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

Didgeri, Individual Therapeutic Conversations and No More Silence

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

Didgeri, Individual Therapeutic Conversations and No More Silence

Article excerpt

A note re language: This paper includes dialogue in Aboriginal English (Butcher, 2008). Spelling, grammar and syntax may differ from what the reader is accustomed to.

Within any community that is facing difficult times, community members will be responding to these difficulties, they will be taking whatever action is possible, in their own way, based on particular skills and knowledges. (Denborough, Koolmatrie, Mununggirritj, Marika, Dhurrkay, & Yunupingu, 2006, p. 20)

My involvement in the Aboriginal political arena is informed by having grown up in a marginalised community. The community saw itself in terms of justice and injustice, reflecting and responding to the subtle and overt prejudice of dominant groups. My growing sense of the possibilities of community development had its roots in these formative years, and was supported by my later work in Aboriginal affairs in regional and remote communities, and my work in conflict resolution processes. In my very late 30s, I entered into the performing arts, becoming a playwright, actor and performer. This provided tremendous opportunity for reflection about history and knowledge, and allowed me to find ways to tell stories of Aboriginal people and communities to black and white audiences across many parts of Australia.

As a community worker and facilitator informed by these paths, I had been using a theatre-based externalising process with groups addressing community health concerns, domestic violence and lateral violence in regional and remote communities. The use of theatre, drama and storying helped me to create the safe spaces required when having discussions about the challenges in a community. Engaging groups using theatre-based techniques to address the challenges across their lives can be useful and relevant to people's contexts. It provides opportunity for local people to feel heard and collaboratively vision their desired outcomes. However, I have come to reflect that theatre-based practice can benefit from being informed by established therapeutic foundations, such as those offered by narrative therapy. Being able to underpin theatre-based work with broader therapeutic understandings has been particularly helpful in communicating with my clients, the organisations and government bodies that engage me, particularly given that governments and organisations often approach with extreme caution any new and unfamiliar interventions.

My introduction to narrative ideas

One of the counsellors from my workplace attended a two-week narrative therapy intensive at Dulwich Centre in Adelaide. When she returned, full of enthusiasm about this 'new therapy', she shared some information with me about externalising. One of the first things I read when she handed me a book on narrative therapy was a phrase: 'This makes it possible for people to experience an identity that is separate from the problem: the problem becomes the problem not the person' (White, 2007, p. 9). After a little while thinking about this idea, I decided I really liked the possibilities that came from it in terms of therapeutic discussions and discussions generally. The idea that there might be a method of therapy that separates the person from the problem, one which then encourages people to rely on their own skills or knowledge to minimise the problem's influence in their lives, was exciting and very relevant to the client groups I was working with.

Fast forward eighteen months and now that I have learnt more about the narrative framework and practice, I have come to appreciate many of its intricacies, including the delicate balance between being directive and/or influential in a person's story - or indeed the stories of groups or communities.

We do play a significant directive role ... But that's not to say that we are directing things in the sense that we are authoring the actual accounts of people's lives that are expressed in conversations. In all of these conversations we do hear, in people's stories, a whole range of expressions that provide points of entry to different accounts of their lives. …

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