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 214 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Sandra

    My two favourites stories are “Talking with grief” and “the story of Michael’s lost button”. Each of them, in their own way have transformative power, they celebrate vulnerability and turn it into a superpower. They also underline the importance of equality, solidarity and humour (lost button) as well as resourcefulness and strength that we can draw from our historical and cultural heritage (grief).

  2. Avatar

    misstaylorhalliwell

    Which particular ideas or stories intrigued you?

    Like quite a lot of people in the feed, I was intrigued by the story of Sam. I found it incredible how a simple conversation can you lead something therapeutic and healing. I was also really moved by the relationship between Michael White and David Epston. I thought their professional working relationship was beautiful and came from a genuine place. The fact neither wanted to take or fight the ownership was great.
    Why do you think these things stood out to you?
    This stood out to me as I think it home for a lot of my values I hold and the importance I place on them.
    What from these histories would you like to take with you into your future practice in some way?
    I am taking the theme of collaboration and value of just genuinely wanting to help and develop theories for the benefit of society and therapeutic practice.

  3. Avatar

    Ellie Firns

    Which particular ideas or stories intrigued you?
    Irreverence. I have always been intrigued by irreverence, playful, silly, light-hearted, shifting the energy in the room. Not as a way to avoid the pain, but to lighten is somehow. It is nice to be reminded of this with Sam’s story after the Aunty Barbara story.
    Why do you think these things stood out to you?
    Aunty Barbara articulates so well the lack of grief expression in white culture, “silent crying”. To not speak of grief, or only do so in hushed tones and whispers, keeps it secret and scary. I like her story of externalising Grief. Keeping grief silent also stores it in our body, our somatic memory device, being stored with us trying not to access it, it gets wicked in our bodies. Unspoken grief gets stored and trapped in our muscles and organs. How can we access it once it is there? I need to move and wail and cry to disrupt it from lodging in me.
    What from these histories would you like to take with you into your future practice in some way?
    All of these stories are inspiring!

  4. Avatar

    Sami

    Hi, my name is Sami and I’m coming to you from the internet, but more specifically, from a little town outside of Kingston, ON, Canada. In my comments today perhaps it’s worth noting that I’m a white heterosexual, Canadian-born female.

    Hearing about how seemingly ‘strange’ Michael White was (strange relative to his peer’s professional behavior & interests) gives me a bit of hope for myself, as one of the questions swirling through my MSW student brain is the idea of professionalism. What I’m sensing from the readings is that Michael, David, Cheryl and Ann were something of a renegade crew of enthusiastic friends, and because they felt they were embarking on something new perhaps professionalism wasn’t on the top of the mind. But I wonder if now that NT is established as a ‘thing,’ we are supposed to fall in line and be that professional? There’s this vibe I sense that as professionals we should be reserved and ‘hide ourselves’ in a sense (e.g. by dressing plainly, perhaps). I’m particularly drawn to the story of Michael’s work as shared in the Continuing the Conversations article, in part because I don’t think his interaction with that man was or should be considered anything special, but yet it is because having a normal kind of conversation among equals is not normal. But to me it is, and I want to keep it that way, which seems to be another unprofessional thing to do by inserting my own life and stories into someone else’s ‘therapy time.’ I wonder what others think of this.

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    Manpreet Kaur Mann

    Which particular ideas or stories intrigued you?
    I liked the article ‘Telling our stories in ways that make us stronger’ by Barb Wingard. I most liked the idea of not being silent in Aboriginal culture at the time of grieving. It is explained in the article that if you go to a funeral service in an Aboriginal community, you can wail and cry and grieve the way you want to grieve. But in mainstream funeral services, there seems to be a lot of silence to grieving. I don’t believe that this silence fits with Aboriginal culture. I don’t believe that this silence is a good thing.
    Why do you think these things stood out to you?
    These things stood out to me because I have similar feelings in my culture about grieving as Aboriginal Communities have.

    What from these histories would you like to take with you into your future practice in some way?
    In the future, I will pay respect to the experiences of my clients. I will acknowledge their sorrow and grief and stories of their past. I will behave with them in a culturally responsive manner.

    1. Avatar

      Manpreet Kaur Mann

      I am a social work student, and I am studying at university of Wollongong NSW Australia.

      Which particular ideas or stories intrigued you?
      I liked the article ‘Telling our stories in ways that make us stronger’ by Barb Wingard. I most liked the idea of not being silent in Aboriginal culture at the time of grieving. It is explained in the article that if you go to a funeral service in an Aboriginal community, you can wail and cry and grieve the way you want to grieve. But in mainstream funeral services, there seems to be a lot of silence to grieving. I don’t believe that this silence fits with Aboriginal culture. I don’t believe that this silence is a good thing.

      Why do you think these things stood out to you?
      These things stood out to me because I have similar feelings in my culture about grieving as Aboriginal Communities have.

      What from these histories would you like to take with you into your future practice in some way?
      In the future, I will pay respect to the experiences of my clients. I will acknowledge their sorrow and grief and stories of their past. I will behave with them in a culturally responsive manner.

  6. Avatar

    Chantelle M

    Which particular ideas or stories intrigued you?
    Barb Wingard’s “Telling our stories in ways that make us stronger” really inspired me.

    Why do you think these things stood out to you?
    I think they stood out, because as a Non-Indigenous Australian, I definitely agree, that in general we do silence our grief. When grieving, it isn’t something to just openly talk about, to honour and remember our loved ones. It is something you experience and you need to deal with and move forward “loss is a part of life” attitude comes to mind with this. The cultural practice to open display emotions, to continue to talk about our loved ones and continue to find connections to them, is something quite beautiful and meaningful to me.

    What from these histories would you like to take with you into your future practice in some way?
    This is a practice which I really want to make sure is at front and centre of my work, especially to ensure my cultural lens is on my work. I also noted that it is so important to Listen differently with stories, listen for the person’s skills and knowledge and acknowledge their story of survival This is a skill that I know will need to be worked on constantly, that I actively listen and help my clients see alternative stories and the strengths they have within them.

  7. Avatar
    Sammy Sahni

    Understanding Michael White’s revolutionary method of narrative practices is a great learning. The approach to family therapy by David Epston seems remarkable to me. Telling our stories by Barb Wingard is something that really resonated with me. Acknowledging grief by telling stories of the past, connecting to our families and finding our own strength by sharing of these stories. Honouring the ones lost and reflecting on the stories of survival. Understanding standing in solidarity and the whole conversation between Michael and Sam. This would have taken humility and a willingness to relinquish power and coming at the same level as the client. I love how Sam showed his humanity in the way he responded to Michael too and reminds me.

  8. Avatar

    TorCG

    Which particular ideas or stories intrigued you?
    I really like the story about how Michael White developed narrative practice by consulting with the people who sought support from him. By asking if the conversations were helpful or relevant to them.

    Why do you think these things stood out to you?
    The way that this method of co-research really centred the experience of the people seeking therapy as being experts of their own lives. It really demonstrates the collaborative nature of narrative therapy and how important it is to seek the feedback of those who consult with you.

    What from these histories would you like to take with you into your future practice in some way?
    I think the David Epston extract about ‘informed not knowing’ is something that I would really like to take with me. I always thought that it was so important to know as much as I could about a person’s personal history when working with them. But this method of enquiry encourages the centring of the person’s expertise rather than basing the therapeutic conversation on the assumptions of the therapist. This is something I would like to integrate more into my practice.

  9. Avatar

    lynne.renshaw

    One thing that stood out to me was in ‘Telling our Stories in ways that make us Stronger’. I found the way that Aunty Barbara Wingard talked to the young man about his grief very moving. It was a very profound description of how grief is ever-present in Aboriginal communities, and the ways in which individuals and communities both are connected and disconnected from their grief.
    I was struck by the complexity of grief, the way it links to past and present injustices, as well as European norms around ‘silent’ grief leading to disconnection from community and culture.
    The ideas around externalising and relating to grief, and how grief is handled not only individually but by a community was something that I hadn’t fully considered before.
    I think re-membering and connecting with story around those who have died is a concept that I could take back and work with in varying contexts.

  10. Avatar

    Karen Becker

    Brisbane Australia
    Which particular ideas or stories intrigued you?
    I liked the article by Aunty Barbara Wingard and the idea of staying connected to our people, past and present. I liked the story of the man who let go of his anger against his father by bringing his father into the conversation and was able to reconnect with his father’s love.
    I liked that she said that youth really need to know the stories of the past and how they dealt with them. It’s a way of holding onto loved ones and identifying where we belong.
    I also loved the story of Michael and Sam. This would have taken humility and a willingness to relinquish power. I love how Sam showed his humanity in the way he responded to Michael too and reminds me that people with mental illnesses have so much more to them than their diagnosis.
    Why do you think these things stood out to you?
    The sentence in Aunty Barbara Wingard’s article, “These days, if you talk too much about the past, people look at you as a radical – they think you’re trying to stir up trouble” got my attention because I see that in our society all the time. This really clarified for me how talking about the past helps to heal. History matters because it explains why things are the way they are today.
    Michael’s story resonated because I often feel like I am not professional enough as a social worker and I want to be a fellow human being with the people I work with. I think this validated my own personal values and style of working.
    What from these histories would you like to take with you into your future practice in some way?
    I want to acknowledge the stories of the past that make up who a person is today. And I want to remember that people are more than their diagnoses and have insights and humour and care to offer in any therapeutic relationship.

  11. Avatar

    Crystal Williams

    I really love the way Micheal speaks with the patient Sam in ‘Continuing the Conversations’. Instead of showing himself as above the person he is trying to help, his language shows the patient how they are both human with problems that need to be solved. Basically putting them at the same level. This also is shown through the term co-research coined by David Epston. Showing the clients how they can research together on how they can come up with solutions to problems. I find these concepts to be very empowering to those we work with and I strongly believe this is how I want to practice. (Vernon, BC, Canada)

  12. Avatar

    Ula

    Ula from Shrewsbury, UK.

    I found the stories of Michael’s and David’s creativity, views, and intellectual partnership inspiring. I find clients can sometimes position mental health professionals as “experts” who will “fix” them. This power dynamic is easier to address and flip with some approaches than others, and I think the extent of humility, openness, and transparency discussed in the articles makes it much easier to empower the client. I feel humility is key in this, as it can be quite difficult to look for honest feedback and discuss our own practice, particularly when it is filmed.

    I also resonated with the article by Barbara Wingard, as for me it really highlights how important acknowledging people’s culture and beliefs are in any support that is offered. It can change the dynamic from a prescriptive approach to one that is tailored and relevant to the person, and so much more meaningful.

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    Rhian Holmes

    Rhian in Wales UK.
    I really liked the quote from Michael White at the bottom of the page, about if psychiatrists were confronted with the circumstances that their patients had to deal with, they would probably have mental health issues as well. I feel this way about my work in mental health services, that mental health crisis can happen to anyone, and that next time it could be me. Relating to people how you would want to be related to if very important and breaks down barriers, and old ways of thinking about ‘expert professionals’, and shifts towards individuals as experts on themselves and their wellbeing. Working together rather than “doing to or for” means that individuals are valued and their contribution is the most beneficial part, since the intervention is for them. I will take this forward and share with health colleagues.

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    David Clayton

    Burnie, Tasmania, Australia

    I found the story of how David Epston and Michael White collaborated together to initiate narrative therapy intriguing. I quite enjoyed how it worked as a trans-Tasman connection of being able share experiences, stories and practices from similar and different cultures. I also liked reading about the social issues that came to light during the 1980s, as well as Epston and White’s ways of approaching research in terms of Epston reading widely 1000 books at a time, whilst White read rigorously reading one book 1000 times. I would like to take the nature of collaboration across countries. I have made a few connections during my travels and would probably connect and work alongside them via Zoom. As well as being rest assured in my approach to research, finding a way that suits me and not changing it, even though someone else might have a different approach.

  15. Avatar

    Kylie Webster

    Which particular ideas or stories intrigued you?
    The ideas that through narrative practice the therapist and client can establish a very collaborative approach to healing. This is seen as integral in aboriginal history that has a tapestry of storytelling approaches through their songs, dance and stories that connect them to culture and country.
    Why do you think these things stood out to you?
    The concepts presented are culturally sensitive and keep a balance of power between therapist and client and establishes the client as the owner of their stories and as such the expert in their own healing.
    What from these histories would you like to take with you into your future practice in some way?
    It provides a very honest approach to therapeutic practice that does not elevate the therapist to a power position.

  16. Avatar

    Steven

    Reflecting on the collaborative work of Michael White and David Epston, wanting to take a moment and really appreciate what they have done for this arena, and for the creation of narrative therapy. It is really inspiring work and a lot of dedication and challenge went into it to get us to where we are today, and we’re able to work with people. In this model, the spirit of adventure. The spirit of wanting to be different, not wanting to do the same thing again. And the spirit of not competing that they shared was completely. The perfect way to go about what they have started. As someone who is relatively new to the narrative therapy space. It is definitely worthwhile taking the time and having a look a little at this collection of information, and considering the significance and the connection Michael and David had. And really what this development meant. And then it brings us to the context of today, and where a number of us would be working in research in this space, supporting people and their stories in the narrative approach, and really making all the difference we can make as active practitioners, whilst respecting the scientific research model, along with the everyday work we do. And the difference we make in helping people along their journey, and living in their story and being very mindful, is a narrative.
    Steven – Mackay – Australia

  17. Avatar

    alicegrieve

    Alice, London.
    I found Barb’s words on ‘Telling our stories in ways that make us stronger’ so important and thought provoking. In particular, Barb’s description that Aboriginal people are being asked ‘to leave a lot behind’ by being expected to forget the past and the phrase ‘silent cries can go on for years and be heard by no one’ was very powerful. I really valued hearing about the different ways of talking and connecting with people about grief described by Barb, such as externalising grief and seeing oneself through the eyes of a lost loved one. This is definitely a piece I will come back to as I move forward in my career.

  18. Avatar

    Megan M. Matthews

    Megan (“MEE-gan”), writing from Cleveland, Ohio, USA.

    Which particular ideas or stories intrigued you?

    The concepts from this chapter that resonated most strongly with me were those of collaboration, partnership, and “learning” rather than “knowing”.

    Why do you think these things stood out to you?

    These concepts reminded me of a saying from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (which I am also currently studying): “We [therapist and client] are in the same soup together”. ACT, like narrative therapy, places value on speaking to the client from an equal perspective; both approach therapy as a collaboration and a partnership, in which the therapist is not in a default position of power-over but is instead in the position of being able to receive and learn from as well as give to and teach the client.

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

    More than anything else, I want to carry with me Michael’s spirit of authenticity and willingness to be “zany” and in other ways different from his middle-class colleagues; and the ability and willingness to be genuine with my clients and let them know, in the spirit of “learning” rather than “knowing: “Hey – this narrative therapy stuff is new to me too. So what do you say we work together to see how we can make it work for you and help you build the life you want?”

    (I hope I can get releases from some clients in my future private practice, for videotaping purposes to help me learn…)

  19. Avatar

    TashaRae

    “Understanding of people’s problems within terms of the wider contexts of life” was a piece that really stood out to me…that the wider contexts to consider (like family, larger society, etc) are where to map out the problem. The problem becomes more of an identified happening and not something that is an inherent part of a person. There are so many institutions within our society that can inspire symptoms for people, but the locating and understanding of those problems through peoples stories is where the work happens.
    I also like the way that Wingard described the experience of aboriginal peoples and their losses and injustices. I think that Native American people are experiencing the same things as a race which is resulting in our high rates of alcoholism, violence and death. I think that there is something very powerful in testimonies of people, and the community grieving/ strength in community connection.

    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?

  20. Avatar

    debbie webster

    The story of Sam really resonated with me and I found the collaborative approach incorporated in this is an approach that I endeavor to achieve. This approach really respects that individuals are the people that have the best knowledge of their own stories and allows a practitioner to draw on their knowledge in order to assist in delivering the best outcome. I found the history of narrative therapy very informative.

    1. Avatar

      gem123

      I also found the story of Sam quite moving. Interesting that such a simple conversation can lead to establishing a therapeutic rapport. I think this speaks to the NT idea that the therapist and client are equals within a collaborative process, rather than the therapist maintaining the ‘expert’ role.
      Melbourne, Aus

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