A memory book for the field of narrative practice compiled by Cheryl White
Published by Dulwich Centre
A reflection by Amy Druker
I had been reading one of the chapters ‘Laughter and Issues of Class’ before drifting off to sleep. That night I dreamed of traveling, together with my mom and my cat, Blizzard (who passed away in April) to Dulwich Centre. When we arrived, in my dream, I was struck by the warmth of the greeting that we all received. I do not remember much else about the dream, but the tone of the dream and the atmosphere of conviviality and welcome stayed with me long after I awoke.
Perhaps more than any other book I have read about narrative therapy, I feel that from the Memory Book, I got a real taste (a savoury delicious one!) of 'the spirit' of narrative therapy and of the history of the spirited, conscious, intentional ways of going about it, and of living it out.
It was hard to choose one chapter to review, given that so many pieces of different chapters captured my imagination and got me reflecting on different parts of my own practice, but I have decided to go with chapter one: How Latin America influenced the early development of narrative practice by Cheryl White. At the beginning of the chapter Cheryl White reflected on the dilemma she faces in the “telling of histories of narrative practice” and the story of how Latin America influenced the shape and early development of narrative practice. I appreciated her sharing of some of the questions that she has grappled with as she considered these invitations: “Am I the right person to speak about the histories of narrative therapy in these contexts? What about the voices of those friends and colleagues from Mexico, Argentina, Brazil and elsewhere who, for many years, have been engaged with narrative practice? Wouldn’t their versions of this history be more relevant than my own?”
After reckoning with some of the questions about how to speak about histories of narrative therapy to a Latin American audience, Cheryl chose to tell a very particular story which very much resonated with me. It was about a keynote address that Salvador Minuchin, an Argentinian psychiatrist gave: “... in which he 'put himself on trial'. He conveyed an example of his practice and walked us through it step by step, all the while asking the audience to be his judge and jury: What were the real effects of his actions here? Had he used his privilege as a psychiatrist in ways that were replicating medical expertise which might have unintended consequences?” Reading this transported me to a team meeting a few years earlier at Oolagen. A colleague had brought an ethical transgression in his work, and invited us to interview him about this experience. Like Cheryl witnessing Minuchin giving his keynote address, I also remember thinking to myself at that moment “that I wanted to try to live a life with that degree of courage and self-critique”. I also remember wondering what it might mean to the young person to know that her therapist shared this transgression 'publicly' with us, and invited us to interview him about it and what difference it might have made in their work together if she had she 'been a fly on the wall' during our team meeting that day. I am curious what name she might have put the ethic or value that was enacted by my colleague in sharing this with us. Since then, I have thought of this team meeting many times, and I have often thought about what effect this action had on our collective.
Cheryl White wrote about the significance of this ‘self-reflective critique in public’ and how this “not only influenced Michael's work, it also influenced the entire direction of Dulwich Centre and our publications”. I believe Michael White once wrote something like, if we are not finding ethical transgressions in our work, we are asleep. Understanding the history of this practice of self-reflective critique has re-awakened in me a commitment to being on the look-out for times when I have stepped away from my ethics, and to sharing these ‘publicly’ when I do encounter them.
Another story that stood out in the first chapter of how Latin America influenced the shape and early development of narrative practice, was when Cheryl White wrote about Lynn Tron's “spectacular act of spontaneous support, generosity, goodwill, inclusivity, love, hard work and commitment...one single act of care, that added so very much...” following (and in response to) Michael White's death. Lynn Tron, “without needing anyone else to make the decision for her, she just packed a bag, went to the Mexico City airport and purchased a ticket to Adelaide.” Upon arriving at Dulwich Centre she was willing “to work long hours... no task...too small, or too menial, or too hard...with only a ready smile and a warm hug...happy to be on her own, or drink wine and eat with those who were wanting company”. Cheryl White described her “marvelous presence” in the Dulwich network.
I was tremendously moved by this act of hardworking generosity and care because it reminded me of how I want to be in the world, and because it immediately brought to mind a dear friend and co-learner of narrative therapy whom I have witnessed also offering this kind of ‘narrative therapy’ and whom I suspect might have responded in a very similar way. I pictured my friend’s “marvellous presence” and her willingness to help out in ways that reminded me of how Lynn Tron went about it after Michael White’s death. It got me thinking about being a “marvellous presence” and about what might inspire this kind of response, and what it might take to cultivate this way of 'doing caring' and 'being there for people'. I have always felt that being a narrative therapist is not just a way of 'practicing' or 'doing therapy' but a way of thinking about and being in the world, and this act of kindness and hardworking generosity on the part of Lynn Tron is testament to this.
These are some of the things that I am taking away from this chapter. After reading this book, I am left with a feeling of deep gratitude for the folks at Dulwich Centre for the spirit with which they have engaged, and continue to engage, with people, communities and ideas; for the politics and ethics that have guided them in these endeavours; and for the passion for learning and unlearning (or perhaps re-learning) that went into it all along the way.