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  • Writer's pictureVancouver School For Narrative Therapy VSNT

Broken Hearts, Social Identities + A BIG (Live) Narrative Conference

“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment”
― Martin Luther King Jr.

Hello everyone.

There seems to have been a bit of a gap between this newsletter and the last one. :) It is a pleasure to feel the writing pulse and be connecting with all of you, again.

The faculty at VSNT are merrily caught up in a wide series of projects. Tinkering away. All the live long day. More on this a bit later.

Ok. I’ve been contemplating relationships, again.

All kinds of relationships, and for the purpose of this narrative therapy newsletter, below are a few thoughts on couple therapy relationships with couple relationships.

I’m sure you read the yearly statistics: according to the latest stats from the American Psychological Association (January 9th, 2023), in Canada and the USA approximately 40-50% of first marriages end in divorce.

Hmm. Odds aren’t great for the first timers. They are in line with first-time restaurants in Vancouver surviving through the first year.

The divorce rate for second marriages is higher, with approximately 60-67% of second marriages ending in divorce. But you know, now that we are closing in on Valentine’s Day, it’s really the thought that counts.

‘Popular’ statistical accounts/explanations of why marriages break up continually point us to slapdash, decontextualized, ‘individual’ causes that postulate zero meaning.

• Studies show 67.5% of marriages end in divorce due to poor communication, and an inability to resolve issues at 43%.

Is this it? Divorce = poor communication and an inability to resolve issues.

For those of you trained in family therapy this sounds a lot like Gregory Bateson’s explanation of a dormative principle - remember when he wrote about the topic in Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity – yes?

Bateson uses an example from Moliere’s play “The Imaginary Invalid" to illustrate a kind of empty knowledge that ultimately explains nothing but - is presented as a meaningful explanation of causes and effects.

In the play, a graduate student is asked to explain why opium puts people to sleep. He answers, “Because it contains a dormative principle” (opium puts people to sleep because its opium). This was so transparently pointless to French audiences in Moliere’s time that he used it to get a laugh. It’s not really all that funny when speaking about divorcing couples.

Sadly, I can’t remember a couple therapy 1st session where the statement “we don’t communicate” or “we just don’t know how to communicate” doesn’t bargain/barge its way into the session.

My sadness rests on how suffering couples are vertically schooled upside- and-down by this utterly useless, individualist, manifesto.

Why is the couple having difficulty?

Because they can’t communicate.

And why can’t they communicate?

Because they are a couple.

Couple relationships are often led by the couple therapist into the shallowest end of the declamatory pool after being tutored in the mind-numbing credo that whatever the relational suffering is, responsibility lays squarely at the feet of the individual couple relationship involved.

If this concept seems foreign – bravo to you.

Persons suffering in the therapy room are often portrayed as incontrovertible, not-measured-up-enough, individual failures. The theory behind this practice sports numerous soft research studies supporting therapeutic interventions to get this message across.

The quieting of complex relational suffering is believed removed by redecorating the individual’s historical deficits with an end run to normalize, govern, and ultimately correct personal communication.

I feel sad hearing these well-traveled themes from hundreds of couple relationships. Practices of being humiliated, pushed into shame, and subjected to individualist, non-contextualized explanations of their pain.

Rituals of degradation summarily dispensed by psychologists, therapists, family doctors, priest/rabbis/mullahs, academics, researchers, graduate schools, popular books, courts, lawyers, relatives, feminists, activists, advocates, and straight and queer close friends. Ugh.

How did we become so politically complicit? Compromised? Whatever happened to a contextualized thesis where concepts, relationships etc., must be understood in their social context.

Can we seriously take up the argument that couple relationships are not a participatory community, meaning that all members participate in all aspects of the community and share a conjoined responsibility.

We could one day consider drawing towards a study of how we conceptualize what couple relationships are in relationship with, what they create, how they create, the cultural social values and norms involved in the relationship creation, the creative contexts and influences they are directly imbedded within (and so on and so forth).

I am inclined to imagine the creative and possible transformations for therapists and couples when, the not so baffling non-individualist idea that relationships are relational (where it is difficult to consider them otherwise), takes hold.

Might a countries high rate of divorce be relationally connected with the couple’s relationships relationship to other relationships?

Could we possibly conceive struggling relationship communications under the influence of the relationship’s relationship with responsibilities, obligations, social norms, and cultural expectations?

Might we relationally connect the couple relationships relationship to work, children, children’s friends and activities, extended families, friendships, finances, colleagues, dying parents, fitness, sports, housework, religion, social media, leisure, travel ~ and the full-on never-ending list of expected responsibilities along with the time (+ exhaustion) it takes to live up to these responsibilities – that appear to go on and on and on.

I often wonder what a considerate relational practice action might produce. And what this relationally felt collective experience and acknowledgement may mean to the social contract between couples, therapists, and communities.

Imagine recasting our shared identities and relationships in such a way that they not only support and sustain a new social contract but, much more radically in such a way to fundamentally transform couple therapy. Yes, I do often wonder, this.

One obvious practice of couple therapy care is to extricate the excluded couple relationship from its present disembodied state of isolation.

Another practice is to consolidate a meaningful relational practice of inclusion to clearly recognize, locate, and commit the couple relationship back inside the relational foundations of a new social contract.

And as couple therapists, to have (to show) influence over how the social context stimulates a deep sense of community commitment to passionately include and invite the disembodied isolated couple relationship away from neo-liberalisms grip, and to come back home.

If you ever wish to explore these community commitments further please check out our ever-evolving couple therapy theory and practice demonstrated through VSNT’s narrative therapy informed Relational Interviewing practice (NIRI) ~ with conflicted couple relationships.

Our most recent NIRI workshop (2 weeks ago) is - taught by me and VSNT faculty members Helene Grau Kristensen (Denmark) + Todd May (USA) - will be up to watch, analyse, and discuss on very soon. Thanks.

One source of writing on relationships I found helpful is a book entitled Friendship in an Age of Economics: Resisting the Forces of Neoliberalism.

The book is written by my good friend and VSNT faculty colleague, philosopher Todd May. I enjoy his writing because the book is not just another record of the bleak divides we’re living through and add to the evening news reel on how to bring us back into the light.

The books aim is a little more intimate.

Friendship in an Age of Economics: Resisting the Forces of Neoliberalism is about who we are, with ourselves and one another.

You may wish to give this superb book a read.


BIG Conference,, Trainings & Books

The Vancouver School for Narrative Therapy is happy to announce


OCTOBER 27-29, 2023

Granville Island - Vancouver, Canada

Whew! During our years of COVID VSNT faculty wondered if would ever see the band getting back together again ~ in person. And here we finally are, inviting all of you to come out and play with us, in person, and get together once again.

This BIG live conference will mark the Vancouver School’s 24th sponsored narrative therapy event. Ha!

INFORMATION is coming your way soon regarding: Presenters, presenter proposals, workshops, keynotes, conference schedule, accommodation, fees, social activities, and, oh yes – the parties we are famous for.


FEBRUARY 23, 2023

Eight months in development, many sweaty days and nights, too much screen time and not enough alcohol or exercise ~ a new design is born.

Copious amounts of new and historical narrative therapy workshop videos/interviews, live practice, long play narrative discussion series + a super well-stocked document library ~ is coming your way.

• Please note ~ if you’ve been thinking about becoming a member – please wait!!!

• To the thousands of you presently reading our VSNT Narrative Therapy Newsletter, you will all be sent a pretty cool, time limited, one time only discount code to our newly developed site. Thanks.



• Note: On January 17th, 2023, ~ one month before the Vancouver School’s February 2023, 5-day Foundations course is to begin – the training was entirely sold out.


May 26-28 & June 3-4, 2023

“I was awe struck by who the faculty are and blown away by how much I was able to learn. This course was not only a turning point in my narrative therapy learning but also in my life!! Sending much gratitude and thanks to all of you. See you in the next VSNT course.” ~ Foundations Participant, New York City, September 2022

The participant driven narrative therapy practice certificate is guided by five world-class narrative therapists, a critical race scholar, and one highly imaginative continental philosopher.

Foundations Level Two

Applied Skills for Narrative Practice

Developing the Craft of Narrative Questions and Letter-writing

May 13-14, 2023

"The benefits of this VSNT training far exceeded my expectations. After the course I went back to my therapy practice and experienced a fresh new vitality and confidence in my work. I couldn't ask for anything more - huge thanks!" - Applied Skills Participant, November 2022, London, UK

Level Two Foundations is designed to dramatically enhance a participant's formulation and understandings of the theory, practice, and intentions of narrative therapy questions. This is achieved through focused supervision, discussion, and intensive support of the participant's development crafting therapeutic questions and therapeutic letter writing.

"My skill and ability to understand and ask narrative therapy questions on a scale of 1 to 10 before the course was a low two and this course saw me progress to a high six!! All I can wonder is "Who would be least surprised I was able to achieve this level of narrative questioning?" Hahaha! Honestly, the faculty at VSNT are amazing and I cannot thank them enough." - Applied Skills Participant, Toronto, Ontario, September 2022.

SUPERVISION ~ Cross-Training Narrative Therapy Immersion NEXT 2023 Supervision Dates arriving soon

VSNT 90hour + Cross Training Supervision was designed as a hands-on, hard-working immersion into the theoretical, ecological, emotional, relational, and deeply political learning experience of narrative therapy theory and practice.

VSNT faculty supervisors assist in fundamentally changing a participant’s therapeutic skill, creativity, knowledge, confidence, dexterity, and execution - inside the therapy room.

*Please note: Limited to 26 participants*


~ VSNT faculty and resident philosopher Todd May has a brand-new book coming out in June 2023. This will bring his total to 17 (or is it 18?)

His latest is entitled: Care ~ Reflections on Who We Are.

Todd turns his philosopher’s attention to the issue of care.

Asking: What is caring? What does a care ethics look like? What do we care about and what deserves care? What is it to care about ourselves as well as others? How does caring make us vulnerable? With his usual humour, wit, and laser focused writing, Todd addresses the difficulties between understanding care as a reflective attitude and as an emotion, between care and love, between caring for humans and caring for non-human animals, between self-care and concern for others, and between care and vulnerability.

~ I have signed on with APA again to write the 3rd Edition of Narrative Therapy (theory and practice). I imagine this will be last Edition I’ll write before I move on to ideas swishing around for other ‘possible’ books.

I view the 3rd Edition as a celebration and recognition of all the incredibly talented friends I get to teach with and think alongside, here at VSNT. 3rd Edition of Narrative Therapy will be out in March 2024.

KARL TOMM Conference ~ AUGUST 2023 ~ Calgary, Alberta

50th Anniversary celebration of Founding the Family Therapy Program at the University of Calgary

“Bringing Forth Generativities Within Relational Disquiet”

This, my friends, promises to be one righteous down-home spectacular conference celebration. I know I’ll be there!

Congratulations from VSNT to Karl and the community of therapists and thinkers surrounding him for all they have given and gracefully taught us, through the years.

~ Thank you so much for reading the newsletter and playing your part in our worldwide relational community of narrative therapy care, love, and fun. If you care to write, my direct email is:

Stephen x

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