Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Talking about Violence: A Microanalysis of Narrative Processes in a Family Therapy Session

Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Talking about Violence: A Microanalysis of Narrative Processes in a Family Therapy Session

Article excerpt

In this article, we look at the development in family therapy of narratives about domestic violence. We report on microanalyses of a family therapy session, using narrative research methods, including some conversation analytic tools. The main questions posed in this investigation were: How does storytelling of a highly charged and delicate topic like domestic violence develop in the session?; how do the different actors in the therapy room contribute to telling such stories?; how do actors try to put forward domestic violence as a conversational topic? and how do different actors react to these attempts? Our research illustrates how the recounting of stories of violence seems to go hand in hand with modes of interaction that discourage the telling of these stories. In the back-and-forth process between voices of hesitation and voices of reassurance, the participants weigh the level of safety in the session. In as far as the voices of hesitation can be reassured of the safety, it becomes gradually possible to talk about delicate, problematic experiences, such as violence in the family.

In this article we describe how we examined the process of storytelling about domestic violence in a family therapy session. As part of a pilot investigation into the use of tape-assisted-recall procedures in research and supervision, we videotaped a family therapy session in which it became apparent that the topic of domestic violence was saliently present. Because of our interest in narrative as well as in domestic violence we selected this session for further study. We have microanalyzed it, using a narrative research method and some conversation-analytic tools, focusing on the way stories about violence are put forward in the course of the session.


The process of storytelling in family therapy has hardly been explored. Even after the narrative turn entered the family therapy field, to the point that "story" has now become one of the central metaphors in our thinking and talking about our work, the ways in which stories emerge and develop in the family therapy session has not received much attention in the professional literature. This is remarkable given the fact that so many family therapists agree that clients enter therapy with problematic stories to tell-stories of pain, suffering, fear and violence-and that therapy, first and foremost, consists of a process of making room for these stories.

Although narrative therapy is very popular in the family therapy field, most research on storytelling in therapy is done in the context of individual therapy where storytelling of the client's personal experiences is usually seen as a self-making practice (Angus & McLeod, 2004). Lynne Angus' Narrative Process Model, for instance, views storytelling as arising out of a dialectical interplay of autobiographical memory, emotion, and reflective meaning making of the client (Angus, Levitt, & Hardke, 1999; Angus, Lewin, Bouffard, & Rotondi-Trevisan, 2004). In therapy the client relates what has happened in his/her life, relives what is emotionally evoked, and reflects on ways to understand self and others from a variety of perspectives. According to Angus, successful therapy involves the articulation, elaboration, and transformation of the client's story.

Another interesting model that sheds some light on storytelling in therapy is William Stiles' Assimilation Model, the basic structure of which has been supported in a series of research studies (Osatuke et al., 2004; Stiles, 2002; Stiles et al., 1990, 1991; Stiles, Meshot, Anderson, & Sloan, 1992). This model postulates the self as multifaced. The multiple parts are described as voices that are traces of a person's experiences (Honos-Webb & Stiles, 1998). Each voice strives for the expression of these experiences and for the assimilation of these experiences in the client's self via storytelling. The Assimilation Model focuses on problematic experiences and describes the process of the assimilation of these experiences into the client's self in individual therapy, providing a metanarrative framework that tells a larger story about the sequence of client stories about a particular problematic experience. …

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