Stories at Work

Narrative Therapy-The One (and a half) Page Introduction

Stories at WorkThese are notes from a presentation to North Harbour Living Without Violence (4 July 2014), an organisation based in Auckland, New Zealand working to end domestic violence.

  • NT is about the re-storying of people lives
  • People are “interpretive beings”-we actively make sense of our lives in terms of “stories” (or narratives) through which we understand both ourselves and the world.
  • These stories are “constitutive” of life-they are not separate to us, but are ways in which we organise our experience of life.
  • Stories are influenced by the social and cultural discourses that surround us. We do not invent most of the stories that influence us.
  • We are all “multi-storied”, in that we may understand events in many ways. Stories compete for dominance in a person’s life. This competition is heavily influenced by societal and cultural discourses (eg. Western culture has many discourses around what constitutes beauty in women, work of value for both men and women, the role of men in households etc).
  • Michel Foucault

    French Philosopher-Michel Foucault

    Knowledge and power (Foucault) are intertwined in constructing societal discourse. This includes judgements on what it is to be normal/abnormal, good/bad, sane/insane, gay/straight, etc.

  • Since the late 1700’s dramatic shifts have occurred in Western society as greater urbanisation and industrialisation occurred in Western Europe. This includes a shift from what has been called operations of “traditional power” (acting to repress, suppress people etc) to operations of “modern power” (engaging people in the understandings of their lives through systems of evaluation, normalising judgement etc)-ie an “internalisation” of power. Professional psychology since the late 1800’s has heavily complicit in this project.
  • The aim of this project (according to Foucault) is to produce “docile and useful bodies” (i.e. people who actively participate in the “policing” of their own and others’ lives, according to certain normative standards).
  • NT is about:

-Freeing ourselves from dominant stories that may be acting against our preferences in life

-Developing rich descriptions of our preferred ways of being

-Linking our preferred ways of being with their origin in our history and reconnecting us with events and people that have been influential in the shaping of these preferences.possibilities

  • Unlike most psychologies, NT focusses on intentional state understandings of human action (including peoples hopes, dreams, visions, belief, commitments etc) rather than internal state understandings of human action/behaviour (which focusses on peoples internal “drives”, “traits”, “needs” etc). Most internal state understandings focus of client deficit and pathology.
  • In NT client’s “local” knowledge of their own lives is valued over professional knowledge
  • Clients are seen as “experts in their own lives”.
  • Therapists are preferably positioned as decentred but influential in the process of therapy.
  • Problems are often externalized. “The person is not the problem, the problem is the problem”.
  • As with feminist analysis, NT is concerned with issues of power, gender, class, language etc.
  • Stopping Violence Client example: Jim (not his real name) recently completed half of our Stopping Violence programme. Despite learning the anger management skills Jim was still engaging in physical abuse towards his 6 year old son in episodes he called “outbursts”. In trying to understand these outbursts, Jim described growing up in home where he received regular beatings and also in a community where violence was the norm. Despite this upbringing Jim stated that did not want to use violence against his son and instead wanted to parent according to parenting “standards” that he had set for himself. These standards including behaving in non-violent ways. Asking where these standards came from, Jim identified two people from his childhood (one a neighbour, one an auntie) from which he might have learned that there were ways to parent that didn’t involve violence. We then had a detailed conversation about how his neighbour and his auntie had influenced Jim, how Jim may have potentially contributed to their lives and how they might react to the conversation Jim and I were having now, if they could know we were having it. The intentions of these conversations were to strengthen Jim’s commitment to his parenting standards and to build his ability to resist the “outbursts”. At the end of the conversation Jim was keen to reconnect with his neighbour, whom he thought would support his non-violent parenting project and was far more confident to resist the outbursts.
  • Best first article on NT: The Third Wave, Bill O’Hanlon.
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