The absent but implicit is a form of narrative practice that aims to find new meanings in older thoughts and by storying experiences that have been previously overlooked to find new meanings (Campillo, 2011). These alternative narratives can be uncovered through narrative interview techniques and can reveal values by examining what it missing from the situation (Campillo, 2011). I have practised the absent but implicit through an interview on the professional life of my close friend Holly. This revealed many things for Holly herself and showed how effective the absent but implicit can be. The interview also prompted some interesting thoughts on ambivalence in narrative practice that required further research and discussion.
Freedman’s thoughts on the absent but implicit include an explanation on how asking questions in a tentative way or offering a few suggestions can be very affective in allowing the client to govern the direction of the conversation – a key feature of narrative interview (2012). I found this to be true when interviewing Holly. I followed the absent but implicit questions that were used in class, modifying them so they fit her professional role and asking follow up questions where necessary or appropriate. An example of following Freedman’s example of asking tentatively is the fourth question: “When you think back to how you responded, what might have been some of your intentions? Were you trying to change the situation, or change someone else’s response to it? Were you trying to change your own response to it?” I did not read this directly but changed it so it was conversational and offered the examples as possibilities of where Holly’s answer may go so that she had something to follow while also being able to say exactly what she did not intend to do.
Freedman was also influential in my narrative practice by explaining how the implicit value is not necessarily the opposite of the problem (2012). The example that Freedman uses involves her work with a particular client where she learnt that happiness may not be the answer to unhappiness; instead something such as being of service and feeling needed may be the answer (2012). This reveals how it is important to look for less obvious answers or for more than one possibility. This possibility for multiple values in the one instance hints at the likelihood of ambivalence in the absent but implicit.
Freedman describes the absent but implicit as “… the idea that we can make meaning of any experience by contrasting it with some other experience or set of experiences” (2012, p 2). This idea of contrast has been accurate in my experience with narrative interview. The interview using absent but implicit techniques with Holly revealed how effectively contrast can reveal what the missing value is in a particular narrative. For Holly this contrast came from her old work place versus her new work place. After discussing her unsatisfying experience at her old workplace and deciding what she had been missing using the absent but implicit, we discussed her new workplace and found that all the things she had been missing where now quite obvious.
Something that was less obvious in this interview was how a value or trait that is part of a professional identity can be both a positive and negative experience. For Holly this was what she described as her “massive drive.” She said: “that’s a really annoying part of me… I love it but it’s frustrating at times.” This ambivalence is an important part of Holly’s narrative and she certainly doesn’t want to lose this drive in favour of being more relaxed for example, but it is still contrasting ideas that are simultaneously part of her self-narrative.
Ambivalence as a part of narrative practice is an interesting area, particularly in regards to therapy. Ribeiro et al has completed studies on ambivalence in narrative therapy for clients with depression and experiences with domestic violence (2014; 2015). Ribeiro et al talks about ambivalence as the point in therapy where a client will make a statement that encourages change but then fall back to their dominant negative self-narrative, for example, “I have had enough of my fears and limitations. I will free myself from my fears, no matter what the implications are… but I’m too weak for this.” (Ribeiro et al, 2014, p.2)
The results of Ribeiro et al’s studies suggest that this ambivalence or contrasting self-narratives may be a necessary part of changing behaviour as the client begins to accept both possibilities of self (2014;2015). The ambivalence in clients who are undergoing therapy is a form of protection, bringing the individual back to a recognisable self-narrative rather than throwing themselves into change and becoming overwhelmed (Ribeiro et al, 2015). The ambivalence is a state that clients look for in between stability and change and this has been shown through a number of studies (Ribeiro et al, 2015).
Ribeiro et al views ambivalence as a cycle where the dominant narrative keeps coming back to the client as they try and bring about change in their lives, the ambivalence actually creates stability as the client has trouble viewing themselves as a person who can face their fears and return to the dominant but negative self-narrative (2014). This indicates an inner conflict where individuals need to work at making the ambivalence a new narrative where the two ideas can coexist.
This coexistence is something that Holly has worked on achieving, allowing her drive to be something she sees as both a positive and a negative in her professional and personal life. As our interview was about professional narrative practice rather than therapy, we did not attempt to work through ideas looking for answers to more negative self-narratives. It does appear, however, that Holly’s ability to use her drive to achieve goals and be successful in her professional life while remaining a bit uncomfortable with how all-consuming this trait can be is an example of finding a way to live with ambivalence surrounding a value that can be both a positive and negative experience.
Winslade (2002) said: “We think of a professional identity as consisting of a set of values, attitudes, ideas, knowledge and skills.” This identity is something that can be drawn and out and made clear by the use of narrative practice. For me, the use of the absent but implicit has been successful in this regard. Using the example of the interview with Holly, it was found that the absent but implicit uncovered the values that she relies on for success. Holly herself found that deconstructing her own story allowed her find new meanings and awareness that will benefit her professional identity. This is something that Winslade discusses as an important feature of storying professional identity (2002).
The potential for ambivalence is also an area that became apparent in this interview. The absent but implicit revealed that having both positive and negative feelings for a personal value can be a way of achieving stability in life and can still be used as a strength (Ribeiro et al, 2014; Ribeiro et al, 2015). The absent but implicit looks for values that have been harmed in some way and can bring about positive change in a personal life, through therapy or professional identity (Freedman, 2012; Campillo, 2011). But these self-narratives can also build an ambivalent narrative that can be just as fulfilling and useful to a person, as Holly and I found in our experience of narrative practice using the absent but implicit.
Campillo, M 2011, ‘Keys to a subjugated story: my favourite narrative therapy questions,’ The International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, vol. 1, pp. 35-39.
Freedman, J 2012, ‘Explorations of the Absent but Implicit’, The International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, vol. 4, pp. 1-10.
Ribeiro, AP, Mendes, I, Stiles, WB, Angus, L, Sousa, I & Goncalves, MM 2014, ‘Ambivalence in emotion-focused therapy for depression: the maintenance of problematically dominant self-narratives’, Psychotherapy Research, vol. 24, no. 6, pp. 1-9.
Ribeiro, AP, Goncalves, MM, Silva, JR, Bras, A & Sousa I 2015, ‘Ambivalence in Narrative Therapy: A Comparison Between Recovered and Unchanged Cases’, Clinical Psychology and Narrative Therapy, vol. 23, pp. 166-175.
Winslade J 2002, Storying Professional Identity, Dulwich Centre, viewed 3 June, <http://dulwichcentre.com.au/articles-about-narrative-therapy/storying-professional-identity/>