Part 6: The Power of Re-membering
People become people through people. Tutu
Re-membering conversations are practices of narrative therapy
that allow us to reconnect our lives and stories with the stories
of people that are important for us. The kind of people we grow
up to be depends on how others see us, how we experience ourselves
in relation to others, and how we participate in life with other
people. In these conversations, we do not simply recall things
that have been and still are precious for us; they also offer
a membership to the club of our lives. In this club we can recognize
who we are by seeing ourselves through the eyes of others.
The term ”re-membering” comes from anthropologist
Barbara Myerhoff. She worked with an aging Jewish community in
Venice, California. The setting for the community’s social
life was a special day centre where immigrants would regularly
come together to discuss their lives, their past experiences,
and their roots. In a situation where the life of these senior
citizens was fragmented, because they were surrounded by “strangers”
in a new world and had no natural communities to maintain their
identity in, Myerhoff observed how they daily “rebuilt”
themselves and their selves. This defining happened in specific
conversations where the identity of the participants was not constituted
through one voice, but rather through relationships with multiple
voices. Michael White realized the therapeutic value of these
conversations and transferred them to the field of narrative practice.
Norwegian social psychiatrist Tom Andersen argues that words
are universes traveling by. Some of them are visible, but frozen.
These include for instance “low self-esteem” or “resources”.
These words are often used as tools of manipulation, control and
power. There are also words that are moving, but visible. For
instance: “At the beginning of his lecture, he talked in
a quiet voice”, or “she is helping a friend of hers
with a translation.” However, the most interesting words
in therapy are the words that are invisible, but living. They
create an ecology of conversation, which holds mutual understanding
and possibilities that are not yet real, but also not completely
imaginary. They build zones of proximal development, where people
can be themselves and simultaneously move toward the unknown and
the possible. These words are characterized by flow, openness,
improvisation, participation, unpredictability, and the presence
of multiple voices.
The following words have, in the course of time, slowly unfolded
into my club of living words. Their membership has been strengthened
by numerous re-membering conversations where I have been the interviewer
and sometimes the interviewee. They are not in any particular
order. Defining me as an agent of narrative therapy, their power
is divided fairly evenly at the moment.
The first word is ”interbeing”. This word points
to the beginning. To those precious places and inner states we
come from. And to connection, to the abundant networks where we
are a part of the community of the important people in our lives.
In a community like this, the feeling of togetherness powerfully
breaks isolation, which is usually the most destructive companion
of problems. Vietnamese Thich Nhat Hahn has written: “When
you know that mountains are made of rivers and everything else
and that rivers are made of mountains and everything else, you
can use the words “rivers” and “mountains”
Think of a person that has been especially significant in
your life (as a child, as a teenager, as an adult). He or she
could be a family member, a friend, a teacher, a neighbour –
even a character in a play or movie, your pet, or your favored
toy. How did this person dress? How did he or she talk? What was
his or her advice for life? Why would he or she not be surprised
hearing about your achievement and success in life? If you could
see yourself with his or her eyes, what would you appreciate most
about yourself, about your values, hopes, dreams and commitments.
The second word is ”local knowledge”. It reminds
me of how we, when using words, are always on the boundary of
releasing and objectifying. Therapeutic practices based on so-called
scientific or universal knowledge are often covert or open practices
of modern power. They are built on the separation between the
knower and the object of the knowledge, where classifications
as well as the development of different practices of diagnoses,
interventions, and treatments maintain often the power relations
related to expert knowledge.
Action based on local knowledge, on the other hand, is a conversational
partnership, where people don’t relay ”facts”
to each other, but instead meanings that describe their world
of experience and the feelings that are connected to these experiences.
Thus psychology becomes – in John Shotter’s words
– more a moral action than a natural science explaining
behaviour. Instead of curing, it is central to create a space
and relationship where people can connect with each other so that
good and real becomes described in a multi-layered way.
How did this person know that these are the values, principles,
and commitments that mean so much to you? Could you tell me an
example of something you did together that had an effect on your
life? What did you appreciate most about this person? What do
you think your interaction has meant to him or her?
In re-membering conversations, through stories based on local
knowledge, we co-create both ourselves and our worlds in a way
that often opens up alternative possibilities and meaningful action.
Team of Concern
If this person is living in your work/life in some way at
this moment, how do you know that? If you could see yourself with
his or her eyes, how would this affect your work in the future?
The third word or concept is ”team of concern”. As
a young psychologist, when I first started at my new job, I felt
insecure, scared, and anxious. I remember holding the hand of
an invisible ‘Big Tapio’ with one hand, and the hand
of ‘Little Tapio’ with another. No one knew that when
meeting me, they also met my inner team of concern.
While writing this, I only now realize why I have certain pictures
and objects in my study. There is a picture that represents the
wisdom of my grandfather. There is another where I am musing together
with Elam Nunnally at the Family Therapy Centre of Porvoo. There
are rocks and pieces of bark from the stormy and calm islands
of Baltic Sea. I am curious as to how my relationship with my
team of concern will develop while studying narrative therapy
The fourth word is “unfold” (becoming constantly
other than I am in the club of my life). I sometimes use re-membering
conversations to direct my client into the role of someone significant
to them. I then interview them from this role, asking details
about the role person’s life, values, commitments and thoughts
about my client. After the interview, my clients can tell me about
their experiences and ask the significant person more questions.
To hear the answers, they need to change roles again. In my experience,
when we describe our identities again and again in this way, we
feel like different people than before. This type of process also
often leads to a new kind of action and an even richer experience
of a person not being what he or she is, and being what he or
she is not.
In re-membering conversations the ”self” is reconstructed
over and over again in a constant dialogue. Now “resources”,
“deficiency” or “the self” are no longer
stable inner entities, but rather historically and culturally
constructed ways of being and thinking. We do not find any stable
and fixed ego substance under our skin, but rather the flow of
ever-changing thoughts, feelings, and experiences. The self image
that we identify with at any given moment is unstable and empty
of a separate essence. It exists in a constantly changing world
only in relation to other people and things. In Buddhism, this
state of affairs is described by the Sanscrit word “sonyata”.
However, we will not be getting deeper into the universe of this
word in this article.
Injection of Hope
The fifth and final word or concept in my club of living words
is ”injection of hope”. This concept has been directed
into the club of my life by narrative therapist Lorraine Hedtke,
who works in Arizona with dying people and their relatives. According
to Lorraine, even death can be seen as a process of hope aiming
at the future. In this process, “relationships, stories,
language, and meaning intertwine to form the wonderful adventure
called a life.” In re-membering conversations, identities
and relationships are constantly changing, and death can also
be seen as a rich event of rebirth.
• Antero, what do you think Kirsti would answer, if
you could ask her, ”How has
Antero been doing after your death?”
• If Kirsti could give you a piece of advice for your decision,
what do you think she
• What do you think it means for Kirsti that your daughter
is graduating from high
• Heikki, how would you like the members of your family
to live after your death?
• What is the wisdom about life that you would like for
them to remember about you?
• What would you hope that this mental legacy means to them?
• What kinds of useful stories would you like for your children
to remember about you and your life?
In the club of life – through re-membering conversations
– dead people can be alive and invisible words visible.
Further information on re-membering conversations:
Hedtke, L. & Windslade, J. (2004) Re-membering Lives. Conversations
Dying and the Bereaved. Baywood Publishing Company, New York.
Myerhoff, B. (1982) Life not death in Venice; Its Second Life.
In Turner, V. &
Bruner, E. (Eds.) The Anthropology of Experience. Chicago: University
of Illinois Press.
Morgan, A. (2000) What is narrative therapy? An easy-to-read introduction.
Russel, S. & Carey, M. (2004) Re-membering: Responding to
questions. In Russel, S. & Carey , M.: Narrative Therapy:
your questions. Dulwich Centre Publications.
White, M. (1997) Re-membering. In White. M.: Narratives of Therapist´s
Lives. pp. 22-52. Dulwich Centre Publications.
White, M. (1997) Re-membering and professional lives. In White,
Narratives of Therapist´s Lives. pp. 53-92. Dulwich Centre