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 96 Comments

  1. Kent from Indiana in the USA. What stood out to me is the way narrative ideas developed through relationships, dialogue and friendships. It makes me recognize the important relationships I have in my own life and the ways these friendships are shaping my ideas and the way I choose to practice.

  2. Hi, Ann from Dublin in Ireland. I loved Barbara’s article and the idea of ‘conversations under a tree’. I think this is a lovely way to listen to someone’s story and sounds so relaxing. I love the idea of reconnecting with our loved ones who have passed away. My friend recently lost her daughter at the age of 34 and she is struggling with her loss. She has been to therapy and the therapist insists on my friend ‘letting her daughter go’. She is finding this difficult. I think the idea of keeping a relationship with our loved ones much healthier. I hope to help my friend with this idea. I have lost my parents and my son and I always feel they are still with me I have never thought of letting them go. I have a different relationship with them.
    The idea of co-research also intrigued me. The idea of ‘doing research on problems and the relationships that people have with those problems, rather than on the people themselves’ changes my whole idea of therapy. It creates a sense of ‘working together’ rather than an ‘expert’ working on a person to ‘make them better’. As I have said previously, I really admire Paulo Freire and his idea of a dialogue where the people’s empirical knowledge of reality is nourished by the leaders critical knowledge and gradually becomes transformed into knowledge of the ’causes’ of reality.

  3. Hello! This is Jade, from Toronto, Canada.

    I found David Epston’s discussion around anthropology and co-research to be quite enlivening. I love the idea of “ethnographic imagination” and “informed not knowing”. In particular, the statement that resonated with me was:

    “Within the field of therapy, for many years there was an implicit assumption that in order to help someone you must know a great deal about them… However, ‘informed not knowing’ is still knowing a lot. To be able to assist people to know their own knowledge is a considerable form of expertise. It requires a different sort of inquiry, one that involves setting to one side one’s own assumptions, making no pretences that you can know another’s experience and ‘walk in their shoes’, but rather entering into an inquiry based on ethnographic imagination, whereby you seek their versions of how they go about the living of their lives.”

    I’ve always found the idea of “empathy” (or ‘walking in somebody’s shoes’) to have a lot of problematic elements, but I’ve never quite been able to untangle that and find the word that captures a different sort of relating. I feel that an inquiry of “informed not knowing” is so spot on, and I love the possibilities it opens, as well as an emphasis on relating in a way that cherishes differences rather than empathy, which I feel is based on valuing similarities and can tend to erase those important differences and the rich, full narrative somebody is sharing. I think that “empathy” (or maybe, practice based on a value of empathy) risks creating single-storied narratives. I love the possibilities that open up with an honouring, anthropological stance!

  4. What struck me was the reference to indigenous practitioners from Just Therapy. I had the honor of hearing representatives from Just Therapy (and purchasing their book) years ago here in Canada I believe in Calgary. I was struck that this was just starting to be part of their conversation in the 1980’s how far we have come – and how far we have to go – in terms of de-colonization and honoring the stories and profound wisdom past and present of indigenous peoples throughout the world (including Canada, Australia, and NZ)

  5. This is Paddy Farr from Eugene Oregon USA again. One of things that drew me Narrative Therapy and one of the things I see reflected in the readings above is the strong connection to solidarity and decolonial practices. Here in the US, we have just gone through the national holiday Thanksgiving, a holiday which the dominant narrative portrays the pilgrims as giving thanks for what we have by stuffing ourselves with turkey and sugary sweets. Yet, beneath this narrative is the history of colonization and slavery where white colonists have stolen land and lives in order to create the nation as it exists today. Doubly ironic is the day after Thanksgiving, known as Black Friday, people across the nation fight (quite literally resulting in riots and assaults) one another in shopping malls for the best Thanksgiving deals on Christmas presents. My family is bicultural and biracial, and we take part in an alternative: the National Day of Mourning wherein we fast followed by Buy Nothing Day wherein we break our fast and get together as a family. We, along with many of our loved ones, take part in this as a protest that builds an alternative to the dominant grand narrative of manifest destiny by pointing out the connection to genocide that these holidays forget. It is practices like these, the building of collective narratives through solidarity, that I see related through these modules.

  6. I am really interested in how Michael White places the work of family therapy in relation to narrative therapy. His emphasis on the importance of considering the ‘problem’ of the individual to be related to all family members and that of the community. His linkage of family therapy to feminism was surprising for me, as I have never made such links between the two approaches before. The stories and interviews opened up a new school of thought within my personal and professional practice framework.

  7. Which particular ideas or stories intrigued you?
    I really enjoyed reading Cheryl White’s transcription of a conversation Michael White had with a patient regarding losing a button on his pants. I thought the idea of being on a level playing field with someone seeking treatment went a long way in humanizing the patient and giving them the opportunity to provide help in a situation instead of just seeking it.

    Why do you think these things stood out to you?
    I think it is because of the idea that when in a patient/therapist dynamic there is always the idea that one person has everything going correctly in their lives and the other person is looking for help from the other in order to accomplish that as well. It can often create an imbalanced relationship and cause the patient to rely on the therapist for every problem in their lives. Thus making it much more difficult for a patient to improve.

    What from these histories would you like to take with you into your future practice in some way?
    The aforementioned idea that the therapist is also a work in progress just like the patient and that it is a collaboration between both to improve each other’s lives together. Yes, the therapist is there as a guide, but maybe not as someone who knows it all. By having this type of dynamic I believe it creates an atmosphere where additional healing can be achieved instead of slowed down.

  8. I was really drawn to Aunty Barb’s story for a number or reasons. There is a clear parallel to the injustice experienced by Aboriginal people and the injustice that Maori in NZ have experienced as a result of Pakeha (white people) domination. Too often, their grief from their loss of culture, goes unacknowledged.
    I’ve often thought how uncomfortable it must be for some clients to come to our centre and sit in a room they’re not familiar with to share their stories. It was so lovely to hear of Aunty Barb sitting with her young client to ‘tell stories under the trees’. Why do we need to call what we do ‘counselling?’ Just the name of it suggests that we (counsellors) are in a dominant position.
    Like the Aboriginal people, Maori also hold onto their loved ones who have died.Aunty barb talked of a gathering of Aboriginal families where they were encouraged to find ways of remembering that made it possible for people to see themselves through the eyes of their loved ones. This is a powerful way for people to remember stories and memories and to shift how they currently see their lives.

  9. Hi, Alex Here, From Mexico

    The thing that i find most fasinating is how Michael’s White ideas developed through out time to end up being one of the most interesting ways of dealing with people’s problems. It is quite amazing how through the sharing of ideas with his partner David Epson everything came together to build this way of seeing people and their problems.

    Specifically, what I like the most is how they both changed the whole game in how other psychologic theories and practices treated with ‘patients’, and how they used to see their lives (phatologizing their life with ”inner concepts”).

    Instead, they noted that, within cultural contexts, power relationships, narratives of power,gender biases, racial and socioeconomical views, most of the people’s problems coulded be deconstructed, ending up in the frase: ”The person is the person, and the problem is the problem”. In other words, watching people as something separeted from the problem.

    Such a relief!

    In general, I find all of the Michael´s White work and ideation as a very important bundle of ways of treating with people, their conditions, and their problems. A way of including them into the conversation and a way of acknowledging their experience.

    Thank you very much.

    I look forward to get to know more of the practices included into the narratives approaches as I read through the chapters.

  10. Hi there!
    I particularly enjoy the collaborative approach both in the relationship among ‘therapists’ as well as between ‘therapist’ and ‘patient’ modelled by Michael White and David Epston. Therefore, I really like the idea of being a co-researcher rather than establishing the duality of therapist and patient. I am wondernig what practices have worked for others to reach the state of ‘informed not knowing’?

  11. (Calgary, Canada)

    I very much appreciated Aunty Barbara Winegard’s perspective on silent crying and the dangers that this can “eat away at a persons spirit.” So often vulnerability has negative associations instead of being understood as a means to heal. I’m also thinking about how males in particular are often socialized to not be vulnerable and how this can contribute to a variety of issues, such as domestic violence.

    I will definitely be using the analogy of silent crying as a way to talk about pain and grief in my work moving forward. The imagery is impactful and may lessen perceived vulnerability of the emotions that lead to silent crying, by some.

  12. Which particular ideas or stories intrigued you?
    David Epstein’s ideas regarding co-research and an ethnographic imagination were intriguing. Michael White, so characteristically, explains the importance of solidarity with people who are seeking assistance. Solidarity is such an important principle to live by. The old adage about ‘do unto others as you would have done unto you’ comes to mind. In other words, I want “my” therapist to have solidarity with me, so I believe that I (as a therapist) should have solidarity with people seeking my assistance.

    Why do you think these things stood out to you?
    Co-research and ethnographic imagination stood out because they provide a perspective that is both practical and a fresh perspective. I perceive that these concepts, when brought to life (as David does so well), emphasise how unique each person and family are. David’s (and Michael’s) approaches to conversations can be playful too, so there is great scope in these concepts as well.

    What from these histories would you like to take with you into your future practice in some way?
    Solidarity stands out as a deeply humanising component of the work with people who come to see me. My training is in psychology and while there was training in counselling skills and person centred therapy, it did not bring to the fore a concept like solidarity. This is one that I will treasure. Thank you.

  13. David Epston’s interview really captured my attention – in particular his explanation of how an ‘ethnographic imagination’ is central to his approach to co-research. A quote which stood out for me was: “To be able to assist people to know their own knowledge is still a considerable form of expertise”. What this reminded me is that, just because many of the underlying principles of narrative therapy feel intuitively in-line with my own values and preferred ways of working with people, I shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that it is easy to put into practice!

    Aunty Barb Wingard’s account of her work also really stood out for me. In particular the descriptions of how she has supported people to make explicit links between justice and grief which is very powerful.

    The transcript of Michael White’s conversation with the man in a secure mental health ward also jumped out at me. It got me questioning the explicit and implicit training I have received about avoiding bringing myself into the conversation. I was impressed with how he shared his own vulnerability in that moment to authentically engage with the ‘patient’ as an expert/equal. I also acknowledge the concern raised by a contributor below that talking about your trousers falling down might feel unsafe or inappropriate for some clients but I feel the uderlying principle he modelled is very helpful.

    1. Which particular ideas or stories intrigued you?
      The solidarity and the respect of vulnerabilities.

      Why do you think these things stood out to you?
      Because I need to adapt this solidarity appropriately for each person with whom I am working. I need to be solid with the light-heartedness as much as with the deadly seriousness of each person in their situations. And I am interpreting lightheartedness sometimes according to its sense of still being alive even though such serious stuff is going on or has occurred.

      What from these histories would you like to take with you into your future practice in some way?
      I would like to take the sense of being able to connect with the unspeakable, not to disassociate or be distracted, to stay present with the person

  14. Wow – so many light bulb moments in this chapter!

    – I love how the whole approach came about from such an incredible relationships – the concept of partnership as creating a context for creativity is so powerful, and the perfect metaphor for therapist/client relationship.

    – I love how the approach draws from so many sources – philosophy, politics, social change, anthropology. I feel this eclecticism is necessary in order to address the rich tapestry of humans and their difficulties – something I feel was missing in my psychology training.

    – I love how irreverence, humour and a kind of punk rock attitude is built into the DNA of the approach – not being afraid to have your pants down is very important!

    Brian from Sydney, Australia

  15. Hi, Alex Here, From Mexico

    The thing that i find most fasinating is how Michael’s White ideas developed through out time to end up being one of the most interesting ways of dealing with people’s problems. It is quite amazing how through the sharing of ideas with his partner David Epson everything came together to build this way of seeing people and their problems.

    Specifically, what I like the most is how they both changed the whole game in how other psychologic theories and practices treated with ‘patients’, and how they used to see their lives (phatologizing their life with ”inner concepts”).

    Instead, they noted that, within cultural contexts, power relationships, narratives of power,gender biases, racial and socioeconomical views, most of the people’s problems coulded be deconstructed, ending up in the frase: ”The person is the person, and the problem is the problem”. In other words, watching people as something separeted from the problem.

    Such a relief!

    In general, I find all of the Michael´s White work and ideation as a very important bundle of ways of treating with people, their conditions, and their problems. A way of including them into the conversation and a way of acknowledging their experience.

    Thank you very much.

    I look forward to get to know more of the practices included into the narratives approaches as I read through the chapters.

  16. Great though sad to read, (due to the extent of the trouble) how Aboriginal people deal with grief. Also great to hear about the rigour that has gone in to this sort of therapy from Michael White and David Epston. Though many times I have been told that we are client centred the notion of solidarity that Michael talks about asking workers to truly think how they would cope if they had the lives that some clients have had really struck me as genuine and something that I truly believe in. The story with regard to Sam was particularly good at how a simple act can level the playing field. In general the humanity of both Michael and David was inspiring.

  17. Hello,
    I am Esperance from Rwanda.
    Thanks a lot for sharing with us the history, the collaboration and strong partnership of Michael and David which brought out this interesting narrative approach is very impressing.
    The part of Barbara of telling our stories in a way that makes stronger impressed me, i found in it another strategy of coping with grief.
    I again enjoyed the part of continuing conversations, it helped me realize the importance of creating a kind of camaraderie with one’s client.

    Thanks again

  18. ‘I’ve always thought of myself as doing research’ a quote from ‘Anthropology, archives, co-research and narrative therapy an interview with David Epston’. I really like this concept, to help people co-research ways in which to change their relationship with any problems they maybe having. A bit like watching the TV show, ‘This is Your Life’ the only difference being we are co-researching the past, history, stories, problems.

    Adelaide, South Australia.

  19. I love the idea of acknowledging history, context and influences. I fear this is exactly what is lacking in the digital age. The digital age seems like a significant turning point in history where immediacy or the urgency of the next new thing is the focus of attention. While the growth of the digital age offers so much promise and hope, I love the narrative value of weaving the two together – the present and the past, the hope and the history, the new and what has worked before. I am inspired to always acknowledge history and context the next time I give a lecture.

  20. I have been motivated by the idea of working with other, collaborations, partnership working and acknowledging one another.

    “I would like to acknowledge the contributions of Tim Agius and Barbara Wingard to our first explorations of the relevance of narrative practices in working with communities. The foundation of these first explorations was Tim’s unwavering vision of a community-wide gathering that would provide a healing context for Aboriginal families of South Australia that had lost a member through death in jail or prison. The spirit and wisdom that Tim and Barbara then brought to this initiative and so willingly shared with the members of our team sustained us in so many ways … “(White, 2003, p.53)

    Narrative community gatherings provide an example of a therapeutic approach developed in partnership between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal team members6.
    To my mind, Michael has bequeathed not only a profound body of work, but also a particular spirit of originating: one characterized by rigor, determination, collaboration and partnership. Hopefully, alongside Michael’s ideas, this legacy of an originating spirit will also be taken up by future generations of Australian therapists:

    “… one of the aspects associated with this work that is of central importance to us is the spirit of adventure. We aim to preserve this spirit and know that if we accomplish this, our work will continue to evolve in ways that are enriching to our lives and to the lives of persons who seek our help” (Epston & White, 1992, p. 9)

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