Someday VSNT will write the 'social history' of Narrative Therapy. We will create and craft this social history through the countless and radically imperfect, wonderfully tender, over the top, hilarious stories of learning we have enjoyed together - all along the way.
The VSNT tale includes a relational love story detailing how our narrative community fearlessly followed Michael White and stepped away from 120 years of individualist based psychological knowledge and practice. Someday all this will be told and re-told.
For now, we'll relay a short version of how the Vancouver School for Narrative Therapy has grown up and evolved through time.
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During a homestay visit with Michael White, Stephen Madigan was encouraged to open the first narrative therapy training school in the Northern Hemisphere, in Vancouver, Canada.
Michael White & Stephen Madigan
The invitation surfaced after Stephen was given permission to take a few months off his Doctoral MFT program studies to live with Michael in his home in Adelaide, Australia and rigorously train at his Dulwich Centre clinic in the art of narrative therapy. With Michael's generous support Stephen traveled to Adelaide not once - but twice!!
Michael (the teacher) conducted the therapeutic interviews, while Stephen (the apprentice), wrote down all the narrative therapy questions asked in the therapy room and then asking both client and Michael questions about the questions asked in the session.They were seeing 5-7 clients each day, and in the evenings they discussed post-structural theory and politics over dinner. Perhaps most importantly through it all - they had a lot of fun.
One night, on the back of an Italian restaurants paper place mat (that still exists), Michael & his partner Cheryl White sketched out the frame of what the narrative training school in Vancouver might look like. A few years later the Vancouver School for Narrative Therapy and Yaletown Family Therapy were born.
At the time Stephen (still an MFT doctoral student) protested he wasn't experienced enough to start teaching. Michael maintained he was. Raising the stakes even higher, Michael came up with a bold idea that once Stephen gained his PhD, he should NOT plan to work with, or, for anyone (University, Agency, Government etc.), for a minimum of 5 years. Michael asked: 'What's the worst that could happen?' Stephen responded: 'Well, I could fail miserably, make an utter fool of myself, and find another line of work.' Ha!
The Pocket Sized Tale
VSNT opened as the first Narrative Therapy Training School in the Northern Hemisphere.
Designed and hosted the first (and now the longest running) International Narrative Therapy conference – Therapeutic Conversations.
Created VSNT.live that’s become a world wide online teaching phenomenon offering a full video history of Therapeutic Conversations conference workshops and CE courses through hundreds of one of a kind videos and supports members with up-to-date interactive discussions on present day narrative practice and theoretical developments through Live therapy demonstrations and sets of exciting ongoing discussion series.
Home to the most experienced, most published, and most highly trained Narrative Therapy Teaching Faculty in the world.
2022- 2023 Primary Teaching Faculty include: Rosa Arteaga, Harjeet Badwall, Christine Dennstedt, Helene Grau, Stephen Madigan, David Marsten, Todd May, Aaron Munro, and David Nylund.
2022- 2023 Associate Teaching Faculty include: Erling Fidjesttol, Sharon Leung, Ottar Ness, and Jeff Zimmerman.
Stephen Madigan with twin daughters Hannah & Tessa and Michael White
So . . . barely into his thirties, flat broke (Grad School in the USA $$), and with no clients in sight, Stephen received $6,500. from his ever supporting Irish parents to open the 'idea' of YFT/VSNT. He completed the first Doctoral Dissertation written on Narrative Therapy in record time (Michael and David Epston were his outside readers), drove his car back up to Vancouver from south Florida, signed a 3 year office lease in an old converted brick and timber industrial warehouse (where the school and practice remained for 15 years before moving on to new digs), and the rest, as they say, is history.
The first VSNT narrative training group included 17 participants and a (wee bit overly enthusiastic? Ha!) 220 page reader including the work of: Post-structuralists Bordieu, Bachelard, Foucault ; social constructionists Gergen, McNamee, Parker and Shotter, and writings from Gregory Bateson, Jerome Bruner, Virginia Goldner, Jane Flax, Karl Tomm and a ton of Michael's writings.
After the first year of operation, YFT/VSNT hosted the first ever International Narrative Therapy conference (known after the first four as Therapeutic Conversations). The Vancouver School commends all the thousands and thousands of former participants and presenters who kept showing up to our trainings and conferences year after year after year. Thank you.
VSNT’s primary political/ideological teachers (who were also a large influence on Michael's practice/theory) were Tamalie Kiwi Tamasese and Charles Waldegrave of the Just Therapy Team of Wellington NZ. Along with their Maori colleague Flora Tuhaka this powerful duo (who were like family to VSNT) agreed to keynote VSNT's first narrative therapy conference. VSNT didn't really know exactly how to host a conference but everyone chipped in and somehow it all worked out.
Michael jumped in to keynote the 2nd conference in Vancouver the following year. And while all this was zooming along, during the 5th year VSNT was open, Michael’s first teaching assistants, the amazingly practice talented and brilliant Ian Law and Vanessa Swan decided to move to Vancouver from Adelaide to work and teach with our team at VSNT. This particular VSNT clinic and teaching team played super hard and tirelessly worked to develop their own particular style, politic and narrative practice meaning.
We also put our stamp on the narrative therapy world through the writings found in our first VSNT/YFT book of practice and theory entitled: PRAXIS: Situating Discourse, Feminism and Politics in Narrative Therapies. While at the same time standing on the shoulders of our teachers, VSNT was growing up and going its own way. We were changing, fast.
Charles Waldegrave, Stephen Madigan, Kiwi Tamasese
On and on VSNT’S narrative teaching projects ventured - as we continued to grow up alongside a host of remarkably talented therapists, teachers and theorists: Johnella Bird, Alan Jenkins, Ken Hardy, Imelda McCarthy, Todd May, Vera Manuel, Esther Perel, Jill Freedman, Arthur Frank, America Braco, Karl Tomm, Allan Wade, Aaron Munro & Gwen Haworth, Rachel Hare-Mustin, Makungu Akinyela and Sheila McNamee, are just a few of the incredibly gifted teachers who graced the TC conference main stage through the years. VSNT also brought many of these speakers back into Vancouver for 2 and 3 day intensive study workshops.
By design the Vancouver School's TC Conference experience were not what one would call ‘mild spoken affairs’. Ha! The politics of politeness was replaced with the politics of accountability. And if you couldn’t stand the heat of accountability one simply got out of the proverbial kitchen.
TC conferences were not easy going affairs. No they were not! And as conference organizers, VSNT misstepped, stumbled into unknown territory, and made a lot of mistakes. TC conferences were also hard charging, emotionally exhausting and brilliant affairs that always topped off the day with equally hard charging parties.
From the beginning, VSNT workshop trainings and their TC conferences took up accountability practices other more liberal minded mainstream therapy conferences did not.
Presenters and participants took part, jumped in, and sometimes participants got bruised - all in the spirit of moving the discourse, politic and practice learning forward. The purpose of TC was to transparently and painstakingly address (in this order through the years): white and gender privilege, race/racism, class and structural inequalities, hetero-normative/cisgender privilege, Queer informed practice, ability/disability accountability, neoliberalism and various forms of mental health justice around homelessness, poverty and mental health stigma.
Gwen Haworth: Trans Keynote
David Epston, Stephen Madigan and Michael White 1995
Power/knowledge issues pertaining to individualism, expert knowledge, diagnostic manuals, governmentality, subjectification, gender, class, race, sexuality etc., were always expected to be laid out on the table in workshops and, if somehow they were left out, a fierce reckoning occurred. The training experience would not be described as 'gentle', however it could be described as necessary. And while all this was going on, absolutely earth shattering demonstrations of new narrative therapy practice was shown. Amazing.
VSNT.live is our latest and greatest training adventure.
The complete Vancouver School video catalogue of our collective narrative therapy history was designed in part to offer all of you the opportunity to witness and discuss these incredible (dare we say breath taking) TC conference keynotes and workshops. The entire collection of videos and narrative therapy courses represent one-of-a-kind conference teachings - along with a huge amount of LIVE practice sessions with children, families and couples, and present day faculty + guests long play series discussions on new relational practice and theory with the VSNT faculty. Whew!
Presently, VSNT stands on the foundations of this magnificent experiential history - demonstrated through its 2022-2023 world class faculty who represent the most experienced and well trained narrative teaching faculty in the world today.
Our faculty include an international group of 10 narrative therapists, a relational researcher, two trans identified community organizers, a critical race theorist, and a renowned continental philosopher. Collectively we are 100% committed to growing the learning participants knowledge and practice of narrative therapy - further.
VSNT Faculty Rosa Arteaga with Disabilities Keynote Presenters Norman Kunc & Emma Van der Klift
Thank you so much to everyone for making this narrative therapy journey with VSNT and - welcome to those of you coming to train with us for the first time.