Co-Researching the Problem Story

When clients walk into the room, many carry a similar story to the one I held when I began my studies

Feminist-Narrative Therapy as Collaborative Practice

When I first began my studies in counselling, my understanding of the therapist’s core work objective involved a plight to heal their suffering. Instructed by a scientific approach, I envisioned my new career ahead to be one that would entail a great deal of assessment, evaluation, and the development of treatment plans focused upon empirically supported and evidence based interventions designed to enable resolution and healing outcome. I understood the knowledge I was acquiring in my classes as a mirror representative of the real world and the people within it, and I experienced people as being reactive to these concrete realities. This story of understanding in my learning experience became more complex as I continued my studies. Initially, however, it was my understanding that the clients’ problems were internal conditions and it was my job to analyse the contributing factors so that I could propose strategies and tools to enable the clients to change and eradicate their problem.

In response to my understanding of therapist purpose, I read, I studied, I swallowed any and all articles and textbooks that provided me with the techniques to resolve the issues I anticipated to face in the future. I began to notice that this learning approach invited a a restriction in my listening which entailed a limited understanding of the client’s experiences, and an attachment of my own meanings. With further practice immersion and study in a Feminist-Narrative therapeutic approach at the ProChoices, I continue to see now how the therapist as expert leads inevitably to thin problem story descriptions which fail to honour the true complexities of the stories told and a lack of hearing other stories waiting to be explored.

As therapists, we hold the power to name and give meaning to these stories, which leads to conclusions that are understood as ultimate truths. It can sometimes also lead in other directions when these conclusions are significantly unhelpful, such as the label of the ‘resisting client’ or the ‘failed therapist’ when we feel stuck. I am beginning to notice how this restricted view supports dominant discourse that do not always serve the best interests of my clients, and instead support the status quo. As I continue to invest in a de-centered approach as supported in my work at ProChoices, I become better acquainted with the position of expert as unsupportive to the feminist intentions that critique social normativity and examine oppression and power over. As I explore a reflexive and decentered intention, I am becoming better acquainted with what the therapist as expert view can get in the way of, and the sites of oppression and subjegated knowledge that such a position can support. As a Feminist now attuned to the disempowering potential of privileging the therapist as expert, I am eager to continue to explore further the Social Constructionist process’ and post-structural orientations to support my therapeutic invitations and goal for a truly collaborative therapeutic practice.

When clients walk into the room, many carry a similar story to the one I held when I began my counselling studies. I have experienced some clients to understand their role to be a passive position in the therapeutic conversation and in the wait of questions, professional opinion and suggestions. In Feminist-Narrative therapy, both the client and therapist are equally active in the process. The Narrative conversations invite respect for the clients as the experts of their own life and a journey of exploration together. This journey does not follow a linear thread of cause-consequence, instead the therapist and client research the multiplicity of stories and meanings to discover or revisit exceptions to the problem story that may be helpful in reclaiming agency and loosening the problems hold. This collaboration is reflexive and holds the space for many voices and perspectives; it can be modified, negotiated, de-constructed and re-constructed without seeking to complement our interpretation of objective realities and metanarratives.

Collaborative exploration of the client’s stories invite a co-researcher/co-explorer process. This experience, regardless of content, invites freedom and gives us the power to create our own inner-knowing instead of adhering to other-knowing. The opportunity to explore safely and without constraints can in itself be empowering and healing. Building my trust to discover stories, alternatives, and choice has prevented me from falling into the expert role. Having the opportunity to be supported in this exploration with my supervisor who has mentored this brave practice and with the other therapists at ProChoices continues to strengthen my trust and skills as a therapist. I am gaining confidence to stand curious and walk next to my clients on their journey, instead of falling into the place of expert and leader. I am also beginning to embrace this position of humility and humbleness. A Feminist-Narrative lens has offered me the opportunity to develop a client and therapist collaborative practice and to be an ally in the naming and protesting of unsupportive, undermining and detrimental metanarratives that can speak so loudly and from so many directions that our own voices become lost. Listening attentively with my clients and allies at ProChoices to uncover our own voices continues to fuel my passion for and devotedness to collaborative practice.

Written by Alisha Gori (Sept 2016 Cohort) and 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.