I have been interested in narrative practice for some years, and attended a training a few years ago with narrative therapy pioneer Michael White, sadly no longer with us. I was taking my annual look at Mark Hayward’s www.narrativebooks.co.uk website to see whether I can fit in one of their trainings this year (I can’t, as usual! What a pity), and noticed that there is now a rather more formalised organisation starting, the Institute for Narrative Therapy, http://www.theinstituteofnarrativetherapy.com/. Interesting website, with some very interesting articles.
One article in particular caught my eye: Mark Hayard’s Is Narrative Therapy Systemic, from Context, October 2009. In it, he argues that systemic has become a very broad church (agreed), and that one can understanding narrative practice through a systemic lens even though it shares little with some of the systemic therapy predecessors like the Milan school, strategic, etc. I particularly liked his rererence to how Michael White liked to think about things:
“Michael White distanced himself from systemic ideas such as ‘symptoms having functions’ or homeostasis (White, 1995) preferring to identify his work with the narrative rather than the systemic metaphor. He described how systemic (and many other) therapies had largely approached the task of explanation in therapy by looking for of the determinants of the behaviour. You can see this sort of enquiry in FT (family therapy) ideas about circularities (which are, essentially, cause and effect connections) and in the notion that symptoms are functional or purposeful, e.g. to maintain homeostasis. There is an implication that one can see such systems from a place of objectivity (first order cybernetics), what White called “a posture of spectatorship” (White, 1995), and that the passage of time does little to alter an essential equilibrium.”
You can download a free pdf of the paper at http://tinyurl.com/ylo4cug. Mark refers several times to SF practice and how this shares a great deal with narrative. I agree wholeheartedly. Indeed, the question of whether SF practice is systemic was one thing we touched on in the McKergow/Korman ‘Inbetween’ paper (http://www.sfwork.com/jsp/index.jsp?lnk=6d8). The idea of getting away from cause/effect and determinants – whether psychologically inside or systemically outside – is a key theme of our paper.
Do check out Mark Hayward’s paper, which also includes a very nice ‘externalisation’ exercise to try out. I am thinking that it may be time the SF community sought more common cause with the narrative community – we have far far more in common than many people realise, including some very fundamentally novel positions compared to other methods.