Appreciating Appreciation: Getting to Know my Inner Activist

Since joining ProChoices as a learning therapist, I’ve been riding the ebb and flow of appreciation as it guides me to explore the activist in me who was long dismissed. Appreciation remains a core value and priority principle of the Feminist-Narrative therapy I study alongside my colleagues and cohort at ProChoices, and as we work to advance our skills, appreciation as a practice invites new insights into our personal lives.  As I look back inspired by learning of appreciation and my growing poststructural view, I see now that despite the long contract with silence, there has always been an activist calling out a protest when I found myself stuck in spaces that dismissed that which I valued. I can acknowledge now that it was in graduate school that I became forced to finally listen to the protest, as the silence had become a scream.  It was that listening that contributed to my seeking out and moving ahead with an immersion study of Feminist-Narrative practice at ProChoices.

As I get to know my activist, I appreciate her internal revolt against the academic theories taught in clinical psychology that seem to sever the individual from their socio-historical contexts.  I can see now, that the growing discomfort I was wrestling with then, regarded the absence of a critical lens.  I was struggling with the clinical view that situated people as separate entities and problems as stemming from within them. The protest that was building into a scream, was revealing a pathologizing perspective that did not acknowledge the effects of patriarchal, capitalist society – and in that neglect, seemed to accept it.  

Unanswered questions would not go away…

How could the clinical frameworks I was learning promote healing for everyone when their philosophical assumptions were unquestioned and their definitions of the self, was so constricted? In the safety and encouragement of a collective space, I am getting to know the activist then and now – and as I do, I am discovering an emerging congruency with self and my practice that I had not known before.

In a society that privileges the individual, collective learning and appreciation of one’s own continual journey as a learning therapist is radical.  In a society that validates people according to their credentials and not their life experience, placing the client as an expert and the therapist as co-researcher is revolutionary. In a society that uses shame internalized as ammunition to keep people from loving themselves, externalizing human suffering and learning to love ourselves is a radical act. What’s considered radical in our society, now to me, seems human. I turn to the activist in me to help me explore the nooks and crannies and to hear the other voices dismissed, shamed, silenced, judged, neglected, abused and/or punished.  I am learning to find the questions and listening that will engage and encourage these voices to have their say.  It is an honor to share this space with them and to collaborate in their re-membering.  Re-membering is a post-structural concept adopted by narrative practices that views the individual as an ensemble of social relations. From this perspective, our relationships with others and ourselves to an extent, construct who we are. In narrative therapy, rather than recounting account of history from one perspective, re-membering entails re-constructing that history from a multiple stories lens in an effort to privilege preferred perspectives, ways of being, and identities.

Written by Kirsten Noack with the collective editing support from the ProChoices team

Kirsten Noack is a current learning therapist and a former client at ProChoices Community Clinic. She is continuously inspired by other learning therapists, her clients, and the integrity, passion and collective strength and mission of this small grassroots organization that explores the richness of human experience, while honoring the expertise of the clients who seek support and guidance. She comes to ProChoices from a Psychology Counselling educational background and previous work in the field of mental health.