Narrative therapy

I saw my therapist today. I used to joke about wanting to have a therapist so I could be one of those people that could say My therapist says…and now I am one of those people and it is every bit as good as I hoped it would be.

Anyway, I saw my therapist today. Sometimes it feels a little bit wrong to talk about my sessions. I’m not entirely sure if confidentiality in therapy is supposed to go both ways — should I not be sharing what happens at my therapy? There are rules about this around support groups but I don’t know about psychiatrists. I suppose it is my story and I am allowed to say what I want.

I talked about where my thoughts have taken me over the last week. About the idea of narrative applied to the cancer experience. I’ve been thinking about the breast cancer narrative (thanks to Sarah from Twitter introducing me to the work of Judy Segal, who I have a huge intellectual crush on now) and how it has become a model for other cancer experiences.

The problem with that is that there is no homogeneous narrative that can be applied to the experience of illness. The breast cancer narrative — one of enduring hope and overcoming adversity, coming out at the end a changed and better and healthier person — is one that isn’t even inclusive of the community it claims to represent. Those women who die or whose disease comes back aren’t included. And that narrative has no place for those who don’t find the experience transformative in a positive way (or as Jenn commented, who don’t buy into the Club Cancer jingoism).

It’s also a very linear narrative that doesn’t reflect what I see in my life or my cancer communities (both the ovarian cancer community and the young adult community). It doesn’t take into account the branching and looping back. That it isn’t a simple as having a beginning, middle, and end — it returns on us physically and emotionally. As a dominant narrative, it silences those who don’t recognize their own story in it and who feel too alone or isolated to challenge it.

I think it was Judy Segal (I’ve been doing a lot of reading this week, so I may be wrongly referencing here) who said that every breast cancer story is a comedy because the people left to tell it are the living. That’s a really terrible and simplistic paraphrase of someone who is more articulate than me about these things, but it speaks to this larger idea of who gets to tell the stories.

(One answer to the question who gets to tell the stories is the marketers. Happiness is a better seller than death and despair.)

My therapist said I’m engaging in intuitive narrative therapy (whatever that means) and that I’m looking for…not validation…acknowledgment, I think, that there is more than one way to tell a story. I think that’s a fair assessment. He asked me if this was a shift (as he was seeing it) in my thinking. No, I said, I’ve always been interested in narrative and tropes and why we tell stories the way we do. I’ve just gotten less anxious about what I say or don’t say. I’m less worried about what people will think or if their feelings will be hurt. I think it’s the drugs. And just the feeling that those momentary hurt feelings don’t matter so much in the end.

He told me my time was up. I got up from where I was sitting and opened the door. I looked behind my shoulder before passed the threshold. This is the first session I’ve gotten through without crying. He laughed and hurried me out. Quick, he said, before that changes.


About Alicia Louise

I'm a writer, editor, fact checker, storyteller, events organizer, chronically busy yet endlessly lazy, mildly neurotic (though I keep the neuroses well-hidden, one hopes) 32-year-old with recurrent ovarian cancer. I like people and good writing and straight talk. I have a hard time feeling sorry for people, including myself, but the people that I love, I love passionately; one may even say creepily. I try to keep that mostly to myself. I'd like to be charming, but I'm usually just a mess. I'm like a gull slamming into your windshield.
This entry was posted in Advocacy, Narratives, Second recurrence, The language of cancer and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Narrative therapy

  1. Anissa Agahchen says:

    Love your stories!! You make me laugh, cry, learn, and I am grateful for all of it. Keep them coming 🙂

  2. Jeannette says:

    Alicia, I am so sorry that you have to deal with all of this. While I love your writing, I wish you were writing about puppy dog kisses and exciting adventures. There was a time a few years back when an author contacted several bloggers for interviews for her book. The author told me the book was called the Five Gifts of Illness and had an affiliation of some sort with the Kubler-Ross five stages of grief. As each question came and went I was consistent with my message that every life experience molds you in some way, but I don’t think I am that shallow that I only considered doing good in the world or found my purpose after being faced with mortality. I will never say I am so glad I had cancer because it made me a better person. In fact it didn’t. I am more sarcastic, I am in pain on a regular basis, my body is deformed, and I live in fear of another recurrence. When the book (promised as incentive for the interview) arrived, I opened it and was sad that not once did she include an opposing view. I was listed as interviewed, but not quoted. I think people who have been through illness, chronic or othewise, what to believe in the positive. They want to hang their hat on hope and not face reality, however dark it may be. And you’re right. So much of the narrative is told by marketers. I could go on and on, but I just wanted to say hi, I’m sorry, and I am glad you have such great support.

    • Alicia says:

      Jeannette, I was interviewed for that book, too! I never received a copy and I’m glad I didn’t because it was very clear from the interview (and I guess from the title) that the author had an agenda. I don’t know if she even ended up listing me as interviewed, though she said she would. I had forgotten about that book until just now when you mentioned it.

  3. I likes you tellin’ it like it is, lady.

  4. barismumyakmaz says:

    I think you are a marvelous writing therapist. Check out this podcast that might be handy:

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