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

Using Narrative Practices to Respond to Stigma Stalker in the Workplace: A Journey with Joe

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

Using Narrative Practices to Respond to Stigma Stalker in the Workplace: A Journey with Joe

Article excerpt

When working in a therapeutic capacity with people, it can sometimes be tricky to generate conversations that make visible the stories that link broader social and cultural influences to the challenges that, in westernised culture, can be perceived only as individual responsibilities. And, in instances where those linkages are made, connecting them back into social and cultural realms can seem daunting. Understanding modern power through the perspective of stigma offers a means for noticing those broader influences, and narrative practices offer techniques for generating thick and richly descriptive preferred stories and connecting them outside the therapy room and into the client's broader world. This paper will use parts of the story of Joe, a 33 year old male, to describe how the narrative practices of externalising, re-authoring, outsider witnessing and documentation, including cartooning, were used to respond to the insidious effects of mental health stigma on Joe, both personally and in his workplace.

Modern power, stigma a nd internalised stigma

The work of Michel Foucault inspired Michael White (White, 2011) to conceptualise 'modern power' as a mechanism of power that grows from a local cultural level to establish social control through the normalising judgement that people apply to their own lives as well as the lives of others. Through the operation of modern power, people become invested in ideas of how they ought to live, look, behave and succeed, and their identities depend upon whether they measure up favourably to these notions. It is through the operation of modern power that stigma finds its foothold.

Stigma received widespread attention after the publication of Erving Goffman's essays on stigma (1963). Goffman, a sociologist, drew attention to the socially reliant nature of stigma and highlighted the need to move outside the individual in order to understand social and cultural relational influences. Goffman also suggested that, for stigma to wield power, those affected must care about what others think and internalise the very norms that they feel they are failing to conform to. In this way, Goffman crossed his ideas from the realm of sociology into that of psychology. Over time, societal awareness of what it means to be stigmatised has become familiar and stigma is commonly described as the prejudicing and discriminating beliefs held towards people who are perceived to be operating outside socially accepted 'norms' (Kondrat & Teater, 2009; Rüsch, Angermeyer & Corrigan, 2005) and under the watchful eye of the 'normalising gaze' (Hutton, 2008). A significant focus has been centred upon the internalisation of stigma and the resultant negative identity conclusions that can occur when a person agrees with the stigmatising beliefs and concurs that they apply to them (Corrigan, Watson & Barr, 2006).

Stigma and internalised stigma flourish under the tutelage of modern power. In our westernised, capitalist, white dominated, colonialised, hetero patriarchy, there are plenty of normalising notions for people to measure themselves and each other against. Some of the stigmas I have been introduced to in the therapy room accompany: being a single mother, having children removed, being mandated to counselling, having a problem with substances, being poor, being unemployed, being in a violent relationship, being queer, being Aboriginal, and being an immigrant. By keeping an eye out for stigma, we can begin to expose the operations of modern power and deconstruct the beliefs and assumptions that create the 'norms' that are being held up as a measure of worthiness. In this way, we can shift the focus from the stigmatised to the stigmatisers. The norms can be externalised (White, 2007a), named and brought into the room so that, together, we can discover their histories and genesis, the effects they have on our clients, and how those clients are judged and found wanting by them. These conversations can make visible the workings of stigma and, in particular, expose whether stigma has become internalised and has led to negative identity conclusions. …

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