Literature Review – Narrative Practice

Narrative practice theory developed by Michael White is a relevantly innovative and incomplete area of study, especially due to the death of Michael White in the midst of his research. This has left a wide spectrum of narrative practice that is yet to be studied and built on.  A specific area of interest in this review is narrative therapy regarding mental health, specifically the resulting effects of narrative therapy on the individual; whether it is positive or negative. Therefore this article will review in detail three academic journal articles to determine their relevance for further research and what areas are clearly being missed within the field.

Narrative practice is predominately used in psychology in order to discover context around a value or incident the client is describing. Morgan (2000) defines narrative therapy as a; ‘respectful, non-blaming approach which views problems separately from people’, therefore, it is obvious that narrative practice is versatile and able to be undertaken in multiple areas. Although we are mainly seeing this practice take place in physical health. Slowly the practice is being transitioned into other areas such as education, career and specifically mental health; though how often are the negative results of this practice being taken into account?

Doan (1998) is a fantastic article for initial research regarding this topic due to its pessimistic view of narrative therapy. Doan (1998 p.1) details how the human race has always employed a sense of narrative practice, where he examines the case study of Native Americans and European Christians. Through this example Doan (1998) is attempting to illustrate that narrative practice is often a group or individual believing their narrative is ‘truth’ compared to another individual or group. This is shown in his example with the Native Americans and the Europeans where he distinctly draws a connection to the Native Americans openly disagreeing with the Europeans ideal of God and the onslaught that followed.  Doan (1998) progresses to research what is narrative practice at its core but then attempts to degrade the practice by asking “Does it practice what it preaches?” (Doan 1998 p.2-3).

Doan’s conclusions are that we as a post modernism world are documenting history by telling stories of what happened, thus dismissing any genetically underpinning circumstances. Doan (1998) rather than exploring narrative practice is detailing what is wrong with the practice. Doan (1998) believes that researchers are disregarding previous factors such as genetics and are purely investigating the individual’s opinions, resulting in the individual’s opinion being held in a high regard. This article provides a practical resource as it is an example of possible negative outcomes from narrative therapy, however, that is all it offers. Rather Doan (1998) more presents a series of questions that he never attempts to answer, thus leaving this open to be further built on. Especially as his range of literature is often dated with the oldest reference used being published in 1948. Though these gaps can be filled and his conclusion of narcissism can be faulted through the discussion of the absent but implicit ideology.

The absent but implicit ideology is significant within narrative practice. Absent but implicit is based on how we interpret texts, what we hear and what we derive from them; though it extends this to being concerned about the ideals and items that we are not hearing. Ideally to simplify the ideology the absent but implicit is concerned with what is not said and it is up to the narrative practice practitioner to listen for the missing elements to derive the actual meaning. Carey, Walther and Russel’s (2009) academic article on the absent but implicit provides an in-depth view of the theory and how to undertake the methodology.

Carey, Walther and Russel (2009)’s article concludes that the absent but implicit is a further step in narrative practice that offers an extra line of support (Carey, Walther and Russel 2009 p.14), that allows individuals to see themselves in a different light. Thus helping them to reach a sense of being active within their own lives (Carey, Walther and Russel 2009 p.14). This article contrasted against Doan (1998), is trying to build on Michael Whites prior research rather than degrading the theory. Cary, Walther and Russel (2009) have provided a scaffold that describes eight directions that a practitioner can take to inquire about the absent but implicit. This is a beneficial source as each of these directions are facilitated through example conversations that provide example questions to ensure that the practice is undertaken efficiently. This article has also sighted multiple resources with the earliest having been published in 1986, therefore, rendering this article current and well resourced. However, Carey, Walther and Russel (2009) do not address negative effects of this type of narrative practice. Rather they state that this enquiry will provide the individual information about what value they are actually providing the community. Nonetheless, what if the conclusions are negative? Doan (1998) fears that many individuals are narcissistic with their opinions and what if this result for these individuals results in a negative outcome? As Morgan (2000) states some scenarios can result in seeing the individual dis-empowered. Regardless, Carey, Walther and Russel (2009) present an informative article, though it needs to be addressed how to undertake narrative practice on individuals whom are already emotionally sensitive; leading to techniques to talk about this sensitivity and possible negative solutions.

Narrative practice can uncover sensitive topics for the interviewer and the interviewee and it is important that these topics are dealt with in a respectful manner. Often whilst undertaking an interview the interviewee may reveal an unexpected topic, this topic may also be unexpected for themselves. It is imperative that the interviewer handles this topic sensitively and it can be difficult to construct questions to build on this information. This is also the case if you are implementing the absent but implicit methodology as detailed by Carey, Walther and Russel (2009) and as an interviewer it becomes apparent there are sensitive underlying issues. This can be supported by Ferguson (2014), whom discusses mental health stigma within the workplace through a case study she has undertaken with a man who suffers from depression and anxiety.

Ferguson (2014) is attempting to battle mental health stigma in the work force through narrative practice. She believes that narrative practice will illuminate triggers and help to re-connect the work environment to the broader world (Ferguson 2014 p.13), though this practice must be undertaken by an external source. This article goes through the narrative process at each step, defining stigma stalker, the client opening up regarding how he sees himself, to undertaking the absent but implicit to determine what is missing from what she is being told, to initialising this change in her client and resulting in defeating the stigma.  Each of these steps are broken down with dialogue from the interviews as well as correspondence with her client’s place of work. Ferguson (2014) provides brilliant methodologies for addressing sensitive topics, strengthened in the article by Ferguson having to address her client’s suicidal attempt. This academic article strengthens the findings in Carey, Walther and Russel (2009) by in-depth evidence of the absent by implicit being put into action. Furthermore this article has utilised a range of academic references from relatively recent sources.

Ferguson (2014) is also an Australian study, hence it holds similar cultural traits and values that will be examined within my further study. This research will be informative into how to practically implement narrative practice into a sensitive topic, though it is yet again missing any negatives that this form of narrative practice can result in. As discussed earlier, not all conclusions are positive and can lead to lower self-esteem, however, this article does not cover how to sensitively address a negative outcome with an emotionally unstable client. Also as mentioned in Doan (1998), Ferguson has ignored genetically present mental health issues, another issue that should also perhaps be addressed.

Throughout all three academic articles each has presented a different view of narrative practice and how they believe it should be addressed. Overall it is clear there is a significant gap within the literature regarding negative outcomes of the practice, and this is what my final report will seek to build on. Carey, Walther and Russel (2009) have provided an interview scaffold which is undertaken by Ferguson’s (2014) in-depth case study, especially with her methodologies of dealing with sensitive topics. Completed with Doan (1998) initialising ideals regarding the negatives on narrative practice, as well as posing a series of questions that can be built on in further research. Overall, these academic articles together provide a fantastic background for further study focusing on the singular gap found in all articles; the possible negative resolutions of narrative practice.

References:

Carey, M, Walther, S, & Russell, S 2009, ‘The absent but implicit: a map to support therapeutic enquiry’, Family Process, 48, 3, pp. 319-331.

Doan, R 1998, “The King is dead; Long live the king: Narrative Therapy and practicing what we preach”, Family Process, vol.37, no.3, p.379-385.

Ferguson, S 2014 “Using narrative practices to respond to Stigma Stalker in the workplace a journey with Joe”, The International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, no.4, pp.1-15.

Morgan, A 2000, ‘What is Narrative Therapy?’, Dulwich Centre, viewed on 30th March 2016, < http://dulwichcentre.com.au/what-is-narrative-therapy/ >

 

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