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Narrative and solution-focused approaches

There is a fascinating discussion in the current issue of the Journal of Systemic Therapies (JST)* between solution-focused practitioners, Yvonne Dolan and Terry Trepper, and narrative practitioners, Jill Freedman and Gene Combs, facilitated by Jeff Chang and Tracy Mitchell. They are discussing the growth of the so-called postmodern therapies, including narrative and solution-focused, and their discussion has very much struck a chord with me.

One of the themes running through their discussion was the connections between the approaches, and how these had weakened over time, the “diverse belongingness” that existed at the time of the first Therapeutic Conversations conference in 1991 – “a sparkling moment in the development of postmodern collaborative therapies” – being replaced by a sense of being “much more separate now”.

As Yvonne said, perhaps this separation was necessary as the different post-modern approaches sought to “self-clarify”, and in order to do this, pointed up how they contrasted with each other. If this article and Jeff Chang’s excellent plenary** on integration at last year’s European Brief Therapy Association conference are harbingers of a rapprochement between solution-focused and narrative therapies, then perhaps this suggests that the postmodern approaches have arrived at a place of greater self-confidence. A place where there is less need to self-clarify by contrasting and a growing desire to (re-)connect with and (re-)learn from each other.

These thoughts may be driven by a measure of wishful thinking on my part, though I hope this is not the case. In an earlier post I mentioned my attendance at a narrative conference in Palestine last October (having just looked at it I see I promised to write more, though haven’t as yet – I shall set my mind to this soon!). This was an inspiring experience, in which I saw connections with solution-focused practice all over the place – as well as empowering narrative ideas and activities that, to be fair, would not have emerged from a solution-focused approach (though which, I think/suspect/hope, could sit well alongside solution-focused practice). I was reminded, and even more so when I read the JST piece, of the way narrative ideas were dropped into the training in the solution-focused approach that I received in the mid-90s, and of how they enriched the approach – thinking of Landscape of Identity questions as an example – and I see this more clearly now, perhaps as I am more “self-clarified” solution-focused-wise?

So I welcome a coming together, a coming together of diversity. There is a second instalment of the conversation between Jeff, Tracy, Terry, Yvonne, Jill and Gene to come, in a future JST issue (the next one I presume), and I look forward to reading and  writing more on these developments.

*Jeff Chang, Gene Combs, Yvonne Dolan, Jill Freedman, Tracy Mitchell, Terry S. Trepper, (2012). ‘From Ericksonian Roots to Postmodern Futures. Part I: Finding Postmodernism’, Journal of Systemic Therapies, 31, 4, 63–76.

**Jeff has written up his integration plenary for the Finnish solution-focused publication, Ratkes.

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