Narrative Therapy Exerpt from Dr. Bitter

(Jim) Graham this is a
demonstration of narrative therapy, which falls within the
concepts of both social constructionism and post-modern
approaches to therapy. Ah.. I noticed that in this particular
session you focused a lot on the development of multiple stories
within the family and took some time moving towards an
externalization. And I’m wondering if you would just
comment on that. (Graham) Yeah, I’d like to try to move very
slowly in defining what the problem is because often where
people are starting with their first definition of what the
problem is through conversation, dialogue with each other some of
that can change and they can even influence each others ideas
about that, which I saw on the video that they had very
different stories about what the problem was and then as they
each tell their story then they may be influencing each others
definition of that problem and then start moving, seeing if
there is a consensual agreement within the family of what to
name the problem and then start to explore in that externalized
way in terms of what those effects of the problem are on
them and to some degree start to find out ways in which they have
an effect on the problem. (Jim) So, while externalization may be
a very important process within the narrative therapy model.
Rushing into it prematurely can simply make the whole experience
seem artificial. (Graham) Absolutely and even you might 3
or 4 sessions down the road and find out you’ve been working
with one definition that no longer fits any longer so I
think its important for the therapist to be willing at any
point to abandon a particular definition of the problem and
find one that is a better fit now as the session has evolved.
One of the things I also like about it, and I think you can
see some of this in the tape, is that it invites them to not be
so much in conflict with each other but it’s a conflict of
different stories within the family and the stories that
exist outside the family as well. (Jim) Sure, in this
particular case the societal stories around gay and lesbian
experiences are really strongly impacting this family. (Graham)
Right, and could result in them kind of turning and distrusting
and operating out of a fear based story with each other in
times when that’s not really necessary, maybe necessary for
them to operate in that way with the world around them but that
it could start creeping into their lives and relationships
with each other in ways that aren’t necessary. (Jim) Graham,
thank you I really like the sensitive development of the
externalization process in this video. (Graham)kay, so John,
Cassandra, Beverly, what I want to do is get a sense of what you
think is the problem. I would like to hear from each of you,
and one of the things that I do is take notes and try to jot
down some of what you’re seeing, and you are welcome at the end
of the session to take whatever it is that I write down. I’m not
writing about you; I’m just trying to get some things down
verbatim as you say them. As we have conversation, and I hear
from each of you about your understanding of what the
problem is, then I’m thinking that we’ll take a look at your
relationship with the problem. And together, we may come up
with some way to call the problem something that makes
sense to all of us. Then, we can look at the effects that the
problem is having on all of your lives, and go from there. So,
whoever would like to start, give me a sense of how you’re
identifying the problem that’s brought you here. (Beverly)(To
Cassandra) Would you like to go first? (Cassandra)ure. Well,
basically, Beverly and I are life partners, and John is our
son. We both birthed him, but he came out of my body technically.
So he is our son. We had to go through the legal process of
having Beverly adopt John, so he is our son completely now.
(Graham)kay, right. (Cassandra)But basically, John
has a friend Gary who has asked him to come join the
congregation at a fundamentalist Baptist church. (Graham) Right.
(Cassandra)And Beverly and I are concerned about what he’ll
be hearing and exposed to while he’s there. (Graham)kay. And
you have concerns about what he’s going to hear when he goes
to this church with Gary. Could you say more about what kinds of
concerns you have about what he would hear? (Cassandra)Yeah.
You know, we live in a relatively secluded area now,
but before, we lived in a neighborhood where a lot of the
neighbors would put out signs, quoting the Bible and condemning
us to hell, because we are lesbians. (Graham)ight.
(Cassandra)And so, I guess I’m concerned that he’s going to go
in this church, and while he’s hearing some really positive
things about Jesus and love, he’s going to hear that we’re an
abomination and that we’re going to hell, some really awful
things too. And these people have also been known to abduct
homosexual children and torture them to try to get them to
change into heterosexuals. So, I just don’t think it’s a safe
environment. (Graham)Right. So you’re worried about his safety
and the kinds of things he’s going to hear.
(Cassandra)Um-hum. Graham;Right. Okay. And is this
unique to just this particular church or is this something that
you have to be worrying about and thinking about when he goes
to school-or when he participates in some other kind
of activity? Or is there something that is particularly
unique about this or is this something that is kind of a
lifestyle that you have to live with. (Cassandra)Well, I think
it’s a lifestyle; you know, I worry about it all the time, but
this is one particular instance where this group has been known
to hate homosexuals. (Graham)m-hum. Right. So it’s
not going to be a surprise: You are almost expecting that that’s
what he’s going to bump into, come in contact with if he goes
here. (Cassandra)Correct. (Graham)nd you’re wanting to
tell him not to do it? What is it that you’re wanting?
(Cassandra)I want to tell him not to do it. Yeah. (Graham) Or
are telling him not to do it? (Cassandra)Yeah. Basically.
(Graham)o you’ve already said for your safety, I don’t want
you to go? Is that where it comes from? (Cassandra)Right,
that there’s no need for him to place himself in a hate
community. (Graham)Hate community: That is a real
telling kind of term. Again, is that something-the hate
community-that goes beyond the church or is it your sense that,
in general, you live in a culture that’s a hate community
for you? (Cassandra) think in general that we live in a
society that’s very uncomfortable, you know, with
our lifestyle, but this particular church, I would
consider them to be a hate community. (Graham)Okay, right.
So, John, your mom has told you that she considers this a hate
community, and she doesn’t want you going there, and the problem
is, I guess, that maybe you’ll go to this hate community
anyway. What’s your sense of what the problem is? (John)I
wouldn’t want to go if my friend Gary wasn’t really encouraging
me to go with him. How this started out was, about six
months ago, he and his parents started going to this church.
And they got saved; they got dunked in the water. They’ve
been going, and Gary has been a really strong friend of mine. He
hasn’t been judgmental: He hasn’t been unsupportive at
all-versus a lot of the other kids at school who just heckle
the death out of me. I have been going on Wednesday nights to go
and hang out with Gary at the church. And I don’t get the
sense that I’m trying to be brain washed or anything like
that. I want to spend time with my friend who’s been really
supportive, with a family who’s been really supportive of me. I
don’t get a sense that . . . that that’s a problem: I just
want to spend more time with these folks who have been so
supportive. (Graham)ight. And so really, you kind of have a
different story. Your mom has this story of you’re going to go
into this hate community, and these people are going to kind
of assault you, and it won’t be safe. And your story is “I just
want to go somewhere with a friend of mine that’s been
strong and supportive.” (John)eah. (Graham)So, you
have two different stories about what this would mean to go to
the church. (John) mean having been to the church with
Gary and having gone and spent Wednesdays there with him, I
don’t feel unsafe. I don’t feel brain-washed. I feel as though .
. . that’s something I did have to keep secret, and I didn’t
feel right about keeping these things from my moms. And so,
things didn’t get bad until I actually was honest. And that’s
when things started going to hell. (Graham)ight. So you
might learn from this not to be honest, I don’t know. (John)ut
I want to be honest with them. That’s what’s right. And I mean,
part of what they are talking about in this church is being
honest. The things that they’ve taught me . . . (Graham)ight
(John)hese are my two moms and I love them, just like any other
kids love a mom and a dad. I don’t see what’s going on with
them as something that’s wrong. And they’ve taught me honesty
just like the folks at this church have. (Graham)So going
to the church seems like that’s more consistent with what you
think they’ve taught you. (John)n some ways. (Graham)
eah. To go where you’ve made your own decision about whether
it’s safe, and not being brain-washed, and to go where
you feel like people can-particularly Gary-is someone
who can support you and is a friend. That seems consistent
with what they’ve taught you. (John)’ve been taught to
choose my friends wisely. And to really think about what other
people are telling me and trying to teach me. (Graham)Right.
(John)hat’s something that you all have really instilled in me,
and Gary has been what I would consider my best friend. He has
been somebody who has been really supportive. (Graham)What
happens when you hear his kind of story? Your story is “Be
careful, you might not be safe.” And his story is “I know how to
make decisions, and I know how to read the situation. This is
me doing what I think is right, and in fact, it’s congruent with
what you’ve taught me. What happens when you hear how his
story is different than your story? (Cassandra) don’t know.
It kind of makes me feel a little bit uncomfortable in a
way, because, you know, I feel comfortable that he feels that
we’ve instilled this into him that he can, you know, choose
his friends wisely and that he does take into account the way
that people can be and everything; but it’s also . . .
it’s almost like I want him to understand where I am coming
from so badly that there’s an incongruence there.
(Graham)ight. Do you get that she is worried for your safety?
(John) get that she’s uncomfortable. And I get that
this community has caused both of my mothers a lot of harm.
(Graham)ight. Well, I want, Beverly, to give you an
opportunity to say something too. But maybe before we move to
that: (to John) It sounded like you were saying that school can
be just as much a hate community potentially as a church. (John)
Yeah. And that’s something that she agrees with too. It’s all
around us that people don’t understand what gays and
lesbians go through. I mean, having lived with a loving
family for sixteen years now, I don’t feel that way, but I do
have to be careful about who I talk to about it. And things
like that. (Graham)Okay. Beverly, what’s your story about
what’s the problem? (Beverly)Well, Cassandra and I
have done everything we can, really, to raise John right. And
I want to trust in his ability to make decisions, but I’m
really concerned. I’m afraid that what’s going to happen is,
you know, he’s going to get in the church. I know Gary is his
best friend; I’m afraid he’s going to get hurt by Gary.
They’ve only been, shoot, six months since they’ve gotten into
this process. They may evolve and may change. You know, it’s
one thing to be taught that this is wrong. I’m afraid he’s going
to internalize it and begin to hate himself. And you know,
Cassandra and I have had to deal with a lot of external hate, and
it’s easy to internalize it. We’ve had to work really hard to
keep it outside of us. And I don’t want that for our son.
(Graham)ight. It’s funny that you mention that, because I was
thinking some of the same kind of thing. What’s external can
become internal. And it’s kind of insidious that you end up
doing to yourself what they started off doing to you. And as
I was listening, I was wondering if we could get kind of a handle
for what we might call the problem. Words that popped out
for me were worry, fear, kind of having to live this careful kind
of lifestyle. The world is constantly giving you messages
that you need to be worried about something. You need to be
fearful about something. Any of those words fit or maybe you
have some words of your own we could come up with kind of
saying what it’s like for you to live in the world with what’s
going on in the external? Any of those words . . . worry . . .
careful . . . fear . . . ? (Beverly)Well, fear is
definitely for me. (Graham)Fear fits best for you? (Beverly)
‘m afraid for John. (Graham)ight. Okay. (To
Cassandra) You’re shaking your head “yes” with that one?
(Cassandra)Yeah. I think fear also, you know, is a really big
one. But being careful, too: Because, you know, we really try
to stay focused and paying attention to what’s outside of
us, because if we don’t, we can get hurt. (Graham)ow about for
you, John? Any of those words or any other words? (John) I think
about the word “hard.” (Graham)ard? (John)It’s all
really hard. I come home, and I love my family. And regardless
of where I go, there are places where I’m told I’m not supposed
to, or that I shouldn’t. That’s hard. (Graham)eah. So I am
wondering if this kind of “hard” or “fear” or “worry” started to
be something that worked its way inside your family, how that
would affect your relationships? Like, how would fear get you to
look at what John’s doing about going to church? If fear were to
have some real powerful influence over you, so that it
affected the way you looked at him or got you to think about
what might happen to him, how do you think fear would try to have
some control or have some kind of affect on you in terms of
your relationship with John? (Beverly)I’m afraid it’s going
to distance us. (Graham)ow would it do that? How would fear
get you to be distance from your son? How would this external
fear that comes from other people’s behavior work its way
into affecting how close or distant you are with your son?
(Beverly)I don’t really know, but there’s just that feeling
that it’s going to somehow become a wedge between us. And I
don’t want that. (Graham)Right. Right. (John)See, I’m afraid if
I . . . if it came to a point where I was told to not even
spend time with Gary, if I let go of my friend and I get mad
about that, I’m afraid I’m going to take it out on them.
(Graham)m-hum. So like somehow fear could get them to mistrust
your judgment about who to be with and who to know?
(John)aybe. (Graham) don’t know. I’m kind of putting those
words out there. (Cassandra)Well, no, when you
were saying that, that was what I was thinking was that I’ve
stopped trusting his judgment. You know. It’s almost like I
feel that I should make the decision for him . . .
(Graham)ight. (Cassandra) . . because I don’t trust that he
can make the right one. (Graham)o fear could have a
way of getting to think that it’s about John, when it’s
really not about John. It’s this fear that’s coming in and having
these kinds of affects and influences on your relationships


  1. thanks for posting this.   also thanks to the participants who have allowed their very personal life story to be put out there.   john's comment about being heckled at school about have a same-sex parental relationship resonated with me.  

  2. This an awesome video! thankful or the patients allowing their lives to be viewed so transparently and dr. bitter for this video.

  3. Is he 'just jotting down a few notes" or is he "getting them verbatum as [they] say them"? It can't be both. That kind of dishonesty would raise my alert with a therapist in no time flat. Be consistent, honest, and don't downplay what you are doing.

    Also, those women are right that their son is being victimized and indoctrinated and they need to learn and teach their son about "love bombing" that religious people do to get new members.

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