2014-no-1 CherylA note Cheryl White 

In 1979, the Australian Journal of Family Therapy was first launched. Moshe Lang, Graham Martin, Brian Stagoll, Eleanor (Ruth) Wertheim and Michael White were key members of the inaugural editorial team of this journal, with Michael as the foundation editor. They were exciting times. The journal, which was later to become the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy, sought to contribute to the development of family therapy ‘downunder’. And so it has.

Thirty five years on, this special issue focuses on narrative family therapy approaches. Narrative approaches to therapy and community work derived from the Australian and New Zealand fields of family therapy. David Epston and Michael White first met at an Australian Family Therapy Conference. And yet, here in Australia at least, there have been some pretty significant ups and downs in the relationship between ‘family therapy’ and ‘narrative therapy’.

The invitation to Dulwich Centre to put together a special issue of the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy was particularly significant to us and we would like to thank Glenn Larner for this. Once we received his invitation, we wrote to key narrative family therapists in different parts of the world and asked whether they would like to submit papers. There was a tremendous response and enthusiasm for this. I think this reflects the rich intertwined histories of family therapy and narrative approaches, and also a great wish for further collaborations and generative conversations across differences. We will look forward to hearing feedback from readers.

dd-latestEditorial by David Denborough

This special issue includes papers from Norway, USA, UK, Brazil, Uganda, New Zealand and Australia. These include perspectives from highly experienced narrative therapists, as well as those who are engaging with narrative practices in diverse cultural contexts and transforming them as a result. We have divided this journal issue into three sections:

Part I: Looking forwards: narrative family therapy in diverse contexts
Part II: Looking across: links between narrative therapy and other family therapy approaches
Part III: Looking back
Part I: Looking forwards: narrative family therapy in diverse contexts

The first three papers include vivid contemporary descriptions of the use of key narrative therapy practices: re-membering conversations, outsider-witness practices, externalising conversations and written documentation.

In the first paper, Creating stories of hope: A narrative approach to illness, death and grief, Lorraine Hedtke recounts the use of re-membering conversations with families in which children have cancer or life-threatening illnesses. Her work facilitates the formation of legacies that can sustain family members, even after the death of a child, folding their stories into the lives of the living, and constructing lines of relational connection that can transcend physical death.

In the second paper, Witnessing and positioning: Structuring narrative therapy with families and couples, Jill Freedman provides clear guidance as to how to use outsider-witness practice within family therapy. In this process, people move between positions of telling and witnessing.

Geir Lundby then provides evocative stories involving the use of externalising conversations and letter-writing with Norwegian young people and their parents. Geir decided to focus his paper, Creating different versions of life: Talking about problems with children and their parents, on externalising conversations because in working with families, many parents have told him that externalising the problem is the single most important thing they experienced in their work together.

While these first three papers focus on contemporary uses of well-known narrative therapy practices, the following two papers illustrate some of the ways in which narrative practices are being transformed in diverse cultural contexts.

Makungu Akinyela examines the cultural relationship between narrative therapy and the therapies of a growing number of communities outside of European dominant culture. His article, Narrative therapy and cultural democracy: A testimony view questions the dominant approach to multiculturalism in the field today and introduces the idea of cultural democracy as an alternative approach to managing the relationship between narrative and other Euro-culture grounded therapies and the therapies of non-European peoples which may be similar to, yet culturally unique from, Euro-cultural therapies.

Caleb Wakhungu and the Mt Elgon Self-Help Community Project are transforming narrative ideas and practices as they use them to spark and sustain local economic ‘development’ projects in rural Uganda. Their innovative work links community work, therapy and development. A short paper, The gift of giving: empowering vulnerable children, families and communities in rural Uganda, describes here the significance of moving away from a children’s rights model (which had been imported from the West) to a model of empowering children and families in ways that are congruent with local cultural practices and understandings.

Part II: Looking across: links between narrative therapy and other family therapy approaches

The second section of this issue includes four papers from the UK, Australia and Brazil. These papers make links between narrative therapy and other family therapy approaches.

Drawing ideas from systemic and narrative approaches, Glenda Fredman’s team in the UK has found ways to bring families, practitioners and communities together to respond to medical, mental health and social care crises. This work has taken place with children, adolescents, older people and people affected by intellectual disability and their families. Glenda’s paper Weaving networks of hope with families, practitioners and communities shares an inspiring story of this work and describes ways of ‘conducting’ and ‘weaving’ networks of hope.

Val Jackson and Hugh Fox in their paper Narrative and Open Dialogue: Strangers in the night or easy bedfellows? briefly describe both narrative and open dialogue approaches before exploring their shared values, ways of working, their differences and the possibilities for integration.

Three family therapists from the Acquired Brain Injury team at the Bouverie Centre in Melbourne, Franca Butera-Prinzi, Nella Charles and Karen Story, then provide an account of the ways in which they integrate narrative family therapy and group work for families living with acquired brain injury.

While Lúcia Helena Abdalla and Ana Luiza Novis introduce their Brazilian narrative family therapy approach: Uh Oh! I have received an Unexpected Visitor: The visitor’s name is Chronic Disease. Based on their clinical experience with people with chronic diseases, Lúcia and Ana Luiza have developed a narrative methodology named ‘The Pantry of Life’ (also known as ‘The Unexpected Visitor’). This reflective approach invites the person and their family to imagine and describe the appearance of adversity in their lives as an ‘Unexpected Visitor’ who arrives unexpectedly and uninvited.

These four pieces offer glimpses of the ways in which many family therapists are engaging with narrative practices alongside and in conjunction with other family therapy approaches.

Part III: Looking back

We close this special issue by looking back at the intriguing histories of narrative family therapy. David Epston, in Ethnography, co-research and insider knowledges, revisits some of the intellectual histories of narrative practice, in particular the development of an ethnographic co-research approach to working with families. Significantly, by tracing the influence of anthropological and sociological thought on the development of what has become ‘narrative therapy’, one of the co-founders of narrative therapy invites current practitioners to read beyond the boundaries of any professional field in order to generate new forms of practice. This paper models a particular engagement with history in order to spark innovation in the present.

The second historical paper, Michael White and adventures downunder was written by David Denborough in response to four questions posed by distinguished family therapist Maurizio Andolfi:

What were some of the key steps in Michael White’s historical development from a personal-professional perspective?
From where did Michael draw his main inspirations?
What have been his major contributions?
And what has Michael left to the younger generations?
Apart from anything else, the history of narrative family therapy involves some pretty compelling tales!

We sincerely hope that you enjoy this collection of stories, ideas and practice from diverse contexts.