Let’s start with the obvious here: I am not a therapist. I have very little clinical social work experience and, while I care VERY deeply about individuals and their problems, I am committed to helping to eradicate them through collective action and policy change rather than through clinical practice. And it’s better for everyone that way.
Last April, I heard these folks speak at Social Work Day at KU. Their presentation was actually quite disappointing to me; I was excited to hear about how they connect clinical practice to community transformation (and their bio, working with survivors of genocide in Rwanda, is totally amazing), but I had tremendous difficulty following what they were saying and felt pretty lost through most of the afternoon. Still, it made me research narrative therapy more as part of my ongoing interest in the nexus between clinical practice and radical social work, and that new learning was in my mind when I found this document about storytelling and ‘story listening’ through social media. Now, granted, if you open the file you’ll see that it’s actually advice for corporate clients about how to manage their brand awareness via social media, especially Twitter (they use Lexus as the example-ha!). There’s actually some helpful stuff there about how to handle negative things being said about your organization, if you’re interested in that sort of thing (not that ANYONE says ANYTHING negative about social workers-ha again!).
But the part that got me thinking narrative therapy was the beginning–how social media is continuing the tradition of cave art, scribes, the printing press…human beings’ innate need to tell our stories. Now that anyone can be a ‘global publisher’, we can build our unique online identity and connect to others as unique individuals, in control of our own stories rather than subjected to others’ (often oppressive) narratives about us. We can define ourselves, so to speak, and find healing in the process of building our own stories and voices, which is a big part of the narrative therapeutic process.
Some other aspects of narrative therapy that resonated with these ideas about social media are the concept of outsider witnesses, invited to listen and, ultimately, to comment, on our stories; the importance of documentation (since social media leaves a record, albeit seemingly transient); and the opportunity to build relationships with others around our stories and to find comfort and promise in these new connections.
That last part is, of course, what draws this non-clinician to narrative therapy–the idea that the healing doesn’t happen just between therapist and client but as the therapist helps the client to connect with others similarly burdened and to create, together, a new story of freedom and hope and joy.
So I’ve been looking at social media through a different lens this past week, looking beyond the comments to the people behind them, wondering why they’re sharing certain things, wondering what it is that they hope to hear from others in response, wondering how the process of doing the sharing contributed to their search for well-being. And wondering how social workers can best harness the potential of these platforms to help those who need to tell their powerful stories.