› Forums › 2020-2021 India Narrative Therapy and Community Work Training Program Forum › Reflection : Thinking Beyond Practice
March 9, 2021 at 10:42 pm #30647Thwisha BajpaiParticipant
‘It is only through being introduced to poststructuralism that we come to think about structuralism’ – this statement from the article Poststructuralism and therapy -what’s it all about, sparked an instant chord for me. As I read this the first time, the first question which crossed my mind was had I ever questioned the use of other therapeutic practices before being introduced to narrative therapy. While the answer was yes, it was always hard to find a well-suited alternate which felt more meaningful. I was suddenly reminded of each time we sat down to write case conceptualizations during our academic training and how strange it felt to fit individual’s and their experiences into boxes, sticking to a predetermined binary. The readings for this month summarized the many threads of learning in the last few months and weaved them in with practice.
Over the last one year of engaging with Narrative practices, the biggest testament highlighting conversations of privilege and power was the pandemic experienced worldwide. As we moved to acquainting ourselves to the online world and the ‘new normal’, I vividly remember a conversation with a 21-year old pursuing psychology as well. As we were discussing the surge in demand in the mental health field, she fleetingly mentioned how its funny psychologists don’t know how to fix this situation and how the ‘expectation’ doesn’t hold weight anymore because nobody knows what happening in the world. It suddenly struck me that the opportunity to make collective and collaborative meaning of our experience had presented itself now, but how many times did we rightfully know what was happening otherwise?
How many times have we heard the statement ‘can you read my mind, do you know what an thinking right now?’ while training as a psychologist. The idea of therapy is often governed by the notions of mental health professionals having the ability to interpret behavior and experiences and provide solutions to distressing/unwanted situations. As mentioned in the article by Leonie Thomas, ‘Structuralism has encouraged therapists and other professionals to believe that it is our role to know the emotional and psychological ‘truths’ about those we are working with’, something that is internalised by a number of professionals. This could not only limit our narrative as a professional by increases the risk of assuming, pathologizing or stereotyping and increasing the danger of a single story but also for people consulting with us. This takes me to a conversation with a 26-year-old who had presented with a history of long-standing trauma within the family context, anxiety and a diagnosis of ADHD. As we began working together, she mentioned that she would not like to work on the trauma or speak about it. As a therapist, my instinct was to make note of avoidance, assuming that the degree of difficulty would be too high. Several months later, when she shared parts of the story, she mentioned that she wanted to not speak about it because she was tired of people making assumptions. When I inquired further, she went on to say that everyone in her life put the difficulties she has experienced as a child under the ‘trauma blanket’. To my surprise she said ‘To be fair, I think I really handled the situation well but unfortunately no one bothered look for other explanations.’ As we kept exploring further, I realized that her purpose to keep trauma away from the therapeutic space was to create visibility for other stories in her life and not let it take over another time. This is an example I often keep in mind when my instinct throws me to make sense of an experience without knowing the full story.
The conscious shift from the personal to the social is another one that has held a lot of relevance in my work. The article by Charles Waldegrave on the challenges of culture to psychology and postmodern thinking had an excerpt which said “I have to think: what does my mother think, what does my grandmother think, what does my father think, what does my uncle think, what does my sister think, what is the consensus of those thoughts – ah, that must be what I think.’’ As I read this, the voices of a number of young people I work with came to my mind. A number of people around us become important stakeholders of our experiences, this is especially more relevant in the Indian context. Working with many adolescents and young adults with a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, systemic and structural stakeholders take a higher precedence. While the therapeutic space is often individual speech, it carries multiple voices at the same time, giving it a collective meaning and highlighting the influence of an intersectional lens. The words of an 18-year-old woman I work with come as she said “I really like my ADHD but school makes me hate it’’. Another 16-year-old once mentioned how people don’t believe he has ADD because boys can’t be this calm. Listening and deconstructing these notions often reinforces the problem of diagnostic labels and the placement of the problem in the social.
Narrative practice helps in giving meaning to the statement – ‘we are authors of our own stories’ by giving the opportunity to provide our story a preferred meaning and also contextualizing multiple different narratives within our experience. As a mental health professional, keeping the experience of the client at the center of my work and being a witness to their authored and re-authored stories is something I hope to hold on to. Mental health cannot be singular and it’s power lies in the plural, both for the therapist and the people consulting with us. An image that comes to my mind as I end this piece of writing is that of a forest with closely planted trees – standing strong and keeping the ground stable through its closely intertwined roots, pretty much representing the power of a collective!
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