A memory book for the field of narrative practice compiled by Cheryl White
Published by Dulwich Centre
A review by Angel Yuen
This beautiful memory book contains stories compiled by Cheryl White that evoke the history of narrative therapy. Upon first picking it up you may find yourself instantly and curiously scanning through the pages. It might be a bit of an interesting surprise to not be holding the usual formal or academic book but instead a large spiral-bound book with a rich social history that uncovers the traces, experiences and impacts of ordinary people. As you browse you will find pictures from the 1970’s and 1980’s of the many persons who made creative and innovative contributions to the development of narrative practices, vibrant letters and reflections from younger practitioners, and images and photos which reflect the times and history of the growing years of narrative therapy.
In a beginning letter to readers Cheryl White invites you into a tapestry of stories, memories and histories. My own 'narrative' journey has spanned over two decades and if you also happen to have a longstanding connection with narrative practices, there is a good chance you will be pleasantly brought back to your own narrative history and experiences. You may also be reminded of aspects of the spirit and politics of narrative therapy that you hope to get reacquainted with. For those perhaps starting to fall in love with the ideas that inform narrative therapy, the stories in the memory book will not only provide you with a wonderful starting point but also spark you to explore further or perhaps to create your own innovations. Moreover for any reader, awaiting are some stories that will make you laugh that can be likened to humorous conversations one might have sitting around the kitchen table …and others that may challenge or be unexpected leaving you to ponder, think and question more.
In my first sitting with the memory book I keenly scanned through the ‘Contents’ page of the various titles of chapters and found myself intrigued ...yet also faced with the not-so-easy choice of which chapter to read first. Hmm. Here are just a few of the titles that might catch your own attention:
‘Five radical ideas, splits and things not to leave behind’ A conversation with Ron Findlay
‘An unexpected meeting’ Cheryl White
‘Histories for the future’ A conversation with David Epston
‘Rigour, imagination and politics of practice’ A conversation with Stephen Madigan
‘Laughter and issues of class’ A conversation with Jane Hales
‘Breaking from psychological colonisation’ A conversation with Taimalie Kiwi Tamasese
Subsequently I enjoyed deep-diving into the
many chapters by multiple contributors. Having a feminist-informed
ethic and practice (even prior to my narrative journey) one of the
first chapters I delved into was ‘Feminist challenge and Women’s
Liberation” by Cheryl White. This chapter significantly shares
how the ripples from the Women’s Liberation Movement and the
feminist politicising of everyday life were key threads in the
development of narrative practice. My hope is for all narrative
practitioners to read the letters, conversations and stories within
the chapter to not only have an awareness of this important history
and connection, but to also keep a current feminist lens in everyday
therapeutic and community work.
This photo of Karl Tomm and Michael White stood out in the third chapter which was devoted to the contributions of Karl. The chapter captures a key turning point in 1984-5 as described by Cheryl White in the history of narrative practice where Karl Tomm, a prominent professor of psychiatry in Calgary, Canada, was highly influential in opening space for Michael to share his ideas in the 1980’s’. Cheryl shares an important learning of how, like Karl, we can all think about ‘opening space’ for voices not being heard in relation to race, culture, class, gender, religion, age and so on.
Overall there are countless gems of stories inside the memory book. Some of these include: captivating tellings about four young people in the 1980’s - Ann Epston, David Epston, Michael White and Cheryl White and their beginning adventures together; Ron Findlay’s emphasis to not forget the political history and side of narrative practices; many poignant and helpful learnings about responding to social pain and injustice that have come from cross-cultural partnerships, aboriginal narrative practice and Just Therapy contributions; and the honouring of family therapy and an interview with Salvador Minuchin just before his 92nd birthday.
Above are only a few of many highlights that stood out from just some of the chapters. All the while collective thinking is weaved throughout the memory book and the importance of paying attention to culture and context and including the voices of those with insider knowledges. Hearing about some of these highlights will hopefully encourage you to go for your own trip down the ‘memory book’ lane.
The ‘Memory book for the field of narrative practice’ is not only an archive of the past, but also a book filled with ideas and influences for current and future narrative practice. Having said this, this piece has been written with intention to honour the rich histories of narrative therapy and with appreciation of Cheryl White for documenting and bringing together these significant stories from earlier days. I’ll now conclude with (although we know it’s not the end of the story :) part of Cheryl White’s message to readers …‘it is hoped the diverse histories acknowledged here provide a foundation for continued innovations, creativities, and generative partnerships.’ In the spirit of continuing narrative possibilities I am excited thinking about this memory book being read by you …and the next generation of narrative practitioners.
Continuing the conversation…
In the spirit of continuing the conversations of the many beautiful and profound stories inside the memory book we are pleased to link to a reflection written by Amy Druker. Amy is a member of the Oolagen team, a publicly funded youth mental health agency where she works in Toronto, Canada. For 25 years Oolagen has been well known for practicing, innovating and teaching narrative ideas.
Click here to read Amy Druker’s reflection