Interview with Steve Gaddis (Excerpts)

An Interview between Steve Gaddis, Director of the Narrative Therapy Initiative, and Jeremiah Gibson, NEAFAST President

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Jeremiah Gibson: Hello, I’m Jeremiah Gibson, President of the New England Association for Family and Systemic Therapy or NEAFAST, and I’m so happy to be joined this afternoon by Steve Gaddis. Steve is the Director of the Narrative Therapy Initiative (NTI) in Salem. Steve, thanks for joining me today.

Steve Gaddis: It’s a pleasure, Jeremiah.

Jeremiah: I’m curious: Which values were the most exciting for you as you began to practice narrative therapy?

Steve: That’s a great question, Jeremiah. You know, like most people I was introduced to power at a young age, so I had a pretty strong sense of forms of power that had to do with domination and physical strength and intimidation and the ability to influence through repression. But I think I also had knowledge about power in the form of meaning-making, yet I didn’t have a language for it; I didn’t have, a way of making sense out of it…other than a felt experience. And so when I was introduced to narrative and the idea that power operates in this kind of normative judgment and discourse and meaning-making, that got exciting because it helped me have a way of understanding ways of being influenced and constrained or even constituted in relation to the problems in my own life.

Jeremiah: The thing that I love about our field is that so many of the different models that we have don’t just transform us as therapist; they transform us as people. I’m curious: What are some values that you hope participants of your programs get to embody?

Steve: Something very important for me to hold up is this idea that narrative therapy is more of a way of being in a worldview than a technique or a strategy. It’s not something that I do when I’m with clients and then don’t do in the rest of my life; it informs all domains of my life. I have a hard time separating what gets called “therapy” or what gets called “training” or what gets called “life.” And so I hope to embody these in the trainings that we do.

Jeremiah: What feedback would you give to therapists who are new to the field to help them maintain a sense of perseverance?

Steve: Lovely question. I guess I would say that graduate school does what it can to prepare people to go into this field. But it’s nowhere near enough to support the idea that you should feel like you know what you’re doing. And so I would say: Really search for something that you feel helps you think about who and how you want to be as a helper; find a community that you can be a part of that supports that; and be really careful about being tricked and recruited into stories about what it means to be a professional, what it means to be an expert, and how those relationships with those stories can become oppressive.

Jeremiah: I’m really drawn to this idea of not knowing. Knowing has been a really important part of my story and a lot of the construction of my identity—as someone who grew up in gifted and talented programs in school, as a man, as a white-presenting person, as a Christian... A lot of the work that I’ve done through a narrative worldview practice is becoming ok with the process of not knowing and experiencing kindness to myself, being gentle with myself, and giving myself the permission to not know—which is really an equalizing principle that allows me to join me with my clients, with my partner, with my friends on an equal playing field.

Steve: Yeah, that’s lovely. I think one of the most important practices in the narrative worldview is curiosity, right? And so I think, for me, rather than not knowing, I prefer to think about curiosity.

Jeremiah: How would you distinguish between the two?

Steve: Well, I don’t think it’s true that we don’t know things; I think it’s whether or not we’re centering them. So if we’re curious, we can be centering the knowing of another person. But I really appreciate what you’re saying about not knowing what’s meaningful to another person, not knowing what stories are influencing their lives… Like you, I had a relationship with knowing as kind of the measure of a successful person. It is always uncomfortable for me to take up this curious practice but it‘s an ethic that I am committed to. I see it as an act of love. I see it as an act of respect. So I guess back to what you were saying about the ideas that I might offer to younger practitioners who are newer in the field: I know a lot of them get very nervous about doing harm and they really care a lot about not wanting to make things worse for people. One thing I would say is: If you stay genuinely curious, you’re probably less at risk of doing any harm than if you’re interpreting, giving advice, giving solutions, etc.

I would love a world where we become much more humble about ourselves as a species and recognize that all we ever are is meaning-makers and that we’ve been tricked in western society for thousands of years to think we are really truth-finders, not meaning-makers. I think we could do relationships and accountability and power a whole lot differently if we were to move into more of a recognition of ourselves as meaning-makers.

Jeremiah: Yeah, definitely. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview. I hope that you, who are watching this get the chance to check out the website and learn more about narrative therapy:

Steve: Thank you, Jeremiah. This was lovely to have this time with you. I look forward to our future growing relationship.

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