Approaches to therapy, such as that of the narrative therapists, as exemplified by Michael White, do not emerge out of a vacuum. They exist in a context of ideas, history and a social/political milieu that gives shape to their ideas and privilege to their position in being recognised as valid knowledge (Lowe, 1991). Over the last ten years narrative therapy, and in particular the work of White, has become increasingly influential in the family therapy field, giving White position and recognition leading to the American Association for Marital and Family Therapy endorsing him a “master therapist”. His approach could be considered an alternative story to the dominant and well established theories that family therapy has entertained in the past. White’s syntheses of ideas and the performance of his practice is creative and imaginative which has inspired others not just to imitate but also to originate new forms of therapy.
This paper charts the development of the narrative approach, as expressed in the work of White and his publications, in relation to field of ideas in the family therapy arena, particularly post-modern and social constructionist contributions. It will aim to create a “news of a difference” on the narrative approach, considering it in relation to other developments in theory and practice. Using a dialogic (rather than an argumentative) approach will attempt to avoid the negative effects of the either/or, right/wrong approaches to critiques of theory and practice. (Sydner, 1993)
This critique will then build on aspects of the narrative approach to deconstruct the use of our theories in the development and practice of our therapy This creates a framework for considering the essential need for dialogue between different approaches. It is being suggested that all theories, including the narrative approach, are lenses. Using multiple lenses for family therapy practice will help to avoid the problems that arise from adherence to unitary approaches. The overlap between the narrative approach and other therapists will be highlighted. The problems that arise from the lack of acknowledgement of this will be considered for development of practice in general.
White’s approach has been applied to a wide range of problems and situations, such as child behavioural problems and fears (White, 1986a; Epston, 1986; Wood, 1988; Seymor et al, 1989), greif (White, 1988b) separation anxiety (Durrant, 1987), encopresis (White, 1984b), anorexia nervosa (White, 1986b), intellectual disability (Birch, 1986) schizophrenia (Mackenzie et al, 1985; Hafner et al, 1990; White 1987), children in residential care (Menses et al, 1986), sexual abuse (Durrant et al, 1990) and men who are violent (Jenkins, 1990).
Munro (1987) in her review of the early developments of White’s thought viewed his approach as a “unique outcome” and she views it as a model in its own right. She thinks that his thinking falls in between the traditionally identified schools, though it could be more closely aligned with strategic approaches. It reflected a Batesonian information based tradition in contrast to his later work which uses a language based mode (Chang and Phillips, 1993). His more recent work (White, 1988c 1988/9, 1989, 1989/90, 1990, 1991) has incorporated new ideas from other disciplines such as “second order” cybernetics, interpretative anthropology and post modernism. He has introduced to the field a focus on issues of power and the relationship of socio/political contexts to the work of therapy with individual and families.
Table 1. Michael White – Narrative of a Therapist: From Externalising to Re-Authoring
|Phase||Year||Career of White’s Ideas||Field of Ideas||“Sparkling” Publications (1)|
|I||up to 1984/ 1986||Negative Explanation|
Externalisation of the Problem
Rites of Passage
Social and Interactional Context
Deviant Amplifying Feedback
|1st order” cybernetics|
Bateson, strategic family therapy,
anthropology, ritual process
Haley, van Gennep
Turner, V. (Ritual Process)
|(1984), “Pseudo-encopresis: From avalanche to victory, from vicious to virtuous cycles.”|
(1986b), “Anorexia Nervosa: A Cybernetic Perspective.”
(1986e) “Negative Explanation, Restraint and Double Description: A template for family therapy.”
(1986a), “The Ritual of inclusion: An Approach to Extreme uncontrolled Behaviour in Children and Young Adolescents.”
|II (a)||1987||Re-authoring of lives|
Cultural Available Discourses
|“2nd order” cybernetics|
Anderson and Goolishan Myerhoff, B. Bruner, J,
Geertz, Gergen, Bruner, E,
Turner, V (narrative)
Goffman E., Foucault
|(1987), “Family Therapy and Schizophrenia: Addressing the ‘in-the-corner’ lifestyle.”|
(1988a), ” The Process of Questioning: A therapy of literary merit?
(1988/9), “The Externalising of the Problem and The Re-authoring of Lives and Relationships.”
(1989) “Introduction” in M. White and D. Epston, Literate Means To Therapeutic Ends, (Text Analogy, Dominant Narrative and Alternative Stories)
|II (b)||1990||Narratives and Deconstruction|
Determinacy and Indeterminacy
|(1991), “Deconstruction and Therapy.”|
|(1) White (1989) encourages therapists to consider the “sparkling” events in their practice and I have extended this to his looking at the “sparkling” publications in White’s career.|