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  1. PUTTING TRANSFORMATIVE LEARNING TO USE Envisioning 12 step programs as a form of narrative therapy Tom Moore, M.S., M.A. LMSW, LLP, CACII, MAC, CCS September 13, 2006

  2. OVERVIEW OF PRESENTATION • Fundamentals of Narrative Therapy • Nine primary themes • Discussion • Application to AA • Transformative learning • Narrative therapy in action • Story format • How stories change • Identity shifts as a result of stories • How stories heal • AA as a narrative community

  3. The limits of language …. mean the limits of my world Ludwig Wittgenstein

  4. Words were originally magic • and to this day words have • retained much of their magical • power. • Sigmund Freud

  5. Words are the physicians of a • mind diseased. • Aeschylus

  6. PRIMARY THEMES IN NARRATIVE THERAPY Realities are socially constructed Realities are constituted through language Narrative organizes and maintains reality There are no essential truths

  7. PRIMARY THEMES IN NARRATIVE THERAPY Our lives are storied Identity generated through stories People are not problems Problems are to be externalized Deconstruct problems

  8. REALITIES ARE SOCIALLY CONSTRUCTED We become who we are through relationship—through how others perceive us and interact with us and how we make meaning of the social interaction (Combs and Friedman, 1999)

  9. REALITIES ARE SOCIALLY CONSTRUCTED Identity=definition of the author generated in the text of one’s story • Self dwells within the story • Confirmed and modified through interaction • Basis for identity rests in the group fiction • Fiction can either heal or cripple the person who possesses it (Hillman, 1983, cited in Nagel, 1988)

  10. REALITIES ARE CONSTITUTED THROUGH LANGUAGE Internal reality differs from external reality Combination of values, experience and filters Postmodernists state that words and language create reality (Combs and Freedman, 1998)

  11. REALITIES ARE CONSTITUTED THROUGH LANGUAGE [Three umpires] are sitting around over a beer, and one says, “There’s balls and there’s strikes and I call ‘em the way they are.” Another says, “There’s balls and strikes and I call ‘em the way I see ‘em.” The third says, “There’s balls and there’s strikes, and they ain’t nothin’ until I call ‘em.” (Combs and Freedman, 1998)

  12. NARRATIVE ORGANIZES AND MAINTAINS REALITY Wag the Dog Snakes on a Plane Forest Gump JFK Fahrenheit 911 60 Minutes, 20/20, Dateline

  13. ESSENTIAL TRUTHS? “What, therefore, is truth? ….. truths are illusions of which one has forgotten that they are illusions.” (Nietzsche)

  14. OUR LIVES ARE “STORIED” Dominant identity story • Solution or problem oriented? Life story=sufficient and self-contained fiction Differs from biography, oral history or life history

  15. SUFFICIENT AND SELF-CONTAINED FICTION “Literature is fiction not because it somehow refuses to acknowledge ‘reality’, but because it is not apriori certain that language functions according to principles which are those, or which are like those, of the phenomenal world, It is therefore not apriori certain that language is a reliable source of information about anything but its own language.” (Paul de Man, 1986)

  16. OUR LIVES ARE “STORIED” “Fiction does not signify inconsistency with historical truth, but that it is shaped, crafted, invested with symbolic values managed by the speaker in compliance with an intricate, intense agenda.” (Titon, 1980)

  17. IDENTITY GENERATED THROUGH STORIES Represents the key to meaning and significance (Fisher, 1984) Stories provide • Significant events and appropriate meanings for listeners • Identify and affiliation for those who tell them Healing for both listener and storyteller Emphasis on “listening, accepting, making non-judgmental, non-confrontational comments.” (Hennings, 1987)

  18. PROBLEMS ARE TO BE EXTERNALIZED Hidden problems cannot be changed • “only as sick as your secrets” Externalization allows re-authoring May need to externalize solution as well as problem

  19. DECONSTRUCTING THE PROBLEM Erase object of text as well as author “I’m not much, but I’m all I think about.” Can ask multiple forms of same question (Milan Family Therapy group) Therapist becomes linguistic detective Intricate and delicate process

  20. EXAMPLE OF DECONSTRUCTION “A tear in the hand of a Western man He’ll tell you about salt, carbon and water But a tear to an Oriental man He’ll tell you about sadness, sorrow, the love of a man and a woman.” “Ride the Tiger,” Jefferson Starship (1974) Dragon Fly

  21. AA, SPIRITUALITY AND DECONSTRUCTION Scott on Spirituality in AA: “Our spirituality …is very, um, “deconstructivist’—its because there’s scarcely anything of it except what you want to make of it, and ….there’s room for all types of spirituality.” Ebby T to Bill W “Why don’t you choose your own conception of God?” (Big Book of AA)

  22. PEOPLE ARE NOT PROBLEMS Problems=active recruiting agents Addiction=disease of authority Basis of self-reliance, self-sufficiency, independence Denial of needing anyone or anybody Being dependent=being weak “Self-will run riot” (Denzin, 1997)

  23. BREAK AND DISCUSSION Questions, comments and concerns

  24. NARRATIVE THERAPY AND AA No authority save the group conscious Worker among workers (egalitarian) Modification of one’s story/identity Container of history Problem defined by self Externalization Recovery not synonymous with abstinence (dry but not sober)

  25. REPAIR OF NARCISSISTIC WOUND “What AA provides is a way of repairing the wound that is unique among self-help groups, which often disintegrate into coffee klatches. What gives AA its clinical edge is: you are accepted for who you are, not what you do; the group reinforces you in many, many ways simply for remaining sober; and finally you are in a position to help others. The last edge is critical to me and is the source of tremendous strength of AA. Any neophyte can progress through the program of recovery to become a respected elder. It gets away from the set roles of ‘treator’ and ‘treatie’.” (Robertson, 1988)

  26. ADDICTION AS A NARCISSISTIC WOUND Self as loss—life has no meaning Self as false subjectivity—individual has all creature comforts, yet cannot obtain a meaning of self in what is owned Self as transcendent—something larger than self but alcoholic feels isolated, alienated and individualistically alone. Self as social critic—something is wrong in the world and only she or he can perceive it. (Denzin, 1987)

  27. DECIDING IF AA WILL WORK “…Alcoholics Anonymous was a distinctive community within American culture. It was obvious that they shared a unique worldview that contributed to many popular American values, attitudes, and beliefs, and that they were engaged in a group therapeutic exercise that used language as the primary tool to foster a radical change in the behavior of the alcoholic.” “AA is…characterized by a unique semantic structure.” (Wilcox 1998, 26-9)

  28. TRANSFORMING ALCOHOLIC THINKING Three distinct passages • Establishment of a new vocabulary • Public announcement and commitment to a new identity “…identity is combined in a context of relationship.” (Gilligan, 1997) • Successful completion of a test, challenge, crisis or temptation however in “we consciousness” (Denzin, 1987)

  29. IMPORTANCE OF STORY TELLING Story telling as an institution in AA: “Because …. because of denial, I think. Because we need to remember, you know…If you asked me to tell what it was like, you know, then that forces me to go back there, and I think I have a natural tendency not to go back there. And that natural tendency not to go back there is what works against me. It’s what’s going to make me forget how bad it was. And I think the more that we rehearse, or that we explain to one another like what it was like, the more we remember what it was like.” (Terry in O’Reilly, 1997)

  30. Importance of Story Telling “Telling a bunch of people, um, about some of the insanity and…the events that happened as a result, or in connection with any drinking, it was really, um, something very freeing about it. It’s nice to be able to talk about something, um, that you are not too sure of and suddenly a bunch of people, you know, laugh about it…that is like one of the greatest healing powers I’ve ever had, you know. Or, people don’t have to laugh at it, I mean, you can talk about something and have somebody afterwards come over and say ‘Jesus, you know something like that happened to me,’ and blah-blah-blah, you know. And well, even for someone not to respond at all, you know, to be more self-centered about it, just in terms of what it does in terms of letting that out there and realizing that there’s no repercussions as a result of it.” (Mark in O’Reilly, 1997)


  32. BASIC FORMAT OF STORIES IN AA Bill W’s story Other stories in the Big Book Stories around the table



  35. AA STORY FORMAT Denzin, 1987

  36. EXAMPLE OF TRANSFORMED STORY Peter: “I used to talk about all the escapades I got into and Ken and maybe two others said, ‘Your story will change.’ As time went on, it did change. I remembered more. It didn’t exactly change. I suppose I said it differently.”





  41. NARRATIVE TASKS ACCOMPLISHED IN AA Explore past experiences with a center to life not present in prior events Perceive self as both subject and object Shame reduction through telling story along with faces of acceptance Stories told and perceived from a sober vantage point Past located in a new structure of experience

  42. STORIED SOBRIETY Becomes the author of text (solution) Language of AA speaks Reciprocal, learning text from others, sharing text with others Common pool of talk (incorporation) Residing in the story Audience for the stories Storyteller par excellence (Denzin, 1987)

  43. BECOMING AUTHOR OF TEXT “We assume that life produces the autobiography as an act produces its consequences, but can we not suggest with equal justice, that the autobiography project itself produces and determines life?” Paul de Man, Autobiography as Defacement

  44. LANGUAGE OF AA SPEAKS “Because …. because of denial, I think. Because we need to remember, you know…If you asked me to tell what it was like, you know, then that forces me to go back there, and I think I have a natural tendency not to go back there. And that natural tendency not to go back there is what works against me. It’s what’s going to make me forget how bad it was. And I think the more that we rehearse, or that we explain to one another like what it was like, the more we remember what it was like.” (Terry in O’Reilly, 1997)

  45. RECIPROCAL QUALITIES “You know, it’s a bit of a Chinese water torture, it keeps your memory green, reminds you how precious recovery is…I think it’s the accumulation of the effect, like I said before, of the speaking. You know, eventually it will all come out, and eventually you will hear, in meetings, everything you need to hear. It doesn’t do me any good to hear something sometimes because there…. that night it may not really grab me; maybe a week later, or two weeks later, you know I can hear the same thing again, and it really has meaning—maybe because of what happened during the day, or what’s happened in the meantime ….And I think that’s the importance of hearing it and hearing it and hearing it over and over and over again. Um, because it’s different every time. Similar, often the same, but, you know, every time I go into a meeting I’m different. I’m different, I receive different things.” (Hugh in O’Reilly, 1997)

  46. COMMON POOL “I’ve become increasingly comfortable, increasingly…well, I’ve been able to tell more and more, I think. I’ve been able to remember more and more. That’s another value that I really didn’t mention. Just the act of telling stories makes you remember things that otherwise you might forget.” (Margaret in O’Reilly, 1997)

  47. RESIDING IN THE STORY “I had a lot of secrets I was never going to tell anybody, and {the} first time I spoke was … in the program about three months, and, you know, I had a wife who had died—she was in a wheelchair and all kinds of stuff and I was out carousing and drinking and ….and a lot of things that I just wasn’t going to share with anybody. Fine: I’ll get my sobriety, I’ll do all the other stuff, but I’m not going to …relay this to anybody. You know, I was thinking—that was my first preparation, sort of: I’ll speak at open meetings but I won’t tell this and I’m not going to put this in my Fourth Step, I’m not going to talk about it in my Fifth Step. But in doing no preparation, I got up there and I spoke, and I …everything just came out. And thank God it did, because it’s the first time, not only that I’d even told anybody, really, but it’s the first time I ever verbalized it to myself. And it was almost like, like hearing it from after myself speaking.” (Hugh in O’Reilly, 1997)

  48. AUDIENCE FOR THE STORIES “The essence of AA is conversion, dialogue, one alcoholic talking with another in a meeting or over a cup of coffee elsewhere. The problem with the active alcoholic is that his life is a monologue—he connects with his addictive self, that is all. Ninety percent of the recovery process is through peers talking with each other.” (Damian McElrath quoted inRobertson, 1988)

  49. STORYTELLER “A myth is constitutive: it makes for a collective identification. That’s what Ted’s stories do. They weave a magic circle of words around our meetings, making a tribe out of a group of lonely-quest heroes. In his own story, Ted is Odysseus; but in his manner of telling it, he is our Homer. He offers himself up, a creature as wretched and glorious as the powers of speech, for us to identify with, to be at one with, to die with or live with, if he can only go on telling his story.” (Elpenor, 1986)

  50. DOUBLING BACK ON SELF “How very extraordinary it was…being the person who ran and managed and kept going…It was as if more than ever one was forced back into that place in oneself where one watched; whereas all around the silent watcher were a series of defenses, or subsidiary creatures, on guard, always working, engaged with—and this was the point—earlier versions of one’s self.” (Doris Lessing, 1969)