NUMBER 1104 • 11 DECEMBER • restored or ‘re-storied’
More recently, and influenced by the postmodern critique of the many assumptions which informed our attitudes to problems and ‘pathology’, there has been a recognition of just how fundamental the relationship between the client and the therapist is. Therapeutic outcome and the client’s experience of therapy as having been helpful, or not, has come under more scrutiny. Therapists recognised that the process of their work and the therapeutic relationship they were able to establish often engendered as much change and self-agency as the content of specific interventions. What was proposed was in essence a radical shift in thinking about conception of therapy; a move from a ‘knowing’ expert position and an interventionist methodology, to one of ‘not knowing’ and actively creating the space for change.
Proponents of this more explicitly supportive stance drew attention to the therapeutic process and the ways therapeutic conversations can be conducted. Such proponents include narrative therapists (White and Epston, 1990), others from a social constructionist perspective (Hoffman, 1990; Anderson, 1997; Andersen, 1993), and those therapists associated with the solution focused approaches (Berg and de Shazer, 1993). All these approaches share a belief that we make sense of ourselves and our experiences through conversations and interactions with others. People will construct ‘stories’ about their experiences in order to make sense of them. These exchanges provide opportunities for the replaying of old familiar versions as well as the construction of new stories. Indeed the same individual may have several different versions of their story depending on the context in which they are telling it.
In therapy the ‘story teller’ is the client who brings their problem or difficulty for help or, as in much of our work, has been sent by an external agency (e.g. social services, the court). We become the audience, not as passive listeners but as active and collaborative participants in the process of making sense of their situation or predicament. Anderson (1997) describes ‘narrative’ as a form of discourse. For her it is the discursive way we organise, account for, give meaning to and understand circumstances and events in our lives. Our stories can therefore be seen as forming, informing and reforming our sources of knowledge and our views of reality.
Some of the stories we regularly hear in therapy sessions are ‘problem-saturate’. This is when a problem begins to be viewed as an integral part of the person’s view of him/herself. A gross example of this is in the de-personalisation of terms such as ‘schizophrenic’, obscuring the person who suffers from schizophrenia. The role of the worker is therefore to help the person to retell their ‘problem-saturate’ story in order to develop a new story which can reframe the problem behaviour and render it less potent. White (1995) refers to this process as ‘re-authoring’, thereby emphasising the person’s sense of self-agency in this process and the possibility of alternative stories or constructions of the problem.
ARTIE O’NEILL and MICHAEL HEANEY
O’ Neill, A & Heaney, M.(2000) Restored or ‘Re-stories’. A Consideration of the links between systemic family therapy and restorative justice. Child Care in Practice. Volume 6 (4) pp.363 – 364.