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A brief history . . .

A young Stephen Madigan was encouraged to open the Vancouver School for Narrative Therapy in 1992 after two long and hard apprenticeship stints while he was living with Michael White in Adelaide, Australia and also – living, working and apprenticing with David Epston, Charles Waldegrave and Kiwi Tamasese in New Zealand.  These were the halcyon days of narrative therapy learning and discovery where everything was possible. So – even though Stephen had absolutely no clue on how to actually open a narrative therapy school/clinic, however – he followed his teachers advice and opened one anyway. And so the story goes . . .

Michael White and David EpstonStephen opened the Vancouver School for Narrative Therapy (through it’s partnership with Yaletown Family Therapy) in March of 1992, in supernatural Vancouver, BC, Canada. The Vancouver School for Narrative Therapy established itself as the first narrative therapy training site in the northern hemisphere. And – 23 years later – the ethic, spirit, traditions and practice of narrative teaching/learning continues.

In short order, the Vancouver School produced the Narrative Ideas and Therapeutic Practice conference in March 1993. This was the worlds first ever International Narrative Therapy Conference.

The Vancouver School’s narrative ideas conference was a reconstructive response to structuralist-humanist-individualist-apolitical-hierarchical and – primarily white male presenter conferences of the day. The Vancouver School’s conference was designed for new ideas, diverse voices – along with a heavy interactive and social hit.

The early narrative gatherings were the years of narrative community building and just about everyone connected to narrative therapy came (partially because there was nowhere else in the world to go!).

The Just Therapy team gave the inaugural conference keynote in 1993.  Michael White gave a wow inspiring keynote lecture in 1994 and in 1995 Johnella Byrd, Judith Meyers-Avis and Imelda McCarthy delivered three solid feminist keynote addresses – the list goes on.

The Vancouver Schools Narrative Ideas and Therapeutic Practice conferences (1993-1997) were both painful and liberating. The conference took on the tough issues of postcolonial power, gender, race, money privilege, class and queer ideas that were not being addressed in other domains of psychology and social work. Conference participants sometimes got a little bit bruised but to everyone’s credit – most have hung in there through the years and continue to show up and participate. It is through the conference participants that our narrative community of ideas keeps moving forward. Thanks for this.

By early 1993, Stephen and a team of VSNT therapists, including Heather Elliot PhD and Colin Sanders PhD, began seeing clients together every Tuesday and Thursday evening from 4pm to 7pm. Long hours in local bars were spent in follow up theoretical and practice discussions. Heather and Colin joined Stephen as the core narrative teaching faculty of the Vancouver School in late 1993.

In 1996, Vanessa Swan and Ian Law – Michael White’s first narrative teaching assistants at the Dulwich Centre – moved from Adelaide, Australia to Vancouver to work with Stephen and the Vancouver School faculty. By joining the faculty, Ian and Vanessa added a tremendous volume of practice experience and theoretical understandings to this burgeoning narrative theory and practice think tank. The book ‘PRAXIS – discourse, feminism and politics in narrative therapies’ – emerged from this Vancouver School faculty group in 1998.

Meanwhile, Stephen and his sister Anne Madigan MSW, MSc, MD also opened the Toronto Narrative Therapy Project in 1996. TNTP was the first established narrative training project of it’s kind opened in Toronto.

Through the 1990’s and early part of the new millennium, the Vancouver School for Narrative Therapy continued to move hard towards the politic and practice of narrative therapy through the philosophical underpinnings offered by post-structuralism. They had all studied with Michael and watched his gorgeous ideas translate into practice. This devotion to the craft and the ongoing input they received through the genius workings of David Epston, inspired them to invent new ways of working more congruently within this practice of narrative therapy and the tenets of post-structural theory.

The Vancouver School faculty (as a whole) reached a point of fully separating themselves from the more ‘liberal’ minded approaches to narrative therapy practice occurring throughout North America and Europe. They felt that without a well sharpened theoretical and political analysis, narrative therapy practice only provided a simple therapeutic technique. And – the Vancouver School has never been – nor will it ever be – about simple maps or technique.

In 1998, the Vancouver School, through YFT, decided to change things up a bit and renamed their narrative conferences ‘Therapeutic Conversations’. The conference name change reflected a need to include the many ‘other’ presenters who did not consider themselves ‘narrative therapists’, but whose work the faculty admired through a shared and common bond within the politic and practice of narrative ideas, justice, feminism, queer and anti-oppression.

People like America Bracho, Ken Hardy, Makungu Akinyela, Esther Perel, Phillip Cushman, Imelda McCarthy, Nollaig Byrne, Jack Saul, Scott Miller, Allan Wade, Barry Duncan, Eduardo Villar and numerous others were invited to speak – and all became part of the Vancouver Schools larger extended family.

Since our first beginnings, David Epston was always working behind the scenes and helping to strengthen and stretch the Vancouver School and mentor Stephen’s work. He first joined the VSNT faculty to teach his up close reading of session questions in 2011.

In March 2013, Stephen joined up with the fabulous Norwegian thinker/researcher Ottar Ness to bring permanent VSNT training programs to Oslo, Trondheim and (more recently) Bergen.

In September, 2013 longtime narrative veterans/friends Jeff Zimmerman and David Nylund joined up with VSNT to help open a permanent VSNT training program in California. Since that time Lorraine Hedtke has also joined the faculty.

The Vancouver School and TC conference are of the firm belief that novel and fresh minded ideas from across our many narrative therapy generations (veteran and newly arrived), situated and intertwined within the intersectionalities of where we are each so located – are needed. And hopefully, together, we can offer each other a loving place to belong and – explore.

A new project is emerging called therapeuticconversations.tv. The Vancouver School is getting itself ready to launch this interactive live training website. It will include live therapy and supervision sessions and interactions with the learning community about the sessions, practice focused webcasts, an audio and DVD archive of ALL VSNT’s narrative conferences and workshops from 1991-2015. Paying members (less than $1.00 per day) will have full access a full video history of narrative therapy workshops, keynotes, interviews, articles and live sessions.

Stephen Madigan wrote book of appreciate an his apprenticeship wit Michael and David – entitled – Narrative Therapy – theory and practice (2011)  (published by the American Psychological Association – APA) – that has climbed on to the APA best seller list. The APA also produced a six part DVD set of his live therapy called Narrative therapy through time. Projects like these represent the Vancouver School’s commitment to narrative ideas and therapeutic practices over the last twenty-three years.

Thank you to everyone who has supported and attended our trainings, conferences and discussions through the years.




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