Interview with Steve Gaddis - Excerpts about NTI's 2019-2020 Programming

These excerpts from an Interview between Steve Gaddis, Director of the Narrative Therapy Initiative (NTI), and Jeremiah Gibson, NEAFAST President, focus on NTI's 2019-2020 programming, specifically the Apprenticeship Program and the Certificate Program.

Jeremiah Gibson: I wonder if I can ask a couple questions about the programming for 2019-2020. You’ve alluded to the Narrative Certificate Program. And then there’s another program that you guys are offering too that’s called the Apprenticeship Program. I’m wondering if you could take a few minutes to describe those.

Steve Gaddis: Yeah, I’d love to. You know, these are emerging programs. We’re a small nonprofit organization that started ten years ago and we’ve just been slowly growing, trying to do it at a sustainable rate, without any outside funding; everything is tuition-funded at this point. But…we’ve tried to develop training opportunities where people can fit in at whatever level they’re at and whatever interest level they have. So right now, we offer a one-day kind of introduction to the worldview called “What is Narrative Therapy?”. And we offer that a couple times a year as a way for people to get a taste of this without too much of a commitment. And then we have a two-day “Narrative Therapy and Practice” which then if people want to follow up on the one-day that’s a way they can learn more about some of the practices that have been developed within this worldview: externalizing, deconstructing, re-authoring are the names of some of those practices. And then if they still find themselves interested, then we have these two ten-month-long programs. And the primary difference between the two is just the level of commitment. So the Apprenticeship Program is a peer-facilitated consultation exploration of the narrative worldview that meets once a month on a Friday for the whole day. And myself or another NTI faculty are there to help facilitate that. It’s highly experiential, lots of practices of just kind of being introduced to some ideas and then putting them into practice and trying them out and that kind of thing. The Certificate Program is more rigorous. It involved some readings, some writings, some practice intensives—so we meet a few times a year for two-day practice intensives where we dive into different practices quite deeply. There’s a weekly online small-group meeting that happens on Tuesday nights so people can stay connected to the learning and their concerns. There’s multiple faculty who teach in this course who students just adore. And so those are the primary difference between the two that I can think of. 

Jeremiah: How might someone interested in learning more about narrative therapy be able to make an informed choice as to whether the Apprenticeship Program fits them better than the Certificate Program or vice versa? 

Steve: Well the easiest way is just to contact me and I’m happy to have a conversation with anybody about that. But I think you can read some about it on the website—the differences. 

Jeremiah: Wonderful. What prerequisites, if any, are there to joining one of these two programs?

Steve: For the two yearlong courses I think it’s important that people have some exposure to the worldview and some of the practices. So at a minimum I would say at least the one-day, kind of, “What is Narrative Therapy?” and the two-days “Narrative Therapy and Practice” or a course in graduate school that they might’ve had in narrative therapy or some training…or the equivalent somewhere, you know, having done some narrative training somewhere. But doesn’t have to be very extensive, just not completely brand new to the worldview. 

Jeremiah: Gotcha. You mentioned in the Narrative Therapy Certificate Program that there is a project that students do—a way of incorporating the narrative worldview and narrative principles into a particular lens or a particular…a kind of pocket of practice. I’m curious to learn more about how that works and what’s an idea or two that you’ve seen students that have been really valuable. 

Steve: Well that’s a good question. I think, you know, the goal of all narrative therapy is what’s called “rich story development.” So that if we think about people living their lives through stories then…and internalizing narratives that are often, kind of, supported by culturally-dominant discourses of gender, race, class, whatever…then they’ve often internalized stories as truths that are not fitting best with what’s important to them and yet have a lot of power. And so part of the Certificate Program project is for students to experience personally what it means to have their own stories about what they care about much more thickly developed and described as a result of participating in the course. So the projects are just them sort of sharing with us a rich account of something that they hold precious. And so that can be…it’s very unique to each student. And one of the practices in narrative therapy is what’s called “outsider witnessing.” So when these presentations are made we follow them up with responses about how we were moved by them and where it took us and what we care about and an acknowledgment of that. So it’s very moving. And you asked me to remember the specifics of a couple and that’s going to be difficult for me to do. Let me think…but it’s a great question… Well ok, so one example of a presentation that comes to mind was…so these happen over two days—a Friday and a Saturday—and through the course one of the women in the course was in her small group interviewed about what’s meaningful to her, what’s precious to her, and she talked about how she experienced problems and the metaphor, the image, that she used was a fog that would creep over and kind of, you know, have its affects on her life and try to convince her that there was something wrong with her, and so on—something I think we can…many of us can relate to how problems try to influence our lives. So I live pretty near the ocean and she decided for her presentation she was going to take us all for a walk to the beach. And in the walk to the beach she was sharing with us what the significance of this event was—the significance to her of taking us to the beach and reclaiming her life from the fog that kind of had too many negative affects on her life and talked about how…I forget exactly the words that she used which would be precious to remember but something about the importance of it being ok to not be perfect and not have to kind of succumb to the perfectionist discourse. And then sort of linked that to how that had her thinking about who and how she wanted to be as a therapist in her work, particularly around chronic illness which is an area that she both has a lot of knowledge of personally and wants to do work in professionally. So, you know, just ten or twelve of those in two days. They’re thirty minute presentations and they’re just stunningly moving. 

Jeremiah: Right. I imagine it’s really cool as a Director to also be not just in the position of Director but also as a learner.

Steve: Yeah, I mean that’s another principle in the narrative worldview that I adore is that these are two-way relationships; they’re not one-way relationships. So yes, I am certainly benefitting immensely—both from the learning and the ways it keeps me hopeful and heartened about the possibilities that this tradition of thinking can make. So one of the hopes I have for the Narrative Therapy Initiative is to be a vehicle to kind of help grow and authenticate and legitimize these very, you know, nontraditional ideas about how to think about help, how to think about people, how to think about problems. And so as more and more people come through and become part of our community and then go out and kind of grow these things it’s just incredibly satisfying and invigorating. And we have just an amazing community of people that I come to really think about family as much as anything else.

Jeremiah: Absolutely. What are some ways that you’ve observed students take the narrative worldview and apply it affectively and in meaningful ways in the ways that they practice therapy, be that with individuals, couples, or families?

Steve: Yeah, it’s not easy because so many of them go into contexts where there’s not immediate support or appreciation for these ways of working and being and, you know, it really takes a lot of perseverance and in some ways some subversiveness at times to kind of change the culture or open up possibilities for something new. But I’m seen everything from just like these heroic micro influences to students kind of bringing me in as a consultant to their agency and train entire staffs to… So one of the recent graduates is bringing ideas about how to have conversations around racial identity from a narrative perspective into a school context where he works. What I hope to create next is a program that follows the Certificate Program that I’ve called the Diploma Program but we haven’t really got it up and going yet but that will be where people who really have a good grasp of this narrative worldview—which the Certificate Program I think gives you a really solid foundation—can then kind of take on a topic or a subject that they’re passionate about and develop either a workshop or a paper or both. And, you know, my hope is in 2020 to like have some kind of event where the alumni of these programs do presentations for the larger community about how they’ve taken these ideas into their work.

Jeremiah: That’s great. That’s wonderful. We look forward to hearing more about that event and maybe partnering on that.

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