Erasing the Other While Theorizing Narrative Therapy

It’s been a wet, chilly, boisterous sort of day. The eggplants in the garden, the ones that were wilting in this week’s heat, have returned to their full stature, and the oriental poppies have taken over the front yard.

We have been at a Narrative Therapy gathering most of the week. This now yearly event draws practitioners from around the world, as well as leaders in the field, to a beautiful site on Lake Champlain for a stimulating training and conversations.

After four intense days I am feeling deep fatigue, and I know there is much still to be digested. One of the primary themes of this year’s gathering, one that was not on the printed agenda, became a lack of representation of Indigenous people and persons of color. Sadly, while the works of many writers of European descent were cited, we only noted one non-European, an Indian national of great fame. There were no African or Indigenous theorists noted, and the growing literature by Asians, Indigenous people, and persons of African descent was completely ignored. I believe the only women cited were by the sole female presenter.

When some of us protested, with attempted kindness and grace, the absence of diversity, the presenters failed to acknowledge, let alone address, our concerns. More disturbing was their refusal to ask us whether we had been understood! This was profoundly disquieting as the presenters repeatedly spoke to the centrality in the practice of Narrative Therapy of assuring the client feels understood. Fortunately, our protests did not go unheeded by other attendees, and I found myself engaged in several searching conversations.

There has been a belief in Narrative Therapy circles that communities of experience are best aided by therapists from those communities. This idea has been particularly useful in Indigenous communities and in communities of color. After all, who better to understand one’s experience than other members of the community?

This dictum risks a sort of ghettoization in the Narrative Therapy community, as evidenced by the underrepresentation of people who do not identify as European, along with our perspectives, research, and writing, at this week’s gathering. Characteristically, the organizers seemed uninterested in who was in the room, save for where each person came from. Even as there was much discussion of therapists’ and communities” efforts to stand for diversity in the “time of Trump,” there was a dramatic ignoring of difference in the literature and in the room.

One participant described this refusal to acknowledge the presence of Others as a sort of “whitewashing”.  Another participant suggested that were Michael White still alive, and present at the gathering, he would not have allowed the repeated acts of erasure, nor the emphasis on European experience. I believe that to be true, and found myself missing Michael greatly.


3 thoughts on “Erasing the Other While Theorizing Narrative Therapy

  1. Your essay begs the question of where the threat of ghettoization really is. It seems like the workshop was the ghetto. It is hard for me to understand how educated professionals who enjoy theory are unable to recognize the need for theory to be best understood within an applied context.

    1. There were quite a few attendees who were also disquieted by the absences and erasures. How. Others could kiss them is a question that troubles several of us. I guess I was trying to be open to the conundrums.

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