Positive Psychology and Narrative Practices by Margarita Tarragona

Welcome! This Friday Afternoon at Dulwich Centre presentation promises something a little different. Rather than a presentation on a particular example of narrative practice, Margarita Tarragona explores similarities and differences between Positive Psychology and Narrative Practices. Margarita is a Mexican therapist and offers her presentation in both Spanish and English.

Following her presentation, please read responses from David Epston, Yael Gershoni & Saviona Cramer, and Stephen Madigan. We’d then welcome your responses on the on-line discussion forum. Thanks!

La Psicología Positiva y las Prácticas Narrativas por Margarita Tarragona

Bienvenidos! La presentación de esta Tarde del Viernes en el Dulwich Centre promete algo un poco diferente. Más que una presentación sobre un ejemplo en particular de la práctica narrativa, Margarita Tarragona explora las similitudes y diferencias entre la Psicología Positiva y las Prácticas Narrativas. Margarita es terapeuta, de origen Mejicano, y ofrece su presentación en Español e Inglés.

Después de su presentación, por favor lean las respuestas de David Epston, Yael Gershoni y Saviona Cramer, y Stephen Madigan. Luego nos gustaría darle la bienvenida a sus respuestas en el foro de discusión en línea.


David Epston (New Zealand)

Yael Gershoni & Saviona Cramer (Israel)

Stephen Madigan (Canada)

Published on January 24, 2013

This Post Has 3 Comments

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    Peggy Sax

    Thank you Margarita for the thoughtful presentation, and for generating this rich conversation! I first want to recognize all the time, care, enthusiasm, warmth and positive energy that you put into your presentation. As a fellow life enthusiast (what David Epston calls “an Exuberant”), I want to especially acknowledge your boldness in sharing your dual enthusiasms to this narrative audience. The initial responses by David, Saviona, Yael and Stephen put me further at ease, as they convey both the respect-worthy context for this “Friday afternoons at Dulwich” context, and the respect with which you, Margarita, are viewed by many around the world. Count me in (and with a special hello to Ítalo and to Pierre)! As Pierre wrote, “It is good to hear your voice, mapping this territory in a peaceful way” – building bridges between practices rather than walls.

    Lordy Susan! We don’t know each other (yet) but I hope we will. In fact, it is your post that put me over the edge, knowing “I really must respond.” I too believe in interacting in forums such as this that create a present, personal and interactional creative space – “The freedom to voice ideas in the moment, using them to develop/transform my own practices as well as assisting the creative evolution of others’ practices likewise in the now. Ideas transform before our eyes and ears as we interact with others on an open and equal level.” I join you, Margarita, David and others – as a fellow fisher-person, always in search for new ideas “to think with,” – loving opportunities to fish for new ideas and new learnings in exchanges with others, re-experiencing again and again the joy of how one idea can feed another, as we engage in an improvisational flow. Your words and imagery will stay with me.

    I share in the vision of creating bridges and building dialogue between approaches. It is a delicate business, and as I’m sure we’ve all discovered by now, important that we also honor distinctions. Yet at the same time, I too believe there is much to learn across approaches and disciplines. Words cannot express how Narrative therapy inspires me – more than any other body of ideas and practices. I hold dear not only the philosophical foundations in poststructuralist thinking, the specific maps and practices, the political commitments and the ethical considerations. These are like a compass for me.

    And at the same time, I also fully believe in stepping into other ideas and conversations as well. I often reflect on what I learned from my recently deceased esteemed mentor Barnett Pearce about dialogue as “standing firmly on one’s own ground while staying profoundly open to the other.” Many of us are on a lifelong mission to bring together people for difficult conversations. Why not apply these skills to open conversation with others who come from different therapeutic approaches?

    I can’t resist adding….I am so grateful to be part of an online study group called “The Narrative Practice & Collaborative Inquiry Study Group”.
    Founded in 2008, this global learning community began a few months after Michael White’s death, with the vision of bringing together practitioners, teachers, students drawn to narrative practice and other collaborative approaches. We charge a nominal yearly fee to cover expenses. Here we not only explore new applications of narrative practice and what most excites us in the world of ideas, but we often share our actual work as practitioners with each other, to see “where the rubber hits the road” or maybe better put, “where the rubber hits the crossroads between approaches. We accompany each other to pay more attention to what we are actually doing, always holding ourselves – and each other – accountable to cherished ethical considerations, and to the principles we value while staying open to the values of others. (We always welcome new member: Please don’t hesitate to contact me for further information).

    Thank you, Margarita, for opening the conversation, and to Cheryl, David D., and Ítalo for creating this forum. You make it possible for me to join in, not only to use this space to learn from/ respond to Margarita (and other) skillful presentations, but to invite others to join the NPCI online study group.

    Peggy Sax,
    Middlebury Vermont

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    Susan Lord

    Hello Margarita, David E. and all,

    I have so enjoyed this discussion.Probably for about 5 years I have felt that my life has depended upon finding a medium for writing and discussion of ideas. I had the exceptional opportunity allowed by a solution focused and narrative therapist who encouraged me to write. Since then I have wondered what to do with this most exceptional experience.

    It was not until I wrote to David Epston last year, about our narrative reading discussion group, that it became clear that we were on the same page at least. ie. the evolution of a ‘good ideas corner’ of which David has recently published. I have been joyously holding on to this most vital of ideas –ie. The freedom to voice ideas in the moment, using them to develop/transform my own practices as well as assisting the creative evolution of others’ practices likewise in the now. Ideas transform before our eyes and ears as we interact with others on an open and equal level. ie. We are each the expert of our own lives.

    So I believe in interacting in these forums, we are being drawn into that very discussion – a present, personal and interactional creative space!

    So I thank you Margarita for this opportunity and all your wonderfully creative ideas; I thank David E. for responding to my email!! while in transit at airports; and to the Dulwich team for providing this forum right here!!!

    I also acknowledge the vast generosity of Colin Riess for enabling my own ideas to be generated through this writing. He said at one time that my writing was changing, and he was right. The writing changed from a fairly fragmented drift, to one of scaffolding my own learning through this writing. I believe that is exactly what we are doing here as we write in response to the videos. This is really written narrative a la Vygotsky or Bruner or others not mentioned, but who may also have added their ideas to the flow of scaffolding. And in sharing I think we grow ourselves, and the work through connecting, integrating, and differentiating in the most positive sense.

    Now my creativity has been activated, so I would like to give voice to some of the ideas Margarita, that I am drawn to, and that have been generated for me from your video.

    I like the way positive psychology has drawn many many positive ideas together. You have mentioned at least 20!

    I do believe narrative draws on many if not all these things also.

    A few ideas that sound new to me are the ideas of flow, and positive relationship.

    After pondering here, I realize that I see flow in narrative conversation, every time – flow where a person takes off, in their mind through the questions and positions –or repositions. Change comes about in the flow which to me is like scaffolding the learning in the now, in the presence of positive relationship.

    Positive relationship is difficult in the world because much of it is so conditional; and conditions can be incredibly rare for some people to experience positive relationship.

    I started out to say that flow and positive relationship are hard to find –but what I really mean is that they are often pushed out by problems.I was thinking that these two alone could be singled out as vastly important in a ‘manual of sanity’, and fairly invisible when problems lurk about.

    But in narrative therapy they are very present. They possibly signify a good session over a not so good one.

    What I have come to realize here is that in narrative I can focus on the positive relationships in the past in remembering, but can overlook sometimes those of the present and future in what is happening around us. Eg. They may have very small or even stormy beginnings, but the true value can be seen in the meaning that is created for the person. These are paths not yet taken for instance. But these positive relationships are very present, or become present, when doing ‘Tree of Life’ (David Denborough et al.) for instance.

    Another thought I have been following right now is that the past is far from set solid. Michael White said something like the auto biography being the source of the identity. In some ways I have felt that the past is set solid –has set me solid, in terms of some past relationships.

    Yet the past changes, when its meaning changes. This underlying principle of re-authoring, remembering and thickening of a preferred identity means, that as our memory of events changes, according to the meaning, so our past and our identity is fluid. This reflects back through time to the present and the future and vice versa.

    Relationships can be re-shaped also, as an ally or masked ally. No relationship is wasted in this re-authoring, though I am not overlooking those creating trauma which may necessitate them being made redundant or being cut off.

    So I am interested, now that these two positive features have been named, how both flow and positive relationship is, and can be further maximised through the narrative process. I am interested in how this plays out for now and future!

    In narrative processes it is possible that we only get as far as the re-authoring process, and don’t get to look at the thickening in the present, quite enough, where there are only a few sessions or opportunities. I would like to see more of that. I do think though that clients do this wholeheartedly for themselves, and don’t need any help, because feeling empowered is then a joy.

    So I take away both these ideas, and hope to hold these in focus more, if that becomes possible.

    I also am a fisherperson, as fishing for new ideas and new learnings has been my desire in our current narrative reading discussion and practise group. It is improvisation, in the world of ideas –with scaffolding as the process! – one idea feeding another, and with that we have flow. ie. For a reading group or forum, it is the flow of everyone simultaneously. -Slightly more simultaneous in person but then in forum we have so many more minds attending!

    So without a good ideas corner or melting pot, there is an absence of flow. We just need a whole lot more melting pots to try out ideas. Without these there is a sense of disconnection, distrust, individualism, isolation, competition, stagnation to the detriment of learning and human need.

    So thanks David E. for naming the good ideas corner, and Ron Findlay for valuing improvisation of the narrative idea in the form of a reading group. For myself, this idea also came from reading Foucault.-eg. the Ancient Greek ethics Foucault speaks of in his interview “The Ethic of Care For The Self As A Practice Of Freedom”(1984) – enabling a voice – enabling intentional action. All these things and much more, are represented in narratives’ intention to making visible the invisible steps people take in caring for themselves.

    Thanks David and Cheryl for recognizing and developing this into the forum we have here. It speaks for connectedness and valuing of self and others likewise.

    So I agree that those therapies that persist are those that continually refresh themselves with ideas and are continually on the move.

    Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and his studies of ‘flow’ and creativity are of much interest.

    To me without flow there is no real therapy. And it is up to the therapist primarily that that is achieved – but also it depends on the openness of the client to be moved, challenged and honest, just how much can be achieved. It is reliant on these things by both therapist and client for a flow to be achieved. It doesn’t happen in role play for instance unless the players are being at least real to themselves. And here lies the difference – it is in the realness and availability and responsiveness of the participants. It is hard though for people to not interact when it concerns their values,hopes and dreams etc.

    Narrative is difficult to define because it does involve so many great ideas.

    Michael White’s definition I think is something like -the re-authoring of preferred identity conclusions from storylines, alternate to the problem story, or that resist/ defy the problem story. (Something like that anyway. I have misplaced that quote.)

    I have found that the process of narrative therapy is complex and intricate in its careful and ethical construction.

    It is complex because of the number of conventions that need to be broken before it can run smooth.

    So in saying that, I am very careful when comparing narrative to other methods.

    For me there are a few essentials that would need to be present in another method eg.: the human person is always the focus, and his words are the most representative of his meanings and identity. Without the person’s words as the link we end up directing, controlling, fixing and colonizing, even in the most subtle of ways.

    The most important thing to me that narrative offers is that this approach follows the client extremely closely, through the following of his words and meanings. Anything that doesn’t do this is in danger of leading both client and therapist astray.That may sound obvious, yet in the subtlest of ways, ‘astray’ happens in the best of therapeutic relationships.(and I know, having caused, or been party to much ‘astray’)

    And with ‘astray’ goes all direction, content, empowerment and flow.

    The whole process is intricate and carefully worded; and through absent but implicit, what is being done already to resist the problem is picked up, and fed back to the client in their own words, these being a legitimate representation of the person’s meaning. Of course there are many other techniques which thicken this process, and many other ethical principles that are also involved.

    But if I am not in a process of flow on leaving a narrative session, then something has gone wrong. Most often I know instantly, because there is immense flow almost always, with narrative. With a good narrative session, one walks out a different person, in a different place.

    With other methods I am left with questions; with narrative I leave with new knowledges of myself upon which I can act.

    Thanks Margarita for your most inspired presentation!!

    I am very grateful for the discussion, and will be keeping flow and positive relationships in mind.

    Who knows where forums like this will take the quality of narrative and therapy in the future.

    Kindest regards,


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    Troy Holland

    Dear Margarita,

    Thanks very much for your presentation. It was informative to me especially because I hadn’t known much about positive psychology before except what I had seen in advertisements.

    I especially liked the idea of ‘doing things for their own sake’. I’ve been thinking quite a bit about ‘Art for art’s sake’ and how this might relate to people’s lives generally and to work of therapists (and my work) more specifically. My personal artistic interest is writing and I have been searching for and developing opportunities for collaborative writing groups that might have therapeutic aims recently – with the limited opportunities I have had so far I have found this ‘work’ extremely satisfying. I am also interested in ideas about creativity and flow and how these might be relevant in narrative practice.

    As you predicted we might do, I have some concerns about ideas like ‘optimal functioning’ and ‘your best person’ and what might be absent but implicit here. This has me in mind of histories of individualism and commercialism and much of the advertising I have seen claiming to be promoting positive psychology has appeared very commercial. This makes me feel as though some of the values applied in positive psychology might not fit for me in the way that values I believe to be applied in narrative practices do.

    Your presentation also reminded me of some recent conversations I have been having about narrative practices. I heard a wise comment from a politician on television the other day and it did strike me that perhaps in being so keen to differentiate my practices from other practices that perhaps I am blinding myself to opportunities for connection and collaboration. Your willingness to consider similarities and how practices might be related or connected encourages me to further consider my position on this. Hopefully this might assist me to maintain relationships with other practices and this might lead to benefits for me, for people who consult me and others.

    Thanks again Margarita for sharing a willingness to consider diversity in practice.

    Warm regards


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