NARRATIVE therapy is established as an important strategy for helping people to overcome mental health problems by telling their stories, aiming to assist them in realising their resilience and strength in overcoming difficulties, and the University of a Huddersfield is becoming a key UK centre for offering teaching and research in the field.
One of the world’s leading academics and practitioners of this approach, Dr Laura Béres, has now paid a second visit to the University, to conduct two days of masterclasses in narrative therapy. She is an associate professor at King’s University College, Ontario, Canada, and a Memorandum of Understanding has now been signed with the University of Huddersfield. It will result in exchange visits of staff and students plus research collaborations.
The University is home to a long-established Spirituality Special Interest Group, based in its School of Human and Health Sciences. It focuses on techniques that can give patients hope, meaning and purpose as an aid to recovery. A leader of the group is Senior Lecturer and Advanced Nurse Practitioner Melanie Rogers. In tandem with social work lecturer Gill Kirkman she organised a series of six masterclasses named Mental Health Matters that culminated in the visit by Dr Béres.
In 2015, she was invited to come to Huddersfield to conduct a single-day session, and the feedback was so good that the organisers decided on a two-day course in 2016. It was attended by 65 people from a wide range of health care and social work backgrounds.
“Narrative therapy was developed in the late 1980s by Michael White and David Epston as a way of engaging people in talking about the problem that brought them into counselling,” she explained.
But in contrast to more conventional counsellors, narrative therapists aim to go beyond problems and problem storylines and assist people in identifying previously overlooked events in the person’s life which can lead to the development of alternative and preferred storylines, which can be an aid to recovery.
“For example, I have worked a lot with women who had experienced childhood sexual abuse and they expect their counsellor to ask them about all the times they had been sexually abused – which creates a storyline of victimhood,” said Dr Béres.
“But if we help them to think about how they survived and developed resistance, then they will start to tell you the story of how they are a survivor as well as a victim. There are multiple possible stories in a person’s life, but the trouble in counselling situations is that people become too interested in only the problem storyline. We have to ask them questions that open up other parts of their lives too or else they get stuck labelled as a problem, as a victim, rather than realising how resilient they are.”
Publications by Dr Béres include The Narrative Practitioner, from 2014. She has also contributed to and edited the forthcoming book Practicing Spirituality, which will include a chapter from the University of Huddersfield’s Melanie Rogers. She and Dr Béres will also be co-writing a chapter for a book Melanie Rogers is co-editing with Professor John Wattis and Professor Stephen Curran.
The women first met at a conference of the British Association for Spirituality and narrative therapy is now integrated into postgraduate mental health training at Huddersfield.