Academic journal article The International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work

Creating Different Versions of Life: Talking about Problems with Children & Their Parents

Academic journal article The International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work

Creating Different Versions of Life: Talking about Problems with Children & Their Parents

Article excerpt

inTROdUCTiOn

In this ar ticle I focus on how some of the most basic ideas and practices in narrative therapy, namely externalizing of the problem and double storied accounts of identity, can assist us to talk with families and to create different versions of life. It might be argued that ever y aspect and ever y practice in narrative therapy is about "double" or multi-storied experiences of life and identity. Most of these will not be presented here (for an over view, see White 2007).

When I choose to limit myself to externalizing of the problem, statement of position map 1 and 2, and double stor y development, it is because I have found these practices to be especially useful in my own work with families. What is more, many of the parents we have been working with tell us that externalizing the problem is the single most impor tant thing they experienced in our work together.

Narrative therapy or narrative practice is truly the legacy of the Australian family therapist Michael White (1948-2008). This approach was first known to an international audience when White published his ar ticle "The externalizing of the problem and the re-authoring of lives and relationships" in 1988. To this day a lot of people are primarily connecting narrative practice with the externalizing of the problem. Even if this is a kind of reductionist view of what narrative practice is all about, it is cer tainly true that externalizing of the problem and externalizing conversations are absolute basic components in this practice. So, let's have a look at what externalizing of the problem is all about.

ObjeCTifyinG pRObLems nOT peOpLe

The externalizing of the problem reflects White's basic understanding of the professional theories on psychopathology, which people in our culture are regularly recruited to believe in. His view was that these theories on psychopathology are social constructions, and that they do not represent the "truth" about people's life and identity, however much people may suffer from what are called 'mental problems'. His view was that the diagnostic terms and the psychopathological language connected to these terms make people into objects.

Externalizing of the problem is a conscious attempt to develop a "counter-cultural" language, a language that instead objectifies the problems, the suffering and the difficulties people get into during their lives. This counter-cultural language speaks of the problems as uninvited guests who are moving into people's bodies and families, like a virus or a bacteria, and which are "living their own lives". These problems do not only influence the life of the person who is understood to be the carrier of the problem, but in significant ways also the lives and relationships of other people who are getting in close contact with it (like parents, siblings, teachers and so on). Problems behave, in this view or language, as if they have a specific plan or agency to torment people, but at the same time they often tr y to convince the "carrier" that they really are this person's best friend and ally. White (2007) experienced in his practice that talking of problems in this manner made it easier for people to take a position on what they did want and didn't want in their life, and to more readily find solutions to their problems.

Externalizing of the problem is therefore by no means a simple technique or quick fix, but instead a practice strongly connected to a specific value system and a specific view on human lives (Foucault, 1980, 1988). It's also impor tant to emphasize that externalizing of the problem is by no means a goal in itself in narrative practice, and externalizing of the problem is not always part of this practice. Michael White once told me that in more than half of his work externalizing of the problem never became a par t of the conversations. Later in this ar ticle I will return to when externalizing of the problem seems to be especially useful in talking with families. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.