The Dulwich Centre describes Narrative Therapy thus:
'Narrative therapy is premised on the idea that the lives and the relationships of persons are
- the knowledges and stories that communities of persons negotiate and engage in to give
meaning to their experiences: and
- certain practices of self and of relationship that make up ways of life associated with these
knowledges and stories.
A narrative therapy assists persons to resolve problems by:
- enabling them to separate their lives and relationships from those knowledges and stories that they judge to be impoverishing;
- assisting them to challenge the ways of life that they find subjugating; and,
- encouraging persons to re-author their own lives according to alternative and preferred stories of identity, and according to preferred ways of life.
Narrative therapy has particular links with Family Therapy and those therapies which have
a common ethos of respect for the client, and an acknowledgement of the importance of
context, interactlon, and the social constructlon of meaning.'
Michael White expands on this conception here, and in the following extract from an interview with
Ken Stewart (Psychotic experience and discourse. Chapter 5 in M. White (1995) Re-Authoring Lives: Interviews and Essays. Adelaide: Dulwich Centre Publications). The
preamble concerning aetiology is included here so as to contextualise the re-orientation of
the 'expert's position' that is integral to therapeutic practice as so conceived:
(White, 1995: 121-2)
- Ken: So, you don't have a position on aetiology?
- Michael: To answer your question, I have always resisted taking a position on the aetiology
of the so-called psychiatric disorders. In fact, I have consistently refused the incitement
that I have experienced to step into a position on this, and to enter into debates and other
activities that depend upon such positions. I am willing to consider most notions of
aetiology, but, quite frankly, these considerations are as irrelevant to what I do in this work
as they are for others.
- Ken: Does this mean that you are even willing to entertain some of the current biological
notions of aetiology for what is referred to as schizophrenia?
- Michael: Of course! Of course! But this is not relevant to what I do. ... I am simply
talking about standing outside of the territory as it is defined by psychiatric knowledge, and
as it is structured by pathologising discourses. I am not talking about standing apart from
people and their experiences, including those experiences that are so often taken up into
- Ken: Okay, what are our options?
- Michael: I think that we can assist people to challenge the hegemony of the psychiatric
knowledges. We can work with them to identify the extent that their own lives are
"knowledged". We can engage people in conversations that are honouring of their
knowledges of life, and that trace the history of their knowledgeableness. We can join
people in conversations that provide the opportunity for them to build on these knowledges,
and that assist people to develop plans for applying this knowledgeableness to those
experiences that they find troubling. We can make it our business to work collaboratively
with people in identifying those ways of speaking about their lives that contribute to a
sense of personal agency, and that contribute to the experience of being an authority on
one's life. And we can assist people to draw distinctions around these ways of speaking
and those other ways of speaking that contribute to experiences of marginalisation, that
subtract from a sense of personal agency, and that undermine an appreciation of one's
Rather than referencing what we do to the sort of formal systems of analysis that we have
already discussed, we can strive to build on those developments in our work that are more
referenced to people' s experiences of life, including of psychotic phenomena. We can find
ways of attending more directly to people's experiences of life.
And we can join with people in challenging those relations of power that inform the
subject/object dualism that I referred to earlier in this conversation.
This view of Michael White's, who is one of the founders of this therapeutic approach, draws on a range of theoretical views as to the nature of language, conversation, and the way people come to make sense of their 'being-in-the-world' that we are aiming to provide access to here.
An example of 'narrative practice' conveys more of the nitty-gritty of this approach
A Bibliography for Narrative Therapy has been made available by Natalka Sawchuk.
The Journal of Pastoral Counselling has a recent special issue The Opening of Narrative Space and has made the full text available.
Master'sWork Video Productions has 'an historical series of training videotapes demonstrating the new paradigms in clinical work
with couples, families and individuals' available for sale. Featured practitioners are:
A reading list is in preparation for a possible course on the theoretical bases of narrative therapy.
A joint project involving the School of Psychology at Massey University in Palmerston North, New Zealand, the Virtual Faculty, and the Family Center in Lower Hutt, New Zealand is now, as of October 1998, 'in process'. For details, please go to our collaborative development site, and when prompted use guest as your username and test as your password.
See also related sites:
The main electronic forum for narrative therapy issues is the MFTC-L listserver for discussion of issues related to marriage and family therapy or that are of interest to marriage
and family therapists.
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