Discussions about narrative therapy and research
Lainson, K. J. (2020). Enduring anorexia: A multi-storied counter document of living and coping with anorexia over time. (Doctoral dissertation), The University of Melbourne, Australia.
It has been well-documented that anorexia (nervosa) often endures in people’s lives, yet
very limited research attention has been given to the perspectives of adults who have lived
with its influence and effects over time. What studies do exist have engaged participation
through specialist services, potentially skewing representation, and participants’
experiences, knowledge and capabilities have tended to either go unrecorded or else are
dominated by bleak narratives and/or deficit-based portrayals written from clinical
perspectives. The Enduring anorexia project addresses these issues by inviting more
inclusive participation via social media and by employing the theoretical lens of narrative
practice. This hopeful lens centres lived experience perspectives, acknowledges personal
agency and seeks entry points into alternative storylines of preferred identity that can lead
to new possibilities and understandings.
Since social workers Michael White and David Epston first co-created narrative practice as a
respectful and non-blaming approach to counselling and community work that recognises
people as separate to problems and intentional in responding to difficulties, the field has
been characterised by innovation and diverse application. The Enduring anorexia project
extends this application, innovation and practice stance into conducting academic research
in the realms of longer-term experience of living and coping with anorexia, demonstrating
what opportunities arise as a consequence.
A two-step format of online survey and optional interview gathered stories of experience,
response, and ideas about ways forward from 96 participants across 13 countries. Their
generous and insightful contributions were thematically analysed congruently with narrative
practice’s theoretical bases of poststructuralist, feminist and critical thought. This reflexive
process generated 12 themes describing complex and multi-storied experiences of living
with anorexia over time. Some themes highlighted the capacity for anorexia’s ongoing
influence to create profound and extensive difficulties in people’s lives; accumulating
consequences for physical, psychological and social wellbeing were compounded by
multiple psychiatric and societal discourses that created obstacles and confounded
attempts at seeking support or creating change. Other themes illuminated the meaningful
ways participants engaged with their circumstances to purposively manage both their lives
and anorexia’s influence in it in order to overcome barriers, to reclaim all or part of their
lives, and to live meaningfully and consistently with their values, beliefs and hopes.
In a realm where there is considerable professional uncertainty about how best to proceed
or help, the Enduring anorexia project points to a need for:
- professional attitudes that view people as separate from problems and privilege
‘insider’ over ‘expert’ perspectives;
- therapeutic approaches that attend to the politics of experience, and double-listen
for skills, knowledges and entry points into alternative storylines;
- support services that are available, accessible and intentionally inclusive;
- research lenses and directions that focus on response, inclusion, opening space for
possibility, and reporting respectfully;
- a re-conceptualisation of what has been considered a problem of the individual, to
invite wider societal responses.
Throughout, narrative practice is shown to be an effective lens/tool for conducting inclusive, non-blaming, hopeful and generative research. The Enduring anorexia project incorporates reflections on academic research processes, written from the perspective of an insider-practitioner-researcher.
Sarah Penwarden and Laurel Richardson
Narrative therapists may hold a commitment to a person speaking for and making meaning
of their own life stories – maintaining a person’s speaking rights as the primary meaning
maker of their lives. When therapists wish to research counselling practice to gain new
insights about the effects of the work, how they handle the speaking of those who
participate in their research requires ethical sensitivity. This paper considers the value to
narrative therapy practitioners of a qualitative research approach to representing
participants’ words: poetic re-presentation. Created by American sociologist Laurel
Richardson, poetic re-presentation is a research strategy that involves a researcher turning
transcripts of participants’ words into found poetry. This strategy clearly delineates
between the speaking of the participant in a research conversation and the later
representation of this speaking on the page in a researcher’s writing. As such, this approach
seeks to maintain the participant as speaking in excess of the meaning the researcher makes
of it: speaking for themselves.
Sarah Wendt, Kate Seymour, Natalie Greenland, Fiona Buchanan, Chris Dolman
Engaging men in a conversation about change is one of the key challenges for practitioners working with men who use violence. Men who use violence often minimise or justify their violent behaviour, and they can be defensive when challenged. Engagement is the first step towards attitudinal and behavioural change.
David Epston, John R. Stillman & Christopher R. Erbes
Journal of Systemic Therapies, Vol. 31, No.1, 2012, pp. 74–88
by Robbie Busch, Tom Strong & Andy Lock http://mro.massey.ac.nz/handle/10179/3388
This paper outlines the epistemological and theoretical formation of narrative therapy and implications for its evaluation. Two authoritative paradigms of psychotherapy evaluation have emerged in psychology since the mid- 1990s. The Clinical Division of the American Psychological Association established the empirically supported treatment (EST) movement. A more inclusive but medically emulative model of evidence based practice in psychology (EBPP) then emerged. Some therapies such as narrative therapy do not share the theoretical commitments of these paradigms. Narrative therapy is an approach that values a non-expert based, collaborative, political and contextual stance to practice that is critical of normalising practices of medical objectification and reductionism. Post-positivist theoretical influences constitute narrative therapy as a practice that values the social production and multiplicity of meaning. This paper problematises a conflictual relationship (a differend) between the evaluation of narrative therapy and evidence based psychotherapy. Firstly, it briefly outlines the EST and EBPP paradigms and their epistemology. This paper then provides an overview of some of the key epistemological and theoretical underpinnings of narrative therapy and concludes with some cautionary notes on its evaluation.
Weatherhead, Stephen and Jones, G. J. (2008) Measuring the narrative : the challenge of evidencing change in narrative therapy. Clinical Psychology Forum, 188 (1). pp. 38-41. ISSN 0269-0144
(2007). Transforming evidence: A discursive evaluation of narrative therapy case studies. The Australian Journal of Counselling Psychology, 7(2), 8-15.
A recent shift in American Psychological Association policy for what constitutes as evidence in psychotherapy has resulted in the inclusion of qualitative methodologies. Narrative therapy is a discursive therapy that is theoretically incongruent with the prevailing gold standard of experimental methodology in psychotherapy outcome evaluation. By using a discursive evaluation methodology that is congruent with narrative therapy this study of six peer-reviewed narrative therapy case articles found shifts in client positioning in the transformation from medical pathology discourses to strength-based discourses. It is concluded that five out of six case studies coherently demonstrated the effectiveness of narrative therapy with positive outcomes for clients and that a discursive evaluation has utility in producing a thick description of therapeutic outcome.
Compiled by Dulwich Centre Publications (2004)
International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, (2), 29–36.
There are rich connections between narrative therapy and practices of research, and considering these links has been a source of creativity for many practitioners. This short piece seeks to describe how narrative therapy first began to be described as co-research, and describes some of the common research practices that are engaged with by narrative therapists. This piece also considers the powerful challenges that Indigenous researchers are making to the field of research. This paper has been collaboratively created. Marilyn O’Neill, Shona Russell, Makungu Akinyela, Helen Gremillion, David Epston, Vanessa Jackson, and Michael White all responded to the questions listed below, and David Denborough then wove their responses into a final form. To download this article, click here (pdf, 132 KB).
Stephen Gaddis (2004)
International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, (2), 37–48.
As a boy, I was subject to the ideas that therapists had about how to help me. In my experience, the ideas they used were not helpful to me and may have inadvertently created more suffering for my family and me. This experience and my interest in narrative therapy led me to want to challenge the sources that shape what therapists think is helpful for clients. One important source that constructs therapists’ ideas about therapy is research. One of my greatest concerns has to do with how traditional research practices privilege professionals’ interpretations and understanding over those of clients. I have attempted to re-consider therapy research so that its main purpose is to honour clients’ accounts of therapy. My hope is that this will enable us as therapists to be taught as much by clients as by other professionals. The research project I undertook resulted in the participants (i.e., ‘therapy clients’) reporting that their experience of the project helped them with the problems they struggled with in their lives and relationships. This was an outcome I had not anticipated but is quite exciting to consider. To download this article, click here (pdf, 164 KB).
By Jane Speedy (with Gina Thompson and others) (2004)
International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, (3), 43–53.
This paper raises questions about the current European and North American culture of ‘evidence-based practice’ and troubles the conventions of ‘psychotherapy outcomes’ research. Outsider-witness practices and definitional ceremonies are suggested as collaborative re-search processes that sit more congruently with narrative, post-structuralist and feminist ideas and with narrative therapy practices that may, equally, be effective ways of influencing policymakers and shaping future services. Narrative practitioners and the people consulting them are invited to contribute to an international narrative therapy outcomes re-search conversation. To download this article, click here (pdf, 180 KB).
By Andrew Tootell (2004)
International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, (3), 54–55.
This article presents a brief account of one therapist’s journey to develop a research approach that was consistent with their values and practice as a therapist. This journey led to the development of a ‘De-centred research practice’ based upon an ethic of collaboration and equity, which seeks to document the ‘local’ skills and knowledge of the research participants. To download this article, click here (pdf, 139 KB).
By Kathie Crocket, Wendy Drewery, Wally McKenzie, Lorraine Smith, John Winslade (2004)
International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, (3), 61–66.
As counsellor educators, therapists, and researchers practising from social constructionist understandings within a university context, we are called frequently to think about the interrelationships between practice and research. In this paper, we suggest that as practices, research and therapy have much in common. Furthermore, we explore the possibilities that are created when both therapy and research are considered to be ethical relational practices. To download this article, click here (pdf, 169 KB).