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

Seeking Treasure beneath the Ruins: Stories of Narrative Practice with Children and Their Loved Ones

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

Seeking Treasure beneath the Ruins: Stories of Narrative Practice with Children and Their Loved Ones

Article excerpt

I work for a government agency that provides mental health service to children up to twelve years old, and their families. The children who are referred to us are troubled by a combination of chronic mental, emotional, behavioural, social, relationship, and academic problems, that affect them at home, at school, and in other settings.

In line with our agency's model of care, my work with children requires that I also work closely with their parents or others who are caring for them. Most of these parents admit to regular experiences of exasperation and feelings of failure as they struggle to deal with the effects of the problems that brought their child to our agency's attention (Hernandez, 2010). Over a period of time they develop a story of inadequacy and defeat about their parenting, which can later envelop their total sense of personhood.

At the early stages of my engagement with the families when the problems' influence on family members is often at its peak, I often meet with parent/s and child separately. This is to create opportunities for the exploration and acknowledgement of the effects of the problem/s in their life more freely and to prevent the risk for their re-exposure to blame, accusation or criticism from each other during the session. Re-experiencing these often result in the enhancement of their sense of shame, guilt, distress, vulnerabilities, and/or isolation, which can place so much strain on their prospect to work in partnership with each other against the problem in the future. Seeing parents and children at the start is also used to prepare and create a safer environment for discussion of topics that they have previously found difficult to talk about which sets the stage for possible collaboration among family members. Often after a few sessions I may see them together. During these sessions their intentions and hopes in seeking counselling are richly described.

As I proceed further in my consultation with clients, I am 'double listening' (Denborough, 2014, p. 67) for possible entry points to explore alternative storylines. This includes being on the lookout for hints or clues of client's skills and knowledges and the initiatives they have taken to limit the effects of the problems in their life.

It has become a regular feature of my work with parents, children and families to explore and discover their talents, abilities and skills that they are using to respond to problems (Hernandez, 2010). I then seek their permission to share their knowledges with others who may also benefit from these. This is a deliberate attempt on my part to highlight the significance and importance of their knowledges. This is preceded by respectful and adequate exploration of the effects of the problems in their life in order to prevent the real risk of client disengagement in therapy when they experience diminishment of their suffering by the therapist's premature attempts to focus on alternative stories (Marlowe, 2010).

To illustrate the ways in which I am seeking to adapting narrative practice within my work context, let me introduce you to some of the children and parents I've met on this journey.

Jerome and his fa mily

Jerome* was almost ten years old when he was referred to our agency. The referral letter described Jerome as having problems with aggression towards his siblings, non-compliance to his mother, temper tantrums, destruction of property when angry, suicidal ideation, poor academic performance at school, and having sleep problems.

I made an appointment to meet with Gina*, who is a sole parent to Jerome, and his two younger brothers, at the referrer's clinic in order for her to update me about fresh developments regarding Jerome and their family since the referral was made.

Due to lack of space in their rental accommodation, Jerome's younger brothers, aged 2 and 4, share their mother's bedroom. Jerome's predictable angry responses to Gina's refusal to give in to his insistence to sleep in her bedroom on nights when he cannot go to sleep have contributed to the deterioration in their relationship. …

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