This post was written for the now shuttered Positive Women’s Network (PWN) blog. PWN was a support agency for women living with HIV and it was my community for almost 25 years.

Let’s talk about therapy.

How does that make you feel? Sometimes therapy itself can be absolutely crazy-making and not at all therapeutic. Have you ever wanted to better understand your suffering? Not necessarily poke at some pain or re-live anything but rather explore who you are now and how you survived. Far too often the tendency of therapy is to focus inwards rather than at the external situations which may be causing, influencing or exacerbating a struggle. This inward focus could be misconstrued and reinforce self-blame.

On a personal note, I have an extensive history with various therapies and I studied psychology during my undergrad. I am also currently working towards becoming certified as a trauma-sensitive yoga therapist. I know some things about therapy mainly because I grapple mightily with chronic depression. In looking back over my life I can see signs of depression spanning almost 40 years. I am by nature an introvert and a contemplative person which is a source of much pleasure yet these characteristics can become detrimental when I’m descending into a depression. This was the case four years ago when I met the biggest, baddest, depression beast to date. I struggled with making meaning of the growing abyss. I tried traditional talk therapy and it just wasn’t touching the despair. I needed something else. But what?

I hope you will go out and let stories happen to you, and that you will work them, water them with your blood and tears and you laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom.

~ Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes

My therapist, who I’ve worked with for many years, suggested some creative visualisation and together we discovered a safe place within myself and fortified it. She harnessed my interest in story-telling and my rich imagination to help me find some solid ground. This led me to re-reading some of my favourite childhood stories and listening to lots of audiobooks by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés (who is an amazing story-teller, seriously do something good for yourself and listen to this woman’s delicious wisdom). Eventually, I got to writing down my own stories and in my continual quest for finding ease within suffering I stumbled upon narrative therapy. Now this is what I was looking for!

What is narrative therapy?

The narrative approach is a collaborative model which recognizes that people possess natural competencies, skills, and expertise that can help guide change in their lives. It is a non-pathologizing therapy wherein the person is viewed as separate from their problems, and in this way, a therapist can help externalize sensitive issues which dissipates resistance and defences. Personal experiences are transformed into personal stories so that the effects of the problem can also be transformed. Problems are viewed within the context of social, political, and cultural story-lines that influence the way we view ourselves and our personal stories.

No one needs fixing.

People are the experts of their own lives; problems are separate from the person and have a relational context; people have inherent skills to influence problems.

Does this sound familiar? What do these assertions remind you of? They remind me of our guiding GIPA principles, which recognize the expertise of persons living with HIV in the response to HIV/AIDS; realize the rights and responsibilities of persons living with HIV, including the right to self-determination and participation in any decision-making processes having a personal effect; and creates space for involvement and active participation of persons living with HIV in all aspects of the response to HIV/AIDS.

I am encouraged by this style of counselling and community building. I find it aligns well with PWN’s culture. I recently completed the Foundations Level Training of Narrative Therapy with The Vancouver School of Narrative Therapy. We had the benefit of hearing from some guest instructors who work in the Vancouver area. Rosa Artega, Manager of Direct Services and Programs at Battered Women Support Services (BWSS), discussed a post-feminist, anti-oppressive, narrative therapy approach to working with trauma and intimate violence against women. Aaron Munro, Associate Director at RainCity Housing, discussed the creation of a Housing First Program designed to assist Queer, Trans and Two-Spirit youth experiencing chronic and episodic homelessness on the unceded ancestral homelands of the Səl̓ílwətaʔ, Xʷməθkwəy̓əm, & Sḵwx̱wú7mesh peoples (Vancouver, BC) by utilizing Housing First, Queer Theory and Narrative informed approaches. It was an inspiring week of intense learning and I look forward to exploring narrative therapy further.

This post was originally published by Positive Women’s Network.

a novel approach to therapy

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