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Kindness of Strangers, The Body Enters Advanced Training, Bergen Norway Narrative Therapy conference



The Rose That Grew From Concrete


Did you hear about the rose that grew from a crack in the concrete? Proving nature's law is wrong it learned to walk without having feet. Funny it seems, but by keeping its dreams, it learned to breathe fresh air. Long live the rose that grew from concrete when no one else ever cared.


~Tupac Shakur



Hello Everyone ~ And welcome back.

Below you will find a ten-minute read with musings and stories on generous acts of kindness, narrative therapy and the body, and a few existential reckonings about the lockdown experience we have all shared, together and alone.

Hoping each of you find a little something worthwhile. Let us begin . . .


- - -


My good friend and colleague Gunnar Martinsen (of Narrtiv Praksis Bergen) wrote to VSNT Operations Manager Robin Evan Willis and me the other morning. Telling us a bit of bad breaking news.


Apparently, the Hotel in Bergen Norway he’d lined up (and got us a great deal with), to house presenters and participants attending our co-sponsored Third Nordic Narrative Therapy conference May 4-6, 2022, had cancelled the deal.


Under normal circumstances I’d be immediately reaching for the phone, ringing the Hotel person in charge and, having it out about, the broken deal.


However, as it turns out, there wasn’t any side show shenanigans going on. The Hotel had decided to close its doors to customers for the next 3 months in order to accommodate Ukrainian refugees fleeing Russia’s military invasion/occupation.


I rang the hotel anyway, to lend support to their decision. Not that they needed it. What is needed is world-wide support for Ukrainian refugees fleeing Russia’s brutal military invasion and occupation of a sovereign country.


I also rang my good friend Darryl Grigg who I’d been arrested with, endured an exceptionally long court case together, and we still must get waivers to get over the US border for travel, for simply – some might say assertively - protesting on behalf of Nuclear Disarmament. Today this tragic threat lurks, again.


Somehow the Bergen Hotels kindly actions transported me back to my first visit to Norway playing as a Canadian Team member in the World Ultimate Frisbee Championships. I’d been part of the Canadian Team who’d come 5th, 2 years before, in Belgium so . . . we held high hopes going in. As it turned out, we tanked badly and came 5th again. Head hanging utter disappointment.


But all was not lost.


In the months leading up to my second ‘World’s’ I was a doctoral student in South Florida and had picked up with a very solid local Miami ultimate team to continue my pre-tournament training.


During this same period of time I’d also picked up a deep fascination with Tom Anderson’s Reflecting Team ideas. Hmm, Tom Anderson lived in Norway.


I wrote Tom Anderson a 3-page letter. Long colourful paragraphs on how I experienced and understood his work. Ha!


And asking if it were at all possible to visit him in Tromsø, Norway, where he lived and worked, after the tournament.


Left him my phone number at the bottom of the page, just in case.


Tromsø is located 350 kilometres (217 miles) north of the Arctic Circle and, 1148 kilometers (713 miles) from the championship in Oslo.


It was a long shot, in more ways than one.


Two weeks later my phone rang. It was 5:30 am. My little flat was dark. It was Tom Anderson. Calling from Tromsø.


During my late August visit to Norway, Tom and his family would be on holidays at their cabin on an island off the coast of Kristiansand (Kristiansand?) And rather than profusely thanking him for his show of kindness to get back in touch with me, a strong case of early morning grogginess took hold and, I first enquired if Kristiansand was in Norway.


He laughed.


In that beautiful soft voice, I had only heard watching tape of him in the therapy room he said, “Well the reason I am calling is to invite to come and stay with us at our cabin near Kristiansand for a few days.”


“With your family? During your fucking family holiday?” I quickly asked him to please excuse my language (however, to be fair, it was frightfully early.)


He laughed again.


After the tournament I flew to the airport in Kristiansand. And there he was. Just as he was in the video. Tall, shy, welcoming, warmest smile.


He drove us to a little dock where we climbed into a little wooden rowboat. The sun was setting. I sat in silence (there would be a lot of silence over the next 3 days), watching him row us across the evening sea, to the family cabin.


At night we would talk, alone, in front of an open fire, set on the lip of the sea, for hours. Often, there were long silences in between my super-highly-enthusiastic-just-coming-from-a-raucous-Ultimate-Frisbee-event kind of questions and, Tom’s elegantly complex answers.


I grew up to enjoy the mystery of this silence, between us.


He was shockingly kind to hold and take seriously my desire to learn, from him.


- - -


Talk of existential reckonings have taken the spotlight these last couple of years we lived through. Discussing the altered and ever so intriguing relationship between the together/alone relationship, that has drastically, and without notice, changed. Changed within family relationships and friendship relationships and especially the couple relationships I see each week, in therapy.


Together/alone relationship consideration has always been an ongoing practice of consideration. However, I don’t believe a together/alone relationship consideration was ever considered within a context of a Covid virus experience.


The pandemic experience has brought forth a wide range of newly born relational productions. Experienced through our ongoing ups and downs of unknowing and uncertainty affecting all these together/alone relationships. Our relational rhythm often became that of a sign-curve. Up and down. Up and down.


Last week walking along ‘my’ Pacific Ocean beach, I got to wondering: What practices of relational life have grown more, and which have slowly been let go of, over the last couple of years? The people, places, things ~ that are changing?


Quick list . . . a simple comparative of 13 more of/less of, through Covid.

  1. More bare feet/Less socks.

  2. More grocery store planning/Zero worldwide airline travel planning.

  3. More staring at my own face on Zoom/Less time ever really paying attention to my face.

  4. More cups of herbal tea/Less late-night drinks at the local.

  5. More Skip the Dishes/Zero dining at the latest new restaurant.

  6. More time looking for Birkenstocks and hiking boots/Barely a glance at my smart shoes and boots.

  7. More time studying art on my walls/Less time finding new art for my walls.

  8. More cringing struggle learning guitar/No time going to live music shows.

  9. More meditation and infrared saunas/Less time running around/flying around trying to remember to meditate and take infrared saunas.

  10. More contact with close friends/Less contact with not as close friends.

  11. More time to study my work/Less time not having time to study my work.

  12. More appreciation for the family I love/Less time appreciating, others.

  13. Way more daily push-ups/Less time thinking about doing way more daily push-ups.

I could go on but . . . I will spare you, anymore, off-the-cuff, less/more listings.


Diver Couple, Banksy


One portion of my week I do hold close and love so very much is talking with my VSNT faculty friends. The range of where we can go seems, endless. And where we usually end up going is consistently, absolutely, hilarious.


Last week’s 5-day VSNT Foundation in narrative Therapy certificate was again, completely sold out. Faculty were fortunate to teach a tremendously eager, thoughtful, and interactive learning group. So many thanks to all of you who participated and to our Operational hosts Miya Akiyama and Kaelee Malcolm.


Sitting among the participants was one very special guest.


My daughter Hannah.


(Her second name is Micaela ~ named after Michael W.)


You may be asking: Were you thrilled? Was heart warmed? Was it exciting?


Check and Check and Check.


Hannah graduated nursing school as the world-wide pandemic was just beginning. She chose to work on the frontlines of the Covid virus because, as she stated, the community needed her. As proud as I was to hear her say this . . . it was also quite daunting and frightening to imagine.


After a few weeks on a large hospital Covid testing team, the higher ups decided to make her Charge Nurse for a whole team of Covid testing nurses. Heavy hours, heavy work, and mighty heavy responsibilities for someone so young and the youngest among all the nurses.


Last summer she went out in pursuit of another community minded job and became a High School nurse. The school did not have a school counsellor so Hannah also became the student’s ‘unofficial counsellor’.


Recently her principle made it official. She was now hired as both school nurse and counsellor (and, with only one rotation in psychiatry during nursing school behind her, she came to us.)


And that is the story of how my beautiful whip-smart daughter Hannah ended up with us in Narrative Therapy training (:


- - -


In late March 25-27, and April 2-3, 2022, VSNT faculty are at it again with our 5-day Advanced Practice certificate training (nine Advanced workshops over 5-days.) A certificate teaching inspired through our ongoing theoretical and practice explorations together (and apart.) Our VSNT faculty focus is to demonstrate and discuss how and why we are reshaping, refreshing, and re-thinking the ideas and practice of our narrative therapy informed work.


As a teaching unit each VSNT faculty quite obviously and quite deeply admires Michael White's exquisitely original non-individualist conceptual practice framework. And with this as a backdrop each faculty advance their understanding of these practices by discussing and demonstrating all the many ways we have built upon, changed, and collectively re-conceptualized some of Michael’s original narrative therapy practice and theoretical understandings.


Below is an outline with how we plan to approach the Advanced Practice course.


1. Our VSNT in-house philosopher Todd May (Yup, we are super jammy to have him alongside us), discusses how, before he died, Michael White was working out the ideas of Gilles Deleuze. So, Todd wants to carry this forward with an overview of Deleuze's thought and its relevance for the framework of narrative practice. In particular, he demonstrates how Deleuze offers a far better way to conceive the distinction between creativity and discovery than Jacques Derrida, whom Michael used earlier in his career for such central concepts as the absent but implicit and multi-storying. Note: our Todd is no fan of Derrida.


2. In another section of the 5-day training Todd will bring us into the ideas of philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty who he feels ~ represents the missing theoretical link in narrative therapy’s philosophical framework (!) And this is because his theorizing of the body allows us to bring together Michel Foucault’s non-individualist view and the lived reality of our corporeal existence. Todd's teachings seek to offer a way into Merleau-Ponty’s often elusive writings on the body.


OK – why don’t we continue with this teaching theme on the Body, shall we?


3. In another Advanced practice workshop, those of you who are fans of the amazingly talented Rosa Elena Arteaga are invited in to watch demonstrations of her newest practice approach - her creation of narrative therapy conversations and contracts with the body. Rosa turns her focus on the long-lasting impacts of complex trauma, and sexualized and gender violence through a narrative, decolonizing, feminist, and justice centred relational approach. You will witness her remarkable relationally informed questions, how she creates contracts of dignity and respect with the body, and her relationally reworking reputations of the bodies experience to create new meaning making and practices for living to match the persons values.


More on the body? Well ok . . .


4. How about this next workshop on the body with Jeff Zimmerman – one of the historic ‘bad boys’ of narrative therapy – discussing neurobiology and narrative therapy practice. What? For many years, he was Michael Whites closest narrative therapy colleague in North America. Jeff always deeply admired and respected Michael's practice, however, he also felt the non-discursive aspects of experience had not been properly addressed in narrative practice. In 2018, Norton published Jeff's book Neuro-Narrative Therapy: New Possibilities for Emotion-Filled Conversations. His Advanced Practice workshop starts by taking you through post-structural ideas and Narrative practices and then, shows how and where meditation, attention to affect, and interviewing the body can be brought in and privileged in our narrative work.


Want more body and narrative practice?


5. Ok let’s see. . . How about a long-awaited Advanced workshop alongside two of the world’s best discussing Narrative practice work with trans-youth, families and communities. Aaron Munro is an extremely talented (please note - zero exaggeration here) queer and trans identified VSNT faculty member who for more than 18 years has worked as an advocate, activist and Agency director. He also just so happened to open and direct the first trans youth homeless housing project in Canada in 2017, and in 2021, designed, opened and supervised the very first homeless trans adult housing project now currently staffed entirely by trans identified people. VSNT decided to pair Arron together up with his old pal Rock Nylund ~ the long-time Clinical Director/Supervisor of the award winning trans-focused Gender Health Centre in Sacramento California. Rock the magnificent has seen more trans youth and their families in narrative therapy informed family therapy than anyone else in the world (no kidding!) Together they guide participants into the bodies, intricacies, complexities, narrative skills and knowledges necessary when working with trans youth, their families - and the wide network of supportive and non-supportive relational communities.


Is this it? Nope . . . we have a few more Advanced Practice workshops for you.


6. How about VSNT virtuoso David Marsten teaching Advanced narrative practice skills demonstrating how, when certain dilemmas people face appear daunting, they can set the stage for rich story development. Asking a question that intrigues—not, What is to be done?” but rather, "Who might be counted on?” This incredibly textured and complex workshop demonstrates a relational practice focused on rich characterization that includes ~ his new and original interviewing practice of darkening the landscape. And what this all means kids, is that rather than providing simple unique solutions of hope, the way forward is to bring problems out in the open and up close by darkening further the problem’s hideous bits in order to set forth grander distinctions, of difference.


7. And how about we learn again from Vancouver hero Aaron Munro, teaching on Narrative Practices Working within Impoverished Communities. Yes – you don’t get to hear much about this, these days. However, as Aaron explains, poverty does have unique ways of governing, silence. What he does in the workshop is both dignify and bring to life very often not heard conversations and lived experience of people who are living in Canada's poorest neighbourhood known as - the Downtown East Side. Aaron brings Advanced participant’s ‘out on to the streets’ to meet with the vibrant community of people he works with struggling in relationships with trauma, addiction, violence, poverty, opioid deaths, and mental health stigma.


8. To round things out Rock and I present on a topic we have spent many years together analyzing, revitalizing, improving and experimenting with the experience of supervision. There is a lot to this 5-part supervision model we’ve settled on (for now!), but to give you a little taster it all begins with analyzing the all-important relationship between receiving client stories and responding to client stories. In other words, our focus of supervision is ~ The Ecology of the Receiving Context Therapists Receive Stories Into. Participants re-connect to a more intimate experience with the relational symphony of inter-locking beliefs/experience/values/politic/theoretical and practice preferences etc., that are then positioned alongside the big question of how on earth does a therapist coherently represent the multifarious ecology of the receiving context with the response back to the client’s story they receive? Represented solely through the asking of one little narrative therapy question.


9. Oh, and I’ll be demonstrating a few current evolutions involved in my narrative therapy informed Relational Interviewing with highly conflicted couple relationships practice. As the work has evolved, the practice has become more and more therapeutically different and sophisticated and therefore, more enchanting for couples but, more challenging for narrative therapists. However, I found the more therapists comprehend the relational complexities of couple relationships, the cooler and more comfortable they eventually become simplifying the ever-increasing complexities of this relational couple therapy practice. Anyway, (time permitting), sets of Relational Interviewing practices are demonstrated through videos I filmed with couples in Canada, Norway and the USA. (Note: Todd and I are offering a 3-day workshop in June 2022 on narrative therapy informed Relational Interviewing work.)


Girl with Balloon, Banksy


So, there you have it. VSNT Advanced Practice in 9 easy steps. Ha!


Finally, I know it may seem like a very expensive far-away place, and there may not be any sunset rowing boat trips with Tom Anderson off the coastline of Kristiansand however, it would be so great, after two long years, to have you with us at our first post-Covid, in-person, LIVE Narrative Therapy conference, in beautiful Bergen Norway. And, as of today there are just 35 seats remaining.


Thanks to everyone. Peace

stephen

PS: If you’d like to write back my personal direct email contact is: yft@telus.net

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