Jeff Zimmerman, USA
When I read Cheryl White’s note asking us to write something that might be part of a postscript in a book of Michael White’s unpublished writings, I was immediately taken back to experiences with Michael. I was full of ‘Michael stories’. I also understood that Michael wouldn’t have wanted to be centred in the work we refer to as narrative therapy.
I remembered back to a conversation I had with Michael in the late 1980s. I had been doing work applying narrative therapy ideas to working with couples. As usual, Michael seemed genuinely curious about my ideas. After I shared my thinking, Michael said, ‘That seems like a really good way to do it’. Aside from the immediate good effects on me of this comment, a door was opened. Freedom. There were many ways one could do the work we do.
Several years ago now, I became interested in some of the recent work done in the field of neurobiology. I devoured a number of books on the subject. Inevitably I became interested in how current thinking about the brain jived with my narrative therapy knowledge’s and practices. Interestingly, brain research supports some of the main tenets we have been talking about for the last 20 years.
Where this research took me that is not emphasised in narrative therapy, is to the role of affect in therapeutic work. The implications of how affect is triggered in the brain and how the brain manages affect began to influence the work I do. Stories and storytelling construct affect. One only had to watch Michael work a little to get how keenly Michael was drawn to affective openings and how much he travelled in highly affectively evocative zones. Tears flowed from the client and from Michael. Yet, in our teaching in our writings we have not focused enough on what practices allow this to occur. I for one, now spend much more time having people relive their unique outcomes (I now think of them as unique outcome moments) as opposed to telling me about them. Neuroscience informs this direction.
I have much more to say about this, but this is not the time or place. Suffice it to say that Michael’s influence allows me to feel the freedom to shape narrative work in new directions. In my practice, in my teaching, with our interns in the schools they work in, we are trying to practice a more affectively-informed narrative therapy. My personal thinking is rejuvenated and my interest in doing workshops, now about the brain and narrative therapy, has returned.