Therapists are trained to support clients in leaning into the discomfort of the unknown, but what happens when therapists co-create a DAO and lean into this ubiquitous concept together?
You would think a person with 20 years of professional copywriting experience would be able to churn out a brief blog post quickly and with relative ease.
This one took me three months.
I can blame it on life – there’s been plenty of it since I first virtually raised my hand to write this post, but the truth is the concepts I want to write about -Not Knowing and sitting with uncertainty- are ideas that are so dense and ephemeral, murky and transparently ubiquitous, that I simply don’t know where to start. So I ask that you please engage in the spirit of Not Knowing and simply think of this as an introductory reflection, not a fully encompassing piece.
What Does Not Knowing Mean?
From a philosophical viewpoint, Not Knowing can mean letting go of the assumptions and fixed views that limit and challenge what we perceive as our clear understanding of how things are. Similarly, we can think of Not Knowing in relation to others, as being able to hold all possibilities in mind. Instead of limiting ourselves to one ‘right’ way of being, we gently open ourselves to the Truth of others that we may have previously been unaware of.
In terms of how we think about organizations, not knowing contrasts with known ways of structuring. This most often refers to hierarchy in how people interact with each other and work.
The term ‘Not Knowing’ can feel obscure. And while it might seem unlikely for a group of therapists to band together around such vagueness to create something innovative, that is exactly what is happening.
Therapists Uniting in a DAO Around Not Knowing
TherapistsDAO, the decentralized, clinician-led organization I’m now a part of, is striving to demonstrate the value of Not Knowing. We are working to co-create a virtual clinic that will increase access to care for those in need of mental health services while also providing a welcoming community that therapists can belong to and receive support in. We operate in the real world, that is to say, surrounded by a culture that writhes with rules, rights and wrongs, how-tos, and hierarchies. But as we build together, we aim to do differently despite lacking clear, concrete answers.
In this process, we are leaning into the idea of Not Knowing. Not Knowing does not sound like anything resembling safe territory, especially in organizations entirely dependent on human communication.
Most of us in TherapistsDAO are just that – therapists. We come from a variety of backgrounds, training, and credentials. Still, we all do at least one thing in common: we generate our time and energy toward learning about and applying theories of mental health and wellness. So for most of us, the concept of Not Knowing is not new, especially when we are guiding others to the gift that is leaning into the discomfort of uncertainty. But let’s face it – it’s one thing to feel relatively safe while sitting in a Not Knowing stance across from clients. It’s a different thing to go beyond sitting in that therapist-ly stance and rather bring it to bear in the new formation of a group of people.
Actually, “bring it to bear” does not reflect what is (in my mind) called for in a Decentralized Autonomous Organization. Cooking metaphors come up for me here: “bring it to bear '' sounds like folding the whipped egg whites into the batter, whereas what is called for in forming TherapistsDAO is probably more like sifting.
Typically what Westernized humans tend to aim for – again, because of all the things we have to be afraid of – is emulsification. With sifting, the goal is even distribution of individual ingredients while retaining their integrity and being influenced by others. Emulsifying seeks to combine in such a way that only “improperly made” gatherings will “break” and separate back into distinct components.
Therapists Transforming thru Dialogue and Community
But my profession is not cooking, so bringing it back now to the territory of human communication – I think what I am witnessing in TherapistsDAO might be likened to Dynamic Sustainability, as described by Harlene Anderson and Diane Gehart (2023):
“Dynamic sustainability is a term I offer to refer to the difficult-to-understand transformational process of dialogue… Dialogue as an emergent process has the capacity to maintain itself once we have paused our engagement. By maintain I do not mean duplicate: dialogue takes on a unique and fluid life of its own through people and circumstances. It’s like dialogue is a force that stimulates change, transformation, and progress.”
The individual members who are forming TherapistsDAO come with varied interests and intentions. One of the shared intentions is transformation and unlearning of long-held ways of organizational being. And while we have many ideas, those ideas are in constant motion through dialogue, requiring an almost constant state of Not Knowing. We are enthusiastically trying to form ways of being with each other that are generally not modeled so far. Anderson speaks about confusing Not Knowing with strategizing. Rather, she refers to it as a philosophical stance that informs our way of being with others. “It primarily has to do with how one thinks about knowledge and the construction and the creation of knowledge.” The concept also applies to how one intends to offer their knowledge, with a focus on offering possibilities with intentional tone, attitude, and timing. Naturally, assumptions, about what we “know” about others, can be the end of dialogue. The same can be said of our assumptions about systems and organizations.
TherapistsDAO is not the first DAO, but it may be the first to bring together a bunch of mental health professionals from multiple locations on the globe with a specific antiracism focus. It is difficult, if not impossible, to succinctly define this organization in full – there is no TL;DR version within the concepts of Not Knowing, dynamic sustainability, and transformational dialogue. There is being in relationship, a concept sometimes not easily found in some DAO structures.
Having explored the literature on creating responsive DAOs, it appears that the most helpful qualities include the willingness to try, make mistakes, and keep moving. When all individuals in the organization feel free and safe to do so, collective sense-making occurs, and the organization forms and transforms. If you’re a therapist intrigued by this organic process and drawn to forming a generative community, please reach out and schedule a relationship-building call. Our community grows better, leans more in to Not Knowing, with each new person who joins.
Anderson, H. & Gehart, D. R. [eds] (2023). Collaborative-Dialogic Practice: Relationships and conversations that make a difference across contexts and cultures