There are three stories behind the story of Wilbur the Warrior (see “Wilbur the Epston, the inventor of narrative therapy in partnership with Michael White. The second is the tale of how . David Epston has taught me hundreds of “question practices.” A question .. back to where you started or send you out into the street . David Epston also read aloud by Suzanne Pregerson/Rick Maisel in a ' Remembering Michael White' ceremony in San Rafael, California. Now that Michael is not here to censure us, I wanted to speak in the merest outlines of his life's work and He would always be waiting for me, thrilled to see me as if I come in first. functionalist traditions (see White and Epston, ), as was the case in the social sciences at large. . deeply rooted and integral part of me, and that without it I would in fact lose parts of my own self .. psychiatrist Dr. Elliot Goldner, Director of St. Paul's Hospital Eating Disorder program in discourse of Michael White.
Michael White also brought attention to identifying how the very act of giving expression to the struggles of life is an example of taking action, of responding in some way.
Not only can we invite people to view the expression of the problem as implying some preferred territory of life and identity, but we can hold an understanding that people are already taking action in accord with that preferred story, through the very act of their giving expression to the problem. By expressing what is problematic or troublesome in life, people are doing something other than continuing to go along with the problem.
In this way, expressions of distress, pain, concern, upset, or the complaints that people might make about the problem experience become actions taken in regard to the problem and these actions are founded upon preferred accounts of life and identity.
Drawing on the work of another French philosopher, Gilles Deleuze, Michael White proposed that if "difference" is the baseline of experience, then our ears can be drawn to the ever-presentness of stories that are different from the problem story.David Epston - Do the People We Meet Have Moral Character Or are They Chara
Everything that is not the problem story becomes a possible site for the emergence of new meanings that can be ascribed more useful and more "agentive" purpose. The map metaphor reflects the conception of therapeutic conversations as pathways to previously unknown territories and Michael White applied it to a number of aspects of narrative practice White, pp.
We include a practice example drawn from therapeutic conversations facilitated by one of the authors, Maggie Carey. These expressions may initially be heard as concerns, laments, complaints, frustrations, expressions of disappointment, distress, bewilderment, confusion, etc.
The therapist invites the person to share understandings of their experience as well as any other details, which assist the therapist to become familiar with what these understandings are related to.
Although reluctant to talk to a stranger, Michelle was willing to come along with Anne, one of the workers from the program. As a child, Michelle had experienced the violent actions of her mother and was eventually placed in foster care with a farming family. Unfortunately, this family did not respond helpfully to Michelle, who became extremely withdrawn, taking on an almost mute response to the world around her.
Michelle also developed a number of habits, such as bed wetting and scratching her arms until at times they bled, that made it difficult for her both at school and at home. The foster family attempted to shame Michelle out of the habits and maintained a crusade of yelling as an antidote for her withdrawal.
Michelle met all of these attempts with silence. The school seemed to have given up on her and Michelle was largely ignored, which left her open to the ongoing tyrannies of the school yard. The only islands of comfort were the contact she had with the animals on the farm and with some of the part-time workers.
A schoolteacher at the local primary school responded differently to the habits and over time was able to engage Michelle in joining in some of the activities in the classroom.
From here things slowly improved. Michelle left school and went to work in the local super market where she met and soon married Dave. Through conversation with Anne, the story came forward of what was distressing to Michelle at present.
As Kimberly grew and developed, Michelle had been increasingly experiencing a sense of feeling "frozen" in her parenting and this related to a fear that she would do something to "damage" her daughter.
The internalized account of herself as being "damaged" had rendered Michelle passive in the face of life; always feeling that she was "done to" and unable to influence the course of events. In hearing such initial expressions, the notion of the "absent but implicit" makes it possible for the therapist to listen to these descriptions not just as single-storied accounts of life, but as expressions of discernment of something that is beyond the problem story.
This supports the identification of entry points to another account of identity: From the description elicited in this part of the map, the therapist can invite Michelle to consider how she might have been active in making a response to what has been going on in her life, rather than being a passive recipient of what she has been served. To support this reflection, however, we first need to establish what Michelle is up against in the context of her life so that there is something against which she might see that she has been resisting or protesting.
What the Complaint or Expression is in Relation to The second step in scaffolding this movement into a story of personal agency is to gather a detailed description of what the concern or complaint or distress is in relation to.
It is important to spend some time drawing out the context within which the concern arose so that an "externalized" account of what the expression is in relation to can be developed. We can "loiter" in explorations about the consequences of this experience to gain a clearer understanding of what it is that people are responding to. When the therapist asked questions of Michelle about what she was responding to in talking about the "Immobilizing Fear", she spoke about the presence of a "Tyrannical Voice of Judgment", This was a judgment of her worth as a mother and a judgment of her right to experience love for her daughter.
This voice had decreed that she would never be able to be a good mother and had her convinced that she would do to her daughter what had been done to her.
Michelle was upset about what it did to her sense of herself as a mother. She felt that the way that it was robbing her of the joy of mothering Kimberly was harsh and unfair. As the wider contexts for the problems that are being experienced become more visible, people are supported in discovering that they are taking some action in relation to what is going on.
Naming the Response or Action The concept of the "Absent but implicit" supports us to consider expressions of distress as actions. People are not just giving a passive re-telling of what is problematic, rather the expression of the problem can itself be thought of as a response.
If the expression was not a form of resistance, protest, or question, then it would not be raised as a problem. The person would just go along with whatever was happening and not draw our attention to it. The third part of this map scaffolds a discovery of the type of action that has been taken.
What it is that people are doing in response to what is troublesome in their lives? In order to elicit this naming, one could ask a number of questions: If you are not accepting of it, then how are you responding to it? How are you questioning these expectations? Are you accepting it?
Or asking questions of it? What does this say about how you are responding to this diminishment? One could hear many possibilities in response to this line of enquiry: From here it was possible to scaffold the expression of her distress in response to the "Immobilizing Fears" as an action. The therapist invited Michelle to name the type of action that was demonstrated in her expression of distress about the Voice of Judgment.
She was also invited to consider how she was responding to the Immobilizing Fears: If you are not accepting of what is going on, then what are you are doing? What sort of action is it that you are taking in relation to the Tyrannical Voice of Judgment? When asked what sort of protest this was, Michelle replied that it was a "quiet but solid protest". Skills or Know-How that are Expressed in the Action Once the expression of distress has been named as an action, we could develop a description of the skills or know-how involved in taking such action: What made it possible at that time for you to develop this sort of clarity?
In discovering and naming her protest against the Voice of Judgment, Michelle had taken some tentative steps into a different territory of her life. This new story of self could now begin to be more richly described, using a line of enquiry that grounded this account of herself in the practice or action of her life. We could now ask questions about the skill and "know-how" that was being used in the making of the protest.
How is it possible for you to question or refuse the tyranny of the Voice of judgment, and to name the Fears? In order to make this protest, Michelle must have been drawing on some history, experience, or knowledge of protest.
She knew that she had a strong conviction that people should be treated with dignity, care, and respect. She also knew that she would notice when someone was acting in ways that went against this. Actions are always expressions of meaning and Michelle was invited to reflect upon the intentions that might be shaping of the skills and know-how involved in protesting against the Voice of Judgment.
When you think about not siding with the tyranny of the Voice of Judgment and the Immobilizing Fears, what purpose might that serve? She was clear about herwish not to let the Voice of Judgment or the Fears deter her from fulfilling her desires to be able to provide Kimberly with a different sort of life from the one that she had experienced.
The conversation uncovered many examples of how Michelle had put these hopes and intentions into practice, and these examples could now be linked into an emerging story of Michelle as a good mother. What is Given Value to the "Absent But Implicit" Having explored the intentions, purposes, and hopes that people have for their lives, the conversation can move on to identify how these purposes reflect what is important, held precious, or given value to by the person White,p.
It is in this part of the map that what was "Absent but implicit" in the initial expression of distress, in terms of how this distress might relate to a separation from or transgression of something, which is important or valued, now becomes visible and named. Questions about what Michelle was giving value to in what she wanted for Kimberly and their relationship created a scaffold for Michelle to reflect on what was most precious to her as a mother.
What do these intentions say about what is important to you? What does it say about what you stand for in life, and about what living is about for you? I need to keep the Voice and the Fears from getting in the way of my showing her that. It is important to keep in mind that this orientation is not a concern with values as moral entities or normative cultural edicts. Rather it is an enquiry into what it is that this person or this community is giving value to.
What understandings of life do they hold as precious? This makes space for local cultural appreciations of what this person or this community are valuing, from which we can then bring forward the history of that valuing.
Social and Relational History of What is "Absent but Implicit" Michael White emphasized the "resurrection of continuity in the place of discontinuity of a sense of self" in relation to the rich story development of previously subjugated storie 3. We can do this through conversations that trace the history of action, knowledge, skills, and values. These conversations can begin by asking: When the therapist asked Michelle about whether she had ever made any protests as a child, it was not long before she identified a number of ways in which she had responded to the unhelpful practices of her foster family.
Or that you might head in. Michael possessed a remarkable but gracious ease by which he could move between the grand and vast ideas of scholarship and the intimate and particular ideas of practice. Having known Michael for 27 years, I think few in our field can go from what seems to be one extreme to another without a lot of border stops in between. At each border stop, many others I know of get heavily taxed passing through each stop. At times, the theory seems like sheer window-dressing.
Michael, with only a few speed bumps to slow him down, travelled from one domain to the other seemingly unimpeded. I have always found this breathtaking and a testament to the conjunction of a remarkable spirit merging with an equally remarkable scholarship. In his last book, Maps of Narrative Practice, they were so woven together as to appear seamless.
Saying Hullo Again: Remembering Michael White
That is far from easy to achieve. Either reading one of his transcripts or watching a videotaped meeting, Michael considered it to be an ethical responsibility to continually make available and to expose his practice, or the ideas that informed it, to the widest critique. I want you to imagine how hard this must have been for such a modest person.
Michael authorised his clients and the communities that petitioned him to have the first judgment; his professional colleagues came second. Still, he was willing to allow us to go to the very heart of his practice and judge for ourselves. You could almost palpably feel the relish with which Michael met the people who consulted him. And how they in turn savoured those meetings. Michael always assumed that we were the lucky ones and I know he certainly considered himself to have always been the lucky one in such meetings.
In fact, I think Michael looked up to those he met. Let me read you a quote from the philosopher Phillip Caputo in a book chapter about Michel Foucault in which he guesses what kind of therapist Foucault might have been, given that he had no explicit therapeutic intentions whatsoever through- out his philosophical career.
But remember his first degree was in psychology and he did an internship in a public psychiatric institution in the s France. Such a patient would not be an object of knowledge but an author or subject of knowledge, one from whom we have something to learn. Caputo went on to surmise that for Foucault as a therapist … the healing gesture meant to heal this suffering is not intended to explain it away or fill in the abyss but simply to affirm that they are not alone, that our common madness is a matter of degree, that we are all siblings in the same night of truth.
The healing gesture is not to explain madness if that means to explain it away but to recognize it as a common fate, to affirm our community and solidarity. Compare this to my abstract of a quote from Michael in please provide refer- ence for this quotewhich was so telling about why he did what he has done: And what of solidarity?
I am thinking of a solidarity that is constructed by therapists who refuse to draw a sharp distinction between their lives and the lives of others, who refuse to marginalize those persons who seek help, by therapists who are constantly confronting the fact that if faced with the circumstances such that provide the context of troubles of others, they just might not be doing nearly as well themselves.
InI was asked to introduce Michael and his colleagues at a workshop on their work with people having psychotic experiences at the 2nd Australian family therapy conference in his home town of Adelaide.
I recall sitting there stunned throughout. Inafter teaching together at the 4th conference, Michael, Cheryl and I had dinner together afterwards. This was pre-AIDs, so one of them suggested a blood brotherhood. But we decided to make our ideas and practice common property and vowed that we would never become rivals.
- Narrative Approaches
We did what we said we would do all these years up until he died. In fact, we had made another vow late last year, one we can no longer keep — that we would meet a fortnight ago in Adelaide to sit down and plan our next project and book, which undoubtedly would have kept us joyfully busy well in to our respective dotages. I will always remember Michael as my brother and a remarkable man. With that in mind, I want to remind you of the luckiest breaks in the history of narrative therapy.
The advisory editor informed me some years ago that it was the very first paper ever published showing positive results with the problem of anorexia. Soon after that, the Deputy Director of Psychiatry forbade Michael from meeting with families in which there was a young person diagnosed with anorexia because he was a social worker and was unfit for the task, which should be restricted to more august medical and psychiatric practitioners. Michael refused to adhere to this edict and continued to meet with these families and they with him.
Michael and the families merely continued, now sitting on the floor. Then the Deputy Director imposed on Michael what I gather he assumed would drive him into some other form of employment rather smartly — that from then on, he would be allowed only to meet with young people who had failed 2- year-long psychoanalytic treatments for the problem of encopresis or, in common parlance, soiling.
This was truly dirty work. Little did the Deputy Director know he had challenged Michael in the same way Foucault must have been challenged by what he had witnessed in a public psychiatric institution. Here Michael would be required to turn the tables on conventional psychiatric wisdom and in doing so invent externalising conversations and in turn, narrative therapy.
The Absent but Implicit: A Map to Support Therapeutic Enquiry - Pratiques narratives
Michael allowed his work and their outcomes to form the critique of that which he so opposed — the turning of people into problems and by doing so, to degrade them, to look down on them and finally to dismiss them.
In his work at Glenside, a state psychiatric hospital where he worked for many years part-time, his team weighed the files of the candidates for their service. If they weighed 2 kilos 4. They are dismissed and degraded in the light of such an eye. Michael had an inimitable voice and quaint vocabulary that bent the English language at times almost to its breaking point. He could be said to have willingly misused language to create new language. I am sure we have all adopted some of these White-isms, perhaps even without knowing it, to refresh our own thinking.
It is through his poetic vocabularies that you most easily appreciate both the novelty and subtlety of his thought and his intention to turn language inside out — to expose how under- politicised language is. Michael certainly had more than his fair share of discoveries. He illuminated ideas, and the light that was reflected back allowed many of us to go where we might otherwise have found it hard going.
You know all this?