eftcJill Freedman and Gene Combs have been teaching and practicing narrative therapy for many years. They are the co-founders of The Evanston Family Therapy Center where they provide consultation and workshops for people interested in exploring the practice of narrative therapy for individuals, families, institutions, and communities. On their website, they post a number of excellent responses to the question, “What is Narrative Therapy?” These notes are taken from workshop handouts. Feel free to use these notes and circulate them, as long as you are careful to credit the source. We include some questions pertaining to ethics from a narrative perspective (which David Epston and Michael White developed a number of years ago) and “What narrative therapy looks like in day-to-day work.”

Jill Freedman and Gene Combs are cofounders of  the Evanston Family Therapy Center where they provide consultation and workshops for people. All of the following are from their very informative website.

A Narrative World view

We work with meaning, and we believe that the meaning of life events comes from the stories that people tell themselves and each other about those events.

  • The same events can be storied in a variety of ways and these different ways will make a difference in how life is experienced.
  • However, in order to make a lasting and significant difference, new stories must “fit” and they must be different in particular ways.
  • The dominant discourses in our society powerfully influence what gets “storied” and how it gets storied.
  • A discourse is a system of words, actions, rules, and beliefs that share common values. Particular discourses sustain particular worldviews. We might even think of a discourse as a worldview in action.
  • Example: The meaning of the word “men” in the phrase “all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence has changed as the discourses surrounding who can own land, vote, and hold political office have changed. It originally referred to adult, white, male, landowners. It now refers, in many people’s minds at least, to adults of all genders and skin colors whether or not they own property.
  • Discourses tend to be invisible, that is, they are taken for granted as part of the fabric of “reality.”
  • In narrative therapy, we seek to identify the discourses that support problematic stories.
  • Locating problems in particular discourses helps us see people as separate from the problems that beset them. That is, not to locate problems as residing in individual minds or in “dysfunctional families,” but in discourses.
  • When we succeed in this perceptual shift, we see a whole different world, one in which the discourses that support problems become more visible. In this world, we can more easily oppose, undermine, or alter the influence of those discourses, making robust, viable non-problematic life stories more possible.

(Jill Freedman)

Ethics from a Narrative Perspective

David Epston and Michael White developed this list years ago, which  Jill and Gene posted on their website. 

  1. What sort of “selves” and relationships does this model/theory/practice bring forth?
  2. How does this model/theory/practice press you to conduct yourself with people who are seeking your help?
  3. How does it invite them to conduct themselves with you?
  4. How does it have them “treat” themselves? “see” themselves?
  5. How are these people being re-described or redefined by this model/theory/ practice?
  6. Does it invite people to see therapists or themselves as experts on themselves?
  7. Does it divide and isolate people or give them a sense of community and collaboration?
  8. Do the questions asked lead in generative or in normative directions? (i.e. Do they propose alternative or conserve dominant social practices)?
  9. Does this theory/model/practice require the person to enter the therapist’s “expert” knowledge or does it require the therapist to enter the worlds of the people seeking help?
  10. What is its definition of “professionalism”? Does its idea of professionalism have more to do with the therapist’s presentation of self to colleagues and others or more to do with the therapist’s presentation of self to the person(s) seeking their assistance?