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  • Writer's pictureVancouver School For Narrative Therapy VSNT

Lockdown Drift, Teaching Across the Skies, and Things that Might Possibly Break your Heart

The task is clear: to create a culture of caretaking in which no one and nowhere is thrown away, in which the inherent value of people and all life is foundational.

~ Naomi Klein

Hello Everyone: My hope is that yourself and the people you love remain enchanted and healthy. This is a longer newsletter than the long newsletters I normally write. And it wouldn't be a lie if I told you some of the more interesting bits are at the bottom.  Late Breaking News: The Irish Supreme Court has ruled that the 'bread' served at Subway – the international US sandwich food chain with 41,600 stores in more than 100 countries – can no longer legally be defined as bread. According to the Irish Independent newspaper, under Ireland's Value-Added Tax Act of 1972 Subway 'bread' cannot even be defined as a staple food, because it contains too much sugar. Oh, I do miss Ireland. Had it not been for the pandemic, I would have visited the land of my family twice this year already. More Late Breaking News: In a conference call with reporters after the recent Presidential 'debate', Joe Biden's communications director and deputy campaign manager, Kate Bedingfield, announced the Biden campaign raised $3.8m between 10 pm and 11 pm through ActBlue, the Democratic grassroots fundraising site.  Even More Late Breaking News: This past week, I came up with a working title for the book I am about to write for the public on Couple Relationships. Now all I need to do is actually write the book and find a good publisher. Ha!

I'm shopping around these days wondering if the DSM department store is selling a Groundhog Day diagnostic category yet.

During early September there was a week I went to sleep on Sunday evening, woke up on Thursday morning, and was convinced it was Tuesday (is this just me?) Many miles were travelled in between but somehow the days and distinctions felt a bit blurry. August was an even stranger month that sported an unfamiliar feel inside this year of living strangely. September eventually rebounded back to a more recognizable rhythm and atmosphere.  August was a bit of a wobbler for many people I care about. The lockdown experience seemed to quietly intensify, while it casually and lazily drifted on by. And as we collectively wandered, all the slow-moving and numerous unknowns regarding COVID-19, climate change, children returning to school (or not), and the centre piece issues of the US election, seemed to be silently 'chipping away' at the beachhead of hope, direction and understanding. How strange was late August/early September? I had three close friends inform me, within a week of one another, they could no longer follow day-to-day political news events (more specifically American political news events) as closely as they once did, and always had, during the course of their adult lives.  I wondered if they were flirting with the topless dancer's advice in John Prine's song "Spanish Pipedream":

Blow up your TV, throw away your paper Go to the country, build you a home  Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches Try and find Jesus on your own

And just for the record, none of these cats followed through on attempts to disengage, as they are simply not built that way.  Because they know to ignore what's wrong has never made anything right. From all the relational despair linked to the unknowns of the moment, they can still rally up to shepherd in a margin of beauty; a précis of hope. "Spanish Pipedream" was released in 1971, when John Prine was barely 25 years old. By then he had already been drafted, served in Vietnam, and knew a little something/something about being betrayed by the leaders of his own country. Yes, it always helps to plant a little garden, that's true, but I'm quite sure John Prine understood, even as he wrote the melody, that hiding out from the hard news was only ever made up make-believe. I know from what I have learned (one hundred times over), the only things worth doing and standing up for, are the things that might possibly break your heart. It can be a tough business. Rage on. Ok then. 

From all of us working within the Vancouver School for Narrative Therapy, we send out a very big thanks to the international community for supporting our first ever 5-day and 3-day online certificate training courses.

Thank you to participants across the time zones. You woke up and showed up from Bergen, Brussels and Berlin. From Singapore, Wellington, Kuwait, Adelaide, London, and Hong Kong. From a mountain of small towns and big cities throughout North America. And, as always, thank you to all the locals here in the Province of British Columbia. We had no idea what to expect since this was the first and only time in decades we taught the certificate courses online. We were surprised when registration sold out. Below is a small taste from our online course participants since we last met on Sunday, September 27th:

  • "I studied the narrative work of the faculty recently in Grad School so to see them work live and hear them show and discuss their tapes in real time!!! was beyond exciting. Thank you to the faculty for being humble and funny and encouraging our questions. The whole thing was an unforgettable experience."

  • "I appreciated the personal reflections and case discussions from the instructors. I also really enjoyed the interactive interview/question development process, as it really helped me understand what is informing my questions. I have already taken steps in sessions with clients this week to slow things down, be more intentional with question development, and check-in with my clients to see how questions land. I had a rich conversation about race in a session yesterday, asked my client if a particular question I asked might have been informed by white privilege - it was a fascinating exchange as we talked about what it's like/means for them to have a white therapist. I loved the live interview with Lorraine Hedtke - it was just magic. Letter writing was also fabulous. Finally, I appreciated that you checked us on using the correct pronouns." 

  • "I loved all the information and getting it from such high quality professionals. It was amazing to be able to see them all in action. The live demonstrations were probably my favourite part, as well as all of the discussion."

  • "The environment was professional, but also friendly and functioned as a safe space for support and curiosity. The breadth in experience from the presenters! Wow! Their range in topics was so rich and offered such a broadened understanding of narrative therapy, its roots, practices, etc. The presenters themselves - such marvellous individuals with so much experience and wonderful teaching styles. Thank you!"

  • "The Advanced workshop experience exceeded my expectations. I knew I was repeating this 3-day workshop (after attending on Granville Island about 3 years ago) so I thought I would enjoy it, but thought it might possibly just be an experience of repeating a familiar program. Instead, I found myself enjoying and feeling deeply connected and fascinated by the whole program!!! 

  • "The 5-day course was extraordinary. Every presenter was different, massively skilled and engaging and I like that VSNT included philosopher Todd May to teach us about Foucault. Thanks!"

  • "I wanted to reach out and express my gratitude for VSNT and the instructors, as I learned so much, and will continue to reflect on all that I learned. I already have begun to incorporate narrative strategies into my clinical work. I deeply appreciate the community our cohort has created, and we have continued to remain in contact since the end of training on Sunday."

I feel forever fortunate to present alongside and be close friends with the most experienced and best-trained narrative therapy teaching team in the whole wide world.

  • Rosa Arteaga (Mexico City, Mexico/Vancouver, Canada)

  • Helene Grau (Copenhagen, Denmark)

  • Loraine Hedtke (Los Angeles, USA)

  • David Marsten (Los Angeles, USA)

  • Todd May (Clemson, USA)

  • David Rock Nylund (Sacramento, USA)

We have already begun collecting a list of participant names ready to register for the next online February 2021 Vancouver School for Narrative Therapy 5-day (possibly 6-day) and 3-day CE approved certificate courses. Our next certificate training registration will be ready for you in a few weeks time. Many thanks again.

Coming Soon: New Fall and Winter 1-Day & 2-Day Workshops from VSNT

Lorraine Hedtke: When Trouble Enters Relationships Between the Living and the Dead

The workshop demonstrates Lorraine's original narrative therapy work on how to navigate conversations between the living and the dead when the relationship was fraught with conflict, indifference, challenge, abuse, and when a person dies by their own hand or through ways that feel sudden and tragic.  Through LIVE demonstration interviews, Lorraine guides participants on how to reconfigure and re-aggregate connections between the living and the dead so that: a) the voice of the dead can be re-purposed and re-membered into a more loving lived experience, b) the relationship does not continue to be tyrannical or create wounds for a grieving heart. 

Workshop date soon to be announced

Alex Filippelli & David Rock Nylund: Queer-Informed Narrative Therapy

Alex and Rock's workshop will highlight the key values and practices of Queer-Informed Narrative Therapy. Participants will: 

  • Learn and unpack heteronormativity and cisnormativity; 

  • Learn the key tenets of Queer and new Trans theory; 

  • Develop relationally centered narrative therapy informed practices to advocate for queer and trans lives. 

Workshop date soon to be announced

Rosa Arteaga: Navigating the intersection of Lands, Mind & Body. Narrative Therapy with Racialized Girls and Women Who Have Experienced Gender Violence

The workshop highlights Rosa's original narrative therapy work through a feminist intersectional analysis. She will introduce participants to a practice designed to assist girls and women who are navigating the complex impacts of gender violence and complicated by the oppressive societal ideologies that frequently characterize the lives of racialized girls and women. 

Workshop date soon to be announced

Stephen Madigan + International Guests: New Developments in Narrative Therapy Informed Relational Interviewing with Conflicted Couple Relationships

Stephen first invented narrative therapy informed Relational Interviewing as an alternative response to more popular, individual centred, Dysfunction Focused methods of Couple Therapy. The workshop introduces participants to the latest practice advances in our work with conflicted couple relationships. He demonstrates this cutting-edge Relational Interviewing practice through unaltered transcripts and a variety of videotaped sessions with international couple relationships. 

Workshop date soon to be announced

Lates Updates on membership is about to triple. 

Yes, that's correct – triple in size. Soaring forward. 

We welcome you, we have room for you, and we hope you join us. 

Within the worldwide community of narrative therapists, there is a present day, pulsing, meaningful, and creative renaissance going on. This movement towards our practice future is fully represented on, and I have to say its all quite powerful and exciting to be a part of.  So, to our ever-growing international membership: 

  • Thank you for the care, love and encouragement you offer our development team and international faculty. 

  • Thank you for your ongoing support, trust, interactions, ideas, suggestions, creativity and commitment. 

  • And we obviously couldn't do any of this without you by our side.

One of the reasons is growing exponentially is our three Academic Licensure plans. Interested Graduate Programs can book a guided Zoom tour with VSNT faculty to take a peek at all the confidential information behind the curtain. Secure discounts for your Graduate Students, Professors and Alumni. For Zoom Tour information please contact or ring 1-604-688-7860.

Fall Long Play Interactive Series

(Long play series involve numerous episodes and special guests discussing and showing their work in one area of narrative therapy theory and practice.)

1. Aaron Munro: Queer and Trans identified, Aaron + his invited special guests bring you a sweet new interactive series that follows topics he has produced into documentaries over the last decade on mental health stigma, homelessness, poverty, violence, and legalizing drugs as a solution to Vancouver's contaminated drug tragedy. For the past 15 years, Aaron has trained counsellors and peer support workers on the frontline in Vancouver, and is a long time VSNT faculty member. If you want to see something therapeutically poetic and moving this year – make this the thing you see.                                                                                                              

2. Todd May: Professor of Philosophy, author of 16 books, and VSNT faculty member, Todd continues his spectacular theoretical/practice series on Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. We discuss how the ideas link historically to Michael White and the future of narrative therapy practice. I am the lucky co-host this one.                                              

3. VSNT faculty members including Helene Grau, myself, David Rock Nylund + guest spots with the Trondheim and Bergen Norway's High Couple Conflict Teams and the University of Barcelona Couple Therapy Program. We plan on a very long-playing series discussing our couple relationship tapes that showcase the latest expressions and developments of Relational Interviewing practices from Canada, Denmark, Norway, Spain and the USA. The Series will include:New forms of Relational Supervision related to the training of couple therapists/mediators working with conflicted couples through Relational Interviewing.

  • Interviewing Trondheim Norway's High Conflict Couple Therapy Team about the world's first working relational partnership they have forged with Family Court Judges.

  • Stephen will discuss and show his narrative therapy informed Relational Interviewing with Conflicted Couple Relationships.

  • Helene will discuss and show her expressions of narrative therapy informed Relational Interviewing with Couple Relationships experiencing the death of a child.

  • Rock will discuss and show his expressions of narrative therapy informed Relational Interviewing with Queer Couple Relationships.

4. A Collection of Generational Speakers: Conversing on Difference. Bringing different generational narrative therapists together to learn, grow, debate and to more clearly understand one another's personal, contextual and practice experiences.

Fall Interviews

1. Harjeet Badwall: We are in the midst of planning the interview with Harjeet (Professor of Social Work at York University in Toronto) where she has offered to discuss: 

  • Racism/anti-racism in practice; 

  • Institutional racism; 

  • Research on everyday racism experienced by racialized Social Workers. 

There is every prediction that discussions alongside Harjeet will become a long play series and will include a variety of international guests as hosts.

2. Imelda McCarthy: This legendary Irish family therapist has been an immense influence on all of us at VSNT. Imelda presents on the 'Fifth Province Approach' to family therapy that uncovers the practices within therapy that colonize the client through dominant discourses of how one should be and how this therapeutic colonization discredits the 'ambiguous safe space'. 

Other Cool Bits of Narrative Therapy News from our Community

  • High gratitude to VSNT faculty member Rosa Arteaga and her incredible all women counselling teams working 24/7 at their not for profit centre for Gender Violence. Rosa has been the Clinical Director for 15 years, and her team is working increasingly long hours and overtime trying to provide safety and care as gender violence worldwide and locally here in Vancouver upsurges. 

  • Jack Saul is a good friend, and longtime narrative colleague, artist, and Director of the International Trauma Studies Program at Columbia University in NYC. His latest project is entitled The Moral Injuries of War.

The Moral Injuries of War is an incredible, ingenious, multi-channel, interactive sound installation giving voice to veterans and war correspondents whom, after returning from the front lines - often carry a moral distress - alone. His sound design affords us an entry point into an auditory relational installation, where we hear the stories Jack has recorded, and then allows us the opportunity to relationally respond directly to the speakers and their storied experience. In part, the project emerged out of Jack's narrative therapy informed practice. He began to realize that many returning soldiers, war correspondents, war photographers and other witnesses of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars were troubled by their experiences but were not suffering from an individual experience/diagnoses of PTSD. He felt they were suffering from moral injury Jack defines moral injury as the sense that one's fundamental understanding of right and wrong has been violated. He refers to the experience as 'problems of conscience' and lead to intense feelings of grief, shame, and guilt and may contribute to the high number of suicides among US veterans - more than 20 every day. Jack has kindly sent along a trailer for our newsletter readers:

  • Sacramento California's award-winning Gender Health Centre features yet another milestone with Alex Filipelli and VSNT's David Rock Nylund close to finishing their book on Queer Informed Narrative Therapy – the most highly anticipated narrative therapy book in a long time.

  • I'm happy to announce my ongoing (4 years) Supervision with Norwegian High Couple Conflict Teams begins again on October 22nd, 2020. Many thanks to Stein-Roger Bronseth and Elin Bjroy.

  • Speaking of Norway: The 3rd Nordic Narrative Therapy Conference VSNT is co-sponsoring takes place in person May 5th-7th in Bergen Norway. Registration is already 55% sold out. For information contact: Cecilia Kristiansen: To see the workshop schedule and presenter line-up.

  • Speaking of live, in-person VSNT training: Our November training in Toronto, Canada was cancelled because of Covid-19. Our new dates for in-person, 4-day Foundations and 3-day Advanced training (cross your fingers!) in Toronto are Wednesday June 3rd - Sunday June 6th through George Brown College at their Residence and Conference Centre in Downtown Toronto. 

A huge big thank you to the vivacity and political rigour of narrative therapy inspired Social Work Professor Maureen Boettcher whose hard work and creativity has helped VSNT make this dream possible. 

  • The APA who published the 1st & 2nd Editions of my Narrative Therapy book are in contract discussions with Spanish and Chinese publishers to translate the book for 2021.

  • VSNT faculty member and resident humorous Aaron Munro has just submitted his new book Bad Manners (to Arsenal Press). Lorraine, Rock and myself had the pleasure of reading various drafts over the past six months. Bad Manners brought us to tears, bewilderment, and heights of laughter. Aaron weaves his storytelling genius on homelessness, poverty, violence and community survival through his stories of relationships with unsheltered people he came to admire, love and respect - as they collectively became his teachers. 

  • If you haven't been following our good friend Norwegian narrative therapy colleague Ottar Ness and his beautiful new work on relational welfare (emphasis on relational!) and wellbeing – you definitely need to! Ottar's spectacular work features a focus on his ongoing narrative informed community projects around citizenship, public value, and social justice The best way to make contact with this super cool new work is through his Facebook page.

  • VSNT faculty, resident philosopher, and good friend Todd May has authored 16 books, but now, after becoming the consultant philosopher on the hit TV show The Good Place, he and sit-com producer extraordinaire Mike Schur (Producer/writer The Office, Co-creator Parks and Recreation, creator The Good Place) have submitted a new book for publication due out in early 2021. Three almost certain predictions: the book will hit the NYTimes best selling list, existentialism will be discussed, and the book will be poignant, thoughtful and hilarious. Tell your friends.

  • I just finished reading a well-crafted and wonderfully creative article by VSNT faculty David Marsten entitled Narrative Family Therapy with Children: A Dramatization of Life. Congratulations! David's work is beautiful and continues to lead us forward.

  • Helene Grau and I promise to finish off an updated 10,000 word article on the latest practice advances in Narrative Therapy Informed Relational Interviewing with Conflicted Couple Relationships. It is all but written (in my head), but we are late (my fault) in our submission to the publisher. Soon. 

  • And finally, on Friday, October 9th, 2020, Chis Hoff, narrative inspired therapist and host of the popular Radical Therapist podcast has kindly invited me on to discuss the latest practice advances in narrative therapy informed Relational Interviewing and my thoughts on the future of narrative therapy. Could be fun.

August/September were hugely accommodating to sit back, lounge, and read. What I'm Reading and Recently Read:

  • Killer the Flower Moon: David Grann

  • Letters to Cristina: Paolo Freire

  • Freud and the Non-European: Edward Said

  • Caste: Isabel Wilkerson (thanks for the tip Aaron!)

  • Arguably: Christopher Hitchens (a classic book of CH essays)

  • Residence on Earth: Pablo Neruda

  • Wages of Rebellion: Chris Hedges

  • The Silk Road: A New History of the World: Peter Frankopan 

And add to this list a basket full of my favourite Crime Fiction Authors . . .

Recently Watched DOCS: (I have a ton of other DOCUMENTRY references for you if you like)

Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band. Canadians are usually great fans of the Band. And we all loved Canadian born lead guitarist, Robbie Robertson (even after he went out on his own). Personally, I’m an even greater fan of Bob Dylan whose music regularly plays in my house. This Doc features the early beginnings of RR and members of the Band (as 15 and 17 year olds! playing the southern blues circuit with Ronnie Hawkins), and moves us forward to meeting Bob Dylan. Robert Zimmerman (BD’s birth name) was enchanted with the Band’s original sound (like so many other musicians like Clapton, Springsteen etc.) and he asks them to back him up when he (Dylan), the great folk legend, first goes electric. The Band stood by Bob as the world collectively booed and shouted their disapproval during the 1965-66 world tour. The story ends with none other than Martin Scorsese filming the Band’s last concert together in 1978: The Last Waltz. This Changes Everything: The amazing Geena Davis and the Institute on Gender Media provides us with their hard-won research facts and numbers on gender disparity in Hollywood. Change was eventually made but there is still is a long way to go. Also features interviews with Callie Khouri, Kimberly Peirce, Sharon Stone, Amber Tamblyn, Rose McGowen, Amandla Stenberg, Chloe Grace Moretz, Taraji P. Henson, Natalie Portman, Paul Feig, Judd Apatow, Tracee Ellis Ross, Mara Brock Akil, Sandra Oh, and Shonda Rhimes. And finally . . . on a topic close to all of you everyday working therapists reading this newsletter: It can sometimes seem the crisis of present day therapy (especially true for those of you living in America) that we are living in a stunned submission to the circumstance of the times – where the decree of neoliberal politicians, HMO's, hedge fund managers, and others in tight, closed-neck white shirts structure what therapy is and what therapy is 'allowed' to do. Mission accomplished: Accountants are running mental health.  No matter where you live, this is a growing 'new public management' challenge for us. Please try to re-member: The narrative therapy we perform is not a consolation prize. Narrative Therapy practice affords us the freedom to articulate ourselves against power relations, expert knowledge, structural inequalities, and individualism. Our narrative practice is (or can be) civil disobedience, counter-cultural, and non-violent engagement all rolled into one.  So . . . I humbly suggest we become far-reaching explorers, not tourists. It may be difficult, but I suggest we try and get our bite back. Where power wants to simplify - relationally complicate. Where power wants to sermonize - criticize. Where power wants to intimidate - we come together, protest and connect.  There is no need to be embarrassed or have your practice frightened into stillness. Grow your practice into something more dangerous where problems and their support systems fear the interview.  Our narrative therapy practice is a living, breathing portrait of our values in relation with, and responding to, the cultural context that surrounds us. Please, whatever you do, don't back away from this engagement. Wishing all of you all the best and thank you so much for reading your way all the way to the bottom. If you wish to respond directly, please write to me at With solidarity, hope and thanks, Stephen

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