Contextual therapy and relational ethics: A dynamic ethical perspective

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Marriage and Family Therapy


Linda Stone Fish


Contextual, Relational ethics, Caring

Subject Categories

Marriage and Family Therapy and Counseling | Social Work


This dissertation is a study of the theoretical underpinnings of contextual therapy as developed by Ivan Boszormenyi-Nagy and associates. Contextual therapy is a comyrehensive individual and relational therapeutic approach which includes attention to the following four distinct, but interlocking dimensions of relational reality: (1) objectifiable facts; (2) individual psychology; (3) systems of transactional patterns; and, (4) relational ethics. In this dissertation, as in the practice of contextual therapy, priority is given to consideration of the fourth dimension, relational ethics. The main purpose of this dissertation is to find language to deepen the articulation of the unique contributions of the relational ethics component of contextual therapy and thus of contextual therapy to the field of marriage and family therapy. For this purpose, an exploration of Nel Noddings' ethic of caring and, subsequently, a consideration of the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas were undertaken. Broadly speaking, a phenomenological approach was adopted for this study. More specifically, Steven Kepnes's four stage model of a Buberian hermeneutic method was adopted as a general interpretive method. During this study a primary challenge became how to find language for relational ethics as a "dimension" which transcends the other dimensions of living--in particular, how to find language for transcending the realm of psychology. The primary intent of this dissertation is to contribute to the practice of therapy. Accordingly, findings were discussed in terms of their implications for therapy.


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