A memory book for the field of narrative practice

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A memory book for the field of narrative practice

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- Review by Amy Druker
I had been reading one of the chapters ‘Laughter and Issues of Class’ before drifting off to sleep. That night I dreamed of traveling, together with my mom and my cat, Blizzard (who passed away in April) to Dulwich Centre. When we arrived, in my dream, I was struck by the warmth of the greeting that we all received. I do not remember much else about the dream, but the tone of the dream and the atmosphere of conviviality and welcome stayed with me long after I awoke.

Perhaps more than any other book I have read about narrative therapy, I feel that from the Memory Book, I got a real taste (a savoury delicious one!) of 'the spirit' of narrative therapy and of the history of the spirited, conscious, intentional ways of going about it, and of living it out.

It was hard to choose one chapter to review, given that so many pieces of different chapters captured my imagination and got me reflecting on different parts of my own practice, but I have decided to go with chapter one: How Latin America influenced the early development of narrative practice by Cheryl White. At the beginning of the chapter Cheryl White reflected on the dilemma she faces in the “telling of histories of narrative practice” and the story of how Latin America influenced the shape and early development of narrative practice. I appreciated her sharing of some of the questions that she has grappled with as she considered these invitations: “Am I the right person to speak about the histories of narrative therapy in these contexts? What about the voices of those friends and colleagues from Mexico, Argentina, Brazil and elsewhere who, for many years, have been engaged with narrative practice? Wouldn’t their versions of this history be more relevant than my own?”

After reckoning with some of the questions about how to speak about histories of narrative therapy to a Latin American audience, Cheryl chose to tell a very particular story which very much resonated with me. It was about a keynote address that Salvador Minuchin, an Argentinian psychiatrist gave: “... in which he 'put himself on trial'. He conveyed an example of his practice and walked us through it step by step, all the while asking the audience to be his judge and jury: What were the real effects of his actions here? Had he used his privilege as a psychiatrist in ways that were replicating medical expertise which might have unintended consequences?” Reading this transported me to a team meeting a few years earlier at Oolagen. A colleague had brought an ethical transgression in his work, and invited us to interview him about this experience. Like Cheryl witnessing Minuchin giving his keynote address, I also remember thinking to myself at that moment “that I wanted to try to live a life with that degree of courage and self-critique”. I also remember wondering what it might mean to the young person to know that her therapist shared this transgression 'publicly' with us, and invited us to interview him about it and what difference it might have made in their work together if she had she 'been a fly on the wall' during our team meeting that day. I am curious what name she might have put the ethic or value that was enacted by my colleague in sharing this with us. Since then, I have thought of this team meeting many times, and I have often thought about what effect this action had on our collective.

Cheryl White wrote about the significance of this ‘self-reflective critique in public’ and how this “not only influenced Michael's work, it also influenced the entire direction of Dulwich Centre and our publications”. I believe Michael White once wrote something like, if we are not finding ethical transgressions in our work, we are asleep. Understanding the history of this practice of self-reflective critique has re-awakened in me a commitment to being on the look-out for times when I have stepped away from my ethics, and to sharing these ‘publicly’ when I do encounter them.

Another story that stood out in the first chapter of how Latin America influenced the shape and early development of narrative practice, was when Cheryl White wrote about Lynn Tron's “spectacular act of spontaneous support, generosity, goodwill, inclusivity, love, hard work and commitment...one single act of care, that added so very much...” following (and in response to) Michael White's death. Lynn Tron, “without needing anyone else to make the decision for her, she just packed a bag, went to the Mexico City airport and purchased a ticket to Adelaide.” Upon arriving at Dulwich Centre she was willing “to work long hours... no task...too small, or too menial, or too hard...with only a ready smile and a warm hug...happy to be on her own, or drink wine and eat with those who were wanting company”. Cheryl White described her “marvelous presence” in the Dulwich network.

I was tremendously moved by this act of hardworking generosity and care because it reminded me of how I want to be in the world, and because it immediately brought to mind a dear friend and co-learner of narrative therapy whom I have witnessed also offering this kind of ‘narrative therapy’ and whom I suspect might have responded in a very similar way. I pictured my friend’s “marvellous presence” and her willingness to help out in ways that reminded me of how Lynn Tron went about it after Michael White’s death. It got me thinking about being a “marvellous presence” and about what might inspire this kind of response, and what it might take to cultivate this way of 'doing caring' and 'being there for people'. I have always felt that being a narrative therapist is not just a way of 'practicing' or 'doing therapy' but a way of thinking about and being in the world, and this act of kindness and hardworking generosity on the part of Lynn Tron is testament to this.

These are some of the things that I am taking away from this chapter. After reading this book, I am left with a feeling of deep gratitude for the folks at Dulwich Centre for the spirit with which they have engaged, and continue to engage, with people, communities and ideas; for the politics and ethics that have guided them in these endeavours; and for the passion for learning and unlearning (or perhaps re-learning) that went into it all along the way.

See full review at the following link:http://narrativetherapycentre.com/memorybookreflectionAD.html

(Posted on 29/01/17)
- Review by Angel Yuen
This beautiful memory book contains stories compiled by Cheryl White that evoke the history of narrative therapy. Upon first picking it up you may find yourself instantly and curiously scanning through the pages. It might be a bit of an interesting surprise to not be holding the usual formal or academic book but instead a large spiral-bound book with a rich social history that uncovers the traces, experiences and impacts of ordinary people. As you browse you will find pictures from the 1970’s and 1980’s of the many persons who made creative and innovative contributions to the development of narrative practices, vibrant letters and reflections from younger practitioners, and images and photos which reflect the times and history of the growing years of narrative therapy.

In a beginning letter to readers Cheryl White invites you into a tapestry of stories, memories and histories. My own 'narrative' journey has spanned over two decades and if you also happen to have a longstanding connection with narrative practices, there is a good chance you will be pleasantly brought back to your own narrative history and experiences. You may also be reminded of aspects of the spirit and politics of narrative therapy that you hope to get reacquainted with. For those perhaps starting to fall in love with the ideas that inform narrative therapy, the stories in the memory book will not only provide you with a wonderful starting point but also spark you to explore further or perhaps to create your own innovations. Moreover for any reader, awaiting are some stories that will make you laugh that can be likened to humorous conversations one might have sitting around the kitchen table …and others that may challenge or be unexpected leaving you to ponder, think and question more.

In my first sitting with the memory book I keenly scanned through the ‘Contents’ page of the various titles of chapters and found myself intrigued ...yet also faced with the not-so-easy choice of which chapter to read first. Hmm. Here are just a few of the titles that might catch your own attention:

‘Five radical ideas, splits and things not to leave behind’ A conversation with Ron Findlay

‘An unexpected meeting’ Cheryl White

‘Histories for the future’ A conversation with David Epston

‘Rigour, imagination and politics of practice’ A conversation with Stephen Madigan

‘Laughter and issues of class’ A conversation with Jane Hales

‘Breaking from psychological colonisation’ A conversation with Taimalie Kiwi Tamasese

Subsequently I enjoyed deep-diving into the many chapters by multiple contributors. Having a feminist-informed ethic and practice (even prior to my narrative journey) one of the first chapters I delved into was ‘Feminist challenge and Women’s Liberation” by Cheryl White. This chapter significantly shares how the ripples from the Women’s Liberation Movement and the feminist politicising of everyday life were key threads in the development of narrative practice. My hope is for all narrative practitioners to read the letters, conversations and stories within the chapter to not only have an awareness of this important history and connection, but to also keep a current feminist lens in everyday therapeutic and community work.

Overall there are countless gems of stories inside the memory book. Some of these include: captivating tellings about four young people in the 1980’s - Ann Epston, David Epston, Michael White and Cheryl White and their beginning adventures together; Ron Findlay’s emphasis to not forget the political history and side of narrative practices; many poignant and helpful learnings about responding to social pain and injustice that have come from cross-cultural partnerships, aboriginal narrative practice and Just Therapy contributions; and the honouring of family therapy and an interview with Salvador Minuchin just before his 92nd birthday.

Above are only a few of many highlights that stood out from just some of the chapters. All the while collective thinking is weaved throughout the memory book and the importance of paying attention to culture and context and including the voices of those with insider knowledges. Hearing about some of these highlights will hopefully encourage you to go for your own trip down the ‘memory book’ lane.

The ‘Memory book for the field of narrative practice’ is not only an archive of the past, but also a book filled with ideas and influences for current and future narrative practice. Having said this, this piece has been written with intention to honour the rich histories of narrative therapy and with appreciation of Cheryl White for documenting and bringing together these significant stories from earlier days. I’ll now conclude with (although we know it’s not the end of the story :) part of Cheryl White’s message to readers …‘it is hoped the diverse histories acknowledged here provide a foundation for continued innovations, creativities, and generative partnerships.’ In the spirit of continuing narrative possibilities I am excited thinking about this memory book being read by you …and the next generation of narrative practitioners

See full review at the following link: http://narrativetherapycentre.com/memorybookreviewAY.html.

(Posted on 29/01/17)

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