Michael White (1948-2008)
Michael White was a late 20th century psychotherapist who developed the process of narrative therapy.
Michael White was born in Adelaide, South Australia, in 1948. He began his professional career working with probation and welfare recipients, and he completed his undergraduate degree in social work at the University of South Australia in 1979.
White began working at Adelaide Children’s Hospital as a psychiatric social worker. White was editor for the Australian Family Therapy Journal, and in 1983, White established the Dulwich Centre, specializing in family therapy. White and his colleague and friend, David Epston, developed narrative therapy based on the view that people are separate from their problems. Narrative therapy contends that people are skilled and able to improve their lives and that therapy is a collaborative effort between therapist and client.
Drawing from his experience working with trauma victims and with the use of narrative therapy, White facilitated conflict resolution and the re-unification of groups, such as Australian aborigines, who were grieving the loss of their land. White also shared his technique throughout the world, and indigenous communities in Canada were able to compromise after years of land disputes. White founded the Adelaide Narrative Therapy Center in Ontario, Canada, in 2008, shortly before his sudden death from a heart attack.
Contribution to Psychology
White and Epston developed narrative therapy in the 1980s. Rather than acting as treatment providers, narrative therapy practitioners serve as the client's collaborator in creating a coherent narrative of his or her life. The therapist asks questions designed to elicit more details about emotions, sensations, and specific events. Practitioners of narrative therapy argue that people's lives are shaped by their experiences and that people's identities are a product of their own unique stories. Through storytelling, clients are able to gain a better, objective picture of their own lives and are less likely to see themselves as passive observers of their own lives.
Narrative therapy is a nonpathologizing therapy that aims to explore the effects that problems have on a person's life rather than labeling the person as the problem. The therapist helps a client notice and contextualize particular life themes. For example, if a client has a history of dating dangerous partners, the therapist might help the client notice the pattern of early warnings that are ignored. Narrative therapy also serves as a way to help clarify a person's values and feelings. Through telling his or her story, the client expresses values that help the therapist understand how and what the client thinks and feels.
In some forms of narrative therapy, the therapist invites “outsider witnesses” to witness the client telling the story. They may be previous clients, or friends of the current client, and they offer their own perspectives and insights into the person's narrative, themes, and problems. The therapist interviews the witnesses after the telling of the client's story, and this interview serves to help the client and therapist gain more insight about recurring themes within the client's story.
Although narrative therapy remains popular, there have been few empirical studies on the practice, so its long-term effectiveness and scientific validity are unknown.
- Gallant, P. (2008). Michael White: In Memoriam: Therapist, Teacher, Innovator. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy,34(4), 427-428. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/220978897?accountid=1229
- Pearce, J. (2008, April 28). Michael White, 59, dies; used stories as therapy. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/28/us/28white.html
Last Update: 07-24-2015