Histories

In this chapter we provide materials that briefly outline some of the important histories that continue to inform and shape narrative practices today. You will be introduced to co-founders Michael White and David Epston as well as other influential people who contributed to the development of narrative practices. We will also name some of the key practices Michael White developed over his lifetime and some of the main authors he drew upon.

 

 


 

In this article Cheryl White explores a history between co-founders of narrative practice Michael White and David Epston. This history features a spirit of adventure, a particular quality of partnership and a way of collaborating that influenced the development of narrative practice

Where did it all begin? | Cheryl White

Michael-and-David

Picture: Michael White & David Epston

 


Michael White was one of the co-founders and co-directors of Dulwich Centre and worked here from the day it opened in 1983 until his death in 2008. This extract aims to assist you in gaining a sense of the processes Michael White engaged in originating narrative practices and we invite you to consider how some of his legacies might be significant to you and your future practice.

Legacies of Michael White | David Denborough


 

David Epston, co-founder of narrative therapy, is widely respected for his innovative and creative work.He has introduced to the field of family therapy a range of alternative approaches including the use of leagues, archives and co-research.David lives in Auckland, New Zealand, where this conversation took place. Here in this small extract we learn about the term co-research, which he coined in the late 1970’s.

Anthropology, archives, co-research and narrative therapy | an interview with David Epston

 

For David Epston’s website you can visit: Narrative Approaches


 

In this extract we read about co-founder Michael White’s thoughts on the range of influences he drew on in the development of narrative practices

‘Family Therapy: Exploring the fields past, present and possible futures’ | An interview with Michael White


As mentioned in the readings above, Aboriginal Australian practitioners have significantly influenced the development of narrative practices. Aunty Barabara Wingard describes narrative practice as “Telling our stories in ways that make us stronger”. She also speaks about ways of listening “to people’s stories to put them more in touch with their own healing ways”. You can read more about her work here:

Aunty Barbara Wingard | Telling our Stories in ways that make us Stronger

barbara wingard


“And what of solidarity? I am thinking of a solidarity that is constructed by therapists who refuse to draw a sharp distinction between their lives and the lives of others, who refuse to marginalize those persons who seek help, by therapists who are constantly confronting the fact that if faced with the circumstances such that provide the context of troubles of others, they just might not be doing nearly as well themselves”

– Michael White

One of the important ideas that informed narrative practices from very early on was this sense of ‘solidarity’. Here  is a small excerpt from the epilogue of the book ‘Continuing the Conversations’ that illustrates how this influenced Michael White’s practice.

Continuing the Conversations | Cheryl White


 

 

For reflection… 

Which particular ideas or stories intrigued you?

 

Why do you think these things stood out to you?

 

What from these histories would you like to take with you into your future practice in some way?

 


 

Please now share your thoughts & reflections below and then continue to the next chapter! Please include where you are writing from (City and Country). Thanks! 

 

This Post Has 246 Comments

  1. Avatar

    rob

    Which particular ideas or stories intrigued you?
    The extract from the book Telling our stories in ways that make us stronger by Barb Wingard stood out to me. I was interested by the way she described dealing with grief in such a deep and constructive way – in a way that enriches lives and resolves injustice. Rather than trying to simply ‘forget and move on’ as has been the approach in many contexts, the First Nations culture of telling stories across the community is a way of ‘remembering people and bringing them with us wherever we go’. Barb comments, ‘We simply have to find ways of grieving together because it’s far too hard to do it on our own’ and, ‘silent cries can go on for years and be heard by no-one. They can eat away at a person’s spirit. . . If only all those people who are silently crying could find ways to come together.’

    Why do you think these things stood out to you?
    I think it was because of the powerful way it was written but it also illustrated the power of community storytelling. When we do this, some people can see it as a waste of time ‘dragging up the past’ etc. but we have experienced it as a path to healing and the launching place for a better future. The issue that feeds into this is the need to acknowledge injustice in order to process grief. Something changes in a grieving person when the injustice is acknowledged rather than them being expected to ‘just forgive’, ‘move on’ or ‘stop dwelling on it’.

    What from these histories would you like to take with you into your future practice in some way?
    Even more emphasis to listening to stories and acknowledging them. To be comfortable about taking a lot of time for this. To maintain the approach even if some in a community would resist it and want to get on with the next stage.
    Rob in Victoria

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    Ko Man Lut

    I am from Hong Kong. It is good to learn how powerful to listen to other stories that could help the healing processes. We tend to speak more than to listen that should be changed. Also, I am glad to read that “telling our stories in ways that make us stronger”. It reminds me that “we have got to forget about the past and move one” that may not work because we have to acknowledge the events that happened in the past that had an impact on us. The past cannot be forgotten and all we can do it to face and treat the past with encouragement and guidance and then pack them well, bravely bringing them with us whenever we go and becoming our histories.

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    khanna.akshit2000

    The story that intrigued me the most was from the Continuing the conversation, the change in the power dynamics was mesmerizing, one small change can shift how the “patient” behaves and reacts to the treatment process. Such ways are still not commonly used, and therapists often view the client’s problems and worries, from their own perspective and values. Instead therapists should treat client as equals and even involve them in decision making process, to let them feel comfortable and give them an opportunity to contribute.

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    Cat

    Hi all, coming to you from Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung country in Melbourne, Australia. So many of the ideas shared in the readings for this lesson spoke to me, but in particular, the fantastic historical legacies of collaboration over competition; sharing and reflecting; and not being afraid to have a laugh or be a bit ‘out there’ as key aspects of our work as narrative therapy practitioners. I really strive to hold onto these ideas in my day to day work and sometimes it’s a battle, particularly in contexts that prioritise assessment, diagnosis and the notion (as Cheryl White talks about in her article) that ‘in order to help someone you must know a great deal about them’. The fact that we all have so much access to narrative history, resources and learning/ sharing spaces (such as this course!), really honours Michael’s legacy of collaboration and willingness to share ideas

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    katrina.woelk

    Hi everyone, I’m writing from Treaty 1 Territory in Manitoba, Canada. I am drawn to the story of Sam and the idea of flipping power relations within the therapeutic relationship. The shift of power relations, and recognizing the contributions of people, allows space for a fuller and thicker story to emerge. Today, I am particularly drawn to this, after spending time in a court proceeding for a youth I work with and hearing a psychiatrist name her mother as “an addict” and go on to describe the youth in diagnostic terms. As I reflect on my discomfort in that moment, I recognize that what I heard was a problem-saturated story in a room where there were several, massive power dynamics between participants in the proceeding, the youth I was supporting and her mother who was not in the room. When I read the conversation that occurred between Sam and Michael, I immediately felt how it aligns with my preferred identity as a social worker and just as a person. Going forward, I hope to continue to look for full stories, find opportunities knock down power dynamics, and recognize and amplify the ways in which the people I work with contribute to my life and the lives of people around them.

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    Deb

    The idea of ethnographic imagination resonated with me. In today’s clinical environment I feel we spend too much time and effort, testing, assessing, diagnosing and compartmentalising clients and their problems. Creating for clients the opportunity to hone into their own knowledge and expertise with regard to their problem makes far more sense to me than the current rational I was taught. Ultimately our clients are the experts, we are merely the conduits to understanding.
    Cheryl Whites story of Michael and Sam also spoke to me. I spend a lot of time hearing people being defined and dismissed relevant to how they fit within a socially/institutionally constructed scale. Hearing about Michael walking into a therapeutic space and creating a normalising conversation for someone removed from this scale gives me strength to follow his lead in my future interactions. Deb – SWVictoria

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    Jessica Brewer

    I was particularly intrigued by the quote from Aunty Barbara Wingard “telling our stories in ways that make us stronger.” “Listening to people’s stories to put them more in touch with their healing ways.” Listening to THEIR stories, asking questions for comprehension, making a story “multi-dimensional”, not a “single story can put a person on the path of healing.
    Jessica
    Manteno, IL

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    Barbara Gartley

    Barbara Wingard and ‘Telling Our Story and in Ways Makes us Stronger” spoke to me .In particular Barbara’s words ” We simply have to find ways of grieving together because it’s far too hard to do it on our own” .I find myself reflecting allyship , the pure essence of the work we do , respectfully, collaboratively and compassionately with clients. In particular, reflecting on The Uluru Statement from the Heart and the invitation it extends to all Australians to walk with first nations people in a collaborative movement of all Australian people for a better future. A call for a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution and a Makarrta Commission for the supervision of a process of truth telling and agreement making about first nations people.

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    marisa.trombino

    I really appreciated being prompted to reconsider my understanding of identity from this quote by Michael White about the origins of family therapy – “…considering identity as something that is achieved in relationship with others rather than something that derives from human nature, whatever it is that human nature is construed to be.” It’s a very complex idea that is so simply and beautifully put in a very short sentence and I feel it really sums up a lot about why we do the work we do as counsellors or social workers or ‘helping professionals’ – and also that many of the “problems” that people present to ‘helpers’ like us with come back to this central or fundamental issue of a disconnect between how we see ourselves and our identity and how others see us and respond to us (or how we think they see us.)

    I really got a lot from reading Aunty Barbara Wingard’s stories of how she has used narrative approaches in her work with her First Nations people and the two stories she told of supporting people through grief – which for First Nations people is more than just the loss an individual through death but the multiple and devastating losses experienced due to colonisation and ongoing dispossession.

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    Donna

    What from these histories would you like to take with you into your future practice in some way?

    I particularly enjoyed the history of Michael White and David Epston discovering their relationship and collaboration together. It is my experience that many clinicians today fear consultation – that consultation and collaboration with difficult client presentations mean that you’re ill-equipped to provide therapy services to people. I have experienced both openness and eagerness to collaborate and support each other in a clinical supervision and collaboration way and I’ve also experiences team environments where clinical consultation is viewed as weak. This needs to change, I intend to go forward in my practice with openness and for collaboration and consultation, sharing our experiences, skills and ideas can only make use stronger both individually and as a team.

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    Eugene Ford

    Good morning everyone! My name is Eugene and I am writing this post from the traditional territories of the Lekwungen and W̱SÁNEĆ peoples. From the materiel, I was most drawn to David’s anthropological background, and what he shared about the value of ‘informed not knowing’ when working with traditional cultures. While I am originally from Australia, I have lived in Canada for 6 years, during which time I have worked closely with Indigenous peoples in an individual and group capacity. My work has lead me to start the Diploma of Indigenous Studies at Camosun College, which I am currently half way through. The program has delved deeply into ally-ship and decolonization, which as a non-Indigenous person, has been deeply unsettling and illuminating. David’s comment about ‘informed not knowing’ strikes to the heart of ally-ship, as it encourages the listener to accept that they will never truly ‘know’ a traditional culture, whilst remaining committed to their nonetheless. It’s a powerful descriptor, that I plan to use in my practice from now on.

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    Geoffrey Haber (he/him)

    What I liked most about the “histories’ is the fortuitous meeting of ideas both broth from Michael and David, but also from the varied reading of disparate topics and subjects that jelled together in that “aha” moment of a new idea, which gave birth to NT. I further appreciated the idea of co-research as it recognizes the expertise of the client in his/her life, lowers the level of power imbalance between therapist and client while also building trust and a healthy therapeutic alliance. It harmonizes well with Carl Rogers’ client-centered psychotherapy.

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    danielle.huntington

    Michael White’s quote: “And what of solidarity? I am thinking of a solidarity that is constructed by therapists who refuse to draw a sharp distinction between their lives and the lives of others, who refuse to marginalize those persons who seek help, by therapists who are constantly confronting the fact that if faced with the circumstances such that provide the context of troubles of others, they just might not be doing nearly as well themselves” resonated with me most. Reading Continuing the Conversations and witnessing how the role’s can change and be utilized to build rapport and safety for the client was fascinating. As a therapist, I will utilize this story as a reminder that it is ok to allow myself to be human and to use appropriate stories to help others with their stories.

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    nicolef

    I loved Aunty Barbara’s comments about finding ways to connect stories from the past to help us understand present problems and how to respond.
    I think its so important to look at problems in context of the broader narrative to find strengths, experiences and knowledges of surviving.

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    KWalker

    I love the concept of ethnographic imagination and inquiry, which David Epston mentions in the interview above. I also love that this is now being extended to ethnographic inquiry involving the land (geospatial environment) as a “voice” in the discourse. A beautiful example of this is the productions of Miriam Rose Ungunmerr and her team. I also love that the voice in which they share their explorations is authentic to the geospatial origin of this inquiry. A beautiful example is here: https://youtu.be/Nr_wbGswbwI
    (Australia)

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    Katie Brewer

    A few things intrigued me from this section. Barbara Wingard’s really resonated with me, in part because I have spent a lot of time thinking about grief and about how we carry the stories of our lost loved ones with us. I know someone who has lost many dear friends to the opioid epidemic, and he makes it his mission to write about these friends with respect and love, memorializing their lives and their impact on his life. This has always been such a beautiful practice in my mind, and I admire the way he lifts up the voices of the lost. It seems to help not only him, but many of those affected by the losses to unite through and process their grief.
    The anecdote of Michael White accepting a pin from a patient to hold up his pants is also really sticking with me. When I first started working my way into this field, I, like many others, had the image of a Freudian therapist projecting an impassive, blank slate into the therapy room. It’s been more than refreshing and inspiring to learn of collaborative approaches that circumvent and disrupt the power dynamics of the counseling relationship. I love the idea of flipping the script, so to speak, and allowing the client to be an equal or an expert. It seems like an empowering way to collaborate with people.
    I think the major thing that I am taking away from these histories is that it can be a good thing to go against the norm and to do things differently. White and Epston took a novel, innovative approach, and their work has laid the foundation for an incredible way of working with stories and with people. It’s respectful, empowering, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. I think it’s wonderful.
    Lexington, Kentucky, USA.

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    leah.getchell@gmail.com

    I loved this chapter, in particular the piece on ‘ethnographic imagination’ and ‘informed not knowing’. I have a background in anthropology so this is likely why it resonates so much, as does Michael’s idea of co-reserch and the sentiment of always being curious and adventurous. Seems to align with the idea of ‘decentering’ oneself in a session. All of this is really making room for the knowledge and expertise of those we work with to be center state. This all feels very intuitive to me, yet as I go through my MSW training I’m seeing how saturated the profession is with more psychology based frameworks where ‘we’ the clinicians offer guidance based on the latest trend…which centers us and our knowledge/expertise. It’s becoming more clear as i move through this course how narrative therapy is also very much a political & philosophical world view.

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    Caro

    I loved the way Michael considered every family he worked with as an opportunity to also seek new knowledge and understanding. Working with respectful curiosity, allowing for unique outcomes and flexibility.
    As a student counsellor I can see huge value in getting together with colleagues and sharing knowledge, one of the best ways of learning for me. Michael and David made an agreement early on in their partnership to ‘share, and never be rivals’.
    Caroline, Te Awamutu, New Zealand

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    EricaPM

    I really appreciated the idea of “informed not knowing”. I think it dignifies and honours both the skills of the helper and those that they meet with. I look forward to holding this concept as I meet with people and seeing how it influences my practice.

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    Anna Weber

    I am appreciating the endless learning and interdisciplinary-thinking that both Michael and David engaged in throughout their lives. My own history and journey towards therapy involved critical literary studies, gender and sexuality studies, and peace and conflict studies. These fields contribute important aspects to my therapy approaches even as they are outside the “medicalized” canon. I felt heard and resonant with Michael and David’s integration of ethnography, power relations, and systems.

    I wonder more about the limitations of Michael and David’s ideas as cis-gender White men. Aunty Barbara Wingard’s ideas expanded narrative therapy in important ways, but it feels that David and Michael are more often cited. I feel that much is missed by this and wonder about ways to learn more in line to Aunty Barb’s approach.

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    David Makhema

    I liked the story of grief and not forgetting our departed ones. It is important to share stories about them as it helps us as Communities to relate and know each other. The other story is about Sam, a psychiatrist patient. While such people are dismissed and undermined, Sam and Michael showed that through Narratives or story telling shared, Sam became a helper to Michael. This implies the benefit of externalising the problem and tracing its history or meaning to an individual.
    What I wish to take through however, is the power of language used in normal description of people and their situation MUST be corrected and always treat people with respect and dignity.

  22. Avatar

    crystalleeross33

    Several of the ideas spoken and shared spoke to me. I definitely like the idea of collaborating and integrating ideas, techniques and perspectives into proceeding work. I identify with the idea that exploring subject matter from different perspectives aids in the alteration, integration and change towards challenging thoughts or materials. It reminds me of circumstances with clients where simply asking a question that requires them to address their problem from an alternative viewpoint creates a moment of clarity and change towards their situation. Additionally, I appreciated the story relating how Aboriginal’s honouring the grief surrounding their combined histories, deaths and trauma aids in the celebration of life and builds strengths within communities and individuals and how this is integral to healing, memory and survival. Forgetting the past is not answer as it diminishes these experiences creating situations in which the people are less then. The understanding that these experiences inform and change us, both in the aspects within ourselves as well as from historical family learning was meaningful. I am reminded in the future how important both alternative perspectives are, honouring the past experiences and its teaching and that working together creates foundation for healthy change for clients.
    (Reposting as I’m going through certification now)

  23. Avatar

    Holly Mak

    I really enjoyed reading Denborough’s piece on White’s legacy — particularly how NT began in the 80s and gained traction through a very natural-seeming process of collaboration with colleagues, deep introspection and study, as well as pioneering new modes of community work (whilst drawing from local knowledge). The context of feminism and the general atmosphere of social upheaval in the era seemed key to informing some of the philosophies that make NT so meaningful and powerful, e.g. reclaiming power for the marginalised. I was particularly struck by White’s definition of “good therapy”, and how for him this is fairly open-ended, but hinges on whether the therapeutic structure can open up space to challenge problems associated with an inherent imbalance of power (including the conventional therapeutic dynamic). This makes me excited to tune in more intentionally to the socio-historical and cultural contexts of the people I work with, so as to move away from narratives of blame and shame, toward ones of pride and dignity — in keeping with White and Epston’s “spirit of adventure”.
    – Holly, Vancouver (via Hong Kong)

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    christopher.sullivan

    “And what of solidarity? I am thinking of a solidarity that is constructed by therapists who refuse to draw a sharp distinction between their lives and the lives of others, who refuse to marginalize those persons who seek help, by therapists who are constantly confronting the fact that if faced with the circumstances such that provide the context of troubles of others, they just might not be doing nearly as well themselves”

    – Michael White

    This reflection resonates with me immensely. As someone running through their own parallel process as I near completion of my MSW, I am constantly in reflection of how my own identity has been informed by both individual experiences as well as the experiences in which I grew up with my family. Our ability to reflect on who we are as people first and therapists second determines how connected we are to the space we share with our clients. I’m regularly honoured to share space with them, witnessing the persistence and perseverance demonstrated by their day to day existence. Calgary, Alberta

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    Melanie

    Which particular ideas or stories intrigued you?
    I enjoyed reading all of the stories and find that they all have something to add to my practice.

    Why do you think these things stood out to you?
    I most closely aligned with Aunty Barabara Wingard probably because of my location and the given that I have and continue to work with First Nation clients.

    What from these histories would you like to take with you into your future practice in some way?
    Continuing to encourage and focus on empowering of clients as well as them being the experts in their experiences and what can we learn from them as we walk along side them.
    Riverland, South Australia

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    Sameen

    Hi I loved Michael s story.

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    Maggie

    I was so moved by both the story of Michael White and his client Sam, and the meditations on grief and the lived experiences of Aboriginal people shared by Barbara Wingard. I think it is absolutely critical that we never lose sight of our clients’ potentials, of the meaningfulness of their lives and experiences, and that we always work from a place of respect, care, and curiosity. To read about Michael White and David Epston, who have fundamentally shifted the work of therapy around the world, being “irreverent,” having fun and being themselves, and seeing the value of input from a client who, in many other scenarios, would be written off completely due to his condition, is such a powerful reminder in my mind that the best tool we as clinicians have is ourselves and our authentic interactions with clients. As an American, I also found Barbara Wingard’s words to be incredibly important, as the realities of intergenerational trauma and racism on POC in this country are only just beginning to be given their due. Empowering all of our clients, and maybe even especially our clients who are POC, to find a way to tell their stories and feel heard and respected, is such an important part of our work. Maggie, Los Angeles.

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    pra.cas

    I loved the idea that the first two questions Michael and David would ask each other when they caught up were “What are you doing differently?” and “What have you been reading?”. Further I liked the idea that the aimed to preserve a ‘spirit of adventure’. I think these points intrigued me because they indicated that in doing this important work, Michael and David were also walking the walk – they were seeking to live stories that had growth and development and adventure. I believe that if we are doing any work with clients, we need to believe in using it for ourselves. He whakataukī i roto i Te Reo Māori: “He waka eke noa. We’re all in this together”. This chapter was an encouragement to consider how I would use this approach myself at the same time I am considering how I would use it with clients.

  29. Avatar

    Sarah Kane

    Hello, this is Sarah, coming from my new home in Davidson, NC, USA. Two ideas stood out to me in this lesson. The first, the question that Cheryl White mentioned Epson & White using when they’d meet up – “What have you been doing differently?”. As I’m beginning a new role supervising other therapists, I’m eager to try this out and see what conversations could from it. The second idea was David Epston saying “I’ve always thought of myself as doing research, but on problems and the relationships that people have with those problems, rather than on the people themselves.” This sentence really captured an approach I aim to use in my work.

  30. Avatar

    Crystal Ross

    Several of the ideas spoken and shared spoke to me. I definitely like the idea of collaborating and integrating ideas, techniques and perspectives into proceeding work. I identify with the idea that exploring subject matter from different perspectives aids in the alteration, integration and change towards challenging thoughts or materials. It reminds me of circumstances with clients where simply asking a question that requires them to address their problem from an alternative viewpoint creates a moment of clarity and change towards their situation. Additionally, I appreciated the story relating how Aboriginal’s honouring the grief surrounding their combined histories, deaths and trauma aids in the celebration of life and builds strengths within communities and individuals and how this is integral to healing, memory and survival. Forgetting the past is not answer as it diminishes these experiences creating situations in which the people are less then. The understanding that these experiences inform and change us, both in the aspects within ourselves as well as from historical family learning was meaningful. I am reminded in the future how important both alternative perspectives are, honouring the past experiences and its teaching and that working together creates foundation for healthy change for clients.

  31. Avatar

    Henk Ensing

    I’m drawn to Michael and David’s way of pondering upon a family’s needs from an earlier session, then bringing new ideas to the next session. It seems to open the therapueutic discussion to insights gained between session times and between therapists. Perhaps it could be seen to be a form of peer supervision. But very frequent. Possibly daily or possibly with most in-session problems. It seems to give rise to greater insight coming into the next session. A form of colaborative counselling. So I’ve thinking around the great value in this exchange of ideas.

  32. Avatar

    tkiffywiff

    The story that intrigued me was the friendship between Michael White and David Epston, their agreement to share all their ideas and never to be rivals. It stood out for me because it was a model of a truly collaborative relationship. I was also inspired by David Epston’s concept of the therapist as co-researcher and archivist, working with respectful curiosity and an “ethnographic imagination”.
    Theresa – Cambridge, Aotearoa.

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