Foucault Series with Todd May #5 Power and Accountability: Discussing the Just Therapy Team

About this Session

9780957792982-us-300The Just Therapy Team had the most critical and significant influence in the early shaping of Michael White’s understanding on the politic of narrative therapy practice in relation to culture, gender and socio-economic disadvantage. In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder and the protests and dialogues that followed, our fifth episode of the series on Theory (with hosts Todd May, Emily Doyle and Stephen Madigan) takes a turn towards addressing power and accountability practices through the model created by the Just Therapy Team of Wellington, New Zealand (Warihi Campbell, Tamalie Kiwi Tamasese, Flora Tuhaka (deceased) and Charles Waldegrave). The team’s work involves a strong commitment to addressing issues of power relations and accountability from the dominant group when addressing culture, gender and socio-economic disadvantage.


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Comments (1)

  1. Emily Doyle says:

    Thank you, Stephen and Todd, again, for the invitation to join into the ongoing discussion. Coming into a series that was already in progress is an interesting experience – on one hand, I want to step in. And on the other, I want to sit back until I have a lay of the land and have a feel for where and what any contributions I might make could have resonance.

    My preference to definitely to “counter-punch”! I loved that analogy, Todd – I’ve done enough training/competing/coaching to appreciate that while counter-punching is a critical skill in the ring and relies on observation, timing, temperance of reaction and focus. AND, I’m aware that on its own it isn’t sufficient if my goal is to be well-rounded as I enter into the ring.

    So, I am sitting here and reflecting on knowing when to counter-punch and when to initiate in discussions about systemic racism and the institutional structures that perpetuate it. When to act and react as a therapist. As an academic. As a mother. As a community member. As a friend. All different “training partners” I might be working with and learning from, if you will.

    Ack – when I just commented above about what is involved in counter-punching, it was all about me. There was no inter- in the acting and reacting. There was no mention of the boxing gym that I train in, where it is located, how it is accessible, and how I have come to access it. The coaches and training partners I work with, at specific times in this specific place, participating in traditions (rules of the ring) and already established exercises. There would be no counter-punch for me to perform without all of these things, and I’ve expressed little recognition expressed for the intricate interaction that takes place in the ring and informs my performance of the counter-punch (that is credited more to an individual when it is more accurately a part nuanced and structured interaction that would cease to exist if there was only an individual).

    Yet, when I am IN the ring, it IS about me (in interaction with the other). I act and react according to what I have practiced, I’m noticing as I’m writing that there is no inter- in those two words, even though there is always inter-action. That is the time and the place that it IS about how I embody all of the training, in observable ways, that have real consequences to the other in the interaction.

    There are all kinds of tensions between seeing the bigger picture and being IN the picture, isn’t there?

    I know that it is impossible for me to see the big picture when in the picture. It is before and after the match that I can reflect on my own preparation and performance in the interaction, identifying what might be improved upon as I stand outside the embodied experience of what my feet and hands were doing and responding to during those rounds.

    As a white woman I have been (and still am) scared to get into the ring. I feel safer reviewing my tapes and practicing drills. I don’t feel like I know the systemic racism opponent well enough to go on the offensive. I am scared of being offensive and of offending. Of getting knocked out by something I can’t see coming. I have not been an adequate accomplice or co-conspirator. I have not stepped into the ring in a meaningful enough way. And I recognize that I have the privilege of having a “ring” in the first place – what my experiences of dodging blows to the head are not my reality in my every day and every night life and have been compartmentalized in this way.

    When it comes to therapy and training, our interactions in the room are informed by so very many things that are outside of the room that we are constantly orienting toward, yet these things aren’t directly in view while responding to the embodied experience of the immediacy of response to the other. And I think it needs to be this way when our bums are in the chairs in therapy – otherwise, how could we be present in the moment (if “presence” is the best word to invoke)?

    There is a stepping in and a stepping out of the picture that I’m not sure is happening enough, bigger picture. When we stand outside of embodied interactions of bums in chairs we don’t always (or even often?) translate our curiosities back into actual in-the-room practices, and also don’t do a great job (bigger picture) about informing the authoritative representations of what therapy is and how to do it (arguably published research and how it is produced and reproduced, tying in academia and how that is institutionally organized) with these embodied inter-actions.

    I wonder if this tension contributes to my experience of overwhelm, stage (ring?) fright, and not knowing where to start and how to continue. I can’t see the bigger picture when my bum is in the chair and I’m in the picture. And my bum can’t simultaneously be in the chair when I am outside of the bigger picture looking in. Yet I feel a responsibility to intervene both in the picture and in viewing the bigger picture all at the same time, and my inability to do so feeds the despair that I also hold and encourages paralysis in taking any action at all.

    Perhaps that is how I’ve come to prefer to counter-punch – to be better prepared to react to something I can (hopefully!) see coming. While this might be a valuable skill, it can’t be my only one. If I hope to contribute to making big picture change actionable in my every day, embodied interactions with my bum in the chair while I’m in the picture, as well as how I come to know, bigger picture, how to interact in this way. My reflections need to be accompanied (and increasingly preceded) by my actions.

    Maybe I should spend some more time reviewing my own counselling videos, and reacquaint myself with the ways I already know to view myself in interactions from this bigger picture perspective, and how I already know to take this view back into the room(s) with me when my bum is back in the chair again. Maybe that will help me better understand how to climb into the ring.

    🙂 Emily


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