November is going to be an exciting month. I’m looking forward in particular to the Palestine-UK Social Work conference and to the new course I will be running with Rob Cumming, on combining narrative therapy techniques alongside solution-focused ones. There are connections between the two events, as will become apparent. I first became aware of narrative therapy in 1995, when Chris Iveson of BRIEF drew from it and in particular from Michael White’s seminal paper, Deconstruction and Therapy, on the first training course I ever attended in solution-focused therapy. I then paddled in the narrative shallows occasionally over the years before immersing myself in the Narrative Approaches to Trauma conference in Palestine last year.
I loved the work that I witnessed at this conference, and saw lots of connections with the way I do solution-focused practice, as well as learning a lot from the differences. One of the leading narrative therapists there was Nihaya Aburayyan, and the work she presented with groups of young ex-prisoners was quite inspiring. She described how the time they spent imprisoned by the Israeli occupation forces could have a powerfully negative effect on the men’s self-image, especially when much of that time was spent in solitary confinement. Nihaya went on to describe how eliciting detailed lists of actions that could be seen as resistance proved invaluable in countering this, even though, on the face of it, opportunities for resistance may seem limited in an isolation cell. What was needed was the eliciting of numerous small acts, the cumulative impact of which was far greater than the sum of their parts. This was the case for the man who, with Nihaya’s encouragement, came to realise that he had resisted in many ways, which included singing, engraving his name on the wall with his trouser button, making a toy out of a yoghurt top, chatting to a cockroach, making prayer beads by unravelling cotton from his clothes, and standing on a chair and looking at the sun out of the window… and smelling the air.
Returning to the UK, I pledged to myself to get more involved with narrative work, so how fortuitous it was that Rob Cumming then called me to talk about the possibility of working together (or maybe Rob is telepathic). I jumped at the chance to train with Rob, who I respect as one of the leading practitioners and trainers in the UK combining solution-focused and narrative approaches.
And I am more than delighted that Nihaya is going to be one of the keynote speakers at the conference on social work in Palestine, on 12 November (I am hoping too that she may be able to stay to attend the course with Rob and myself, on 14-15 November, for what a bonus that will be).
So if you want to learn about narrative therapy, and you can be in London the week beginning 11th November, you have two possibilities. Nihaya will be presenting at the conference on the 12th, on her personal experiences of using narrative therapy with victims of torture; and/or you can attend for two whole days on the 14th/15th with me and Rob. Maybe see you then!