VSNT History

A brief VSNT history . . .

A far too young Stephen Madigan was encouraged to open the Vancouver School for Narrative Therapy in 1992 after his doctoral degree and two long and hard apprenticeship stints while he was living with Michael White in Adelaide, Australia (he also lived, worked and apprenticed with 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 – he followed Michael’s advice and opened one anyway. And so the story goes . . .

Stephen 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 – 26 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 and Therapeutic Practice 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!).

Charles Waldegrave and Kiwi Tamasese of 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.http://therapeuticconversations.com/wp-admin/media-upload.php?post_id=1587&type=image&TB_iframe=1

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, and class that were not being addressed in other domains of family therapy, psychology and social work. Conference participants sometimes left feeling 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 to all of you for this.

By early 1993, Stephen and a team of VSNT therapists, including Heather Elliot PhD and Colin Sanders PhD, began seeing clients together and experimenting with new (what they called) ‘response teams’ 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  opened the Toronto Narrative Therapy Project in 1996. TNTP was the first established narrative training project of it’s kind opened in Toronto. To be honest, the birth of his twin daughters Hannah and Tessa sparked TNTP’s creation as a solid way to get back with the girls to visit the Madigan family 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 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 (including maps of narrative practice). They felt that without a well sharpened theoretical, ethical 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.

In March 2013, Stephen joined up with Norwegian thinker/researcher Ottar Ness to bring ongoing VSNT training programs to Oslo, Trondheim and (more recently) Bergen. In 2016 Stephen joined Norway’s National Couple Conflict Team as a supervisor and consultant with his newly developed ideas on Relational Interviewing.

In September, 2012 longtime narrative veterans/friends Jeff Zimmerman and David Nylund and joined up with VSNT to help open a permanent VSNT training program in California. Locals Rosa Arteaga and Aaron Munro join us in 2013 and Lorraine Hedtke joined us in 2014. In 2017, Los Angeles based Laurie Markham and David Marsten 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.

VSNT has launched an online learning and training project – TCTV.live. The Vancouver School and its many creative designers designed this interactive live training website. The project includes live therapy and supervision session webcasts, practice focused interviews with international therapists, an archive of ALL VSNT’s narrative conferences and workshops from 1991-2017 and curated courses. Paying members have full access a full video history of narrative therapy workshops, keynotes, interviews, articles and live sessions – 24/7.

Stephen Madigan wrote a book of appreciation about his long time apprenticeship with Michael White – entitled – Narrative Therapy – theory and practice (2011)  (published by the American Psychological Association – APA) – that (remarkably) climbed onto 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-five years.

The 2nd Edition of Stephen’s APA book will be out in September, 2018.

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





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