no attention to problems or difficulties that have become pathologized. This form of therapeutic intervention focuses entirely on “bringing forth the natural resources of both clients and therapists”. This focus on resources is a recontextualization of information presented that therapeutically and creatively changes the way the client interacts with the world. It is a performative communication that occurs in acts, and looks to observers much more like an improvised play than classical therapy. The goal of this interaction is to transform the client’s situation from one that is impoverished to one that amplifies resources and ability.
Creativity in Therapy
Building on the concepts from his Resource Focused Therapy model, Keeney has developed a concept of creativity in therapy that moves beyond the norms of psychotherapy to view the therapist/client interaction as a transformative, performative, improvisational art. This work is based on clinical case studies that have been filmed and archived over the last decade. The theoretical model uses theories of improvisation in the performing arts and systemic ideas to provide a way of understanding how clinical sessions can become more creative and effective.
- Complex systems
- Constructivist epistemology
- Family therapy
- Second-order cybernetics
- Systems thinking
- Systems psychology
Keeney published numerous books and papers. A selection of academic books
- 1983. Aesthetics of Change. New York: The Guilford Press.
- 1983. Diagnosis and Assessment in Family Therapy (Editor). Rockville,Maryland: Aspen Systems.
- 1985. Mind in Therapy: Constructing Systemic Family Therapies. With J. Ross. New York: Basic Books.
- 1986. The Therapeutic Voice of Olga Silverstein. With O. Silverstein. New York: The Guilford Press.
- 1987. Constructing Therapeutic Realities. Dortmund, Germany: Verlag fur Modernes Lernen.
- 1988. Kultur und Spiel, With Gregory Bateson. Suhrkamp, Ffm.
- 1990. The Systemic Therapist, Volume I (Editor), St. Paul: Systemic Therapy Press.
- 1990. The Systemic Therapist, Volume II (Editor), St. Paul: Systemic Therapy Press.
- 1991. Improvisational Therapy: A Practical Guide for Creative Clinical Strategies, New York: The Guilford Press.
- 1993. Resource Focused Therapy. With W. Ray. Karnac Books.
- 2006. Milton H. Erickson, M.D.: An American Healer. With B.A. Erickson. Philadelphia: Ringing Rocks Press.
- 2009. The Creative Therapist: The Art of Awakening a Clinical Session. New York: Routledge.
Popular Press Books:
- 1995. Shaking Out the Spirits, New York: Station Hill Press.
- 1995. The Lunatic Guide to the David Letterman Show (Experiments with Absurd Social Interventions), New York: Station Hill Press.
- 1996. Crazy Wisdom Tales, New York: Barrytown Press.
- 1996. Everyday Soul, New York: Riverhead/Putnam.
- 1998. The Energy Break (The Practice of Autokinetics), New York: Golden Books, 1998.
- 2005. Bushman Shaman: Awakening the Spirit through Ecstatic Dance, Rochester, Vermont: Destiny Books.
- 2006. Shamanic Christianity: The Direct Experience of Mystical Communion, Rochester, Vermont: Destiny Books.
- 2007. Shaking Medicine, Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions.
- Keeney, B. (2005). Bushman shaman: Awakening the spirit through ecstatic dance. Rochester, VT: Destiny Books.
- Keeney, B. (1983). Aesthetics of change. New York: The Guildford Press.
- Von Foerster, H. (1983). Foreword to Aesthetics of change. New York: The Guildford Press.
- Keeney, B. (2007). Shaking medicine: The healing power of ecstatic movement. Rochester, VT: Destiny Books.
- Conner, N. & Keeney, B. (Eds). (2008) Shamans of the World. Boulder: Sounds True.
- Kottler, J.A. & Carlson, J. (2004). American shaman: An odyssey of global healing traditions. NY: Brunner-Routledge.
- Keeney, B. (1991). Improvisational therapy: A practical guide for creative clinical strategies. New York: The Guilford Press.
- Chenail, R.J. (Winter/Spring 1990/1991). Bradford Keeney's Cybernetic Project and the Creation of Recursive Frame Analysis. The Qualitative Report, 1(2&3). Retrieved October 18, 2008 from http://www.nova.edu/ssss/QR/QR1-23/keeney.html.
- Ray, W.A. & Keeney, B. (1993). Resource focused therapy. London: Karnac Books.
- Ray, W.A. & Keeney, B. (1993). Resource focused therapy. London: Karnac Books. (p. 1)
- Keeney. B. (2009). The creative therapist: The art of awakening a clinical session. NY: Routledge.
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