October 2019 Newsletter

Updated: Dec 10, 2019

One must never miss an opportunity of quoting things by others which are always more interesting than those one thinks up oneself. Marcel Proust


THERAPY PRACTICE KNOW-HOW

I notice a changing wind in therapy, theory, training, and supervision.

There was a time when therapy practice, publications, training, supervision, and conferences were primarily shaped and organized by therapists who practiced therapy on a daily basis with couples, individuals and families.

This is changing. Current discussions and conferences held about the field of therapy seem increasingly fashioned by theorists, researchers, and academics - who do not practice therapy.

I’d like to address this shift as a narrative therapy practitioner advocate without accusation. Hoping that we might find places to encounter and discuss this shift.

Over my teaching travels this past year I tried to get a closer fix on the discursive practices shaping therapy so: I attended conferences, kept abreast of facebook, podcasts and journals, and spoke about the consequences of this shift with students, researchers, academics, community workers, publishers, supervisors, and therapists.

My very unofficial investigation found: conference, keynote and workshop content had significantly shifted towards more robust and accountable theoretical and political discussion (and from a narrative therapist perspective this is highly encouraging). There were also signs of research and publishing moving in this same direction.

However, in making this shift, a majority consensus perceived there had been a noticeable discursive and organizational move away from highlighting and demonstrating exactly how the aforementioned theoretical and political ideology was coherent with the actual practice of therapy itself.

As the rally cry from punk band DOA suggests: Talk – Action = Zero.

In addition:

Graduate students, academics, supervisors and both new and more experienced therapists conceded that while a necessary interest in post-structural, queer, feminist, post-colonial and context/cultural theoretical understandings of personhood was soaring, they felt the field of therapy moving further and further away from teaching  basic practice understandings of what to do when a student or therapist sat down in a therapy chair across from clients.

There was also agreement that, at the present time, academic, researcher, theoretician, podcaster, and publishers etc. within the field of therapy (including narrative therapy) appeared much more comfortable and confident discussing the preferred landscapes of theory and politic they know and stand for, than the actual practice of therapy and what they (apparently) do not know.

A consequence of academic, researcher, theoretician, supervisor, conference organizer, podcaster, publisher etc. moving away from discussions of what the actual practice of therapy looks like in the room – the further the gap widens about what  students, supervisors, Professors and therapists won’t recognize regarding what they do not know about practice.

My hope is that we can collectively find a way to remedy this shift in practice knowledge and know-how together, and, I don’t feel the remedy has to come at the expense or exclusion of what matters most to one another.

LIVE THERAPY DEMONSTRATION TRAINING HISTORY

Of the conferences, I attended last year (and those I was quite interested to hear/read about), most featured a vast array of theoretical and political keynotes and workshops. Exciting.

However, the translation of the theory and politic, and how theory and politics find a coherent link inside up close demonstrations of practice were few and far between.

And unfortunately, Live therapy demonstrations, once an expected and vital feature of conference training, have all but disappeared.

The only APA conference I ever attended was held in Toronto during the latter half of the 1990’s. It was there I witnessed Karl Tomm conduct a very intense and highly intricate LIVE Internalized Other Interview with a local couple.

Reflecting our day-to-day couple therapy practices, Karl received only minimal background knowledge regarding the couple he was about to sit down with.

The LIVE interview was conducted in front of a participant audience of close to 300 participants.

To suggest the theoretical structure and practice involved with an Internalized Other Interview session is complex would be to grossly underestimate the practice. But Karl did it Live anyway.

His commitment, courage and humility I witnessed that day, has lingered inside my daily practice of therapy for more than two decades.

As a point of practice training history, Karl’s demonstration was in no way novel for the time frame. For decades, LIVE therapy demonstration work was simply part of the context and culture of how the field (especially within family therapy) believed was the most comprehensive, honest and experiential way to train therapists.

Throughout his narrative therapy training career, Michael White became a brilliant addition to a LIVE therapy demonstration tradition.

If any of you were fortunate to train with him during his years at the Dulwich Centre you will attest that LIVE is what he did best. Training intensives with Michael concentrated on watching and responding to, a series of day after day after day, LIVE narrative therapy demonstrations.

During an interview I conducted with Michael about narrative training practices you can find on TCTV.live, he states, “the practices of training must mirror the practices of therapy”.

The commitment Karl, Michael as well as schools of family therapy like Structural, Strategic, Family of Origin, MRI, Milan, Solution Focused – ALL taught Live. Up close and LIVE. I cannot thank them enough for this vital piece of my training.

Three months after opening the Vancouver School for Narrative Therapy, and with no money to spare, I installed a one-way mirror so I too could begin to train therapists and students within the Live demonstration tradition. I totally couldn’t afford the installation of the mirror, but I could not see any way around not having one.

The one-way screen went into full operational use once my colleague Heather Elliot returned to Vancouver from Nova Southeastern University in South Florida where we’d done our MFT doctorates together. Heather completed her dissertation on Feminism, Postmodernism and Narrative Therapy - a novel and beautiful masterpiece of its day.

Over the course of the ensuing 14 months, every Thursday evening we’d gather together with whoever else wished to join us, and I’d conduct Live narrative therapy training interviews. Afterward, all of us would retreat to a nearby bar and discuss the intimate particularities of narrative theory and practice within a context of the evening sessions.

Over time, the bar bill far exceeded the cost of the one-way mirror and we collectively and painstakingly developed a practice knowledge, theoretical coherency and confidence in our work.

When Ian Law and Vanessa Swan (Michael Whites first teaching assistants) arrived in from Adelaide and joined our VSNT/YFT clinic in 1996, we’d sit in each other’s weekly client sessions, take turns doing live work in front of the screen, and taught participant trainings through one-way mirror Live demonstrations. Thereby replicating the same method of training that Michael, Karl and many others had used to teach us.

The majority of present-day faculty colleagues at the Vancouver School for Narrative Therapy were also lucky enough to arrive into family therapy during a time when workshop and conference presenters would ‘never not’ present a LIVE interview.

So . . . please imagine arriving into a local workshop (or perhaps an international conference keynote) and the visiting presenter begins by outlining their particular theory. And then (without any hesitation), dives straight on into a LIVE interview with a local family or couple.

At the outset, and much to one’s relief, you would first notice that a Live therapy demonstration is not perfect (:

They are at times messy, deeply transparent, fearless, skilled, and honest. They are stunning, imperfect, buck-naked and with no-where to hide.

No other training in my history compares with the raw and untamed beauty of the Live demonstration experience.

Nothing fake. Nothing made up. Nothing ‘altered’. Nothing but a seriously honest up-close adventure into the practice of therapy.

I have a suggestion for those of you who are students or therapists gaining supervision hours for qualification. One method you might consider as a means to improve your practice and supervisory relationship is to ask your Supervisor to conduct a Live session for you to witness. Based on experience, I can assure you that both the connection and practice confidence between the pair of you will grow forward.

The experience of watching LIVE demonstrations of therapy wasn’t quite the same as seeing Bob Dylan or Neil Young for the first time in my youth. Or attending hockey games during the Stanley Cup final round with my beloved Canuck in 1994 and 2011.

However, Live demonstrations are exhilarating and you will most definitely return home happy and full.

PRESENT DAY LIVE THERAPY DEMONSTRATIONS

Over the course of 10 training days in Norway and Vancouver this past mid-September 2019, I spent 5 of the 10 narrative training days performing LIVE therapy demonstrations and answering follow up questions about what had just happened.

And, I still get goosebump sensations when my longtime friends and veteran VSNT faculty colleagues Lorraine Hedtke, David Marsten and David Nylund go LIVE during our Vancouver School certificate courses.

Just a few weeks ago they each performed at least one LIVE interview consultation during our 5-day and 3-day training. I mean why not?

And yes – it may seem a bit scary being so therapeutically exposed (even for the participant watching on!), but I know (for certain), teaching LIVE is where we feel most comfortable.

The motto is: Let us show you what we’ve got.

It is not always precise and perfect but I suppose . . . that is the point of the training (:

My hope is that one day everyone involved in narrative therapy training and supervision has the opportunity to drink in that deliciously electric feeling when LIVE narrative therapy practice and supervision is performed.


These days of Fall 2019 are sure to march by with extraordinary happenings all around us. Small miracles, haphazard events, bursts of joy, revelations . . . Let us try not to let busyness have us miss it all.

Take care my friends.

stephen

PS: All comments, queries and critiques are surely welcomed. Please send to narrativevancouver@gmail.com






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