Narrative vignettes Part 7:
From Separation to Connection – a Narrative Reflection
This is the final part in the series of writings on the basics
of the narrative approch. The writer wishes that the thoughts
and practices presented in this series will gain their final life
in the many new stories which have been born in the minds of the
readers through these vignettes, and the stories that may be born
in the future.
Tom Andersen, the developer of the reflective
team, asks us to be aware of three kinds of pauses. The pause
between inhalation and exhalation. The pause that is born after
speech, when the person thinks about what he or she has said and
feels the effect of his or her speech – on him- or herself.
And the pause that follows the so-called reflective processes,
when what has been heard has gained a new expression through speech
or something else, and has also often been thought differently.
Andersen argues that these pauses reveal one of the basic cycles
of our lives: the continuing process of expressions and effects.
In this endlessly changing event, meanings are built in negotiations
between people and one's experience of oneself is shaped through
the stories told.
People structure and interpret reality in at least two ways:
logic-rationally and narratively. Formal descriptions and explanations,
conceptualization, logical truths, generalizations, objectivity
and proving things to be right are typical of the logic-rational
way of thinking. In this world, one can say: ”Socrates is
a human being. All human beings die. Therefore Socrates will also
In the world of narrative thinking, logic can also be metaphorical.
Through similarity, the world gains a structure that lives and
beats, a structure that is no longer mechanic. In this world,
one can say: ”Grass dies. Human beings die. A human being
is green grass.” Through stories, one can structure chaos,
people's actions and intentions; one can comment on one's own
and other people's actions in a language that can also be poetic.
Narrative logic is related to the situation and the action. A
private experience does not become shared until it is joined by
feelings, values, and an individual way of experiencing it.
The Three Anchors
Lynn Hoffman, a famous family therapy historian,
is currently anchoring her own therapeutic practice into three
”pillars of wisdom”. The first type is the attitude
of not knowing. This is related to the therapist's attention on
his or her knowing and the intention with which he or she offers
it to others. The second type is the so-called reflective processing.
This is also what Tom Andersen likes to call ”withness practice”
these days. This method has had a remarkable effect on power relations
in the history of family therapy. The third type is ”witnessing”
developed by Michael White. Because of his interest
in anthropological language, he also calls it the ”definitional
ceremony”. When a new positive experience of self is constructed,
the meanings of any therapeutic conversation can be made richer
with the help of an outside community or witnesses. White's experiments
have led to the use of the so-called ”outsiders witness
registers”. These registers contain people who have worked
on their problems before and are now willing to help others in
the same situation. They form a narratively reflecting team (outsider
witness group) during the sessions.
In the narrative approach, the different ”withness practices”
also create ”withness thinking” by creating the space
for a dynamic, reflecting interaction between living people. This
state is a completely different experience from the state where
”aboutness thinking” (diagnosing thinking, for instance)
often objectifies a person into a thing without a consciousness.
OK. Let's try this.
Tapio, what is it about narrative reflection that touches
you most at the moment?
When I use this practice either as a therapist or as a member
of an outsider witness group, I often notice that a living curiosity
is still born inside me. I can also often recognize, even in my
body, why these practices are sometimes called ”the collectice
proclamation of being” or ”arenas of appearing”.
These concepts have a very special meaning to me right now.
Human communication is a tool. A genuine dialogue can transport
a person into territories of identity and life where it is possible
to find new ways of joining with other people – and oneself.
A good example of this are the so-called re-membering conversations
(see Ratkes 3/2006), where we can renew our experience of identity
in a multi-layered way in interaction with the important people
in our lives. In the definitional ceremony of the narrative approach,
a dialogue is a kind of open space in the mind, where the arbitrary
difference between a human being and the world disappears and
what I am becomes heard and accepted in a very special way. This
type of being together creates new possibilities to experience
oneself and act in a loving way in the human community. I feel
that it opens a new dignity, presence and deep connection between
people into one's life.
What kinds of mental images does narrative reflection evoke
in you, when you think of therapy or life as a whole?
Power is always inevitably present in every therapy situation.
It is important for me to explore how power games could be played
in therapy in a way where power was used consciously with ethical
choices. With the help of the outsider witness group, I've begun
to realize how, for instance, the so-called applauding practices
can strengthen normalizing judgement and how identity is often
defined very thinly through them. Goal-oriented problem solving
does not always leave enough space for exploring how people build
life and meanings through their stories. Knowing cannot always
be seamlessly combined with ”finding resources” or
therapeutic ”growth industry”
In the definitional ceremonies, meanings are born not solely
through dominating discourses, but rather in a genuine mutual
dialogue, withness thinking and experiencing. Even if power can
never be fully removed from the therapy relationship, one can
try and use it in a respectful and humane way in the meaning negotiations
that are born in narrative reflections.
What things in your own work or life currently connect you
with stories or experiences of narrative reflections?
As a former student of psycho drama, they bring to my mind a
vivid memory of a stage in the drama that is called sharing. In
this stage, the members of the group are asked to tell others
their feelings and thoughts on what they have seen and experienced
in the session of the so-called protagonist. Moreno often describes
this stage with the term ”love-back”. During it, the
protagonists often feel they are, after all, not alone with their
feelings and experiences, and they become accepted with their
”weaknesses” and ”problems”. When the
themes of my life are connected with the similar stories of other
people in narrative reflections, what I am can help me to become
something that I have not yet been.
Being together in a living, respectful way
In my work as a school psychologist, I often tested ousider witness
practices in communal situations. The parent-teacher gatherings
at school have traditionally been very expert-dominated, and the
voice of the parents has only rarely been heard. To make the parents'
experiences heard in a richer way and to help the school in offering
a space for community-building dialogue, we also developed new
ways of being together with the parents of our pupils. In these
meetings, our goal was not to change anything or anyone, but rather
to build an open dialogue between home and school, to add understanding
and to create new possibilities for action.
Two circles are formed: the inner circle and the outer circle.
In the inner circle, people are in the centre of the ceremony
(for instance the principle, the school counselor, the class teacher,
the guidance counselor, and some mothers and fathers). The mothers
and fathers in the outer circle are given a small piece of paper
and a pencil to help them tune in. They are asked to write the
word that first comes to mind when they hear the word ”puberty”.
The pieces of paper are collected into a container, for instance
a plastic bucket, and each member of the inncer circle picks one
at random. Now the task is to build a statue out of the words
by using sound and movement. This is how ”puberty”
becomes externalized, not through lectures, but rather by using
the world of the true experts as a vantage point. At the same
time, one warming up into a dialogue, thinking together.
After this, the people in the inner circle begin a dialogue about
”puberty”. The people in the outer circle are not
allowed to comment, so that an inner dialogue with as many voices
as possible could start in the listeners' minds. The facilitator
takes care that the stories told are born from the speakers' own
work or life experience, and the questionable assumptions possibly
related to them are opened and deconstructed.
After ten minutes, the outer circle forms outsider witness groups
consisting of 4-5 people. In these groups, the shared reflections
(stories about stories) are told to the people in the centre,
who will in their turn reflect on new stories. After 3-4 rounds
the ceremony is ended, usually with a conversation in pairs on
the thoughts and experiences brought on by the events.
Where has working with narrative reflection transported you
in your thinking or your experience of living? How is this new
place different from where you were before?
After participating in narrative definitional ceremonies, I notice
that a new dimension has appeared in my work. At the moment, based
on my experiences, I am focusing more and more on the invisible
present moment rather than the deeper meanings or future goals
in my own or other people's lives. The mindsets of being in the
present moment often include a feeling that nothing has to be
changed, that we ar always already there, and that everything
is profoundly perfect.
I also realize that my current work and studies are a kind of
ceremony. In this constant everyday flow of changes it is possible
to redefine oneself all the time through re-re-re-tellings of
the stories and the experiences contained within them. However,
I also know that they are only stories. After a deconstruction
of language, it also becomes possible to reach a deconstruction
of experience. That is when doing is born naturally from the mindset
of being, and separation turns into connection and compassion
towards everything that is.
Andersen, T. (2007): Human Participating: Human ”Being”
Is the Step for Human ”Becoming” in
the Next Step. Kirjassa Anderson, H. & Gehart, D. (Eds.) Collaborative
Relationships and Conversations that make a Difference. Routledge.
Hoffman, L. (2007): The Art of ”Withness” : A New
Bright Edge. Kirjassa Anderson, H. &
Gehart, D. (Eds.) Collaborative Therapy. Relationships and Conversations
that make a
Russel, S. & Carey, M. (2006): Narratiivisen reflektioryhmän
käyttö: vastauksia usein esitettyihin
kysymyksiin. Kirjassa Russel, S. & Carey. M. (toim.) Narratiivisen
peruskysymyksiä. Kuva ja Mieli.
White , M. (2000): Reflecting Teamwork as Definitional Ceremony
revisited. Kirjassa White, M.:
Reflections on Narrative Practice: Essayes and interviews. Dulwich