Centre for Narrative Practice  

‘Ethnic issues’ in the mental health field: Is psychiatry racist? by Suman Fernando.  A keynote at the conference Beyond Multi-culturalism: addressing issues of 'race' and privilege, March 18th 2005, Manchester

Outsider witness practices and group supervision by Hugh Fox, Cathy Tench and Marie, originally published in the International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, 2002, No. 4

Imagine Belonging by Carry Gorney This account of a community arts project with young people who had been adopted was initially presented at the 2004 North West Conference of Narrative Therapy and Community Work in Manchester.

Welcome address, 2006 Conference of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, Manchester, 'Listening, Witnessing and Hope' by Anita Franklin

Therapeutic Documents: a review by Hugh Fox  This paper was originally created as a keynote at the inaugural Dulwich Centre Summer School of Narrative Practice which was held in Adelaide in November 2003 and subsequently published in the International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, 2004, No. 1

Introduction to the Day 1 Keynotes, 5th International Conference of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, ‘History and Healing’, Liverpool, 2003

 

 

 

 

‘Ethnic issues’ in the mental health field: Is psychiatry racist?

by

Suman Fernando

 

Paper presented to the Beyond Multi-culturalism:  addressing issues of 'race' and privilege Conference, Manchester March 18th 2005

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Introduction

Today in UK a variety of problems often called ‘ethnic issues’ - formerly called ‘race and culture issues’- have emerged during the past 20 or so years.

 

Ethnic issues in mental health services:

Black / Ethnic Minorities more often:
Diagnosed as schizophrenic
Compulsorily detained under M.H.Act
Admitted as ‘Offender Patients’
Held by police under S. 136 of M.H.Act
Transferred to locked wards
Not referred for ‘talking therapies’
Ref: Fernando, S. (1995) Mental Health in a Multi-ethnic Society. Routledge, London

Over the years, there has been a lot of talk couched in a variety of models – the biological (both madness and ‘race’ seen as genetic matters), the social-constructionist (categories of mental illness are cross-culturally meaningless), the Foucauldian power game ideology (blaming professionals or ‘the state’ – the locations of power) that generalises into argument that ‘white’ systems always oppress black people, and so on. In fact a case can be made for each of these explanations if you choose your data carefully. I do not propose to go along that road but instead to give you a sort of overview of the topics underlying situation in the mental health field in order to get an understanding of what is really going on. My basic argument is that the problems lie, not just in issues of cultural difference and consequent misunderstandings, not just in conscious prejudice that we associate with racism or classism or ageism, not just any one thing really, but a complex situation closely tied up with how disciplines such as psychiatry and western psychology have developed, how we see the human condition, what mental health and illness is all about and so on. But complexity has to be reconstructed as it were for us to formulate some understanding that has practical implications and of course to communicate with one another. And for this we use phrases and words and concepts.

One of the constructs I have found useful is ‘institutional racism’, so I will tend to come back to that. ‘Multiculturalism’ is another concept that some people feel has had its day and we should get beyond it - and the title of this conference suggests this very point. I am not so sure about this – perhaps what we need is to revise our definition of the term. So, I shall mention this term too. Cultural diversity is the in-term, at any rate in the UK, popular with the government and with many people who find the word ‘race’ threatening’. The thing is that these are all words, concepts, phrases. They may be superseded as time goes on or as the context changes. And they are bedevilled by the usual problems with words in that they mean different things to different people. But having said that, we have to get on as best as we could, not get hung up on semantic discussion but on achieving understanding. That is why I think we are meeting today to ‘talk together’, as the blurb to the conference goes, with words - in spite of all the limitations they set to real understanding.

A message in many of my books is that the problems depicted as ‘ethnic issues’ are problems not so much to do with the people but with the institutions and systems that mental health professionals work in. Ultimately they are political with a simple ‘p’ and a lot to do with social justice. The problems are best understood by examining the history of these systems, the white supremacy ideologies inherent in them, how black people are traditionally seen and dealt with in these systems, how traditions get translated into common sense assumptions and so on.

The talk I give today will be rather discursive but I hope will make some sense on the road to understanding. I shall first say a few words about discourse in addressing ethnic issues in mental health services; then take a sort of statistical overview and historical journey backwards in order to broaden the picture, and get to discussing concepts of ‘race’, racism and multiculturalism in the practical politics of British society today. Finally I shall return to the race and culture issues to make some comments – conclusions if you like.

A term used in UK in trying to meet problems faced by black and Asian people is the term ‘racial inequality’. This term has two implications. First that ‘race’ is a valid category for dividing people up – which of course it isn’t. And by ‘race’ I mean what generally goes for categories of ‘race’ based on certain items of physical appearance that we assume indicate deep-seated and widespread differences between people. The second implication in using the term ‘race inequality’ is that the issues – ‘ethnic issues’ are analogous to issues around inequalities related to gender, disabilities, age and so on. There are similarities and cross-references but lumping them all together This is only partially correct in my view. And the disadvantage of this discourse is diverts attention away from racism, which I think has a different qualitative dimension to other ‘isms’.

More recently we have shifted to a ‘diversity’ discourse, taking the focus even further from racism as the possible location of the key to the problems. Anti-racism which became race relations has become diversity management. However, one advantage of the diversity discourse is the implication that remedies are indeed diverse and it is not a matter of a simple quick fix.

Finally, the ‘ethnic issues’ discourse implies that facts about difference are being measured objectively, that medical type research based on measuring ‘factors’ can be used and that we can ignore difficult matters like racism.

Overview

Now I think you may know that the ethnic issues at the hard end of the mental health system are very similar to statistics about the judicial (prison) system. And since the criminal justice system is seen as one for sociological, rather than medical-type, study, we have some pointers from there.

 

Prison Population in UK 2000: Ethnic Statistics

Rates compared to rate in white population

             Males    Females
Black    x 10        x 16
Asian     x 1.5      x 0.6     
Ref:Prison statistics England and Wales 2000 Cited in Race and the Criminal Justice System, Home Office, London, 2002. [http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/index.htm (downloaded 27 Sept. 20040]
 

But pathways into prison are complex.

 

Criminal justice system and ‘race’ - Home Office Statistics 2000

BLACK PEOPLE COMPARED TO WHITES:
More likely to be stopped and searched
More likely to be arrested
Less likely to be cautioned (and let off)
AND WHEN CHARGED:
More likely to plead not guilty
More likely to be remanded in custody
AND WHEN FOUND GUILTY:
Less likely to be fined / discharged
More likely to receive a sentence
Ref: Variety of sources cited in Race and the Criminal Justice System, Home Office, London, 2002. http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds.index.htm

Discrimination is not at one point but is (as it were) cumulative, the discrimination at each point building up eventually to a very high number of adult black people in prison. Also, discrimination is not often obvious – it is subtle, dependent on assumptions we make about people, stereotypes we have about people, use of discretion, cultural mis-understanding etc.

A similar situation exists in schools.

 

Attainment at primary school African Caribbean Children in Birmingham 1998/9 Statistics

BASELINE ATTAINMENT = 20 % ABOVE AVERAGE
(ATTAINMENT DECLINED AT EACH KEY STAGE)
ATTAINMENT AT KEY STAGE FOUR = 21 % BELOW AVERAGE
“Available evidence suggests that the inequalities of attainment for African-Caribbean pupils become progressively greater as they move through the school system; such differences become more pronounced between the end of primary school and the end of secondary education”
Ref: Gillborn, D. & Mirza, H. (2000) Educational Inequality - Mapping Race, Class and Gender - synthesis of research evidence.  London OFSTED.

 

Black children in British schools do well when they start at school but fall out of education over the next few years – especially in the case of boys. At least part of the problem is stereotyping and teacher expectation.

 

Experience of black children in multiracial primary schools (1992)

“The typical experience for African-Caribbean pupils was one of high teacher expectations for bad behaviour and high incidence of teacher disapproval, criticism and control” 
Wright, C. (1992) ‘Multiracial primary school classrooms’ in D Gill et al. Racism and Education - Structures and Strategies. Sage, London.

We see the result in rates of exclusion from school.

Permanent exclusions from school (1997/8)

 

As  percentage of all school-age children in each ethnic group

All ethnic groups 0.18%
Black Caribbean 0.76%
Black African 0.29%
Black Other 0.57%

(Total number of all exclusions=12,076)

Ref: Annual Schools’ Census 1999 cited in L. Appiah and N. Chunilal (eds.) Runnymede Trust Briefing Paper December 1999. Runnymede Trust, London 1999.

 

And this connects with prison statistics because it seems that many boys who are excluded from school end up in prison.

 

School exclusion and offending

Two thirds of the population of Youth Offender Institutes  (YOIs)  had left  or been put out of school at age of 13 or under.
According to Home Office Research
“The 13,000 young people excluded from school each year might as well be given a date by which to join the prison service some time later down the line.”
According to Martin Narey - Director General of the Prison Service (2001)
Ref:  John, Gus (2004) ‘Behaviour, mental health and underachievement’, Talk given at Conference Sustainable Recovery, Rehabilitation and Prevention, held at Manchester 20-21 September, 2004. 

So we can see that both discrimination and exclusion accumulate at various points - school, policing, courts etc. leading to prison. Extrapolating from this to the mental health field, I believe similar forces operate at various points on the journey to being sectioned, stigmatized and medicated.

 

Cumulative discrimination and exclusion

Suspicion of madness
Inappropriate assessment
Diagnosis affected by stereotypes
Sectioning affected by fear of dangerousness
END RESULT: Excessive compulsory detention
Excessive medication
Loss of trust
Fear and frustration all round
Anger and resentment
VICIOUS CIRCLES RE-INFORCING CUMULATIVE FORCES

There is the initial suspicion of ‘madness’, through inappropriate ways of making psychiatric assessments, diagnoses based on stereotypes, sectioning through fear of dangerousness etc. ending up in high compulsory admission rates. In other words, over-representation in prison or as schizophrenics compulsorily detained and over medicated may arise in similar ways. There is no reason to think that this applies in UK only. As an American psychotherapist Hardy (2001) writing in a publication on the Dulwich Centre website says, for the African-American, ‘chains and plantations [have been] replaced with bars and razor wire’. Jesse Jackson speaking in London just last week pointed to the vast resources implicated today in what he called the industry of imprisoning African-Americans in the southern states of the US.  And anecdotal reports indicate that black Europeans on the mainland are over-represented in both secure psychiatric and prison systems.

What I shall do next is to consider briefly the meaning of racism in today’s world, especially the concept of institutional racism, then look at examples of racism in the history of psychiatry and try to apply the understanding that comes out of this to the experiences of black people at the ‘hard end’ of psychiatry..

 

Race, Racism and Multiculturalism

The concept of ‘race’, as we understand it, is based on selected aspects of physical appearance especially skin colour. But ‘race’ as a biologically determined entity has been dismissed in scientific circles as a basis for dividing up the human race (Jones, 1981).  As the book Not in Our Genes (Rose et al., 1984) puts it: ‘Human “racial” differentiation is indeed only skin deep. Any use of racial categories must take its justification from some other source than biology.’ (1984: 127). The source of course is social, historical and political and so some people refer to it as ‘social-race’ (Omi and Winant, 1986 quoted by Estroff and Zimmer, 1994). But the tendency to think of people in terms of their ‘race’, ‘race thinking’ (Barzun, 1965), persists in spite of the unscientific nature of ‘race’ itself – mainly because of racism. 

History of racism

Although racism may go further back, (see Fryer, 1984), it was during the times of slavery and colonialism that the dogma of racism became consolidated in European thinking.  As Europe entered the period of its ‘Enlightenment’ in the seventeenth century, liberty and freedom were highlighted and so-called ‘European values’ were born. Yet at that very time, slavery, the antithesis of freedom, was in full swing.

Toni Morrison (1993) is not surprised by this apparent paradox: ‘The concept of freedom did not emerge in a vacuum. Nothing highlighted freedom - if it did not in fact create it - like slavery.’ (1993: 38). It seems that racism is the construct that helps us to understanding – the key to understanding - this apparent contradiction in European thinking. I suggest that, if we want to understand why there are ‘ethnic issues’ or ‘racial inequalities’ in the provision of mental health services that are supposedly based on notions of  ‘illness’ and ‘therapy’ within a medical system that is supposedly a humane pursuit arising from liberal ideology, here too the key is racism.

Modern racism

In his book Racist Culture, Goldberg (1993) argues that the nature of racism is often driven by history and context. The ways in which people experience racism varies. Thus racism during American slavery differs from post-slavery segregationism and each from current expressions of racism in the US. Racism in South Africa during the times of apartheid differs from that expressed through inherent economic inequalities in the post apartheid era. Nineteenth century British racism in the colonies differs from current manifestations of racism in the UK. Racism experienced by a person who looks African or Caribbean is different to that experienced by someone who looks Chinese or South Asian. Unfortunately this gives rise to misunderstandings and consequent divisions between people – divisions that undermine the common struggle. Another problem for black people highlighted recently by Jesse Jackson.

In such a system, manifestations and locations of racism change constantly, especially in the face of opposition, need for political correctness in the language used, and so on. Thus, instead of stating – or implying – that ‘other races’ are inferior, possess some unsavoury characteristic or pose a threat to social cohesion, the reference is to ‘other’ cultures, religions, ethnic groups or kinds of people (such as refugees), thought of in the same way as ‘races’, that is as groups that are unchanging and easily recognisable usually by physical appearance.

Philomena Essed (1990), a black woman from The Netherlands, talks of the ‘everyday racism’ that is the personal experience in the course of day-to-day interactions between people, implemented through ways of behaving and socialising. The people who exhibit racism are not necessarily overtly (racially) prejudiced, although if one examines their attitudes in some depth racist attitudes may be uncovered. If this approach is taken further, racism may be manifested in social and political systems because people unwittingly collude in it, usually because they gain from doing so. This notion of ‘institutional racism’ first appeared in a book by Stokely Carmichael and Hamilton (1967) - Black Power. The Politics of Liberation in America. In the report on the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, Macpherson (Home Department, 1999: 28) defines it as follows:

 

Institutional Racism

The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin.  It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantages minority ethnic people’.
The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry by Sir William Macpherson (London: Home Department, 1999: 28)

The problem with the concept of institutional racism is that it seems to play down the personal impact of racism on the individual and may appear to take responsibility for racism away from the individuals who exercise power over others. (‘Its nothing to do with me it’s my institution.’) I think we need to remind ourselves that the institutions we talk of are not the bricks and mortar – they are composed of people, include us all black and white.

Culture

At one time culture was seen as a relatively fixed system of traditional beliefs that are passed on from generation to generation, for example Leighton and Hughes (1961) envisaged culture as being composed of ‘shared patterns of belief, feeling and adaptation which people carry in their minds’. But this restricted approach to culture has given way to culture being seen as something that cannot be clearly defined, as something living, dynamic and changing – a flexible system of values and worldviews that people live by and create and re-create continuously, a system by which we define our identities and negotiate our lives.

So a multicultural society is not one where there are many cultures, each distinct from one another, but a society that is culturally hybrid. In the UK, the influences that impinge on our society are from African, Caribbean and other ‘non-western’ cultural traditions as well as the traditional ‘European’, including the Jewish-European, cultures. It is a society where a plurality of cultures involves us all. But emphases vary so that ‘cultural groups’ can be delineated where certain cultural forms such as marriage customs, ways of thinking on particular matters, religious affiliation, main language etc. mark them out. But these groups are seldom cut off from each other or from the main majority culture, at least in the British scene.  

What is important to grasp is that the disciplines that inform mental health services (mainly psychiatry and western psychology) have grown out of a particular and narrow culturally determined understanding of the human condition, ideologies about life and so on. In short, society is multicultural but the disciplines are unicultural.

Racism in psychiatry

 

Psychiatry and western psychology came into being about two to three hundred years ago within western European culture at a time when crude notions of white racial superiority became deeply embedded in that culture, resulting in a variety of myths, stereotypes and superstitions about black people and about cultures seen as ‘non-European’, ‘Oriental’, or ‘African’ (see Said, 1978; Bernal, 1987; Eze, 1997). As psychiatry developed in the nineteenth century on the basis of rising asylum numbers, Social Darwinism, by placing different races on a hierarchy, played a significant part in the theories that caught on within psychology and psychiatry. Race was deeply implicated in the concept of degeneration (Morel, 1852) as an explanation for both mental disorder and criminality, leading to the construction of schizophrenia and the rise of eugenics within psychology. I shall illustrate the representation of race in the history of psychiatry by picking out a few examples.

In the nineteenth century, psychiatrists in the US argued for the retention of slavery, quoting statistics allegedly showing that mental illness was more often reported among freed slaves compared to those who were still in slavery (Thomas and Sillen, 1972). And it was at that time that the now infamous mental illness drapetomania was constructed - an illness diagnosed among black slaves which (according to Cartwright, 1851) ‘manifests itself by an irrestrainable propensity to run away.’ When John Langdon Down (1866) surveyed so-called ‘idiots’ and ‘imbeciles’ resident in institutions around London, he identified them as ‘racial throwbacks’ to Ethiopian, Malay and Mongolian racial types - mostly, he said, they were ‘Mongols’. 

Early in the twentieth century, Stanley Hall (1904), founder of the American Journal of Psychology and first president of the American Psychological Association (Thomas and Sillen, 1972: 7), described (in a standard text on adolescence) Asians, Chinese, Africans and Indigenous Americans as psychologically ‘adolescent races’. About the same time, Kraepelin (1904) observed that guilt was not seen in Javanese people who became depressed because, he said, they were ‘a psychically underdeveloped population’ akin to ‘immature European youth’ (Kraepelin, 1921). Throughout most of the twentieth century, the apparent rarity of depression among Africans and African-Americans was attributed to their ‘irresponsible’ nature (Green, 1914), ‘absence of a sense of responsibility’ (Carothers, 1953) or a ‘striking resemblance between African thinking and that of leucotomized Europeans’ (Carothers, 1951: 12)- in other words their under-development.

This under-development theme dies hard and has become woven into thinking in psychiatry and psychology, affecting diagnoses and assessments It surfaces for example in the theory on what is put forward as ‘cultural’ differences in the ability to differentiate emotions proposed by Julian Leff (1973, 1981) – people from developing countries and African-Americans apparently being at a lower level on this ability when compared to people from developed countries and white Americans - and of course in recurring versions of the racist IQ movement (e.g. Herrnstein and Murray, 1994). 

When Carl Jung visited the United States and found it difficult to understand how white Americans could be so different culturally from (what he saw as) their racial counterparts in Europe, he concluded that they were affected by ‘racial infection’ from living too close to Black people. ‘The inferior man exercises a tremendous pull upon civilized beings who are forced to live with him...’ (Jung, 1930). And when Freud (1915, 1930) envisaged that the ‘leadership of the human species’ should be taken up by ‘white nations’ as opposed to ‘primitives’, the latter (to him) included Melanesian, Polynesian, and Malay people, the native people of Australia, North and South America and the ‘negro races of Africa’ (Hodge and Struckmann, 1975). And of course Freud’s Totem and Taboo argued for an affinity between thinking processes of non-European ‘primitives’ and European neurotics (see McCulloch, 1995).

So it is against this background that we come to the present.

 

Race and Culture issues

Ethnic issues in Mental Health Services

Black / Ethnic Minorities more often:
Diagnosed as schizophrenic
Compulsorily detained under M.H.Act
Admitted as ‘Offender Patients’
Held by police under S. 136 of M.H.Act
Transferred to locked wards
Not referred for ‘talking therapies’
Ref: Fernando, S. (1995) Mental Health in a Multi-ethnic Society. Routledge, London

The reasons for the differences represented here are complex and debated over - just as statistics for ethnic differences in (say) rates of police stop-and-search are debated over or the reasons for disproportionate numbers of black people in prison are debated over. But to many black people who experience stop and search, experience being patients of the mental health services, and to anyone who understands the nature of institutionalised racism, who know their history, there is very little doubt as to what the real problem is, although (as with the criminal justice system) proving it in a legal sense is not easy.

Today, in many western societies racism is subtle through institutionalised ways of doing things and this is more difficult to identify than is blatant racism and so presents very pernicious effects. It comes through in the training of professionals that instills a quite unrealistic confidence in the superiority of the body of knowledge and ways of working within western psychology and psychiatry as opposed to ideas and knowledge about human beings evident in non-western cultures. And into this (say) professional arrogance comes racism. In practice, mental health assessments usually fail to allow for ideologies about life, approaches to life's problems, beliefs and feelings that come from non-western cultures. The black experience in society is not given credence, even if the existence of personal discrimination is recognised in a theoretical sort of way. The alienation felt by most black people is usually seen as their problem (and this often leads to ‘treatment’ aimed at getting people to recognise 'reality') rather than a problem for society as a whole. In such a context, stereotypical assumptions about black people influence assessments that professionals make. Way back in 1993, the report of the inquiry into deaths of three black youngsters in Broadmoor Hospital (SHSA, 1993) called for research into the problem created by the stereotype ‘big, black and dangerous’, but all that happened was that the hospital started cultural events with West Indian food etc. largely attended mainly by white people (for the food).

I have not got the time to pursue issues around diagnosis but I suggest that among the factors that influence diagnosis are the images that diagnoses carry and the images that people making diagnosis carry in their heads, often unwittingly. Thus, alienness is linked to schizophrenia (as a diagnosis) and to biological and / or cultural inferiority (as a judgment that is often implicit, rather than explicit). Race comes into both these concepts - alienness and inferiority. And then, what often happens in practice is that we make diagnoses because we want to treat - and the difference between treatment and control are seldom very clear, especially when we are faced with people we do not understand or are frightened of.

Again, consider what happens when psychiatry is called upon to assess dangerousness in relation to mental illness. We have really very little to go on and so we turn to common sense images of dangerous people as a guide - and where do we get our common sense from? And racist images are implicated in the images underpinning both concepts. Just as some nineteenth century American psychiatrists saw run away slaves as drapetomanic, it is not difficult for us to see such angry, undesirable, ‘aliens’ as ‘schizophrenic’ or ‘psychotic’ - and that is how racism operates.

 

 

Of course when major tranquillisers keep people so diagnosed quiet and subservient, a self-fulfilling prophecy confirms our ‘clinical acumen’ - or should I say ‘use of power’.

Conclusions

This talk has dwelt on what I know most closely, namely the mental health system, in particular the practice of psychiatry and the nature of so-called ‘ethnic issues’. I hope my presentation helps in understanding more general issues of racism and privilege in mental health and psychological practice, and where we go to if (as the conference title suggests) we go beyond multiculturalism. I hope I have given you a feel of the complexity of the issues that we all ‘ethnic issues’ in the mental health field. For a professional providing a service - and many of you may fall into this role in one way or another too - the need is to get an understanding of what is wrong and then work out how to put it right. I have no doubt that neither is simple. Words, phrases and concepts are mere tools for us to use if and when appropriate, and not ends in themselves. So whether we stick with the concept of multiculturalism, whether we use ‘institutional racism’ as a concept, these are practical issues – essentially of whether these words help in understanding and bringing about changes for the better, to bring about just services or at least less unjust ways of doing things.

 

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Omi, M and Winant, H. (1994) ‘Racial formation’, in M. Omi and H. Winant (eds) Racial Formation in the United States: From the Sixties to the Nineties, 2nd edn. New York and London: Routledge, pp. 53- 76 (reprinted in P. Essed and D. T. Goldberg (eds) Race Critical Theories. Malden, MA and Oxford: Blackwell (2002), 123-45).

Rose, Steven, Lewontin, R. C., and Kamin, Leon (1984) Not In Our Genes. Biology, Ideology and Human Nature. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Said, E. W. (1978) Orientalism. Western Conceptions of the Orient. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, Reprinted with a new Afterword Penguin Books, Harmondsworth 1995

Special Hospitals Service Authority (SHSA) (1993) Report of the Committee of Inquiry into the Death in Broadmoor Hospital of Orville Blackwood and a Review of the Deaths of Two Other Afro-Caribbean Patients: ‘Big, Black and Dangerous?’ (Chairman Professor H. Prins). London: SHSA.

Thomas, A. and Sillen, S. (1972) Racism and Psychiatry. New York: Brunner/Mazel.

Wright, C. (1992) ‘Multiracial primary school classrooms’, in D. Gill, B. Major and M. Blair (eds) Racism and Education. Structures and Strategies. London: Sage.  

 

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Imagine Belonging

By 

Carry Gorney 

This account of a community arts project with young people who had been adopted was initially presented at the 2004 North West Conference of Narrative Therapy and Community Work in Manchester.  It was accompanied by exerpts from the CD-ROM that was produced as a result of the project described.  This CD-ROM (Imagine Belonging) is available for a small fee from Carry Gorney who can be contacted on carrygorney@btopenworld.com

 

Introduction

Imagine Belonging was a project involving young people children and adults. It was about telling and listening to stories about adoption. It offered the opportunity for small groups to share their experiences, to write, to draw, use photos and video to create a CD ROM.

Imagine Belonging aimed to help others understand what it is like to ride the roller coaster of adoption and  be brave enough to meet the challenge .

Imagine Belonging invited young people and families to reflect on help they would have liked from the organisers of their lives to help others in the future.

The CD is the culmination of five months work by six young people. They also involved another twenty-five children and adults, through carefully prepared interviews and questionnaires. This second group contributed further different perspectives on the issues and support needed around adoption.

The Young People met twice weekly and 2 Saturdays over a three month period. They spent the time talking, making coffee, eating birthday cake, texting each other on their mobiles, sometimes drawing, sometimes writing poems, sometimes elaborately decorating their names with sequins, glitter, feathers and silver pens.

They brought photo albums of the many people in their lives. They shared anecdotes of their early years. They also spent a lot of time eating sandwiches and watching each others videos of when they were small- and cute.

We went to the park and videod each other leaping over stepping stones, kissing statues, wearing funny hats, running, riding bikes.  We sat on the grass chatting and they  listened attentively to each other's stories and treated their experiences with respect.

The concept of Imagine belonging

The title, was  based on he project  Imagine Chicago, which was a positive investigation of a city by the community. This project was to be a positive investigation of the issues surrounding adoption.

It divided into three sections

·        Group work

·        Writing, photographing  and drawing material

·        Creating the CD

It was based on three elements:

Understand

Imagine

Create

  • Understand  - The group of young people shared and reflected on past experiences. They thought about the people in their stories and the effect of their experiences on everyone involved

  • Imagine, / envisioning This was a process of discovery, identifying what worked in the past, what strengths and qualities they developed from these experiences. Who was there to help and support them? What could have been done differently?

  • Creating the future together. They used the previous discussions to construct questionnaires about the future to advise other families and professionals.

This work took place within the group, and then was extended to the young people using questionnaires and undertaking interviews with families.

The whole project took place through continuous dialogue – discussing what would need to happen to help others in the light of what happened to them

A.  Community work

The background to this project was that I had been asked to help in setting up a post-adoptions service.  In setting up this service I felt really strongly that we should have the voice of the community for whom the service was going to be: that was the parents and the young people who’d been adopted. I thought it would be good to have their voices in an animated form somehow, communicating what their experience was and I started writing workshops for the parents and  I started to work on the CD Rom with the young people.  I wanted them, the young people, to have as much agency as possible and to actually express what their need was and, hopefully, afterwards, to be instrumental in shaping the kind of project that will be set up.  I had been hired to set up a post adoption service and this was a first step towards that.  There was a gap to be bridged between people’s ideas of a post adoption service which might be seen as therapeutic with maybe a clinic or whatever, and on the other side there’s actually what happens when you go out into the community and you make something happen at a grass roots level. I think they sit quite separately and I think that the people who wanted me to do this saw that I had a vision of creating the bridge that goes from one to the other and that became very interesting to them. The idea that you can actually do something that is therapeutically relevant but you can do it in a community context;  that it doesn’t have to be separate and in an office and in a clinic, but it can actually be part of a series of conversations you have about a theme;  and not just about me and a kid but about a group of young people together, or a group of parents together, or the parents and the young people together;  that they can have a number of conversations that are connected with this theme and out of that can emerge something that’s therapeutically very significant.

B  A two way process

In my own family I adopted a child, Paul, who is now ?? years old and my experience as someone who adopted a child affected my relationship with the project.  For me the project was like a journey of knowing and not knowing.  On one level I felt as if I had a sense of knowing, that I knew about this at a number of different levels and so my footsteps are alongside any adoptive parent, and I see my son’s footsteps alongside any of the young people’s. On the other hand, I also feel there’s so many areas that I don’t know and I don’t understand and still are very mysterious to me in relation to what my son and I have been through and what our journey still is.  And I’m still searching and wanting to know and wanting to understand.  And my heart lurches whenever I hear about a child who’s been adopted in my work context or on the telly or wherever; something in my gut churns;  it’s very much central now to my whole being and to the way I view the world.  There’s probably many adoptive parents would say the same thing.  And I still carry my child’s vulnerabilities and the longing to make everything right and the knowing over time that that doesn’t happen;  it’s like the scar where I broke my leg – I’ve got that scar, it’s a part of me, it doesn’t disappear but it becomes integrated into the rest of my leg.

I was interested to work with adolescents as my son’s adolescence has been the most difficult part of our journey together and by chance it was the age group that had the right number of people which is how we ended up working with teenagers in the project.  I think I was very nervous about that because I’m a lot older now and I thought will I be cool enough and these sort of things.  But also I think that I needed to put something to rest about the turbulence of my son’s adolescence and I think that I’d become very frightened of teenagers in life. Before my experience with Paul as an adolescent I’d worked a lot with teenagers and really enjoyed it and yet I’d become very fearful of adolescents and felt in danger of turning them into a kind of different species that I wouldn’t be able to connect with.  I think that there was really some healing that took place for me in my connections that I made with these six kids who took part in the project and in sitting with them and listening to them and supporting them and asking them the questions about their journey.  And I think that I was very touched by how they didn’t touch on their own adoptive families very much in their stories: they focused on other parts of their stories and it was like the acknowledgement of the preciousness of that adoption experience, whether it was good, bad or indifferent – and it was very complicated for some of the kids.    And there was the recognition that this new parenting, this re-parenting, is fragile and needs to be protected.  It could break apart and ours, mine and Paul’s, could have broken apart as well, and they reconnected me with that.  They also reconnected me with the fact that it didn’t break apart.

One of the issues for me was how far am I a therapist and a mature grown up and sensible facilitator and how far am I somebody who is actually saying “Look, this is also a part of my experience”. I chose the latter. I was careful what I said and didn’t say, but I was open about my own experiences and the very first session we had I told them that I was an adoptive parent and that I’d been a single mum and so on.  Sarah turned to me straight away and said “Has your son ever tracked down his birth mum?”  And I did explain very simply that he’d been with her before he came to me and she said “How did you feel about the birth mum then?”  I did express how I felt very wobbly about that and that although I felt that if he wanted to contact her again I wanted to encourage him and make him feel it was very possible, nevertheless, in my heart I felt “suppose that he loves her more than me?”  And Clare looked at me across the circle and said “Ah yes, jealous; you’d be jealous of the first mum” and she was right. And, you know, I’d never put those things into words before this project. It felt like I was just another human being dealing with the same issue and the same sort of depth of these relationships.  It made me step into the circle of the group.  I wasn’t standing outside, I was affected.  I didn’t tell a lot of stories about Paul and I but the questions I asked were very informed by my experience and I think that they understood that.  They sometimes said “What did you do?” and “If that would have been you, what would you have done?” or “If you’d been my mum and she was going on at me, would you be the same?” or “Were you the same with Paul?” 

D.  Role within the group

I don’t think they saw me as a therapist at all, and I think they were quite shocked when they  heard after we had finished working together that I was a therapist.  Sarah once said I’m more like a teenager than a grown up.  And sometimes I was absolutely like no more or no less than a teacher and pushing them to finish their homework and finish their projects and shouting at them for not doing it.  As I told them, like I shouted at my son Paul when I was a mum.  And they knew that you don’t do that as a therapist;   you’re not so pressured as a therapist and I was like, , “For God’s sake,  will you just go into the other room and finish that drawing, you’ve got 15 minutes” 

But I think they knew that I was passionate about what they said, and that I listened when something came up;  that I really wanted to know and that I was  passionate about it, that it was more than being curious, interested, and all the things that we’re trained to do.  I think that they could tell that I had a real passion about this and that I carried it in my heart. 

E.  Transitions and building belonging

Some of the kids in the project brought the videos that had been made in their foster families or in the children’s homes, the videos to show to prospective adopters, and we sat and we ate sandwiches and we watched these videos.  They were videos of them when they were little, sweet.  They were anything between 3 and 6 or 7 years old, and I don’t know if I can say this  without crying while I’m telling you, but when I saw those kids in the videos, my son Paul was 5 when I met him and when he came to me he came with a plastic bag with his possessions in it and he was wearing a little pair of brown sandals and one sandal had an Elastoplast on it because the buckle was broken and it’s an image that I will never forget.  It’s just that vision of this little kid with nothing in the world except his plastic bag and not bringing anything else, and he walked through my door;   and he had to take as much responsibility as me for creating a life that would work. 

And there’s something about that and when he cleaned his teeth that night, and I was sitting on the edge of the bath watching him, trying to chat casually, and I was looking at this little person – can you imagine this little 5 year old and I was watching the back of him cleaning his teeth, and I could see his face in the mirror; he was in his pijamas and I was thinking this kid is a total stranger and how somebody could be so little and be in the position of being a total stranger.  I couldn’t begin to imagine what that must have been like for him.

And working with the kids reconnected me with that and I don’t think that was easy because when you look back on any part of your life with hindsight you think you could have done it much better; you could have done it differently and I remembered things that I’d done that were not fair and how I expected too much. They really reconnected me with the little boy and I’d not expected that because they were teenagers.  But because they focused on their own experiences when they were little, and they focused on their transitions, on being taken away I thought much more about Paul’s transitions than I had done for many years, if I had ever thought about as carefully. 

I suppose it’s a thing an adoptive parent wants to brush over because you want to make it right and because it’s your life with the child that you’re focusing on, and it’s actually very painful for you to look back and think about what it meant to the child and to its birth parents to experience that separation, what it meant to them when that separation happened.  And that’s what the kids on this project asked me to look at with them really from day one. 

F.  Changes in relationship with Paul.

I thought a lot about this issue of belonging or not belonging and of being on the outside or on the inside.  I think that Paul and I have talked a lot about that since the project and we somehow had conversations at a different level about these issues  - about his curiosity and his being drawn towards people who feel that they are marginalised, and that they’re not in the mainstream of life or society.  Those are the people that he looks for and wants to be part of. 

I don’t think we would have had these conversations at all were it not for the project, because I think that I’ve been so encouraging of him and supporting him to fulfil his potential within the framework of the mainstream that I might not have left the space for it.  But the space opened up and he asked me at different times how the project was going and, through talking about it, the nature of our conversations and the nature of our relationship changed.  I think maybe he assumes now that he can talk more about his birth father and his birth mother and other areas, other relationships and that I can tolerate listening to them in a way that he didn’t know earlier that I could.  I think that he sees in me that I’m not fixed, but I can bear it if he asks himself questions about himself and who he is and his own identity and who’s been part of his identity in the past and so he is able to actually think some of those things through, talk about some of those things with me.   And he wants to know more about me in relation to that.  And for the first time he’s asking me what happened in the relationship that I had which broke up when Paul was little and about the different areas of my life and how I’ve been changed.  Our conversations are different.  And I have let go of feeling I have to take responsibility for his future, or for terrible things that might happen.  I can just enjoy being with him in the present.  It’s the most relaxed the relationship has been with him since he hit puberty.

I think that the way that he is now, the way he leads a fulfilled and rich and constructive life is an affirmation of the positive things about our relationship.

G.  Letting the young people know about the effect on Carry’s life.

Since thinking about this I’ve been planning to get in touch with the kids and tell them about how my life has been affected by the project.  I guess that from feeling that there was something the matter with you if you’ve got to be adopted they will think that they’ve experienced things that are rich enough and that they’ve been able to express in ways that have influenced somebody who they would see as being on a completely different level, being educated and being respected.  I think they’d maybe quite like that.  I think maybe they would feel valued.

G.  Intentions in adopting

When I think about my intentions in adopting, I think that I’d grown up with images of rescuing and being rescued.  As a member of the second generation of a Jewish family who came to the UK as refugees, since I can remember I’ve had a sense of people who weren’t rescued, people who were parents who died and of parents who survived.  I think that what seems strange to other people was why didn’t I just get married and have a family. Like many people who are second generation, I think that I had an idea that it actually was very dangerous to have a family, that the world’s a dangerous place, so one way of creating a family was to actually find somebody who needed a family.  I think that I’d always wanted to do that.  It became clear to me when I was in my thirties and that is what I did. In the late sixties and early seventies I lived in a commune and we really were exploring the idea of being wider, of creating communities more than nuclear families and I felt that I’d grown up in a family that I was quite pleased to break out of, that there were things that were  very closed and stifling inside a family of Jewish refugees.  I really liked the idea of the commune and the living and creating your life, weaving your life very closely together with people who you chose to be with and I think that the adoption came very naturally out of that.

When I was a kid I, my mum says that I asked her “If you would have been going on a train, if you would have been taken away and been deported to one of the camps in a train, would you have thrown me out of the window to be saved or would you have taken me with you?”  I think I was very young when I asked this question and it’s a family story, and I suppose in a way the issue of adoption for me relates to the baby from the train, who rescues the baby from the train and what happens to that baby.  Paul is my baby from the train.

H.  Rich peopling and flexible families.

When Paul and I talk now about his other family, I feel I can just tolerate the idea that there are more families, there are more people, there are more networks around him and us.   There are the people that we know are around, the people you see,  and then there were people who were there and aren’t here any more and yet they are there but they are not there.  I think I understood, because I’d been brought up with that, and that fitted Paul’s family, those stories that Paul brought into our lives fitted and I guess I understand them, and certainly can live with them now. 

I think the other thing that does sustain me is the idea that none of this is fixed.  Since Paul has grown up I’ve got a new partner which brings another dimension of family; there’s my partner’s mum, so there’s another granny; there’s his daughter so there’s another young person;  and she’s in France so there’s another language I really like this because it feels like even families can evolve and change and it’s a very wide radius.  This sustains me and I think it sustains Paul as well.  I think  we often feel out of control in relation to our birth families quite aside from adoption, and that they feel very fixed and really different generations.  I’m sure that people who were brought up in the fifties and early sixties felt things were much more immovable, or much less movable and less flexible, and there’s something about the family now in the way it’s evolved that’s not set in tablets of stone.  The rules and regulations aren’t as fixed perhaps and the beliefs are more fluid.  And I find this very hopeful.

I.  Hopes for the project

In relation to the project, I hoped that we’d create a community of parents and young people who would be supported by the agency who had commissioned the work and who would actually generate an energy and create something that would carry on.  At the conclusion of the project we had a launch for the CD-ROM and there was a community there.  As well as it being a celebration for the kids, there was a collective energy that was very exciting and I think that the fact that the young people produced something that was their expression of their experiences met with my hopes.

And there are further steps, but these things don’t happen at immediately. They’re often the sort of things that percolate through over time.  There is definitely another piece of community work to be done.  These parents, with whom I had done the writing workshops, and those kids are potentially a very energetic community and could provide a valuable resource in relation to the development of a post adoption service that gets away from the concept of therapeutic provision and that would provide an altogether different model of service.  And then who knows what other services might see such a thing and offer community building provision instead of therapy?  And what might this signal for dominant understandings of distress?

Conclusion

I'd like to finish by leaving you with some of the words of one of the young people who was part of Imagine Belonging:

Making the CD-ROM sounded fun, and I thought it would be useful    useful for other adopted children and people like that.  I thought it would help mothers of adopted children or parents of adopted children understand what it’s like being adopted.  It’s not just a normal life, even though some people think it is.

 If you’re in an adopted family, like I am, where there’s a birth child in it as well, you often feel left out or that he gets more.  And I always blame the fact that, if my mother tells me off, it’s to do with me not being her real child. 

And when you first tell people you’re adopted, it’s like “Ah, I feel so sorry for you” and all this and it just gets me mad.  I don’t like sympathy, it annoys me.  I’d like people to respond that I’m not weird, not not normal. 

When you came to Imagine Belonging it was good because you could tell people your problems and they’d talk to you about it.  And I met people and went through some good and bad times with them.  It was good to meet other adopted children instead of being the odd one out.  Before I only knew one other adopted child.  Meeting others was interesting ’cos they could tell their stories of why they were adopted and it got me more interested about other people’s lives as well as just me ... I was self-centred a bit, like, oh it’s me, I’m special, I’m adopted.   

One effect of this has been that I seem a lot more open now.  If people ask me questions about why I was adopted, I tell them.  I won’t just say it’s got nothing to with you.  I feel more comfortable with my own history and that’s better.

I know a bit more about my past ’cos I was able to ask my mum questions.  I couldn’t just come out of the blue with it, whereas I could actually say we’ve been talking about it in the group and I asked the questions.  It gave me more confidence.

I want to be famous and because I’m adopted I can tell people about my past.  I’ll show people who’ve been adopted that it’s not that bad and that you can get through it.  And I’d like this CD-Rom to be shown to people like learning mentors and foster parents and adoptive mums and dads. 

 

END 

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Outsider witness practices and group supervision

By Hugh Fox, Cathy Tench and Marie [1]

 

From the International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work 2002 No4

This paper describes the work of a ‘narrative supervision group’ organised and run in Sheffield, UK. It conveys how the work of supervision reached out of the room in which the group met and touched the lives of the people who were at the centre of the discussions. In doing so this paper illustrates a possible model for the use of outsider- witness practices in group supervision.

 

Our supervision group consisted of myself plus five other workers – three psychologists, one social worker and a counsellor.  I am a family therapist with a background in social work. We met once a month for nine months, between October 2001 and June 2002. Our sessions lasted for three hours and took place in an upstairs room of my rock climbing partner’s house.  Throughout this time we devised a number of different structures to scaffold our conversations.  The one that we used most often went like this:

 

Stage One:

a group member ('the worker') is interviewed by another group member ('the interviewer') to elicit the background to the piece of work the worker is bringing.  The rest of the group listen. 

Stage Two:

we all listen to a piece of audio tape of an actual session where the worker is talking with the person who is consulting them, usually for around five or ten minutes.

Stage Three:

the rest of the group discuss their responses

Stage Four

:the interviewer and the worker talk some more

Stage Five:

everybody talks together.

Stage Six:

the discussions are audiotaped and the worker takes the tape back to the person at the centre of the discussions.

 

I thought that this would be a good format to use in that it largely reproduces the outsider witness practices of narrative therapy.  It could be thought of in the frame of:

  • A telling - The background interview and the tape presented by the worker

  • A retelling - the responses of the team

  • A retelling of the retelling - the worker and interviewer respond to the team

  • More tellings and retellings of any degree you like! - everyone talks together

The person at the centre of the discussions is in the audience position to all the tellings and retellings when they listen to the audiotape.

 

I hoped that this process would decentre myself as ‘supervisor’ and help to place the knowledge, experience and skills of the group members more centrally. It was also my hope that working this way would give group members practice in themselves centering the lives that were being talked about – the lives of the people who had come for help.  In centering these lives I hoped that it would also give group members experience

  • in finding signs and clues of alternative preferred stories of people's lives and of thickening these stories;  and

  • of noticing how the stories of people's lives were connected with their own stories and in making explicit these connections. 

 

Finally, and perhaps centrally, it was my hope that by recording our discussions and passing the tapes back to the people who's lives were at the centre of our discussions we would be able to contribute something back to them in return for their helping us by allowing us access to their lives in the generous way that they did.

 

In preparation for working this way we all read Michael White's two pieces, Reflecting Teamwork as Definitional Ceremony (1995) and Reflecting Teamwork as Definitional Ceremony Revisited (2000).  I would say that the broad outlines that we had drawn from this were:

  • acknowledging the experience of the person at the centre

  • acknowledging their preferred ways of being, their values, commitments, hopes and dreams

  • acknowledging our own responses to what we had heard and the aspects of our own experience which gave rise to those responses (resonance)

  • acknowledging how our lives had been affected by what we had heard (transport)

 

My experience in the group was that while the first two 'stages' were relatively easy for the group to grasp and enact, the third 'stage' was harder and the fourth 'stage' relatively rarely achieved.

 

Sometimes it was difficult to step fully into the conversational style that Michael White suggests, and occasionally we had to struggle to avoid serial monologues.

Marie

For this article, I have chosen to describe in some detail a series of conversations concerning ‘Marie’ (not her real name). I have chosen this, not because these conversations are an especially good example of our practice matching the model, but because I remembered Cathy, the worker, telling us how positively Marie, the woman she had been working with, had responded to hearing the tape. Marie had found it so positive that for a period she had listened to it every day.  

I also chose this particular example for practical reasons:  Cathy is still in the same job and still seeing Marie, and so it was practical to seek consent from Marie and Cathy.  Also this meant that I could have access to the tape of our discussions in the group so that I am able to quote from it.  And perhaps most importantly it meant that I could meet with Marie and Cathy and talk with them about their responses to what we had done and what it had meant to them.

On the afternoon that we listened to the tape that Cathy and Marie had made together there were five of us taking part – Cathy, myself (Hugh), Catherine, Martha and Adrienne.   Catherine interviewed Cathy about the background to her work with Marie, while Martha, Adrienne and I formed the outsider witness group.

Background

Cathy is a very experienced counsellor in a general practitioners’ surgery in a small town just outside a large midlands city in the UK. Cathy had made an audiotape with Marie especially to bring to our group.  Later I was to learn that Marie had viewed this with some disquiet but that it was her trust of Cathy that had encouraged her to make the tape and to trust us.  I realised then what an incredible responsibility we had shared that afternoon for keeping faith with that trust. Cathy had hoped that the group's responses would help her work with Marie move on into areas where she was finding it difficult to go but which she thought might be helpful to Marie.

Stage One: Catherine interviewing Cathy (about her work with Marie)

Unfortunately the initial interview with Cathy (by Catherine) does not seem to be recorded on the tape.  Perhaps we forgot to switch the recorder on?  But we heard that Marie was 53 years old and that her father, whom she had experienced as an important source of support, died 10 years ago.  Since then, Marie had been struggling  with feelings of anxiety and a sense of worthlessness.  This made it hard for her to go out on her own and had her worrying about what people thought of her.  Marie and her husband had moved to this area recently and her new GP had referred her to Cathy.

Stage Two: Marie and Cathy's tape

Cathy then played us a ten minute extract from a much longer tape.

On this tape, one of the issues for Marie that we hear about is her sense that she is worth less than other people around her. Some of these people are of higher ascribed status, such as the doctor, whilst others live lives just like hers. This sense of being worth less has Marie constantly considering every action before she takes it, and judging her actions (and herself) after she has taken them. 

In contrast, we also hear how Marie is able to relate to some old and dependant people living in residential care in a spontaneous way with which she is comfortable.

The excerpt started with Marie talking about her ability to understand and reach out to older people. She is talking about an incident that took place in an old people's home:

Marie One lady, who was not aware of what you were doing, in fact not aware at all, one hand starts going [shaking] and I just touch them.  Touching, it stops, the shaking stops.... I imagine these things, that they must be feeling something inside, feeling alone.... I can see it calms them...

Cathy and Marie talk about how it is that the fear that usually comes between Marie and other people doesn't prevent Marie from reaching out in this situation.  Marie decides that it is empathy that enables her to feel for other people with a strength that dismisses the fear.  She says how with these old people 'you never know the depths of their mind'. She goes on to express how her husband sometimes responds to her understanding of minds:

Marie He always says that I think too much, you see.  (Laughs)

Cathy:             I guess its down to you, what do you want for you? ..... The question I would ask you, in terms of how you want your ... your hopes for your life, is, does showing compassion and empathy fit with your hopes for your life or not fit?

Marie:             What do you mean, in what sense?

Cathy:             How you'd like your life to be?

Marie:             What sticks in my mind is different things I've said in the past, and you've said about it, it must be tiring, when I've said I have to think about this and doing that and I have to do that, I have to make sure that that's right, or I have to think before I do that, and it's like safeguarding every angle, and you said, that must be tiring, that sticks in my mind, and now I think to myself, that is tiring, that is tiring, and it's no good to me and now I'm thinking, well, why is it no good for me then?

Cathy:             When you're thinking about how to relate to the old people, that seems much better for you, you just find yourself doing it...

Marie:             that's right...

Cathy:             and it's not something that you spend a lot of energy thinking about.

Marie:             No, it's just what comes.

Cathy:             Is that how you want it to be?

Marie:             Yea..... yea......yea, you see there's another thing where you say, 'do you want to...' or 'is it a thing that you want to... ' ........  I keep thinking, 'let things come out of my mind now’.... and I think that's what's working...

Cathy:             For you to be thinking about what you prefer for your life?

Marie:             Yea.

 

Marie goes on to say that, since the previous session, this comparison of herself with other people has been somewhat less of a problem, and she has been thinking that 'putting herself on top of a mountain, surrounded by cotton wool' is pointless;  'It's very lonely up there isn't it?' 

Also, she has been thinking that the only person who would worry about her and think about her, her father, is dead, and she thought 'it should be different from that'.  She concludes that she will never be able to relate to the extent that she wants to if she keeps isolating herself.

Stage Three: Reflecting team

The group started by acknowledging Marie's experiences that had led her to consult with Cathy.

What was your sense of what Marie had been experiencing in her life?

Martha:           It was painful ... something of having had some kind of a struggle on her own through life

Hugh:              Sounded like a back to the wall kind of life, waiting to see who would judge her ...

Adrienne:       Under attack or being undermined all the time...

Hugh:              ... it sounds like Marie and the people in her life had only described her shortcomings... it was as if only one half of her life was being talked about..

Martha:           I was thinking, Cathy and Marie have probably talked about this, and I wondered where these ideas, these kinds of descriptions, the way Marie talks about herself, came from.

Hugh:              I wondered about the history of all that, and only probably one tenth of her life told.

Adrienne:       And in the telling of one part the forgetting of the rest.
We also talked about her experience of having to evaluate all her actions and how tiring and isolating this was.

Next we started to talk about some of the exceptions to this story that we had heard about.  These included the reaching out to the old person; her having learned sign language  previously; and her relationship with Cathy.

Martha spoke about a friend of hers who had learned signing:

Martha:           It took a lot of commitment... being very dedicated...

Hugh:              What does this make you think about what Marie's commitments might be to?

Martha:           Understanding of others, or wanting to help ... to encourage others to participate or share opportunities... offer others the ability to communicate, closer relationships...

We went on to wonder whether there might be people in Marie’s life, past or present, who could tell stories of Marie reaching out to them and helping them to feel less isolated and more a part of things.  We wondered how all this would fit in with Marie’s hopes for her future and what she might be able to experience in life.  And we thought that when Marie spoke of Cathy asking her what she wanted, and this being what worked, that we heard some excitement in Marie’s voice, and that perhaps this presented a wonderful new vista full of possibility.

Stage Four: Catherine's second interview with Cathy

Catherine now talked with Cathy about her responses to the team's responses.

Cathy responded to the idea that Marie’s life was only partly told by talking about her sense that Marie’s father was the only person who saw and appreciated Marie. She told a story of how Marie’s father would comfort her by putting a piece of chocolate under her pillow.  Catherine wondered if Marie was like her dad, good at acts of kindness?

Cathy told of an example of Marie’s caring ways:

Cathy She [Marie] came in one day and said "Are you alright?", and you know how you do when you're the counsellor, and she said "Are you sure?", and she was determined that I wasn't, and I wasn't actually.... She knew on some intuitive level without exchanging any words, that I was having a pretty rough time... Where did she learn that sensitive way?
Catherine: And how has she kept it alive?
Cathy however much she has felt afraid this thing is bigger than that ....  the bit about the vista, such a lovely way to think about having choices...
Catherine: And I felt some excitement in Marie's voice [when she was talking about that]... and I guess you can feel scared at the same time.
Cathy it is scary thinking about having choices rather than being in a prescribed sort of way, there's a safety in that, but having choices and stepping outside the tramlines can be quite scary..... and yet she's doing that despite whatever the fear, she's doing that .... and I find that exciting, to be part of that
Catherine: I think I got a bit excited as well when I heard her say towards the end of the bit [of tape] you played, 'it's no good for me then, but why isn't it any good for me?", and it felt she was going to ask that question...and I did feel quite excited.

Stage Five: Everyone talks together

In this part of the process I assume a more central position. I take it as an opportunity to pick up on any issues in relation to the work that don't seem to have been covered so far. This may centre the concerns of the worker who brought the tape. It is also an opportunity to directly address the learning needs of the group members, and thus to centre their concerns rather than the concerns of the person whose life we have been hearing about. Also, of course, there is space for group members to contribute or to ask questions. At the same time, we continue to record the discussion, and the person whose life we have been hearing about (in this case Marie) will hear our discussions and so it  remains important to continue to attend to the question of how our discussions may contribute to or take away from her life.

In this stage in particular, I was aware of the relevance of matters of gender. Not only was I only male in the group, but I was the supervisor and in this stage of the process I take a more central role. This was something that we talked about specifically at our first meeting. We did not come up with easy solutions. The group was clear that it was important to them that I avoid stepping into a patriarchal role where I would be responsible for them in a paternal sort of a way, and this felt like it was important to me too! I took responsibility for checking during the life of the group how they were experiencing the process of our interaction, and this included checking in about issues of gender. 

In this particular example, I started stage five by picking up on what Cathy had said about Marie’s father. I was wishing to open up space for Cathy and Marie to have a re-membering conversation in relation to Marie's father, whose death seemed to have initiated a particularly difficult period in Marie's life, a period which she was still struggling to recover from. 

In the group I wondered whether her father was still in Marie’s life, and whether she ever feels his presence with her. I went on to wonder about what he would appreciate about what she is doing now to recover her life, and about the way she reached out to the old lady;  what he would still recognise as things that he used to love in Marie. In asking these questions I was guided by Michael White's use of the 'saying hullo again' metaphor (White, 1988). 

 

I also spoke of some resonances with some aspects of my own life that had been stirred up by hearing about Marie's life. These aspects had to do with my relationship with my mother.  I acknowledged that hearing about Marie's ability to 'reach out' had affected in helpful ways how I understood these aspects of my own life. This was an  acknowledgement of transport (White, 1999).  In making these responses my intention was to embody my responses (White, 1995b) and to acknowledge the contribution made to my life by Marie, locating what we were doing as a two way process (White, 1997).

 

I wondered aloud about the ‘intuitive level’ which was a phrase that had cropped up repeatedly during the discussion. This phrase, as I understood it, referred to Marie’s ability to reach out without undue self reflection or self criticism. 

 

I wondered what special knowledges Marie has that constitute that intuitive level;  that enable her to understand people without them speaking a word;  what her sensitivity, which she herself acknowledged, represented in terms of knowing how to understand other people. I did this in order to try and open up the possibility for Cathy and Marie of deconstructing these naturalistic structuralist categories (‘intuition’ and ‘sensitivity’) and moving instead to descriptions of knowledge and skill, and of intention, value and commitment – non-structuralist categories (White, 2001).

 

Finally, I went on to wonder who she might become if she were able to further value this ‘intuitive level’.  And I shared my excitement in wondering about this!  Here, I was working within the re-authoring conversations map (White and Epston, 1990; White, 1992 & 1995a). Marie’s actions of reaching out to people without self criticism  (landscape of action), were linked to a re-authored understanding of her identity as a knowledgeable and skillful person, who had developed these knowledges and skills in the context of intentions, values, commitments and hopes (landscape of identity). These considerations were then taken into the future through speculating about what Marie might find herself doing if she were to consider this possible re-authored identity to be of value, and if she were able to hold on to valuing these new-found identity conclusions.

 

Summary of process of group supervision

This process probably took a little over an hour. While the group had the opportunity to take part in outsider witness practices in relation to Cathy’s conversations with Marie and with Catherine, we were also able to engage in a number of other narrative practices:

 

  •         acknowledging experience

  •         use of externalising language

  •         identifying unique outcomes

  •         identifying possible preferred stories

  •         thickening descriptions

  •         exploring histories

  •         moving from naturalistic to non structural descriptions

  •         embodying responses

  •         using dialogical process in reflecting

  •         re-membering conversations

  •         deconstruction

  •         re-authoring conversations

 Perhaps you can spot some more?

This list, of course, only relates to this particular example; doubtless, if we were to subject another example to this degree of analysis then there would be other practices that are not on this list;  and equally, no doubt there were opportunities here that the group did not take.

This format for supervision then provides rich opportunities for developing familiarity with narrative practices and with narrative conversations.

Follow-up

In order to write this article I contacted Cathy and on my behalf she approached Marie, seeking her agreement to meet with myself and Cathy so that I might find out her experience of hearing the tape of our discussions.  I had already heard from Cathy, before the supervision group had stopped meeting, that Marie had been listening to the tape every day and that she had responded to it very positively.  So I was interested to hear more about this. 

 

I was also interested to hear Cathy’s sense of how this process had contributed to the work that she and Marie are doing together.  And I also took the opportunity to ask Cathy about how she felt this process of group supervision, throughout the life of the group, had contributed to her understanding and practice of narrative therapy.

 

Marie's response to the tape

I met with Marie and Cathy at the doctor's surgery where they do their work together. We talked on tape for about 45 minutes. 

 

Marie described her initial response to the tape.  She had already described how she expected to hear criticism and negatives.

 

Hugh:

So you didn't hope for anything but you did say that you would like to hear the tape...

Marie:

Yes... then I was frightened of listening to it, when I took it home, I thought, oh dear, and when I went in to the bedroom on my own .... And put on my headphones, and I thought, wait for it now, and all I thought was that I'm going to feel really bad about this, it'll set me off on a chain of events, this will... and as I put it on, and just listening to somebody saying something and I'm thinking, yea, that's true ... but it wasn't a negative thing about me... it was like ‘that’s true’ and as I was listening to more of it, I thought, I haven’t met these people... yet they’re actually saying what I [think]... I’ve given something away here... they’ve understood that... and yet it’s something I keep hidden... and then I’m thinking as it went on and on, I thought to myself, I had to really think, and then I thought, ‘yes!’;  and then it was like reactivating, I can only say that word, reactivating something in my mind because I have to think about things, this seems to ring a bell, because I had to think deeper and deeper and days I had to think and put it on again... I had to analyse every single thing on it, everybody’s voice, what everybody was saying, all the words... pull every piece out of it just in case, you know, because I don’t trust, you see... and then it really came home to me there was somebody, people there... I know Cathy understands me... [they’d] received some thought of mine about the past, only I would think it was daft... and now you were confirming those thoughts but in a positive way... I thought, now, I don’t think I’m on my own anymore, that was the main thing.

Hugh:

...you don’t think you are on your own any more...

Marie:

No, because the first thing she said, ‘Marie’s had some kind of struggle in her life on her own, and I thought, that’s true... and I thought, that struck a chord with me…

 

Marie went on to further talk about her sense of acknowledgement and confirmation listening to the tape. This lead on to her describing her experience of a lack of recognition in her life and how this had lead her to cut off and isolate herself as well as to doubt her own judgment. Listening to the tape had helped her connect her present with her past, and Marie described that this ‘makes me feel better’.

 

Following this, Marie spontaneously started to talk about how she used to study, getting psychology books from the library, in order to ‘study body language, picking up every single thing ... because I didn’t trust people’.  She also talked about how as well as watching the things she did she studied the things other people did, working to understand ‘why did they do that?’ What had once  been described solely as ‘intuition’ had now become unpacked. The skills and knowledges involved and the history of acquiring these skills and knowledges now seem more available to Marie.

 

We also talked about her experience of being understood in the ways that she had been talking about:

 

Marie:

When you said about half of my life was spoken of...

Hugh:

...told and not told....

Marie:

I thought, that’s true, my half of life [that I tell] it’s always the negative side I take on... that’s the way I am. That’s like the way I think... and then I’m listening to [people on the tape who are] saying, it isn’t, that it’s positive... I wonder what Marie would have been, you said... it was a cold shuddery feeling... it was a good experience..

Marie reiterates that it is the acknowledgement of struggle that was the main thing.

Hugh:

Has that acknowledgement of struggle affected your life since?

Marie:

Now?  I think now that I could talk about it [the struggle], I’ve got backup

. 

Marie goes on to explain how this sense of backup enables her to talk to her husband about when she was a child and what it is like.  He finds it hard to understand her, but she persists because of this sense of backup. When I ask if he understands her more as a result of this she says ‘Yes... that’s better for me because it makes me feel a bit more secure’.

 

I ask if anyone else has noticed these changes and Marie tells me about her friend who has said ‘I don’t think that you are the same, you’re not as depressive, I think that you are better than you were’.  Marie tells me that her friend can be down too, and that what her friend has noticed is that Marie is ‘pushing her more...  I’m pushing her more to be positive’.  Marie says ‘and I think that’s been since the tape’.

 

Marie says that there was nothing about the tape that was unhelpful, that it has been a big help, and that she still listens to it. Cathy asks her how many sessions of therapy Marie thinks it has been equivalent to and she says 20.  I say that as she still listens to the tape ‘it’s like the meter is still ticking, perhaps in a month it’ll be 21 or 22 sessions!’

Cathy’s account of effect on the work with Marie

Because the conversation that I had with Marie was so riveting, I was not able to talk with Cathy for as long as I would have liked, and so I asked Cathy to send me some thoughts in writing.  What follows is based on both the brief conversation we did have and on the writing that Cathy sent me.

 

Cathy told me that she had been very hopeful that the process might be helpful to Marie.  She said that she had felt sure the process would contribute to enabling Marie to step out of isolation and experience a sense of connection. She hoped that it would contribute to Marie feeling acknowledged and understood.  Cathy also saw it as a part of the work that she and Marie were doing together: 

 

‘I saw it as part of the work that I was wanting to do with Marie but couldn’t do on my own... I needed a backup! One of the things that happened as a result was that Marie told me a whole lot of different things about her life that she started to remember, including reaching out to people and what a difference she had made to those people’s lives.’

 

Cathy described how certain events of Marie’s life were now being taken into themes of belonging, in contrast to story-lines of isolation. Cathy also conveyed how Marie is now being able to acknowledge that her life might have value to others through her reaching out to them. Cathy mentioned three examples from Marie’s youth that they have recently been talking about together:

     Marie had befriended an ostracized girl with learning difficulties and had treated her as ‘normal’

Marie had encouraged a boy in a wheelchair to learn to walk again.

Marie had saved a child from drowning in a swimming pool.

 

Marie was also able to acknowledge her contribution to her friend (who Marie had referred to in our conversation together – see above). Furthermore, Marie had taken a risk and acknowledged to Cathy how important their meetings together are to her.

Importantly, Marie has shaken off self-blame’s grip, says ‘I know I’m not to blame now’, and has started on a project to ‘get her life back’. This includes starting to drive again so as to lessen her dependency on her husband. Cathy also conveyed that they are working on Marie giving her own answers to questions during their sessions together - rather than Cathy speculating on possible answers. [I think that they must be making excellent progress with this because I was struck at how Marie was able to find answers to the various questions that I asked!]

 

Outsider witness practice as group supervision

 

I also asked Cathy to comment on her experience of this group supervision process.

 

Cathy said that she thought that it was a good way of learning and that every time she came away feeling really excited and inspired. She thought that the most important thing that she learned was ‘about me not being the expert on people’s lives and putting the person I’m with as the expert’.

 

She also added the following list of more specific ‘learnings’:

 

I am now less willing to be drawn into supplying the answers and am instead finding ways to draw out answers.

 

I am increasingly understanding the process of zigzagging between landscape of action and landscape of identity questions, and then anticipating what this might mean for the future.

 

To always listen for ‘unique outcomes’ and then to utilise them

 To ask more questions!

 To possibly do more sharing of myself when it is relevant

 

Cathy did say that what she thought was lacking in the supervision group was the direct teaching of narrative techniques and illustration of them. She commented that recently attending a teaching workshop on narrative therapy had really helped in this regard. During the course of the supervision group I had interviewed two group members about issues in their lives, and Cathy said that ‘people learned a lot’ from this.

 

I too experienced a sense of frustration in relation to the teaching of both theoretical ideas and specific skills. Having publicized a supervision group, I regretted that this seemed to make it hard to structure our learning systematically.  I have responded to this by now  offering, instead of the supervision group, a course entitled ‘Developing Skills in Narrative Practice’ in which there will be a balance between reading, teaching, skills practice and group supervision.  I’ll let you know next year how this goes!

 

Nevertheless, my experience of the nine monthly sessions that I spent with the group was that it was a rich way to create a narrative space for contributing to the therapeutic work of group members and to the lives of the people who were consulting them. Wednesday afternoons were inspiring and energising for me.

 

The last word goes to Cathy:

 

‘Previous experiences of supervision have often left me feeling sort of ‘inadequate’, that there were gaps in my work with the client, or that the client was inadequate or ‘defended’ in some way. This supervision group, however, left me feeling energized. It offered more possibilities for my work. People ‘wondered about’, ‘thought of things’, ‘were curious’ etc. The work was much more co-operative and this brought about a sense of belonging for me too! Importantly, my client was always raised in regard’.

 

References

 

White, M. 1988: ‘Saying hullo again:  the incorporation of the lost relationship in the resolution of grief.’  Dulwich Centre Newsletter, Spring 1998.  Reprinted in Introducing narrative therapy, White, C. & Denborough, D. (eds). 1998: Adelaide: Dulwich Centre Publications

 

White, M. & Epston, D. 1990: Narrative Means to Therapeutic Ends. New York:  Norton

 

White. M. 1992: ‘Deconstruction and Therapy’ In Epston, D. and White, M. Experience, contradiction, Narrative and Imagination, Adelaide:  Dulwich Centre Publications

 

White, M. 1995a: ‘The Narrative Perspective in Therapy’ In Re-Authoring Lives: Interviews and Essays Adelaide: Dulwich Centre Publications

 

White, M. 1995b: ‘Reflecting Teams as Definitional Ceremony’ In Re-Authoring Lives: Interviews and Essays. Adelaide:  Dulwich Centre Publications

 

White, M. 1997: Narratives of Therapists’ Lives, Adelaide:  Dulwich Centre Publications

 

White, M. 1999:  ‘Reflecting-team work as definitional ceremony revisited’ In Gecko: a journal of deconstruction and narrative ideas in therapeutic practice Vol 2. Reprinted in White, M. 2000: Reflections on Narrative Practice: Essays and Interviews. Adelaide:  Dulwich Centre Publications

 

White M. 2001:  ‘Narrative practice and the unpacking of identity conclusions’, Gecko: a journal of deconstruction and narrative ideas in therapeutic practice  No. 1, Adelaide:  Dulwich Centre Publications


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Imagine Belonging

By

Carry Gorney 

This account of a community arts project with young people who had been adopted was initially presented at the 2004 North West Conference of Narrative Therapy and Community Work in Manchester.  It was accompanied by exerpts from the CD-ROM that was produced as a result of the project described.  This CD-ROM (Imagine Belonging) is available for a small fee from Carry Gorney who can be contacted on carrygorney@btopenworld.com

 

Introduction

Imagine Belonging was a project involving young people children and adults. It was about telling and listening to stories about adoption. It offered the opportunity for small groups to share their experiences, to write, to draw, use photos and video to create a CD ROM.

Imagine Belonging aimed to help others understand what it is like to ride the roller coaster of adoption and  be brave enough to meet the challenge .

Imagine Belonging invited young people and families to reflect on help they would have liked from the organisers of their lives to help others in the future.

The CD is the culmination of five months work by six young people. They also involved another twenty-five children and adults, through carefully prepared interviews and questionnaires. This second group contributed further different perspectives on the issues and support needed around adoption.

The Young People met twice weekly and 2 Saturdays over a three month period. They spent the time talking, making coffee, eating birthday cake, texting each other on their mobiles, sometimes drawing, sometimes writing poems, sometimes elaborately decorating their names with sequins, glitter, feathers and silver pens.

They brought photo albums of the many people in their lives. They shared anecdotes of their early years. They also spent a lot of time eating sandwiches and watching each others videos of when they were small- and cute.

We went to the park and videoed each other leaping over stepping stones, kissing statues, wearing funny hats, running, riding bikes.  We sat on the grass chatting and they  listened attentively to each other stories and treated their experiences with respect.

The concept of Imagine belonging

The title, was  based on he project  Imagine Chicago, which was a positive investigation of a city by the community. This project was to be a positive investigation of the issues surrounding adoption.

It divided into three sections

·        Group work

·        Writing, photographing  and drawing material

·        Creating the CD

It was based on three elements:

Understand

Imagine

Create

·         Understand  - The group of young people shared and reflected on past experiences. They thought about the people in their stories and the effect of their experiences on everyone involved

·         Imagine, / envisioning This was a process of discovery, identifying what worked in the past, what strengths and qualities they developed from these experiences. Who was there to help and support them? What could have been done differently?

·         Creating the future together. They used the previous discussions to construct questionnaires about the future to advise other families and professionals.

This work took place within the group, and then was extended to the young people using questionnaires and undertaking interviews with families.

The whole project took place through continuous dialogue – discussing what would need to happen to help others in the light of what happened to them

A.  Community work

The background to this project was that I had been asked to help in setting up a post-adoptions service.  In setting up this service I felt really strongly that we should have the voice of the community for whom the service was going to be: that was the parents and the young people who’d been adopted. I thought it would be good to have their voices in an animated form somehow, communicating what their experience was and I started writing workshops for the parents and  I started to work on the CD Rom with the young people.  I wanted them, the young people, to have as much agency as possible and to actually express what their need was and, hopefully, afterwards, to be instrumental in shaping the kind of project that will be set up.  I had been hired to set up a post adoption service and this was a first step towards that.  There was a gap to be bridged between people’s ideas of a post adoption service which might be seen as therapeutic with maybe a clinic or whatever, and on the other side there’s actually what happens when you go out into the community and you make something happen at a grass roots level. I think they sit quite separately and I think that the people who wanted me to do this saw that I had a vision of creating the bridge that goes from one to the other and that became very interesting to them. The idea that you can actually do something that is therapeutically relevant but you can do it in a community context;  that it doesn’t have to be separate and in an office and in a clinic, but it can actually be part of a series of conversations you have about a theme;  and not just about me and a kid but about a group of young people together, or a group of parents together, or the parents and the young people together;  that they can have a number of conversations that are connected with this theme and out of that can emerge something that’s therapeutically very significant.

B  A two way process

In my own family I adopted a child, Paul, who is now ?? years old and my experience as someone who adopted a child affected my relationship with the project.  For me the project was like a journey of knowing and not knowing.  On one level I felt as if I had a sense of knowing, that I knew about this at a number of different levels and so my footsteps are alongside any adoptive parent, and I see my son’s footsteps alongside any of the young people’s. On the other hand, I also feel there’s so many areas that I don’t know and I don’t understand and still are very mysterious to me in relation to what my son and I have been through and what our journey still is.  And I’m still searching and wanting to know and wanting to understand.  And my heart lurches whenever I hear about a child who’s been adopted in my work context or on the telly or wherever; something in my gut churns;  it’s very much central now to my whole being and to the way I view the world.  There’s probably many adoptive parents would say the same thing.  And I still carry my child’s vulnerabilities and the longing to make everything right and the knowing over time that that doesn’t happen;  it’s like the scar where I broke my leg – I’ve got that scar, it’s a part of me, it doesn’t disappear but it becomes integrated into the rest of my leg.

I was interested to work with adolescents as my son’s adolescence has been the most difficult part of our journey together and by chance it was the age group that had the right number of people which is how we ended up working with teenagers in the project.  I think I was very nervous about that because I’m a lot older now and I thought will I be cool enough and these sort of things.  But also I think that I needed to put something to rest about the turbulence of my son’s adolescence and I think that I’d become very frightened of teenagers in life. Before my experience with Paul as an adolescent I’d worked a lot with teenagers and really enjoyed it and yet I’d become very fearful of adolescents and felt in danger of turning them into a kind of different species that I wouldn’t be able to connect with.  I think that there was really some healing that took place for me in my connections that I made with these six kids who took part in the project and in sitting with them and listening to them and supporting them and asking them the questions about their journey.  And I think that I was very touched by how they didn’t touch on their own adoptive families very much in their stories: they focused on other parts of their stories and it was like the acknowledgement of the preciousness of that adoption experience, whether it was good, bad or indifferent – and it was very complicated for some of the kids.    And there was the recognition that this new parenting, this re-parenting, is fragile and needs to be protected.  It could break apart and ours, mine and Paul’s, could have broken apart as well, and they reconnected me with that.  They also reconnected me with the fact that it didn’t break apart.

One of the issues for me was how far am I a therapist and a mature grown up and sensible facilitator and how far am I somebody who is actually saying “Look, this is also a part of my experience”. I chose the latter. I was careful what I said and didn’t say, but I was open about my own experiences and the very first session we had I told them that I was an adoptive parent and that I’d been a single mum and so on.  Sarah turned to me straight away and said “Has your son ever tracked down his birth mum?”  And I did explain very simply that he’d been with her before he came to me and she said “How did you feel about the birth mum then?”  I did express how I felt very wobbly about that and that although I felt that if he wanted to contact her again I wanted to encourage him and make him feel it was very possible, nevertheless, in my heart I felt “suppose that he loves her more than me?”  And Clare looked at me across the circle and said “Ah yes, jealous; you’d be jealous of the first mum” and she was right. And, you know, I’d never put those things into words before this project. It felt like I was just another human being dealing with the same issue and the same sort of depth of these relationships.  It made me step into the circle of the group.  I wasn’t standing outside, I was affected.  I didn’t tell a lot of stories about Paul and I but the questions I asked were very informed by my experience and I think that they understood that.  They sometimes said “What did you do?” and “If that would have been you, what would you have done?” or “If you’d been my mum and she was going on at me, would you be the same?” or “Were you the same with Paul?”  

D.  Role within the group

I don’t think they saw me as a therapist at all, and I think they were quite shocked when they  heard after we had finished working together that I was a therapist.  Sarah once said I’m more like a teenager than a grown up.  And sometimes I was absolutely like no more or no less than a teacher and pushing them to finish their homework and finish their projects and shouting at them for not doing it.  As I told them, like I shouted at my son Paul when I was a mum.  And they knew that you don’t do that as a therapist;   you’re not so pressured as a therapist and I was like, , “For God’s sake,  will you just go into the other room and finish that drawing, you’ve got 15 minutes” 

But I think they knew that I was passionate about what they said, and that I listened when something came up;  that I really wanted to know and that I was  passionate about it, that it was more than being curious, interested, and all the things that we’re trained to do.  I think that they could tell that I had a real passion about this and that I carried it in my heart.

E.  Transitions and building belonging

Some of the kids in the project brought the videos that had been made in their foster families or in the children’s homes, the videos to show to prospective adopters, and we sat and we ate sandwiches and we watched these videos.  They were videos of them when they were little, sweet.  They were anything between 3 and 6 or 7 years old, and I don’t know if I can say this  without crying while I’m telling you, but when I saw those kids in the videos, my son Paul was 5 when I met him and when he came to me he came with a plastic bag with his possessions in it and he was wearing a little pair of brown sandals and one sandal had an Elastoplast on it because the buckle was broken and it’s an image that I will never forget.  It’s just that vision of this little kid with nothing in the world except his plastic bag and not bringing anything else, and he walked through my door;   and he had to take as much responsibility as me for creating a life that would work. 

And there’s something about that and when he cleaned his teeth that night, and I was sitting on the edge of the bath watching him, trying to chat casually, and I was looking at this little person – can you imagine this little 5 year old and I was watching the back of him cleaning his teeth, and I could see his face in the mirror; he was in his pijamas and I was thinking this kid is a total stranger and how somebody could be so little and be in the position of being a total stranger.  I couldn’t begin to imagine what that must have been like for him.

And working with the kids reconnected me with that and I don’t think that was easy because when you look back on any part of your life with hindsight you think you could have done it much better; you could have done it differently and I remembered things that I’d done that were not fair and how I expected too much. They really reconnected me with the little boy and I’d not expected that because they were teenagers.  But because they focused on their own experiences when they were little, and they focused on their transitions, on being taken away I thought much more about Paul’s transitions than I had done for many years, if I had ever thought about as carefully. 

I suppose it’s a thing an adoptive parent wants to brush over because you want to make it right and because it’s your life with the child that you’re focusing on, and it’s actually very painful for you to look back and think about what it meant to the child and to its birth parents to experience that separation, what it meant to them when that separation happened.  And that’s what the kids on this project asked me to look at with them really from day one. 

F.  Changes in relationship with Paul.

I thought a lot about this issue of belonging or not belonging and of being on the outside or on the inside.  I think that Paul and I have talked a lot about that since the project and we somehow had conversations at a different level about these issues  - about his curiosity and his being drawn towards people who feel that they are marginalised, and that they’re not in the mainstream of life or society.  Those are the people that he looks for and wants to be part of. 

I don’t think we would have had these conversations at all were it not for the project, because I think that I’ve been so encouraging of him and supporting him to fulfil his potential within the framework of the mainstream that I might not have left the space for it.  But the space opened up and he asked me at different times how the project was going and, through talking about it, the nature of our conversations and the nature of our relationship changed.  I think maybe he assumes now that he can talk more about his birth father and his birth mother and other areas, other relationships and that I can tolerate listening to them in a way that he didn’t know earlier that I could.  I think that he sees in me that I’m not fixed, but I can bear it if he asks himself questions about himself and who he is and his own identity and who’s been part of his identity in the past and so he is able to actually think some of those things through, talk about some of those things with me.   And he wants to know more about me in relation to that.  And for the first time he’s asking me what happened in the relationship that I had which broke up when Paul was little and about the different areas of my life and how I’ve been changed.  Our conversations are different.  And I have let go of feeling I have to take responsibility for his future, or for terrible things that might happen.  I can just enjoy being with him in the present.  It’s the most relaxed the relationship has been with him since he hit puberty.

I think that the way that he is now, the way he leads a fulfilled and rich and constructive life is an affirmation of the positive things about our relationship.

G.  Letting the young people know about the effect on Carry’s life.

Since thinking about this I’ve been planning to get in touch with the kids and tell them about how my life has been affected by the project.  I guess that from feeling that there was something the matter with you if you’ve got to be adopted they will think that they’ve experienced things that are rich enough and that they’ve been able to express in ways that have influenced somebody who they would see as being on a completely different level, being educated and being respected.  I think they’d maybe quite like that.  I think maybe they would feel valued.

G.  Intentions in adopting

When I think about my intentions in adopting, I think that I’d grown up with images of rescuing and being rescued.  As a member of the second generation of a Jewish family who came to the UK as refugees, since I can remember I’ve had a sense of people who weren’t rescued, people who were parents who died and of parents who survived.  I think that what seems strange to other people was why didn’t I just get married and have a family. Like many people who are second generation, I think that I had an idea that it actually was very dangerous to have a family, that the world’s a dangerous place, so one way of creating a family was to actually find somebody who needed a family.  I think that I’d always wanted to do that.  It became clear to me when I was in my thirties and that is what I did. In the late sixties and early seventies I lived in a commune and we really were exploring the idea of being wider, of creating communities more than nuclear families and I felt that I’d grown up in a family that I was quite pleased to break out of, that there were things that were  very closed and stifling inside a family of Jewish refugees.  I really liked the idea of the commune and the living and creating your life, weaving your life very closely together with people who you chose to be with and I think that the adoption came very naturally out of that.

When I was a kid I, my mum says that I asked her “If you would have been going on a train, if you would have been taken away and been deported to one of the camps in a train, would you have thrown me out of the window to be saved or would you have taken me with you?”  I think I was very young when I asked this question and it’s a family story, and I suppose in a way the issue of adoption for me relates to the baby from the train, who rescues the baby from the train and what happens to that baby.  Paul is my baby from the train.

H.  Rich peopling and flexible families.

When Paul and I talk now about his other family, I feel I can just tolerate the idea that there are more families, there are more people, there are more networks around him and us.   There are the people that we know are around, the people you see,  and then there were people who were there and aren’t here any more and yet they are there but they are not there.  I think I understood, because I’d been brought up with that, and that fitted Paul’s family, those stories that Paul brought into our lives fitted and I guess I understand them, and certainly can live with them now. 

I think the other thing that does sustain me is the idea that none of this is fixed.  Since Paul has grown up I’ve got a new partner which brings another dimension of family; there’s my partner’s mum, so there’s another granny; there’s his daughter so there’s another young person;  and she’s in France so there’s another language I really like this because it feels like even families can evolve and change and it’s a very wide radius.  This sustains me and I think it sustains Paul as well.  I think  we often feel out of control in relation to our birth families quite aside from adoption, and that they feel very fixed and really different generations.  I’m sure that people who were brought up in the fifties and early sixties felt things were much more immovable, or much less movable and less flexible, and there’s something about the family now in the way it’s evolved that’s not set in tablets of stone.  The rules and regulations aren’t as fixed perhaps and the beliefs are more fluid.  And I find this very hopeful.

I.  Hopes for the project

In relation to the project, I hoped that we’d create a community of parents and young people who would be supported by the agency who had commissioned the work and who would actually generate an energy and create something that would carry on.  At the conclusion of the project we had a launch for the CD-ROM and there was a community there.  As well as it being a celebration for the kids, there was a collective energy that was very exciting and I think that the fact that the young people produced something that was their expression of their experiences met with my hopes.

And there are further steps, but these things don’t happen at immediately. They’re often the sort of things that percolate through over time.  There is definitely another piece of community work to be done.  These parents, with whom I had done the writing workshops, and those kids are potentially a very energetic community and could provide a valuable resource in relation to the development of a post adoption service that gets away from the concept of therapeutic provision and that would provide an altogether different model of service.  And then who knows what other services might see such a thing and offer community building provision instead of therapy?  And what might this signal for dominant understandings of distress?

Conclusion

I'd like to finish by leaving you with some of the words of one of the young people who was part of Imagine Belonging:

Making the CD-ROM sounded fun, and I thought it would be useful    useful for other adopted children and people like that.  I thought it would help mothers of adopted children or parents of adopted children understand what it’s like being adopted.  It’s not just a normal life, even though some people think it is.

 If you’re in an adopted family, like I am, where there’s a birth child in it as well, you often feel left out or that he gets more.  And I always blame the fact that, if my mother tells me off, it’s to do with me not being her real child.

And when you first tell people you’re adopted, it’s like “Ah, I feel so sorry for you” and all this and it just gets me mad.  I don’t like sympathy, it annoys me.  I’d like people to respond that I’m not weird, not not normal. 

When you came to Imagine Belonging it was good because you could tell people your problems and they’d talk to you about it.  And I met people and went through some good and bad times with them.  It was good to meet other adopted children instead of being the odd one out.  Before I only knew one other adopted child.  Meeting others was interesting ’cos they could tell their stories of why they were adopted and it got me more interested about other people’s lives as well as just me ... I was self-centred a bit, like, oh it’s me, I’m special, I’m adopted.   

One effect of this has been that I seem a lot more open now.  If people ask me questions about why I was adopted, I tell them.  I won’t just say it’s got nothing to with you.  I feel more comfortable with my own history and that’s better.

I know a bit more about my past ’cos I was able to ask my mum questions.  I couldn’t just come out of the blue with it, whereas I could actually say we’ve been talking about it in the group and I asked the questions.  It gave me more confidence.

I want to be famous and because I’m adopted I can tell people about my past.  I’ll show people who’ve been adopted that it’s not that bad and that you can get through it.  And I’d like this CD-Rom to be shown to people like learning mentors and foster parents and adoptive mums and dads. 

 

END 

 

 

 

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Welcome address, 2006 Conference of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, Manchester, 'Listening, Witnessing and Hope'

by 

Anita Franklin

 

Welcome Everyone!

Welcome to our third narrative therapy and community work conference. My name is Anita Franklin and I co-direct the Centre for Narrative Practice alongside Hugh Fox. It is a pleasure to see so many familiar faces from the previous narrative conferences, the one in Liverpool when we were honoured to co-host the 5th International Conference of Narrative Therapy and Community Work with Dulwich Publications and the one in Manchester at the Lowry in 2004.  Some of you  here we know from the Summer School that took place last year and others from the Race and Privilege Conference that we held at the Cross Street Chapel. Still some of you we know from  training events that we have hosted over the years.  I want to thank you for coming and for your participation over the next 2 days.

I want to thank also the conference advisory group without whose help and guidance this conference would not have happened.  I want to thank our administrator Berni Cook, Events Co-ordinator Chris Shuff and the team here at Hulme Hall.  I want to thank our presenters, some of whom have travled from extremely long distances to be here today, from Adelaide Australia, Atlanta GA and Boston Mass in the US. Thank you for all the riches to bring to us today and tomorrow.

You may not know this but  I am not a native Mancunian.  Nevertheless I also want to welcome you to the city of Manchester, which refers to itself as a City of Peace.  Just yesterday we saw the 10th anniversary of the IRA bomb that went off in the city centre.  We remember with respect the 2000 people injured in that bomb blast and we are thankful to a peace process that although still incomplete in some ways, has laid much of that violence to rest.

Many of you will also  know that Manchester is a city that was at the heart of the Industrial Revolution which took place in 19th century England.  Mill workers wove cotton that was imported from the former American colonies.  My ancestors were some of the enslaved Africans growing that cotton.  So when I look at the old warehouses many of which have been gentrified into executive lofts I think of my ancestors and what became of their labour and their lives and the generations after them.

Manchester is a great city to walk in.  Unlike Sheffield, its nice and flat.  So when I go walking up Wilmslow Road toward town I always past by Cavendish Street which is in the heart of the University city.  Situated right next to a modern multi storied building is a small town hall with doric columns.  In October 1945 delegates from all over the African diaspora and from the continent itself met in that  hall  for the 5th Pan African Congress.  The delegates included famous black leaders of the time like George Padmore of  Trinidad, Amy Garvey of Jamaica, WEB Dubois from the US.  There were trade unionists and educators and students from all over the world, some of whom would later go home to lead their countries into political independence, like Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana.

In the mid 19th century in the midst of slavery and colonialism there was no evidence that such independence would be possible.  And yet by the mid 20th century it was clear to most observers that  independence was inevitable, and what I love is that of all cities, Manchester was chosen as the one to witness and prepare for that inevitability.

I've been asked  by a couple of people; how did we come up with the theme of ‘Listening, witnessing and hope’, and the answer is the themes come from you narrative practitioners.  Over and over again these past three years and especially last year we have heard stories of how we are all navigating between various levels of despair at work alongside sometimes difficult personal circumstances.  We have heard stories of how our failure to listen can choke the voices we most need to hear, how our refusal to witness can blind us to what we most need to see, how our fear can chase away hope.

As healers our first job is to generate hope. We know that we cannot do that unless we also listen and witness and nurture ourselves in difficult times.  And these are difficult times, but my ancestors who were sold here and then sold in Georgia and who then grew the cotton that was sold here and around world, they tell me to listen real close.  And my father and my uncles who fought in WW2 and who followed the news of what was happening at the Pan African Congress in Manchester in October 1945, they tell me to witness the unexpected.  And when I do that I feel just the tiniest little quake of hope. Not optimism, but hope. To quote Cornel West the wonderful African American scholar

Hope and optimism are different.  Optimism tends to be based on the emotion that there's enough evidence out there that allows us to believe that things are gonna be better, much more rational, deeply secular, whereas hope looks at the evidence and says, it doesn't look good , it doesn't look good at all.  Gonna go beyond the evidence to create new possibilities based on visions that become contagious to allow people to engage in heroic actions always against the odds, no guarantee whatsoever.  Now that's hope.  I'm a prisoner of hope, gonna die a prisoner of hope.

So enjoy the conference and when you find something hopeful, take it, treasure it and then spread like it wildfire.

 

                                                                        Anita Franklin Fri 16th June 2006

 

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Using therapeutic documents:

a review by Hugh Fox

The use of therapeutic documents is a key aspect of narrative practice. This paper describes four different categories of document – letters recording a session, documents of knowledge and affirmation, news documents, and documents to contribute to rites of passage. Examples of each of these documents are offered here and the author also shares some of his experiences, dilemmas and learnings in creating therapeutic documentation. This paper was originally created as a keynote at the inaugural Dulwich Centre Summer School of Narrative Practice which was held in Adelaide in November 2003 and subsequently published in the International Journal of Narrative Thjerapy and Community Work, 2004, No. 1

            This paper explores some of the purposes and intentions behind using therapeutic documents and letters and provides illustrations of their use. This review is not exhaustive, but
I hope that it will provide a basis for guiding people in the creation of documents and give some sense of their scope and possibilities.

             In articulating why we use documents in our work as narrative counsellors and therapists, the words of David Epston (1994) quoted in Freeman, Epston & Lobovits (1997) are a reference point:

Conversation is, by its very nature, ephemeral. After a particularly meaningful session, a client walks away aglow with provocative new thought, but a few blocks away, the exact words that had struck home as so profound may already be hard to recall ... But the words in a letter don’t fade and disappear the way conversation does; they endure through time and space, bearing witness to the work of therapy and immortalizing it. (p.112)

             Although these remarks are made with specific reference to letters, they are of course true for all written documents. For me, one of the key purposes of written documents is to record knowledges and preferred stories in permanent form. It is a frequent experience for me to ask near the end of a session: ‘What was this conversation like for you?’ and to have the person I am talking with say something like: ‘It was great, if only I would be able to remember it’. To which I reply: ‘Well, what would you like to remember? Would it help if we wrote it down so that you can take it away with you?’ As they invariably reply ‘yes’, we then negotiate what form the document should take: a letter (and if so from whom?), or some other form such as a declaration or a document of acknowledgement.

             I have for a long time been aware that when I meet with people for subsequent sessions I often have a better recollection of the previous session than the people I am working with. This is not because I have such a wonderful memory – far from it, I’ve reached an age where almost everything seems to leave my memory cells barely touched – but because before they come into the room I spend several minutes perusing the notes that I took during the previous session. I’m struck by what an unfair advantage I am granted by virtue of my ownership of these ‘case notes’. And after all, who is it who most needs to know what it is that we have talked about? Clearly, it is not me! In contrast to case notes, therapeutic letters constitute a form of recording for the benefit of those who attend therapy.

             As well as letters recording what has happened in a session, other important uses of documents include:

·       to record particular knowledges that a person needs to have available to them at times of crisis, whether these knowledges are knowledges of particular skills or knowledges of preferred identities;

·       to spread the news of preferred stories to others in the person’s family or community;

·       to contribute to the rite of passage accompanying the end of work together.

             Later in this paper I will return to these four categories of document: letters recording a session; documents of knowledge and affirmation; news documents; and documents to contribute to rites of passage. First, let me refer to some of the evidence for the effectiveness of therapeutic documents in narrative work. To do so, I would like to quote Freeman, Epston & Lobovits (1997):

Both David Epston and Michael White have conducted informal clinical research, asking clients questions such as these:

1.     In your opinion, how many sessions do you consider a letter such as the ones that you have received is worth?

2.   If you assigned 100 per cent to whatever positive outcomes resulted from our conversations together, what percentage of that would you contribute to the letters you have received?

The average response to Question 1 was that the letter had the equivalent value of 4.5 sessions. In response to question 2 letters were rated in the range of 40% to 90% for total positive outcome of therapy. Such findings were replicated in a small scale study performed at Kaiser Permanente HMO in Stockton, California. Nylund and Thomas (1994) reported that their respondents rated the average worth of a letter to be 3.2 face-to-face interviews (the range was 2.5-10) and 52.8 percent of positive outcome of therapy was attributed to the letters alone. (p.113)

             As can be seen by this research, the economy of effect in spending time writing letters is hard to argue.

 

Letters recording a session

 

             Freeman, Epston & Lobovits (1997) also distinguish what is special about narrative letters, and I find their description particularly helpful:

What distinguishes a narrative letter is that it is literary rather than diagnostic; it tells a story rather than being expository or explicatory. The letter engages the reader not so much by developing an argument to a logical conclusion as by inquiring what might happen next. Structured to tell the alternative story that is emerging along with the therapy, it documents history, current developments, and future prospects. (p.112)

             How then do we construct a narrative letter?

             I am fortunate in my agency in that I am regarded as a specialist resource and am therefore somewhat sheltered from the pressures of waiting lists that others in the team face. For some of my colleagues there is enormous pressure to see and throughput ‘cases’. One appointment follows on another and all sorts of tasks get left behind. Sometimes I find myself in this position too, although I work hard to avoid it. When it does, I wonder whether it would be good to give the people I work with less time in the main conversation so that I would have time to either write letters with them or to write letters after the session. This is something of a dilemma for me. It is often only after the person has walked out of the door that I find myself thinking, ‘A letter based on this conversation might be really helpful’. Often I have been so enjoying the conversation and have been so carried away with its possibilities that I have carried on talking with the family right up to the end of the time available, and the next family is sitting in the waiting room ready to talk with me. And so I do not always find it easy to write all the letters that might be useful.

             Michael White (1995) suggests that therapeutic letters can be written quite quickly and with economy of time. I think that this can be true, depending how long a letter we choose to write. When I only have a little time, I tell myself a short letter might be better than no letter, and I can write a short letter quite quickly! Here is an example of a short letter:

Dear Haley,

      It was really good to meet with you this morning. I thought that I would write you a quick note about what you told me.

      You told me about what a bad time the other children in school give you, and how embarrassed you had been when the teacher made you stand in front of the class and asked the others why they would not be friends with you. I heard that you have had your hair set on fire and that you have been bricked [hit on the head by a brick thrown at her].

      All this trouble is making you think that there is something wrong with you.

      But you also told me that you had enjoyed school when you went for three months to St Gabriel’s. I heard that you were always keen to go when you were there. You thought that this meant that it is your present school that is the problem, not you. You said that it would be nice to think it was the school and not you. Haley, I really enjoyed meeting you and seeing how kind and caring you are with your little sister. I thought you were a really nice, friendly and able girl. If you were to remember that there is nothing wrong with you and that you are alright, I wonder what difference that would make to your life? What do you think?

      Looking forward to seeing you next week.

      Best wishes, Hugh.

 

When I next met with Haley she told me that this was the nicest letter she had ever received. I am glad to be able to report that things improved very significantly for Haley quite quickly.

             In the same article, Michael White (1995) suggests that letters might be based upon statements of position, in that they can record the position that a person has taken in relation to an externalised problem, and the position they have taken in relation to a developing preferred story. A letter based on statement of position maps (see Carey & Russell 2002) might look something like this:

 

Dear Wendy and Sam,

      It was good to meet with you today. As we agreed, I am writing to summarise what you told me about your lives. I will send a copy of this letter to Dr P as we discussed.

      Wendy, you told me that Sam has been subject to stress and wind-up since she was eleven years old. Before that you described her as happy-go-lucky. You thought that the change might be linked to you having to move house a lot at that time. Sam, you said that your dad was always kicking off at your mum and that that was why you experienced so much stress.

      The stress and wind-up had led to difficulties in school with temper. This had resulted in lots of trouble and recently, Sam, you have been temporarily excluded from school a number of times and then threatened with permanent exclusion. You said that you did not like the trouble and that you were strongly against being excluded from school. This was because you want a future for yourself and you like to be with your friends. Your mum said that you had been skipping school and mixing with a crowd she thought were bad for you. You would get involved in their arguments and this led to trouble.

      Your mum said that when you went to live with your dad earlier this year he was always having a go at you and that this increased the amount of stress and wind-up you experienced. Wendy, you were concerned because Sam had learned that cutting herself could bring relief from these feelings. Although the cuts themselves were not that deep there could be a lot of blood. Both of you were clear that you wanted Sam to stop the cutting. Sam, you said that the cutting makes you feel that there is something wrong with you and that you have to hide what is happening. You said that you prefer to be able to be open. You also worried about doing yourself some harm and you didn’t want to be left with scars on your arms.

      Wendy, you told me that at present Sam has a low opinion of herself.

      But as we talked another picture of Sam emerged. I heard that Sam is a young woman with hopes for a life with a good job. Her teachers say that she is really clever. You told me, Wendy, that she wanted to stay in school not just because her friends are there but because she wants to do exams and get qualifications. Sam, you thought that you might like to be a nursery nurse. I think that you would be excellent at this, Sam, having seen how you were with your younger brother, Shaun, at our meeting. And Wendy, you said that she had been really good with all your children.

      Sam, you told us that you are now attending school more, and Wendy, you said that Sam has been bringing home good behaviour letters from the teacher who she usually does not get on with! I wonder, Sam, does this mean that you have been taking control of your life and refusing to let the stress and wind-up spoil things for you?

      Also I heard that Sam had not been hanging with the same crowd, even though this had led to her experiencing some bullying. This made me think that Sam must be very committed to sorting out the problems at school. What do you think about this?

      These changes have been going on for four weeks now and Sam is not getting into trouble and Wendy, you think that she is a lot happier. I wonder what you think this means about what Sam wants for her life?

      We also saw what a good relationship the two of you have with each other, and how easily you can communicate. Furthermore, Wendy, this allows you to impose rules on Sam which you do because of your care for her. You told us that Sam is not bad at home, and it sounded as though she acts in a very adult way in relation to you. Do you think, Sam, that maybe you are starting to use some of the adult ways to improve your life at school?

      Wendy, you also told us how some of the difficulties in your life had at times meant that you lost all confidence. Most recently, when Social Services were involved because it came to light that your partner was a person who had abused, you thought that you had lost everything and you told me that you gave up.

      However, you have worked hard since then and have become more confident and stronger. We did not have time to explore in detail what you know about recovering confidence and strength, and I am looking forward to hearing about this and the skills you have in relation to this at a future meeting. I am also wondering what it was that you were committed to in struggling on and recovering hope and confidence? What does it say about what was important to you?

      Certainly, I heard that confidence was literally beaten out of you by the children’s father. And although I heard about how he still tries to have a go at you, you told me that you don’t let this bother you any more. You tell yourself, ‘Let him say what he wants, I don’t care’. What might you call this new attitude of yours I wonder?

      Listening to what you told us it was clear that you have had some very hard times as a family. But nevertheless, it sounds as if the two of you know how to relate to each other in caring ways that enable you to communicate. Although Sam lost her happy-go-lucky ways in the face of stress and wind-up, it sounded like she has a real commitment to getting her life back and doing what she wants instead of what the stress and wind-up wants. In fact, Wendy, you said that she has a strong personality, and I wondered if she has started using this skill to recover her life from the stress and wind-up.

      I’ll look forward to seeing you again soon.

             Until then, best wishes, Hugh.

This letter also illustrates a way to write letters to referrers in a manner that is consistent with narrative ethics. In my agency, after a first session with someone who has come to see us, we have to write a letter to the referrer and to the general practitioner (family doctor) in which we provide a formulation and a treatment plan. When I first joined this team, seven years ago, these letters were sent to the referrer unseen by the person about whose lives they were written. At first I started copying the letter to the referrer to the family. But after a while I realised that it would be better to do this the other way round, and now I write a letter to the family and copy it to the referrer. I don’t know what referrers think of these letters, but I have had no complaints.

             Freeman, Epston & Lobovits (1997) provide some useful tips for letter writing. Some of the things they suggest include:

·       Quote verbatim.

·       Use questions as this opens up the possibilities instead of closing them.

·       Use reflexive verbs: For instance ‘Sam, does this mean that you have been taking control of your life?’ versus ‘Sam, you have been staying calm’.

·       Use Gerunds: These are verbs ending in ‘ing’ and used as nouns. For instance ‘Sam, you said that the cutting makes you feel there is something wrong with you and that is horrible’.

·       Use the subjunctive mood: might, may, etc. For example, ‘Do you think Sam that maybe you are starting to use some of these adult ways to improve your life at school?’ versus ‘Sam, have you learned to use these adult ways to improve your life at school’.

·       Use humour, puns, etc.

 

             Finally, it can be vital to the success of a letter recording a session to negotiate beforehand how the document will be used (see White 1995) 2. Where will the letter be kept? When will it be read? How often would it be good to read it? Who should read it? And so on. This avoids what has been called ‘the hallstand drawer phenomenon’: the circumstance when, despite your careful crafting of a really useful letter, it is read once, put in the drawer, and forgotten!

             I had a recent extreme example of this when I was working with a boy of ten who I had been asked to see because he was not eating adequately. He was a very disconnected boy and it was hard to converse with him much. Well, at some point I thought that it would be good to send him a letter to thicken some of the good things that he had finally been encouraged to say in one of the sessions. His account of wishing to eat and grow was so minimally described that it seemed like this would be a good idea. Unfortunately I did not consult with him about this plan, and you can perhaps imagine my feelings when he came to the next session and I was told that far from having put my excellent letter in hallstand drawer, he had put it, unopened, in the bin!

             Negotiating what happens to the letters we write can be pretty important. When I am writing an unexpected letter, I usually ask some questions about what effect has reading the letter had, and was this a good effect? And if so, would it be good to read the letter again, and if so how many times? By asking these sorts of questions I hope to encourage the recipient to make the best possible use of the letter.

 

Documents of knowledge

             Documents of knowledge can be extremely helpful for people who are in danger of losing sight of their preferred identities. They are also very useful in situations where under stress people forget knowledges and skills that they most need at exactly those times of stress. I don’t know whether it ever happens to you that you forget what you need to know when you most need to know it. It certainly happens to me. As a rock climber, training myself to be able to remember how to climb at moments of great terror has been the most challenging aspect of the sport. I remember early on in my climbing career being ‘frozen’ – so frightened that I could neither move forward nor backward. I had simply forgotten how to make the next, quite simple, step. Similarly, as a parent I remember being caught in conflict with my son, who was probably aged about fourteen at the time. I have no idea what the issue was – something I felt it was really important for him to do at once and he felt could be deferred would be my guess. I remember I was at the bottom of the stairs and he was at the top and I was getting overwhelmed by a feeling of impotence and inadequacy. From somewhere the idea that there was nothing I could do but lose my rag and shout at him came into my mind. Have any of you ever been in that place? It certainly wasn’t my first time there. But then, suddenly, I remembered that actually doing that only made things worse and that the best thing to do was to stay calm and to talk reasonably. I can’t remember exactly what happened, except that somehow we overcame the impasse without rage on my part or rage on his part and without things being said that would hurt. What I do remember is that I learned something about how to remember what I needed to remember when I needed to remember it.

             In my work with others, I have come to witness how experiences of childhood abuse seem particularly effective at robbing people of the knowledges that they need at the times that they need them. I have also come to see how documents of knowledge can be extremely helpful to those in this situation.

             Here is an example of such a document of knowledge that was written in a session. It’s one that was developed in some work with a woman who had a diagnosis of schizophrenia – actually, she had several different diagnoses at different times. Anita was often overwhelmed by a sense of being a bad person and a bad parent. The words in this document are all the words that Anita used. I acted as an outsider witness, authenticating these knowledges both by hearing them, repeating them and by adding my signature to the document. This was one small step in helping to more richly describe Anita’s knowledges and to ensure that these were witnessed and authenticated by others.

 

DOCUMENT OF AUTHORITY

This document certifies the following statements about Anita H as true:

1.   Anita is ill on and off and has been for many years.

2.   The illness is not Anita’s fault.

3.   Anita has always loved her children and has always done her best to bring them up lovingly.

4.   Anita has always done her best to give her children discipline with love and not with any hostility or any wish to harm.

5.   Anita is a good person and a good parent.

6.   God loves Anita and Anita loves God.

7.   Anita deserves to be cherished and loved.

8.   If God were speaking to Anita he would tell her he loves her.

Certified this 15th day of September 2000

Signed: Hugh Fox & Anita H

 


             As you can see, this document of knowledge is concerned primarily with identity, both individual and relational. In hindsight I can see how good it would have been to have assembled some of Anita’s friends from her church and to have had them authenticate this document and also put their signatures to it.

             As it was, I had this document shrunk to a small credit card size and laminated and Anita carried it with her in her bag wherever she went. It was then available for her to read whenever she felt she was going to be overwhelmed by negative knowledges about herself. She also read it regularly on a pre-emptive basis. She reported that this document helped her to resist the voices of criticism which plagued her very significantly.

                Here is a second example of a document of knowledge. This one is more focused on knowledges and skills about performance than about identity. This woman, Marion, was troubled by feelings of guilt whenever she stood up to her teenage daughter. One of the effects of this guilt was that she could not get her daughter to eat adequately. Although she knew that it was not good to always give in to her daughter, guilt always robbed her of this knowledge at the time that she needed it. This document was constructed by Marion herself:

 

Knowledges for refusing guilt

Don’t play her games

Don’t discuss it with her

Remember it’s better for her

I know what is right

 

 

             This too was made into a card and laminated. Although we discussed together how Marion would use this document, when we next met she told me she had not read it once! At the end of this next session, we wrote a letter together both accounting for the session and also including the work we had done to recall what was in the forgotten document. In other words, the document was repeated in the letter. Following this, Marion started to use the card, and in subsequent sessions told us how her daughter was now eating more satisfactorily, and how Marion was beginning to find ways to stand her ground more generally in this relationship.

Documents of circulation

 

             A third category of documentation involves recording preferred stories, or evidence that fits with preferred stories, and circulating these to friends, family members and supportive others in the person’s world. These documents of circulation help to make others aware of these preferred stories and enables them to recognise these preferred stories instead of seeing only evidence that fits with problematic stories. In turn, this contributes to the development of communities of acknowledgement around the person, communities that can become actively engaged in thickening the preferred story. At the same time, this contributes to connecting people round shared intentions and values.

             Here is an example of a document of circulation. It was written by Carol.

 

 

To: People who know Carol

      On 11th of June, following a row with Mandy, a sense of despair led me to want to take an overdose. However, I just calmed myself down. I did this by counting to ten and smoking a lot of cigarettes. It took me about 15 minutes. This is the first time I have ever done this. I felt champion.

      I hope to remember this skill and use it again whenever I get stressed out. This would mean that I would never have to take any overdoses again.

      If you see me getting stressed out, please tell me and remind me to think ‘You know how to calm down’.

      Thank you.

 

 

             We compiled a list of about a dozen people in Carol’s life, some professionals, some friends and some family members, and agreed that Carol would give copies to each of them. As a woman who was seen as a ‘hopeless case’, this circulation of this ability on her part would hopefully contribute to a new identity being known, and to Carol receiving feedback (when people reminded her that she knows how to calm down) that this identity is visible. Moreover, this feedback might serve to remind Carol of what she knows about calming down at the times when she most needs to remember what she knows about calming down.

             When I checked out with Carol how she had used this document and what effect it had had, she told me she had given it to her community psychiatric nurse, her social worker, her ex-family support worker, her home-start volunteer, her foster parents, her husband and her children. She said that:

It was good ... I felt proud ... They respect me more ... They come to me for more things, especially the kids ... and John and I are talking better ... I see myself in a different light ... I’m a person who can get on … I can get on with being a mother … I’m a better mother. The kids and John remind me [that I know how to calm myself down] ... and Jill [the community psychiatric nurse] does too ... [When they do this] it’s helpful.

 

 

Documents of rite of passage

 

             David Epston and Michael White (1992) have also proposed using documents at the end of therapy. They suggest that, instead of using the metaphor of loss for the end of therapy, the metaphor of rite of passage would be more helpful. They base their understanding of the rite of passage on the work of van Gennep (1960). They write (Epston & White 1992):

Van Gennep asserted that the rite of passage is a universal phenomenon for facilitating transitions, in social life, from one status and/or identity to another. He proposed a processual model of this rite, consisting of the stages of separation, liminality and reincorporation ...

The third stage of reincorporation brings closure to the ritual passage and assists persons to relocate themselves in the social order of their familiar world, but at a different position. This different position is characteristically accompanied by new roles, responsibilities and freedoms. Traditionally the arrival at this point is augmented by claims and declarations that the person has successfully negotiated a transition, and this is legitimated by communal acknowledgement ...

Our interpretation of this metaphor structures a therapy that encourages persons to negotiate a passage from novice to veteran, from client to consultant. Rather than instituting a dependency upon ‘expert knowledges’, this therapy enables persons to arrive at a point where they can take recourse to certain alternative and ‘special’ knowledges that they have resurrected and/or generated during the therapy ...

It is through reincorporation that the alternative knowledges that have been resurrected and/or generated become authenticated. It is through reincorporation that the new possibilities can be realised. (pp.12-13)

 

             White and Epston suggest that the first two stages of the rite of passage as described by van Gennep take part during the main course of the therapy, but that the third stage will happen at the end of therapy and will include ‘claims and declarations’, and that these ‘claims and declarations’ will be legitimised by ‘communal acknowledgement’.

             These ‘claims and declarations’ can effectively be given authority and permanence in written form, i.e. as documents. What is more, these ‘claims and declarations’ can then receive ‘communal acknowledgement’ by making them public, often through carefully constructed ceremonies with invited guests.

             I want to consider here two particular ways in which the rite of passage metaphor can be evoked at the end of therapy, both of which involve the use of documentation:

1.   Celebrations, prize-givings and awards, attended by significant persons, including those who may not have attended therapy.

2.   Consulting persons, in a formal sense, in relation to the solution knowledges of their lives, and in relation to the alternative and preferred knowledges about their lives and relationships (see White & Epston 1992).

 

1. Celebrations, prize-givings and awards

In the Day Unit in which I work, an effort is made to operate in accord with narrative ethics and principles. Each child has a book in which other members of the day unit community can record things that they enjoyed about the child. Children (and staff) are encouraged to record something in each book every day. At the end of the program, parents and family are invited in and there is an award-giving ceremony. Each child chooses three things from the book that they would like to have read out in front of the assembly, and certificates are awarded recording their achievements and knowledges. This can be a very moving event for us as workers. It can also be a moving event for the children as the following story illustrates.

             Jodie, aged ten, was a child who was effectively paralysed by anxiety and worry. This worry not only stopped her from going to school and going out to play with peers, it had also stolen her voice. In the three week period that she attended the Day Unit, the only time her voice was heard was when the children put on a puppet show. At the award ceremony she was given a certificate (handed out by the Day Unit Manager, Lisa) which recorded that she had taught the Day Unit staff that you can be a good friend without speaking.

             The very next day Jodie went to Brownies – an organisation we have here for young girls. Jodie explained this to the ‘outpatient worker’ by saying that Lisa had written that ‘I could go’.

             In the Day Unit they also keep a book where, before they finish their stay, children record what they have learned during their time with us. This book is open to other children who come to the Day Unit to read, thus recruiting a ‘future audience’ to contribute to the legitimisation of these new knowledges.

             I have included below a certificate that was recently awarded to a young person, Liam, with whom I was working. Liam, who was aged twelve, had been in the Day Unit but had had to be ‘asked’ to leave after he absented himself, taking another child with him. I had been asked by his outpatient worker to join her in the work at about that time. It had been a long and at times arduous journey. Liam would leave the consulting room and visit the rooms of other members of staff, or go round the outside of the building and bang on the window. On one occasion he took his mother’s keys and held them outside the window of the room we were in that day which had a public thoroughfare beneath it, threatening to drop them if his mother didn’t agree to take him to Macdonald’s on the way home. Liam showed little inclination to take part in our sessions and usually after about a quarter of an hour he would decide it was time to go home. After that, it became increasingly difficult to have any kind of conversation, not only with him but with his mother. His mother told us that she could not control Liam, that he quarrelled incessantly with his elder brothers, that he stole her credit card and went out in the middle of the night to withdraw money, and that equally he would not let her out of his sight, making her life impossible. Oh, and of course he was not going to school.

             Well, extraordinarily, bit by bit things improved. I won’t tell the complicated story of that journey, suffice it to say that after about eighteen months we had got to the stage where it felt appropriate to present Liam with this certificate:

 


 

 

 

We held a small party. Liam did not want to invite his brothers, but he did invite his mother and a member of the Day Unit staff with whom he had stayed in touch. I was also there as was the outpatient worker. We had pop and cakes. I made a short speech touching on the times we had had together and Liam’s amazing achievements, and presented him with the certificate. Although we hadn’t planned it that way, when they came to the next session we all agreed that our work together had been completed. Liam had re-entered the Day Unit with some degree of commitment to using this as a way back into mainstream education. The Day Unit staff, who had been sceptical to say the least about having Liam back, found Liam to be a different lad, and they expressed their pleasure at his company. What’s more, Liam presented me with a document of my own:

 

2.     Consulting your consultants

As mentioned above, a further way of fulfilling a rite of passage at the completion of therapy is to formally ‘consult your consultants’. David Epston and Michael White (1992) use this expression to refer to the process of consulting persons about their knowledges at the end of therapy:

When persons are established as consultants to themselves, to others, and to the therapist, they experience themselves as more of an authority on their own lives, their problems, and the solution to these problems. This authority takes the form of a kind of knowledge and expertise which is recorded in a popular medium so that it is accessible to the consultant, therapist and potential others.

      Throughout, the relative inequality of ‘therapist as helper’ and ‘client as helped’ is redressed. The gift of therapy is balanced by the gift of consultancy. We consider this reciprocity to be of vital importance in reducing the risk of indebtedness and replacing it by a sense of fair exchange. (p.17)

 

             Here is a document that Anita created when we finished work together. It records the knowledges that she had generated during our work together.

ANITA’S DOCUMENT OF KNOWLEDGE

 

In my fight with illness, I have learned various knowledges about how to preserve my life and prevent illness getting a foothold. This document records some of those knowledges.

1    DON’T PANIC. Panic gives the illness a foothold.

      The following all help to keep panic away:

a)   Thinking calmly, practically and realistically.

b)   Telling myself to think calmly.

c)   If I hear a voice telling myself it does not mean the illness is coming back.

d)   Telling myself not to be frightened.

2    Take one day at a time.

Take one hour at a time.

Take one minute at a time.

Do it step by step.

3    Don’t be afraid to ask for help, from friends and from professionals.

4    Think positively.

·  Tell myself God loves me.

·  Tell myself the illness isn’t my fault.

·  Tell myself I do love my children.

5    Listen to God’s voice.

 

             This document stands in distinction to the knowledge that Anita had when we first met, which was that the only way to deal with her difficulties was through better or more medication. In our final session together, when I asked her about what knowledges she had now about dealing with the difficulties that beset her, I was astonished by her fluency. She hardly paused for breath before listing the knowledges that informed the above document.

             At the time this document of Anita’s was created I had not instituted a book of knowledge for people to contribute to when finishing work. This book now exists and it contains stories, documents and letters that record the skills and knowledges of those who have consulted me over time. Asking people to contribute to this book has become a key rite of passage in the completion of a therapeutic relationship. It is a book that is available for others to read and consult.

             Preparing this paper has brought me to realise that I shall soon contact Anita and see whether she would be happy for me to include these knowledges of hers in this book of knowledge. Whilst the writing of the document has in itself been helpful to Anita, and whilst this process enabled her knowledges to have been made available to me, I believe that the act of entering them into a book of knowledge which will be available to other people seeking consultation will be more thoroughly honouring of these knowledges. I believe this will contribute to Anita’s knowledges becoming more richly described and legitimated, which van Gennep (1960) suggests is vital for the third stage, reincorporation, of a rite of passage.

             In this paper thus far, I have described four different categories of document: letters recording a session; documents of knowledge and affirmation; news documents; and documents to contribute to rites of passage. This by no means covers all the possible uses of documents! In fact this is probably only limited by our imaginations.3 Rather than explore these options further, however, I now wish to share some feedback on therapeutic documents from one particular person.

 

 

Carol’s story

 

             In order to convey the significant contributions that therapeutic documents can offer, it seems appropriate to share a little more of Carol’s story. You will recall that the document of circulation that is included above was written by Carol. The following transcript is edited from an interview with Carol that took place about four weeks before this paper was written.

Hugh: What was it that brought you to see me Carol?

Carol:  The children really... I couldn’t cope with their behaviour. Mandy was giving me a lot of gyp  and were messing around at school and that ... I couldn’t cope with what they were doing and saying, especially Claire, telling me that I should commit suicide. I have a history of attempts to kill myself. It was because of the abuse I had in my childhood. I thought that I wasn’t a good enough mother. I was unloved as a child and I didn’t know if I was giving my children the right amount of love. I wanted my kids to have a better life than me, but three of my kids got abused. It were under different circumstances than me, but I felt bad that they were getting abused while I got help. When I found out I phoned the police straight away and had him taken away because I wanted them to be safe.

Hugh: How did the idea that you were not a good enough mother affect your relationship with your children?

Carol: I wouldn’t let them out to play, I keep them isolated. I’m always wanting to know where they were. My mother used to just kick us out and not give a monkey’s where we were. That’s one way that it affected our relationship. Also though, I used to think that I should kill myself so someone else could look after the kids, that they’d do it better than I could. I took millions of overdoses and I cut myself. I didn’t care. The children tried to care for me and that’s not what I wanted, I wanted to care for them properly.

Hugh: Have you found ways to get some sense of yourself as a good enough mother?

Carol: Yes, but only through the documents. They make me feel better. When I read the documents I feel better. I don’t take overdoses and I act a better mother. I take the children where they want to go, I play games with them, we draw together and watch television together. I tell them I love them and I make sure that they tell me that they love me. It’s brilliant. It’s how it should be.

Hugh: How does that affect them?

Carol: Their behaviour is better. Claire doesn’t tell me to take overdoses and she’s more caring. Justin will come for a love and a kiss. Stephen is a bit old for that but if he wants he’ll come for one. It makes it easier on their lives. What’s more, John and I get on much better, there are no arguments and we’re more loving towards each other. I can just get on with my life, cook and clean and do everything I’m supposed to do. But when it’s the other way round I can’t do nowt [nothing]. I can also get on better with a lot more people. I care for myself more. Instead of taking overdoses or cutting, I like to put myself  as a decent person, to put myself in respectable order. I show the kids I can be there for them and not cut or overdose. My mother never cared for herself but I like to make everything look clean and tidy. And I go out and enjoy myself.

  Carol went on to tell me that this document was the most important one for her:

 

 

 

DOCUMENT OF MOTHERHOOD

I love the kids.

They know that I love them.

And they love me as a mother.

I want them to know that I'll always be there for them.

I have given them better than I had.

The kids don't want to go into care.

The kids need me. Think of them first.

 

 

             This was the first document we created. Carol keeps it in her purse. When she’s low she reads it and she reads it and she reads it - up to twenty times a day. It makes her think: ‘There’s no point in killing myself when I can be a pure mother’. Carol has told me that even when she’s feeling good she reads this document two or three times a week just to keep it in her head. There are other documents that Carol also reads regularly, and sometimes she gets them all out and reads them together. Carol is quite clear that these documents have saved her life on occasions.

             Carol has shared some of the documents with other people who she knows and they have confirmed that these documents are truthful. This has the effect of enhancing the power of the documents. It makes them stronger.

             To close, I’d like to convey one final piece of feedback from Carol. I asked her the research questions on the effect of documents that were quoted earlier. She said that a document was worth ten sessions of therapy and that 70% of the progress she had made was due to the documents.

As a result of Carol’s feedback, I’m planning to write even more documents in future!

 

Notes

2.   This reference includes a fuller checklist that will assist therapists attend to the receiving context of therapeutic documents.

3.   In White and Epston’s book, Narrative Means to Therapeutic Ends (1990), many different classes of document are described and a wide range of examples are offered.

References

Carey, M. & Russell, S. 2002: ‘Externalising – commonly asked questions.’ International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work. No.2.

Epston, D. 1994: ‘Extending the conversation.’ Family Therapy Networker, 18(6).

Epston, D. & White, M. 1992: ‘Consulting your consultants; The documentation of alternative knowledges.’ In Experience, Contradiction, Narrative and Imagination (chapter 1). Adelaide: Dulwich Centre Publications.

Freeman, J., Epston, D. & Lobovits, D. 1997: Playful Approaches to Serious Problems: Narrative therapy with children and their families. New York: Norton.

van Gennep 1960: The Rites of Passage. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

White, M. 1995: ‘’Therapeutic documents revisited.’ In Re-Authoring Lives (chapter 8). Adelaide: Dulwich Centre Publications.

White, M. & Epston, D. 1990: Narrative Means to Therapeutic Ends. New York: Norton.

 

 

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5th International Conference of Narrative Therapy and Community Work

‘History and Healing’

Liverpool, 2003

 

Introduction to the Day 1 Keynotes

Although this introduction was given by Hugh Fox it was actually written in consultation with a number of people:   staff from the Dulwich Centre, Adelaide;  the Just Therapy Team, New Zealand;  and about 30 members of the conference.  Their help (which involved listening to it being read on numerous occasions) contributed significantly to the final address.  It was also a most sustaining experience and a relief from the usual sense of individual responsibility and performance.  By the time I gave this address I knew I was speaking not just for myself but for a whole community.

Hello, I’m Hugh Fox, co-director of the Centre for Narrative Practice and one of the co-sponsors of this conference. I’m just going to say a few words of introduction to our keynote speakers this morning.

First though, I’d like to acknowledge the generous welcome from the different communities of Liverpool. Thank you for this. And I’d also like to extend my welcome to all of you. It is so good to be together here today, people from countries all over the world who have come to this international gathering as part of a community of people engaged with narrative ideas.

I first came across narrative ideas in 1989 and was immediately fired with enthusiasm. It was therefore with great excitement that in February 2002 I set off for Australia to attend the 2nd International Conference of Narrative Therapy and Community Work. I arrived to find Adelaide baking under sun, with temperatures up to 43 degrees. The conference started, I recall , at 8:30am, which puts our ‘early’ start this morning into perspective.

The welcoming ceremony, conducted by an Indigenous elder, took place outside in the shade of lofty trees. Then came dancing by indigenous people and the deep and resonant notes of the didgereedoo.  The keynotes that followed were given by two young people, Amy Ralfs, an 18 year old white Australian woman, and Ashley Couzens, a 22 year old Indigenous Australian man. The subject was reconciliation. As I listened to Amy and Ashley speak of their different perspectives on Australian history and bringing them together, I thought of all the injustices that my people had inflicted on the world , and of the bitter legacy of racism. In particular, I thought of the slave trade and colonization, and  of all the benefits that I and my fellow citizens in the UK had accrued, and continue to accrue, as a result of these histories – histories with which Liverpool is so intimately linked.

And as I listened to Amy and Ashley under the trees in Adelaide, I was powerfully moved that a conference such as that should start by acknowledging injustices and by centering the issue of reconciliation and what this might entail. And I thought to myself how significant it would be if such conversations were ever to happen at the start of any of the conferences that I attend here in the UK.

Some months ago, in planning this event, we met here in this building with a number of local therapists and community workers to hear their ideas about what they were hoping for from this conference. All of these people are here this morning. In the conversations we shared, I found that I was not alone in making links between what we do in the therapy room or with groups in the community and these historical and ongoing issues. I was not alone in thinking that it would be appropriate for a conference such as this to centre these issues. Indeed, these were the very issues that people at that meeting wanted this conference to address. I left that meeting excited and energized and with a sense of shared hopes.

And so as we start this conference, not only am I aware of the links with previous conferences and the hopes of participants then, but I am thinking about the hopes that we all bring with us today.  And I wonder about the responsibilities that would be entailed in responding ethically to these histories.  The responsibilities on the one hand of marginalised people for their own healing, and the responsibilities of white people to create contexts for healing and to create institutional space for change and for difference and for healing.

It is with a gladness of heart that I am here in the UK introducing these keynote addresses on the theme of History and Healing.

Kiwi Tamasese, from Samoa and New Zealand, will speak first. Over the last decade, Kiwi and the other members of the  Just Therapy Team from New Zealand have consistently invited others to consider the significance of histories of colonization and have offered hopeful ways of forming partnerships to face these histories together. It seems highly appropriate that Kiwi will be offering the first keynote address of this conference here in the UK.

And following Kiwi will be James Amemasor from Ghana. James is a historian studying currently in the US but previously the custodian of the Cape Coast Castle, the largest of the slave forts that the British maintained on the coast of Ghana.

Our ancestors had complex relationships with each other, just as we do today. It is uplifting to me that so many people from many countries have come here today to think about these things. I’d like to thank you all for coming today, and I’d like to thank Kiwi Tamasese and James Amemasor for speaking with us this morning on the theme of ‘History and Healing’.

 

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