Forums 2020-2021 India Narrative Therapy and Community Work Training Program Forum Thinking behind practice- post structuralism, culture, individualism

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    AvatarSoumya Jagatdeb

    Thinking behind practice- post structuralism, culture, individualism
    February, 2021

    Although it is the last month of our reflection writing, it doesn’t feel like a culmination but rather an expansion of narrative ideas and thoughts at this stage.The workshops and the tape recording were ways in which I got the chance to address the finer strokes but it was also the written reflections every month that helped me stay consistent in my attempts to consolidate my decentered position while continuously going through narrative practices across different challenges and experiences. I think a huge component of working towards a de-centered position was to understand, reflect and establish that clients have the skills and know how to situations. Another component is to not just remember that language is how we construct realities but also, that it is an instrument of power (Foucalt). That inquiry doesn’t just stop at understanding the meaning of the words that the clients carry but how they are rooted in power of legitimacy, and hence how deconstruction comes into play. Recently, I utilised this in conversation with a young woman who has received a psychiatric diagnosis. The diagnosis, since the time it made a presence in her life has made her question if she can ever find ‘stability’. The reading by Chris Wever that speaks about deconstructing ‘western oriented deficit’ psychology was helpful in navigating that conversation with her. She shared with me all that she has read about the diagnosis and some very common words across them have been “chronic”, “unstable”, “clinical” etc. As we chose to understand the effects of such words, she told me how she had been thinking that there is no barometer that these articles have stated about what they see as unstable, which is why it often ends up making her feel that she will never achieve “stability”. This was an important conversation for her and I to question the single stories and norms that make up ‘stability’ and how she’d see it differently for herself. Language as a unit in this way reminds me of Anderson and Goolishian’s Collaborative language systems model of family therapy in which the client’s concerns are negotiated through language rather than fixed by finding new solutions. It sometimes makes me wonder how we hardly spend time on epistemology behind a particular theory but most often talk about them after the practice. In the past, my ideas around post structuralism were rather exclusive only to art, research, politics etc. Isn’t post structuralism how we have always lived and hence was always present in the world of therapy. Perhaps ‘knowledge is imparted’ than ‘knowledge is co-created’ has always made us overlook it. Similarly, as I look back, my understanding of culture has also sometimes been binary, say with regards to individualism and collectivism. Somewhere again losing the intersection of the same in any culture or sometimes looking beyond them. There are times, my client and I are stuck even after finding exceptions and unique outcomes. Although they may find space in their re-authored landscape, they still remain very thin as opposed to the single stories.That’s where I realise what NT attempts to profoundly tell at each point, that the person’s story needs an audience. A lot of the time, my therapeutic directions can intentionally and unintentionally seem individualistic, for e.g.- the emphasis on self reliance as a “tool for becoming better”. It can subtly manifest in our work even if on the exterior we hold individuals as socio-centric. People embody values, beliefs and intentions in interaction with others and thus seeing their identity as relational now makes greater sense. I have come to realise that such stuckness that I mentioned earlier can be a good spot to utilise outsider witness groups, tree of life and letter documentation. Not just be interested in how a particular development reflects about the person, but also how it reflects about the person’s history, culture, friendships, family and/or community add further nuances to thicken it. For example, a young client sharing with me how it was important to her to save her mother from her step father because she has always been told that children are the bravest. We looked at how important this was for her, how this belief has played a role in her family’s history and can be subsequently seen in her younger brother. Coming to culture, when I reflect on how so-called collectivistic culture can affect my work, I think of how social harmony in collectivism can often invite conformity to typical ways of living, for eg- neurotypical ways of working that uphold group norms and if I am ending up propagating the same while working with someone identifying as neurodivergent. Honestly, I am able to even debate the subjective understanding of cultures and how that makes space in my practice because of post structuralism. Like I said, we have reached a position where we are inversely looking at the epistemology. Post structuralism is critiqued for being less scientific (a critique which is almost self defeating) and for not having thorough answers. Believe me, somedays, it makes me feel better when I question myself, “Am I trying to adhere to a single story of a therapist?” and I find most of my answers.

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