As a Narrative Therapist, instructor and supervisor/co-learner of Narrative Therapy, my practice with individuals, couples, families and groups is guided by an anti-oppressive, anti-racist and decolonizing framework. I see Narrative Therapy not as a “technique” but as a way being in the world, and as a gift (as cheesy as this may sound) that assists me to live out my social justice values, ethics and personal politics around equity, collaboration, transparency and the questioning of taken-for-granted ways of thinking about things (including the taken for granted ways of thinking about “doing” therapy).
Narrative Therapists pay attention to the social contexts of problems and how different systems of oppression create and reproduce problems that impact on the stories that get told about us and that we ultimately tell about ourselves.
Narrative Therapists see our lives as multi-storied rather than single storied, and we are always listening for openings to “preferred story lines” about what a person, couple, family or community has been able to do in the face of problems; stories that reflect the values, ethics, hopes, dreams, commitments and the principles by which people live their lives. These are the stories that often get marginalized or overshadowed by the “problem story”. As a person begins to inhabit and live out these preferred stories (the stories that couldn’t have been predicted if we only knew the problem story), they often begin to experience a greater sense of agency about their skills, knowledges, resources and commitments that they have to put up against the problem(s) they are facing.
I see my role as a co-investigator or co-researcher of both the challenges that brought a person to consult me, and of what life is like outside of the problem. Together we get to know how the problem operates and how the person has resisted the effects of the problem and perhaps managed to reclaim parts of their lives and relationships from the problem. What I believe I contribute to the conversation is a certain craft or skill at asking questions. Questions that might help a person think their way through a difficulty that they are facing, or re-connect with the values, commitments or intentions behind the actions they have taken to resist or respond to the problem they are facing. I do not see my role as to assess, evaluate, coach, offer advice, interpret, cheerlead or make meaning of a person’s experience. This is because I genuinely believe that people are the experts of their own lives. My questions may not be the kind of questions that you are used to hearing or considering, and my hope is that they are not (otherwise, what would be the point?).
Narrative Therapists do not make assumptions about problems. We do not assume, for example, that problems are entirely unwelcome (problems may be serving a person in particular ways and not serving them in other ways). Instead we invite people to take a position on the problem (is it okay, not okay or a bit of both with the person?). We also invite people to name the problem(s) for themselves in ways that fit with their own unique experience of it. Narrative Therapists see people as separate from problems, “the person is not the problem, the problem is the problem.” In refusing to locate problems in people, and in handing over the ‘naming rights’ to the person who is actually contending with the problem, is a deliberate action we take to redistribute power in the inherently hierarchical relationship between a “client” and therapist.
If all this sounds a bit esoteric, I apologize. My intension is to lay bare what it is that I stand for in this work, and perhaps too, that in which I refuse to be complicit.
I wish to acknowledge this land on which I live and work, has been the traditional land of the Huron-Wendat, the Seneca, and most recently, the Mississaugas of the Credit River. I am grateful to have the opportunity to work on this land.