Time to Reflect

This semester was my last at university and the most interesting. I somehow ended up with three subjects that offered a lot more choice than I was used to and found that this was so much more rewarding than the very structured subjects I have been doing in previous semesters. The biggest standout in this semester was BCM311. I went into this class not really knowing what it was about, just looking for something interesting that was outside the core BCM subjects that I needed to complete my degree. I was more than pleasantly surprised to find that this class was about professional values and narrative practice, which was a new concept to me. Above all I found the class to be refreshing in the way we dealt with discussion, communicating with each other and completing task and assessments.

It was great to be reminded that uni doesn’t have to be all hard work with what feels like little gain. It can be a place where you can learn about yourself, your professional identity and others types of things that can help with post uni life. In the past couple of years I had been pushing myself into areas that I was not really interested in because I felt pressure to find a job. I don’t think this was a waste of time and I still think that accounting is something I want to do but I want to do it later in life.

Due to many reasons I have spent the past couple of years seeing uni as more of a hindrance than a help and I came into this semester with a pretty negative mindset about uni. I had become pretty disinterested in learning when previously learning had been my favourite thing to do. This class showed me new possibilities. Things were more self-regulated and this led to some really interesting discussion. I have always found it difficult to speak up in class but I found myself contributing occasionally (usually with some prompting) and feeling as though what I contributed was worthwhile and that those around me appreciated what I have to say.

I found it hugely interesting to post our tasks publically and read the thoughts of peers and how everyone interpreted what we were doing differently. Sharing resources and stories as a group was motivating and I found this collaborative approach to learning really worthwhile. It may be that this is what was I was missing and why I had been finding learning at uni so unsatisfying. I also found that having my own work (in the form of interview practice) to draw on made everything feel more relevant and easy to follow. I did also find the literature on narrative practice to be interesting and it is something I want to keep learning about.

The main thing I got out of this class was loving to learn again. Putting together this final task was so interesting to me and already I have been enjoying reading the work that has been submitted. I have found that this mature and professional approach to class work, by negotiating dates to get things done, sharing and taking the time to listen to what everyone has to say has been so effective. Bringing choice and collaboration into class has been wonderful and a truly encouraging way to finish my degree. I hope that I can take this skills and reformed motivation into my future.

Thank you to everyone for sharing and listening and especially to Kate and Sue for bringing this class to us.

 

The Absent But Implicit

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.

References

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/&gt;

Thinking About Narrative Practice

While looking for sources that relate to narrative practice I discovered that I was not as sure about the definition of narrative practice as I had thought I had been. However, upon reading Campillo’s conference address (2011) of her favourite narrative therapy questions I discovered some really nice clear ways of understanding narrative practice. I also realised that the bulk of the article was things I have already learnt about and I was actually fairly sure of what narrative practice was, I just needed some reassurance and Campillo’s concise way of writing gave me the simple refresh I needed. I also found that I was drawn to sources that stuck with the therapy aspect of narrative practice, even though in class we have been quite focused on professional identity and we have touched on other really interesting areas such as narrative practice in business, education and health care.

I have assumed that this is because I like to see where things come from. I like to understand the basic concepts, the basic way to ask questions or perform an interview before applying these skills to different contexts. The first person we learnt about in class was Michael White so I have found myself going back to White and those who have cited him in my attempt to understand narrative practice.

This is how I came across Campillo’s conference address (2011). She begins with a quote from Michael White and continues to use his original work to explain her own practice (Campillo, 2011). She sums up a definition of narrative practice beautifully:

                “When lived experience is organised into a story, and it is located in a sequence of events, through time according to a theme, it allows us to make sense of those experiences. Organising lived experience into stories is a meaning making skill that shapes what we do and who we are.” (Campillo, 2011, p 36)

This definition makes sense to me as it shows what we have been working towards in class and I can understand it working in both a context of therapy and a context of professional identity. Throughout Campillo’s address (2011) I was able to identify the question process used to find the absent but implicit values in client’s stories. The following is a direct quote of the guide of the types of questions used by Campillo (2011, pp 36):

  1. Questions about what inspires action
  2. Questions about the values/concepts of life implicit with these actions
  3. Questions to historicise this implicit value/concept of life
  4. Questions that form relationships between this value/concept and how the person lives their life
  5. Questions about plans of future action

These questions are very similar to the interview style we followed in class and I appreciated seeing the question types that bring talking about the absent but implicit about. I also recognised that the examples used Campillo repeating the client’s words back to them in the follow up questions (2011). For example, after a client had identified their implicit value as “love of family” Campillo reused this exact phrasing in questions such as “What difference does it make for you to recognise that the love of your family inspires you to go on?” (Campillo, 2011, pp 36)

It was at this point in my understanding of the text that I realised how much I already know about narrative practice, that I understood general concepts, definitions and processes. This led me to search for a different type of resource that looked at narrative in a different way so I could learn something new and build upon the knowledge I had already gained in class.

Doan’s article (1998) was one answer to this search. It questions whether narrative practice is fulfilling its own aims to appreciate and respect multiple voices and viewpoints. This is still focused on therapy but it builds on the definitions of narrative practice using a postmodern and social constructionism context. To begin with I could see no connection between the postmodern world and narrative therapy but Doan’s explanation of the postmodern world as a place with “… an ever increasing disenchantment with the social, religious, economic and political grand narratives” and where these same things are seen as “social constructions of reality” I was able to view narrative practice from a different perspective (Doan, 1998, pp 380). Seeing the ideas of narrative practice in this way makes sense to me as if big things are a social construction then the individual story or narrative gains importance and shapes the world as we see it.

Doan is also adept at explaining some key points of narrative practice. He talks about how the client’s voice should be privileged in the conversation as they should be in control and know more about their own lives than academic ideas (Doan, 1998). This should also prevent the client being controlled or stereotyped by what Doan calls the grand narrative (1998). The grand narrative is explained using a conversation between Native American people and white European settlers about creation stories (Doan, 1998). The Native American people see the Europeans’ story as interesting and one to be shared around but the Europeans are offended by the Native Americans’ creation story, strongly believing that their narrative can be the only narrative (Doan, 1998). The belief on only one possible narrative is what Doan refers to as the grand narrative and discusses with wariness that narrative practice may fall into this same idea that the narrative way is the best way or the only way (1998).

While this resource gave me new insights into narrative practice and how it can be explained, Doan is still focused on therapy and I wanted to broaden my search to include learn something outside of the therapy context. This led me to a piece of research centred on public health nurses in Norway. This took the form of a qualitative interview study with twenty three public health nurses whose narrative interviews were recorded and analysed using descriptive methods (Dahl & Clancy, 2016). The resource states that it is using the narratives of nurses to better form a collective identity of public health nurses in Norway in light of recent changes to their health system (Dahl & Clancy, 2016).

This type of resource what exactly what I was hoping for to see how in academic writing narrative practice works in a professional context rather than a therapy context. The importance of narrative storytelling and reflection are reinforced numerous times by Clancy and Dahl and the discussion of identity and professional identity was also extremely useful in building on what I have understood about these concepts from class discussion. There was an emphasis on the collective professional narrative of the nurses rather than the individual nurses. The researchers noted that this was to clearly identify the aims of the group and more ably build better nursing practice (Dahl & Clancy, 2016).

I found this interesting as it strongly contrasts to the ideas of narrative practice therapy that we have looked at where the single story or what Doan (1998) calls the grand narrative is something to be avoided. In this professional context, however, the idea of group reflection and critical analysis was deemed more appropriate in the broad space in which they were working (Dahl & Clancy, 2016). The researchers do note, however that it would be beneficial for the nurses to have an opportunity to come together, tell their stories to each other and critically reflect on their practice to better understand how they should operate in regards to professional demands (Dahl & Clancy, 2016).

There were other aspects of the research that were incredibly similar to how we in BCM311 use narrative practice and how it is written about in a therapy context. This included the importance of a step by step process that in this case was the prefiguration, configuration and refiguration of the narrative (Dahl & Clancy, 2016). This follows the same idea of building and deconstructing a narrative to build understanding that we have practiced in class and that I have read about in the therapy context.  Another similarity was in the way that the researchers found big ideas about the subjects of the research and then broke this down into smaller values (Dahl & Clancy, 2016). They also used direct quotes to explain these values, showing the importance of one’s own language or words in explaining and clarifying narrative (Dahl & Clancy, 2016).

I began this task without much idea of what I was writing. Coming to the end, however, I think I have attempted to build a better groundwork of ideas for myself surrounding narrative therapy, looking at different perspectives and contexts. Prior to this task my academic reading relating to narrative practice was not comprehensive, in would probably best be described as a bit of a skim read. Through this piece of writing I have rebuilt my understanding of narrative practice and pulled a few different ideas together that will hopefully make learning about narrative practice easier and more fulfilling than it already has been in the future.

Thanks for reading.

References

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.

Doan, R 1998, ‘The King is Dead; Long Live the King: Narrative Therapy Practicing what we Preach,’ Fam Proc, vol.37, pp. 379-385.

Dahl, M & Clancy, A 2016, ‘Meanings of knowledge and identity in public health nursing in a time of transition: interpretations of public health nurses’ narratives,’ Scandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences, vol. 29, pp. 679-687.

Introduction to Narrative Practice

In BCM311 we have begun an introduction into narrative practice achieved through class exercises and reflection. My understanding of narrative practice interview techniques is that they focus on an individual being the expert of their own life where being curious, genuine and following the direction of the interviewee are important aspects (Morgan, 2000). We have been practising interviewing each other with structured questions and watching Kate interview guests, considering our own values and thinking about the values of others as revealed through interview.

One of the interview tasks we have completed as a class was to form a structured narrative surrounding a critical incident so as to understand the idea of the absent but implicit. This is where something missing from a situation is what points out what is valued. Initially I struggled to think of an incident that bothered me but eventually remembered how I was annoyed by a transaction where I bought a laptop charger. After some discussion it became clear that what irritated me about the slow interaction was the inefficiency of the situation.  The absent but implicit value in this situation was efficiency and this was something that I realised I value highly in many aspects of my life. I was interested in how deconstructing the incident and spending time thinking and talking about it brought this value to light. Having since done some reading on narrative practice I found that Winslade (2002) commented on the benefits of looking at incidents in this way, he found that the common response on deconstructing an incident was that it “transforms their understanding.” (Winslade, 2002)

In our first week we named three professional values that we saw in ourselves. Mine were direction, communication and flexibility. By direction I mean that I am able to give direction to those around me and that I find work much easier to complete when I have been given direction with specified time frames and outcomes. This links to my value of communication as I listen well and value being understood. Flexibility is something that I think is important as being able to adapt and learn quickly can be of benefit in a range of situations. In the following weeks through interview practices mentioned above I have found that I also value efficiency. I prefer when things are done as well as possible, as easily as possible and find myself very irritated at my own procrastination and the procrastination of others.

My main career intention is to eventually become an accountant. It will be a few years before I can complete an accounting degree and I would like to work a lot more than I have during my media and communication degree. The values I have labelled so far do fit a life in accountancy I think, especially efficiency and direction as processes and timeliness are important features in this career path.

Prior to this class I had not very deeply about what I value. However, the discussion in the previous few weeks have indicated to me that my initial thoughts on my professional values are part of a much broader list of values and labels that could describe me personally and professionally. These first few terms are truthful but I think with more work in narrative professionalism I could develop more accurate and precise and concise ways of describing myself. For example, direction and communication have already developed into the value of efficiency.

From early on in this class I found that it was easier to see values in others rather than in myself. Each time we as a class are asked to find a word to describe a guest after listening to Kate interview them every student finds a different word for the same person. The words we come up with are often more precise and less like the broad, sweeping words we have used to describe ourselves, for example conviction or no-nonsense rather than communicative or passionate.

This is what signalled to me that over the course of the semester and further narrative practice work  I expect to polish the way I describe my own values and understand my professional self better.  Kate has demonstrated how narrative practice interview techniques require curiosity and following the direction of the person being interviewed. For example, focusing on the exact wording a person uses or noticing when a word or phrase is used multiple times as this can signal something that is of importance to a person and may point toward a value. This demonstration has also given us an opportunity to practice our listening skills and engage with the narrative format while developing our understanding of the importance of values across personal and professional life. The narrative form has also allowed for a deeper and more precise insight into what a person’s professional values can entail. I look forward to developing these ideas further and improving my own narrative practice interview techniques during the semester.