The present moment is infinitely more subtle than any imagined destiny or remembered past. The present has something new in it – something unlived. The present has colors and sounds that are real and can fill the heart of a person better than a rich meal can fill the stomach. The present offers a sense of being that is just being known in this moment, and so it can describe a self that is only being known at this moment. The cast of players who people this moment offer a taste of humanness that is indescribable, because it has not yet been lived.

The last thing Despair wants anyone to do is enjoy the present moment. In fact, the present moment ceases to exist when despair is around, because despair takes up every present moment with prattling about the future and the past. Despair’s merchandise is all the “if only” and “it ought to be” thoughts about life that arise largely from fantasy, Hollywood, or someone elseʼs life.
Many times, Despair wants our focus on everything that can be cast in a discouraging light. Even that which is promising can become degraded into a story of dread and failure. Despair sometimes tries to dominate our definition of our self and have this definition to be about gloom and failure. Despair can also attempt to destroy or ignore our own definition of our self and life. Here is an example where it did not succeed:
Dalia was dating Ben. Dalia was very excited about the possibilities with Ben but felt he might reject her, because she considered herself heavy. Even as they were dating, she would hear a voice that said, “Your skirt is too tight. He will never marry you.” Dalia stood up to this voice and began to share its dread-filled messages with a friend to ostracize these messages and laugh at them. She maintained that anyone who could see her would love her. Ben and Dalia are married happily today, and Dalia never lost a pound. Many people would have advised Dalia to get serious and lose weight quickly before she lost Ben, but Dalia believed that love was not about weight, rather it was about seeing and being seen.
By attaching herself to her own definition of love, she was able to buy back the present and truly enjoy the time she had with Ben without knowing if they would end up married. Despair had failed to entice Dalia into accepting weight as the definition of a person deserving to be married. Self-acceptance and having her own definition saved Dalia from Despairʼs cruel attempts to separate her from the enjoyment of dating Ben.
By exploring our own knowledge and experience, we can find relationships and achievements of personal value that Despair can prevent from being seen. By staying in touch with these experiences, we can realize the tricks that Despair plays. By creating a Hollywood set of doom and degradation, Despair convinces us that this blackened version of reality is truth.
By letting the present moment influence me, I can find a space of safety and self-value. Although despair is a big opponent, I am determined to know that my life has value as much as everyone’s life has value. Then I begin gently to fill my life with meaning and fun. Meaning and fun are the enemies of despair.
The present moment used with intention is a powerful tool against despair.
Chana Frumin

by Rabbi Yosef Cornfeld, M.S.W.

Invariably when a person comes in to therapy it’s because they have a problem or series of problems bothering them. This problem may be so overwhelming that they can’t see anything else positive about their life. It may be so overwhelming that it takes over their life. They may even think that they are the problem. They may have made the problem as part of their identity.

In Narrative we attempt to gently steer the conversation in a slightly different direction. The person may indeed have a problem, but the problem does not define the person. Continue reading

Topics discussed :Externalization, Not Knowing, Ending Taboos

I have found many times that Transference is a subject that is covered with Taboo. It seems to be only discussed in intellectual settings. For some reason it has been moved off of the page of reasonable discussion. This is a curious thing since very often clients and therapists experience it within their work. Continue reading

by Rabbi Yosef Cornfeld, M.S.W.

In this weeks advanced training Chana presented further ideas about exploring areas that are non-verbal.  She drew on her past experience of training with Alexander Lowen and his theory of bioenergetic analysis.  The idea she presented is to access a language being expressed that is non-verbal.  This could be the client’s breathing, feeling, physical movement, or physical stance.  Sitting in a certain stance can be communicating something.  This could be a memory that has a 3 dimensional recall in the cerebral field, or be represented somatically.  These memories can have a revelation about identity, or about a rupture in identity.  We usually think of change as being gradual, but working with these body memories can reduce the time it takes to get to a certain point and can increase clarity.

She presented some exercises in which we were asked to think of something that needs to be changed in our life, and then to explore where in the body we feel this, what word could describe it, what picture comes from it, what color, size, shape etc. would it be?

Questions were raised in the staff about this new direction, such as do we then try to translate this into something verbal?  And if not, as a therapist how do we know what is going on?  And can this new direction be considered as still being within the realm of classical Narrative Therapy as we know it?  A partial answer given is that it is done Narratively in the sense that it is “non-normative”, it’s done from a non-expert position, from a position of curiosity, and is de-centered.

It is apparent that the Narrative Movement is moving into new directions, as are the Narrative groups in Australia and Denmark.  So we are exploring new areas that fall outside the Narrative Therapy that Michael White taught.  And Chana and Gidon are preparing this mind-body work to present at the 2nd European Conference in Narrative Therapy and Community Work, in which one of the three main tracks is “Narratives of the Body”.

HaRav Tauber says that husband and wife are like two rough diamonds. A rough diamond can become a priceless, pure jewel, but only if another diamond is used to remove the impurities. So HaKadosh Boruch Hu puts together two perfectly matched rough diamonds. He makes sure that they have their little differences. The friction from these differences scrapes away at their impurities so they gradually become multi-faceted, pure, shining jewels. Continue reading

by Rabbi Yosef Cornfeld, M.S.W.

One of the tenets of Narrative Therapy is that the “therapist” does not assume that he is the expert on the client’s life, that he is expected to make an expert diagnosis, and to prescribe an expert cure.  Rather, we take a “not-knowing” position, that we don’t really know how the client feels, thinks, and behaves in any and all situations.  We’ve only just met him or her, spoken with them for a few hours maybe.  They have lived their whole life in intimate contact with themselves.  When these “problems” came into the client’s life, he was there.  He was also there when he was able to control or overcome the problem.  Our job is to mainly ask questions about how the problem influences them, and how the client has influenced the problem.  What we try to do is to assist him to access his expert knowledge on how he has successfully dealt with the problem, and how to apply this knowledge to possible future situations.
This aspect of the therapist placing the client in the position of expert is dealt with in greater detail in an article on this website by Rachel Berko entitled: The Approach of the Therapist in Narrative Therapy

This idea of the client being expert in their life, and therefore they are in the best position to do something about it is illustrated in a Chassidic story related in a short video by Rabbi Avraham Arieh Trugman about the Rizshener Rebbe.  Before Rosh Hashanna on of his students came to him saying, “Rebbe, I’ve done so many things wrong this year, and have done so many sins.  I want to repent and make amends, but I just don’t know how.  Please teach me how to repent!”  The Rebbe looked at him and said: “Did someone teach you how to sin?  Of course not, you figured it out for yourself.  So you can also figure out how to repent.”  In the video, Rabbi Trugman explains that the lesson the Rizshener Rebbe was teaching his student is that ultimately the person has to teach himself how to repent, because no one else knows one’s heart than the person himself.

So this is the position that we strive for in our work.  Every person knows their own heart better than anyone else.  Our job is to help the client to realize that he is the expert on his own heart and his own life, and in him resides the expert knowledge and the ability the change for the better.

by Rabbi Yosef Cornfeld, M.S.W.

The narrative metaphor is that of a story taking place over time.  Does that mean that it has to be a spoken story?  Therapy has been traditionally known as the “talking cure”.  But in the Narrative metaphor we don’t necessarily want to be limited by the ability of the client to be expressive verbally.  We want to be open to the possibilities of helping the client to develop the preferred story even if they are not verbally expressive.  Along the same lines, we can help the person sitting opposite us even if we don’t fully understand their issues, as long as they feel that they are getting somewhere with it.

For example, some of us have worked with clients that had problems and memories that were so painful that they could not bring themselves to verbalize it in the session.  Nevertheless, with externalization, we can talk about the problem, the effects of the problem, the relative influence of the problem, and ways to put the problem in its place.  It could help the externalization process if we could give the problem a name.  But if that is too difficult, often suggesting the name “no-name” will be acceptable.  In this way we can help the client to deal with “no-name” without ever knowing what exactly the problem was.

Some ideas that have been tried include music and song.  David Denborough has developed songs as a response to trauma and hardship, and has also developed a practice of community songwriting.  In an article he wrote on the subject, he says that “the creation of community songs on gatherings can provide a source of hopefulness and can sustain and support the alternative stories of the spoken word.”  The article can be found here.  He also presents

Some of us have experimented with song with individual clients.  A song could help the client to express problem saturated stories, or to sing the praises of the preferred story.  It might  be helpful to use an already existing tune, or an existing genre, such as for a problem story “singing the blues”.  (For the preferred could it be singing the “yellows”?”  Or it may be more useful to just make up that tune as you go along.

Other ideas that have been presented have been to explore non-verbal experience, such bodily sensation.  We in the staff of JNTI are exploring different methods of how to access these body experiences, for both the problem stories and preferred stories.  Hopefully in the coming weeks we will have more to write about that here.


by Rachel Berko

The Therapist Seeing the Clients as the Experts

The research on narrative therapy, spearheaded by Michael White and David Epston, has struggled to find an approach that would relate to clients in a meaningful, positive way.  The development of narrative therapy has moved away from advice giving, diagnosis and labeling, and away from the therapist being in the position of the expert. Narrative therapy aims to center people as the experts in their own lives Continue reading

by Batya Jacobs

Do you have a fussy eater? Are you treading a tightrope with a ‘difficult’ child? Is bed time bedlam? Has temper wheedled its way into your once-upon-a-time quiet house? Might the dreaded letters ADD and ADHD have threatened your peace of mind? Wow! Continue reading

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