A ‘not-knowing intention’ reflective stance can help therapists engage an exploration of the problem story as experienced by clients
Language and Reflexivity
Feminist-Narrative ‘Assumptionlessing’ 1: Taking a stand for Collaborative Practice
As a bi-cultural Latina and French Canadian with family spread across the globe, I have always been curious about the subtleties of language as it has travelled with me and impacted my experience. Language, as I have begun to see it, is an active relational process, inviting meaning through the contexts in which it is produced. Exploring the dialectical relationship between language and culture with my peers and clients in the context of therapy permits me to understand more fully the many creative therapeutic avenues and tools available in the therapeutic process. This invited me to develop further my capacity in the engagement of deconstruction, uncovering the more invisible discourses supporting the problem story and reclaiming of the clients sites of important meaning and values that may have been discredited and excluded.
The use of externalization as practiced in the Feminist-Narrative therapy approach at ProChoices mesmerized me. Externalizing conversations is central to Narrative therapy, and engages opportunity to deconstruct the stories that maintain problems. Through externalizing language, the client and therapist loosen the problem story to invite movement and response so that they may re-locate to supportive sites. From a different vantage point, we can then become active agents in a preferred relationship to the problem. Of particular interest to a Feminist-Narrative Therapist is how these stories are further articulated within the politics of the culture in which we find ourselves. Perusing these intertwining branches of stories leads to brushing against the roots of normative assumptions. Exploring the problem as outside the person invites us to notice the problem’s influence on various aspects of their lives, and to explore moments where the problem had less power, in addition to noticing it’s historical and cultural location.
The Feminist-Narrative therapist asks questions intended to engage a collaborative process of research. Reflexivity supports the Feminist-Narrative therapist to sustain a personal awareness of assumptions that can interject and get in the way of the clients knowing, and offer questions more useful for a client at a particular time in their therapeutic journey. A ‘not-knowing intention’ or ‘Assumptionlessing’ 1 reflective stance supports the therapist to engage an exploration of the problem story as experienced by the client, versus fulfilling the direction and focus dictated by methodology that may invite soliciting of specific responses informed by cultural knowledge and biases. In essence, it distances the assumption from overriding new meaning making most helpful to the client, and it entails that no one experience of a problem is identical. Some of my favorite moments in therapy involve peeling the layers of normative assumption, and uncovering underneath the personal and more meaningful appearance. Taking a unique perspective of the problem allows the Feminist-Narrative therapist and client to co-construct preferred narratives free from these constraints.
As a learning therapist, it took some time before I accepted that I was not superhuman and carried assumptions and bias like everyone else. Indeed, as socialized beings it is impossible to escape the impact of socialization. As much as we resist dominant power, it surrounds us all and can easily take over and undermine our authority. When our values are not in agreement with dominant cultural and hegemonic metanarratives, the therapeutic conversation can uncover the impact of this resistance. At ProChoices, therapists are encouraged to practice reflexivity and to embrace humility, and this intention continues to support me to sustain a decentered but influential approach, to let go of being the expert in the room and to invite a collaborative co-research experience. It also encouraged me to develop a more supportive working relationship with my own assumptions, instead of ignoring their existence and impact in the therapy room.
Although I have developed many strategies to explore my relationship to ‘assumptionlessing’ through a reflexive practice, I have found that it is through externalizing conversations where I am best situated to distinguish and address the social constructions and co-constructions of meaning, mostly because these conversations consistently challenge the stories I myself carry. Through externalizing, I am invited to be curious about the problem, not the person as the problem, which also engages my clients to take a stand for the values, perspectives and helpful meanings that protest the problems negative influence alongside me. It is my hope that we, as a therapeutic community, support the naming and addressing of the meta-narratives of society that hold power and shape the storying of our problems collectively, to unveil and hold accountable the source of these problems. I cannot help but wonder how locating problems as originating from our social context, instead of continuing to locate them as personalized problems, might shape the future of therapy as a whole.
1. ‘Assumptionlessing’ was coined by one of the first ProChoices cohort Therapists, in jest. It was a term used to describe the feminist practice of narrative reflexivity supporting ProChoices therapists to be vigilant with personal biases and assumptions. The term has been collectively used since its inception..Written by Alisha Gori (Sept 2016 Cohort) with the collective editing and support from the ProChoices team
Alisha Gori (Learning Therapist, Group Coordinator, Researcher/Writer) began her journey with ProChoices as a volunteer leading a research project that explored therapists’ understandings and meaning involving collectivist intention, unified values and principles, and the activity of individualism. The research data synthesized from her work project has made a contribution to the development of the ProChoices Clinic Council. Alisha later joined ProChoices as a Practicum student while completing her MA of Counselling at Adler University, and fell in love with the learning and practice of Feminist Narrative Therapy and the mission and guiding principles of the ProChoices Community Clinic. Alisha continues to work as practicing certificate program graduate therapist at ProChoices, co-facilitates client groups and offers her experiences as a learning therapist with other ProChoices therapists and in a blog series, exploring all aspects of Feminist Narrative Therapy from client, therapist, and a life-long student perspective.