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Madigan June 2024 Narrative Newsletter: Books, Birds, and When the World Walks into the Therapy Room



“Realize that everything connects to everything else.” Leonardo da Vinci


Hello to everyone. Hoping all is going well where you are. It feels good to reconnect, again.  Ok, let’s get to it.

 

The hummingbird feeder on the deck I can see from where I’m writing was, after 2 full weeks, empty of feathered guests. I couldn’t figure out the no-show since life for hummingbirds consists of relentless quests for food, and I have enough supply on hand for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.


Last weekend they arrived - in bunches (murder of crows, bunches of hummingbirds?). The delay was due to the bird store counselling a 3-1 water to sugar recipe. However, a good friend suggested I bang up the sweety volume and voila, the ruby-throated gems - hearts beating at 225 times per minute when resting increasing to more than 1,200 times per minute when flying, are buzzing and slurping about, all the live long day. Magnifique!

 

As spectacular as the miniature avian spectacle is, I’d much rather be somewhere else. What? Well, this time of year I mark the calendar for the Dalkey book festival in Ireland. My sister Anne and I discussed ‘tentative’ plans (more like good natured hopes) to attend this year’s literary event celebrating a wide selection of brilliant Irish writers alongside a few invited international thinkers, interviewed in relatively small intimate gatherings (I’d also planned/ looked forward to possibly sneaking and getting a chance to catch up with my good pal and longtime therapy inspiration, Imelda McCarthy).


Since the Dalkey literary festival’s inception in 2010 I’ve been spell-bound listening to authors guide audiences through the complexities, humour (it is Ireland after all), and craft of their writing (often extending the conversation over a handsome a pint, afterwards). Luxury! However, my possible travelling partner sister and her partner along with a group of their friends decided to instead take a fabulous 5-week European sojourn involving urban splendor and hillside hiking.

 

Alas, I wrote to a couple of my closest friends (who for parts of the year live at their seaside home in Dalkey) that I wasn’t coming and, I’d miss out on celebrating one of these friends being interviewed on the final night, about their life’s work. I’ll try again next year. For now, I’ll have more time to enjoy the hummingbirds.


“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.


Narrative Therapy, 3rd Edition





One matter keeping me homebound and happy was completing a final edit on a new book. As you may remember, the 1st and 2nd Editions of my book Narrative Therapy were a response to the question: Who has the story telling rights to the story being told? The ecology of ideas shaping the upcoming 3rd Edition of Narrative Therapy satisfies a new question: How might therapists respond differently after realizing the world has walked into the therapy room?

 

You may ask (as I certainly did), why an organization as large and influential as APA, and one that is committed to therapeutic ideas quite different from what I write about, would ever consider supporting a narrative therapy project like this, for a third time. Well, in the words of the APA’s remarkable senior acquisitions editor: “Stephen, your narrative book sells really well, I mean really well”. I can’t thank the APA team enough. Their ongoing support speaks volumes to an ever-growing worldwide interest in narrative therapy that each of you participate in and can make claim to. Thank you.


This latest book guides the reader through a more deliberate account of turning away from internal state psychology (hyper-individualism/essentialism/humanism/structuralism, and models of therapy supporting long held unwavering beliefs of a core self, the privatization of problems, aa well as truth claims and generalizations about persons and relationships, etc.). The new writing inspires a much sharper narrative therapy practice shift towards the complex ecology of ideas supporting the relational interconnectivity between clients, therapists and - the political, economic, structural, and cultural contexts these relationships are indelibly shaped by and embedded within. Simply put, an uncompromising movement from Me to We consciousness.


One of my intentions for the book was to highlight the ‘inside the therapy room’ insider experience of narrative therapy. Going to great lengths to honour what we do, I reveal a secret not commonly shared with the public regarding how utterly taxing, perplexing, humbling, and difficult a daily practice of therapy can be. 

In many ways the 3rd Edition is a tribute to those of you who at times feel exhausted, isolated, and overwhelmed by the demands of mental health, yet continue to show up in the service of clients who are suffering all manner of trauma and harm. In my humble opinion, what you do each day attempting to un-suffer lives and relationships, is a sacred act. 

The 3rd Edition introduces the reader to a thorough collection of our Fundamental theoretical ideas and therapeutic practices, while at the same time bringing forth a wide range of new ideas, developments, and practice understandings that differ, refine, upgrade, sharpen up, and demonstrate innovative landscapes of our present narrative therapy practice. Each unique chapter of the 3rd Edition was written to act as a reflective surface - showing what has changed within the theoretical ideas and practices of narrative therapy since the publication of the 1st and 2nd Edition (2012 and 2019).


APA’s plan is to publish this next book in the Fall of 2024, and I am pleased it delivers upwards of 50% new content. For example, the New Developments section spotlights thirteen different narrative practitioners discussing the latest narrative informed practice initiatives with individuals, couples, families, and communities.

 

Within each of these developing practices, there is a deep respect and appreciation on display for how Michael White's non-individualist post-structural framework stepped us away from 120 years of internal state psychology. While at the same time, each practitioner brings you close-up on ways they are transforming, re-conceptualizing, and performing the foundations of narrative therapy’s non-individualist relational/contextual ideology differently, inside the therapy room.

 

On the theoretical front, the 3rd Edition, through the always generous leadership of the Vancouver Schools resident philosopher Todd May, a few common misunderstandings of narrative practice are clarified.

 

 For example, when narrative practice suggests people are multi-storied, it does not mean that we carry stories within us.  It’s not as though there is a dominant story that is suppressing other stories that would otherwise be told.  We are not multi-storied in that sense.  (In fact, to practice that position would be to think that we all have some essential character, divorced from the social and political environment in which we exist.)  Rather, we are—to use a term from the feminist theorist Adriana Cavarero (1997)—narratable.  Meaning we are the kinds of beings that can create and live many different stories.  Cavarero herself insisted on the idea that many of the kinds of stories we tell about ourselves come from others around us, but her concept of narrability also implies that we can create other stories, stories that would open up other ways of living. This idea of narratability is connected with the idea (that is explored and cited earlier in the theoretical chapter of the 3rd Edition) of subjugated local knowledges.

  

I suppose there is a deeper theoretical point here (to which I return to later in the chapter).  This is the point that rather than people having an individualized essence that it is the task of therapeutic practice to discover, our narrability implies that therapy is as much a matter of creation as it is of discovery (to further examine the meaning of the idea as it relates to narrative practice watch Todd host an hour-long Zoom chat with VSNT faculty on VSNT.live).  In contrast to traditional internal state psychological practices (and respectfully in contrast to the understandings/practice of many narrative therapists worldwide) that see the role of the therapist as helping us to discover who we are. A VSNT take on narrative practice emphasizes the crucial point of therapy is much more centrally about creating who we would like to be (and become) in accordance with what we value or would like to value.  In relationally creating new stories about ourselves, we create ourselves—recall here Foucault’s concept of power/knowledge, except thought of in an emancipatory rather than oppressive way.


In the view of VSNT narrative practice, more traditional individualist-oriented internal state psychological practice is also creative, without recognizing itself as being so.  It creates—or at least influences, alongside other social practices—people to think of themselves as not measured up enough, dysfunctional, problematic, and needing to adjust themselves to their social conditions and expectations.  And it is because of this, traditional psychotherapeutic practice can be considered a political practice as much as narrative practice is.  However, its blindness to its place in society—a place Judith Butler, Foucault, AnaLouise Keating, Stewart Hall (to name a few of the philosophers joining the 3rd Edition) mark in their writings—prevents psychology from recognizing its own political character.

  

Many in our community legitimately view narrative therapy as a political act. And to recognize and perform this political act I feel I must be constantly in touch with the relational politics of history, and passionately engaged with current world events. Unfortunately, our busy hurly-burly worlds of responsibility, obligation, and expectation can easily tempt us into receiving the relational and political world around us through short bursts of information via phone or tablet. And now (more than ever) might be the time to re-invite the long read into our lives. Where authors take the time (we don’t seem to have) to outline/explain/theorize about the relational world of influence that surrounds us and shapes everything persons do - affording a more intimate experience of this world that is touching its authority on everything we are in relationship with and, responding to.

 

 Finally, I designed the 3rd Edition to provide ‘common sense’ practice and supervisory assistance specific to readers studying in Graduate School programs and pre and post licensure next generation therapists (who the book is dedicated to). I’m speaking about many of our younger colleagues (born after 1990) entering new therapeutic experiences/contexts quite different to our own when we were first arriving at the profession’s doors. My hope was to offer support, acknowledgement, and understanding around the sometimes inadequate preparation and support experienced in their Graduate programs, complexities and difficulties of new public management and government/insurance company policy changes/restrictions, and empathy about having been entered into landscapes of mental health practice shaped by underfunding/race/class access limitations, alongside the politics of neoliberal hyper-individualism, and of course, therapy structured through evidence-based research.


Writers



     

While writing the 3rd Edition, I was at the same time reading mouth-watering books (long reads) from extremely talented writers within the fiction and non-fiction countryside. I experienced these texts as acts of reckless originality, distinguished by empathy, sly intelligence, and jumbo-sized doses of humanity. The author’s power as spellbinding storyteller was also a common thread, on full display. Of the many lessons learned from reading these authors (while I was writing about narrative therapy), was that wherever we are and whatever we are engaged with – good writers always find a way to connect and help us make sense of our experience – regardless of what they are writing about. Who were these helpful authors I was reading? Well, there are far too many to mention but, below is a small sample of three: 


Wade Davis

This guy lives down the road from me on Bowen Island (: and followed his writing exploits for many years. He is a renown ethnobotanist (the study of a region's plants and their practical uses through the traditional knowledge of a local culture and people), anthropologist, and former long-time Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society in Washington DC. His latest offering is a series of remarkably original essays found in his 2024 book entitled Beneath the Surface of Things. I found the chapters “The Unraveling of America” and “Beyond Climate Fear and Trepidation” rigorous in the research, speaking the unspoken, and profound in the telling. Below is a short sample of what you might be getting yourself into. Davis recently did an interview with Les Anthony - one of my oldest and dearest friends - dating back to grade 10 Catholic School, University roommates, and fellow outlaw until figuring ourselves out, a little bit. Les holds a PhD in Ichtheology and Herpetology (salamanders, lizards, and snakes) but after Ivy League offers, decided to pack Academia in only to become one of the world’s best snow and outdoor sport writers. These days he writes books and long read articles on both nature and sport.



 

Heather Cox Richardson:

Democracy Awakening (notes on the state of America). To be honest, I love reading world history authored by skilled writing historians possessing a rare ability - transporting readers into the past while and showing what that time means to the present. I sought out Democracy Awakening after finding myself in muddles after late night conversations trying to find a historical past to explain the current US political ‘injudiciousness’. Cox Richardson is the author that quelled the complicated tapestry of confusion and angst regarding my US neighbours. Her book tells a compelling tale of an unending enraged struggle since America was ‘founded’ to live up to its best ideals – from its ongoing history of slavery right up to today’s authoritarians. An America founded with contradicting ideals: with beautiful ideas of liberty, equality, and economic opportunity for all on one hand, and slavery and dominance of an elite colonial minority on the other. It’s worth the read.


 

John Valliant:

Fire Weather – the making of a beast. Some of you have read his first award winning book The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness, and Greed back during the noughties. A true story about a bizarre environmental protest, where a timber scout attacked a sacred tree with a chainsaw. Two days later the inimitable 300-year-old Sitka spruce tree, fifty metres tall and covered with luminous golden needles - a scientific marvel, a tourist attraction, beloved by local loggers, and sacred to the local Haida people on BC’s northern coast – fell hard and lonely to the ground. Valliant resides in Vancouver and his 2023 book Fire Weather is a panoramic exploration of the rapidly changing relationship between fire and humankind. If you’re like me, over the last decade, you be developing a completely different relationship with fire from the days of roasting marshmallows around the campfire. Where I live many homes have a pre-packed ‘go-bag’ within easy reach in the event the emergency fire warning text alarm is sounded – demanding we find a way out, fast. Last summer a ferocious uncontrollable fire destroyed a friend of mine’s home along with half the homes of his small community they’d built decades ago on a pristine track of land. Fire Weather was named a Best Book of the Year by The Guardian, TIME, Globe and Mail, The New Yorker, Financial Times, Smithsonian, Slate, NPR, Washington Post + more.


People No Longer Breathing: the last four months




image by Paxson Woelber on unsplash


Parents

Of the seven primary VSNT teaching faculty members, four lost a parent, over the last four months. Two Mothers. Two Fathers. Four different relational experiences. As a group of close friends, we care and support one another during these times. Enough said.


Alice Munro

Certainly, if you are Canadian (and chances are even if you are not), you have read one our best Canadian writers - Alice Munro. She was a master of the short story and won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2013. Growing up in the 1930s and ’40s in rural Ontario, Munro aspired to become a writer and was determined to do so even after having to drop out of college because she couldn’t afford it. Her first book of short stories, Dance of the Happy Shades, was published in 1968 when she was 37. Acclaim arrived in spectacular fashion and continued throughout her career as she won the top Canadian book award, the 2009 Man Booker International Prize, and the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature. Munro died at age 92 in May 2024.

 

Susan Johnston

No matter what kind of mental health profession you work in you’ve heard of Susan Johnston. She is a British-born Canadian clinical psychologist and best-selling author who developed Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT). Years before I arrived onto the University of British Columbia campus, Sue had completed her Ph.D. there under the creative mentoring of Leslie Greenberg (who I took a few classes with during his final year at UBC). They called the new work (that I’ve always felt is Fritz Perls/Gestalt inspired) - Emotion Focused Therapy. After finding theoretical differences, she went out on her own to create Emotionally Focused Therapy. Her thesis was a scientific view of love - a novel method of couples therapy based in part on Bowlby’s emotional attachment. Sue’s left a long-lasting impact on the field and continues to have a worldwide following. She died on April 23 in Victoria, British Columbia. She was 76.

 

Vicky Dickerson

On April 4th, 2008, Michael White died. Sixteen years later, on April 3rd, 2024, Vicky Dickerson, another profoundly talented narrative therapist, passed. I’m could write pages about Vicky’s engaged escapades in life, her unwavering commitment to narrative ideas and practices, and the spirited legacy she has left for us. Instead, I’ll keep the story short in fear my reflection will not do her adequate justice. She and I enjoyed the better part of a three-decade long relationship built upon similar values, rebellious spirit, and a political will to follow Michael’s re-shaping the practice of psychotherapy. Vicky was quintessentially inquisitorial and always (always) up for spending long nights over her favourite bottle of Scotch discussing, opining, and debating the intimate particularities of narrative theory, practice, and the state of our therapeutic community (displaying similar passions after becoming the president of the American Family Therapy Academy – AFTA). We worked hard, pushed hard and boy-oh-boy did we laugh hard. She was cheeky. While planning our Vancouver Therapeutic Conversations conference in 2018 (Vicky had presented at a majority of them) I rang her up and suggested we present something together (along with Jill Freedman). We realized this would probably be the last time. We didn’t discuss this directly. However, what we did do during the conference was meet late-night in my room and reminisce, over her favourite scotch. We laughed. And cried a little bit. I take her with me.


Therapeutic Conversation 22 Conference





I’ve never been shy about my prodigious distaste for any kind of therapeutic exaggeration or fabulous representations of narrative therapy. That being said - the November 7-9, 2024, VSNT conference lineup on Granville Island in Vancouver hosts, what just might be, the best conference presenter lineup in many years.


 I suppose what presenter style and workshop topic one is drawn to are matters of ‘personal’ taste. The VSNT preference for TC22 was to go out, and bring in, the cream of the crop of who we felt could best represent and demonstrate the relational, contextual, cultural, and political evolution of narrative ideas and non-individualist expressions of therapy.

 

 Along with 18 skill focused workshops specifically designed to demonstrate a wide range of new practices (all delivered through Live interviewing, video tape, and client/therapist transcripts), we also chose 5 Plenary Speakers who we felt would pair well with one another and offer participants the most vital interactive learning experience.

 

TC22 Keynote Speakers: In order of appearance:

 

1) Angel Yuen, Losing a Loved One to Violence 

2) Jennifer White, Political Responses to Suicide 

3) Helene Grau Kristensen, Reclaiming Grief and Loss 

4) Karl Tomm, Bringforthist Therapy 

5) Rosa ElenaArteaga, Gender Violence and Trauma


Hmm. Murder, Suicide, Grief and Loss, Gender Violence and Trauma - I suppose we’ve never been a group to shy away from the hard and heavy practice places (:  Truly hoping you find a way to join us.

 

Please find everything you need to know about the TC-22 Conference here:



Therapeutic Conversations 22 Conference

November 7th - 9th, 2024

Granville Island, Vancouver, Canada





Thank you for reading all the way to the bottom. 

Comments? Please contact me directly at: yft@telus.net.

Until next time. Stephen x


PS Should We Go Extinct? A Philosophical Dilemma for Our Unbearable Times – is the title of Todd May’s spellbinding book coming out Aug. 6 - published by Penguin/Random House. This new piece is written written  for a public audience.


Ok - I’m giving 2-1 odds the book ends up on the New York Times best-selling list. Any takers (:



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