I love my job.
It is a real privilege when people confide the intimate details of their lives and I experience a strong connection as we face these challenges together.
Yes, it can be challenging at times being faced with serious problems that people are confronting in their lives. People frequently ask me, “How do you do it? Listening to people’s problems all day?” But I don’t experience it this way. I actually get energized by these meetings and leave the day mostly hopeful. I think that has to do a lot with how I position myself in sessions.
Before being introduced to narrative therapy, I was more fatigued at the end of the day.
I remember positioning myself as the expert in the room. It was my job to ask the person or family questions directed at assessing certain aspects of their life. I would then gather this information interpret it based on the assertions of the model I was practicing. This gave me a definition of the problem and suggested remedies. I would then prescribe these to the person and set up a meeting for follow-up.
I have oversimplified this a bit, but my point is that even though I felt like my practice was individualized, in fact, I was imposing what my model said on the family and set plans for them accordingly.
Practicing this form of therapy was tiring as I was continually pressured to interpret correctly and assign the correct diagnosis and suggest the best remedy.
The results, even when successful, were not satisfying. If the process worked for the family, they gave me credit. While this initially sounds nice, it backfired as the person started to depend on me and I would feel pressure to perform the next time. If this success continued, people started believing that I knew more about the right decisions for their lives than they did.
This wasn’t good, as it brought more pressure and people would forgo their ability to make their own decisions. They would credit me for the changes they were making.
I can see how this can be appealing to some, but to me, it was not at all what I was going for.
My hope was that people would gain confidence in making decisions in their life. I wanted our collaborative work to give them a framework to make future decisions. I know it is cliché, but I wanted people to be empowered by the work we did and I didn’t think this approach, even though it was successful at times, was beneficial in the long run.
I now position myself alongside people when we work. I come to the meeting with a model, yes, but this model places the person as the expert. I have practiced and practiced what I see as a craft. My job is to listen from a position of not knowing, acknowledging my experiences and knowledge, but remaining focused on the person in front of me and how they define their life.
Everyone has a different way of doing so based on their history, their relationships, their current situation, their culture, etc. All of these factors create the way they construct how they believe the world works and how they are interacting with it. And from that, they describe what is problematic.
With my training in narrative, I pay close attention to what is said and what is not said.
For instance, if a person can describe a problem, they are taking a position in their life. This means they have agency. Rather than making an interpretation and making meaning of that myself based on a model outside the person, I am interested in learning the person’s definition.
And if a person has this agency, they are already taking action.
This displeasure and seeking help is already demonstrating that they are looking for something different. Most importantly, they have an idea that life could be different, better even.
They may not have that fully articulated, but it’s a start. And this is what I see when I am first meeting with someone.
Narrative principles inform this stance and allow me to sit with people, asking questions that help them develop what they prefer for their life. While the conversations can be full of serious problems and tears, the person or people I meet with are taking something back and moving forward in a way they want to go.
There is always a bit of hope even when we discuss the most difficult of situations.
This is what gives me energy and as I said earlier, this is why I feel privileged to have the opportunity to meet with people in this way. I am continually amazed at what people deal with in private and appreciative the opportunity sit alongside them to seek something better for their lives.
I'd love to share the principles of Narrative Therapy with you further and I would like to invite you to enroll in our certificate training.
This seven-month clinical training program runs from October 2017 to April 2018. The Certificate Program consists of an organized series of monthly workshops, practice group training, texts, readings, and written assignments.
It is offered both on-site and via interactive web conferencing - which means it can be done from ANYWHERE on YOUR SCHEDULE!
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