Kaethe Weingarten, USA

My mother died 34 years ago and the 15 boxes of her papers that my father sent me after her death remained unopened in a closet until today. Michael was with me as I sorted through the innards of her file cabinet drawers, knowing, because of the work that I have done as a narrative therapist, that each paper, note, journal entry, and recipe I selected to read would add a dimension to the thickening of my description of her, making her available in new and marvellous ways to my children and grandchildren.

One letter to me written in 1965 – unsent – stands out. I always thought of my mother as wise, but she had a meandering (she was, after all, a published novelist, essayist and short story writer) exposition that sometimes drove me wild, and I would think or say critically, ‘Mom, get to the point’. This letter did, with love and logic wrapped together. It reminded me of me.

In this two-page single-spaced typewritten letter, she endeavours to help me understand the first of what would turn out to be many complex medical problems over my lifetime. Reading it out loud, my husband and I both wept, for there in the room was not only her, but me, and also our daughter and daughter-in-law. It was now possible to re-member her and to see where I come from with even more clarity; to give these two young women we love a connection further back to carry forward to their children and hopefully beyond. I wouldn’t have known to pause and knot the rope in this place, to tell these women that the conversations we have today were patterned decades ago, had it not been for the practices of narrative therapy. I would have experienced the intensity of my feeling but not the uses to which they could be put.

Prior to today, I would have said that it was Michael’s frameworks for bridging the macro world analysis of socio-political conditions with the micro-politics of everyday life that most inspires my practice: both what I do and what I write. This day, I see that at many critical moments in our family’s life, narrative ideas have provided a foundation for meaning-making that has been constructive and enlivening, easing shame, doubt, and grief and encouraging curiosity and momentum. I think the future of Michael’s work lies in just this kind of insight: the personal is the professional and vice versa. I have had many such ‘ah ha’ moments and each has strengthened me in all of my roles. Local adaptations of narrative therapy will come from people who not just admire narrative ideas but from people whose lives have been changed by them.

I travel and teach on many continents. I see people struggling to make their clinical and community practice align with their political beliefs. Some (few) clinical models are helpful and narrative therapy is one. Narrative practice works best as a chameleon, changing with local conditions. Like others, I look forward to seeing each colourful variation.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Noah Greenberg

    thank you for this, I want to write about my mother whom was a healer for others ( a 40 year carrier as a therapist, community activist). Since her passing my relationship has change with her but has not weakened, she is in my work as therapist my self and in my life. The one and only question I never got to ask her was, “mom at what point in your life did you cross paths with Michael White or his work?” Reading his work and studying in workshops with folks that have been influenced by him I can hear my mothers voice, I can hear her stance I can hear her preferences and assumptions. As an artist she would leave statements, I will leave you with this one, “I believe we can be architects of change. In a sense we can paint a better picture. -Karuna Licht”.

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