A conference on psychotherapy called ‘A room full of stories’ definitely announces the nature of the topics of discussion. I have always thought that a psychologist’s job has been to recognise the singularity of an individual’s lived experience whilst acknowledging the social, cultural and familial context in which it occurs. If there is one thing my practice has taught me it is the infinite diversity in the human lived experience but also the profound truths that inarguably connect as human kind. It has repeatedly and unfailingly acknowledged the idea of human capacity, resilience and resistance and this ability to find meaning, beauty and hope everyday, everytime, everywhere.
The workshop on ‘Narrative Therapy in Responding to Trauma and difficulties in people’ lives’ I am attending is a useful reminder of human potential that I was forgetting given my own ‘sadness’ and disillusionment with the world today. This quote by Alan Wade summarises so well the power that each one of us holds and is exercising no matter the context we live in:
“Whenever persons are badly treated, they resist. That is, alongside each history of violence and oppression, there runs a parallel history of prudent, creative and determined resistance.”
“I propose that any mental or behavioural act through which a person attempts to expose, withstand, repel, stop, prevent, abstain from, strive against, impede, refuse to comply with or oppose any form of violence or oppression (including any type of disrespect) or the conditions that make such acts possible, may be understood as a form of resistance.”
The possibility of using language and semantics to reinterpret difficult stories of violence and abuse to powerful acts of resistance and acknowledging personal strength and agency and linking it to preferred ways of being (values, beliefs, hopes, intentions) is the intention of Narrative Therapy.
Personal Agency: “This is a sense of self that is associated with the perception that one is able to have some effect on the shape of one’s own life; a sense that one is able to intervene in one’s own life as an agent of what one gives value to and as an agent of one’s own intentions, and a sense that the world is at least minimally responsive to the fact of one’s existence.”
Reinterpretating Abuse: “When people break their lives from the very negative stories of their identity, and when they have the opportunity to stand in a different territory of their life, they start interpreting their experiences of abuse as exploitation, as tyranny, as torture, as violence and so on… This reinterpretation facilitates a different expression of their experience of abuse. This expression of abuse now takes the form of outrage, of passion for justice, of acts to address injustice, of testimony, of searching out contexts in which others might be available to bear witness to these testimonies, and so on.”
“One of the primary tasks of this work is to assist people to derive alternative meanings of their expereince of abuse, to establish the conditions that make it possible for them to reinterpret the abuse.”
These definitions of personal agency and Reinterpretaing abuse by Michael White invite us to look at the therapist as a co-researcher asking questions exploring an understanding of an experience together allowing to break myths and for that understanding to grow from unidimensional to multidimensional redefining the meaning we associate with a traumatic event to a multitude of possibilities about human potential.
The Universe certainly has a way of throwing you a life jacket when you are just about to go under. Just the first day of this workshop has brought back meaning to the work I have chosen to do and given me the fodder I need to push forward for awhile longer.