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

Supporting Folks to Reclaim Their Lives from the Control of Substances: A Real People, Real Knowledge, Art Board

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

Supporting Folks to Reclaim Their Lives from the Control of Substances: A Real People, Real Knowledge, Art Board

Article excerpt


I wish to acknowledge the traditional lands of the Coast Salish Snuneymuxw First Nation on which this project emerged, continues to inspire and be inspired. As well as the Saik'uz First Nation of the Dakelh/Carrier Peoples of Northern BC Canada whose stories contributed to the twinklings of the very early days of this project. I pay my respects to their elders past, present and future.

I also wish to acknowledge the contributions of the folks I've met with and their verbal agreement to participate in this project. It's been a privilege to engage in conversations with them and honour their voices.

I also wish to acknowledge and honour all the folks who are currently and have in the past struggled with the control of substances in their lives. This paper does use some vulgar language as well as name specific substances, and so I invite you to care for yourself if this does not fit for you or if it might influence a possible craving.

I also wish to honour the lives of all who have come face-toface with the deadly grips of Big Fent, both those who have lost their lives to overdose and those who have come near to loss of life.


Thank you for this opportunity to speak about my experience of working with folks who struggle with the control of substances over their lives in the context of a walk-in substance use clinic. It is a privilege for me to collaboratively support them to find ways to reclaim their lives. From a narrative therapy perspective I will include in this paper examples of therapeutic conversations that have led to the emergence of (and continue to inspire) an innovative project called the 'Real People, Real Knowledge Art Board'. David Newman (2010) quotes the term Michael White and David Epston refer to as 'insider-knowledge' (referring to the knowledge found in the experience-near stories told by the folks I meet with), or their tacit knowledge which demonstrates that we 'all know more than we can tell' - as quoted by David Epston from the writings of the philosopher Michael Polanyi (p. 26). The intention of the art board is to collect these insider or tacit knowledges and to document them in a collective, collaged and visual archive. The intentional privileging of this tacit knowledge is further privileging voices and stories that are otherwise marginalised. This supports personal agency and choice, and it also makes possible a space to question the addict discourse and the broader social effects on those with whom I have met. The idea for this art board emerged from a continual expanding awareness and engaged interest in the writings and ideas of scholars such as Paulo Freire, feminist and social constructionist scholarship, folk psychology, considerations of the politics of power and knowledge and the contributions of various narrative practitioners from around the world. These contributions have greatly expanded my Mennonite horizon of influence - restorative and social justice and resistance to oppression - from my earlier days. Jean Paul Lederach (2003), an American Professor of International Peacebuilding and scholar, says that a Mennonite ethical framework 'emphasizes the importance of building right relationships and social structures through a radical respect for human life' (p. 4). This paper is influenced not only by ideas but with what resonates with my personal values and experiences as 'it goes without saying that much of my work has been prefigured by my experiences ...' (Epston, 1989, p. 22). Along with the purposes listed above, this essay will focus on some further key narrative principles: rich double story development, externalising, re-authoring, documenting and archiving insider knowledges, linking lives through shared experience and enabling contribution.

Note on harm reduction1

It is important for me to mention the significance of harm reduction for my work, particularly because here in Nanaimo (and across BC and now the country) we are experiencing an influx of the destructive presence of Big Fent (as one of the folks I conversed with, re-named Fentanyl - a synthetic opioid). …

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