Using Narrative ideas to support families where a loved father has been violent towards his female partner and continues to live at home at the request of his children by Carolyn Markey

Apart from swimming with her Border Collie and being a taxi for young people who live with her, Carolyn’s working life is primarily with children. Having been taught by Michael White in the early 90’s, Carolyn now practices Narrative therapy as a school counsellor in a co-eduational school in Adelaide and in an NGO, Uniting communities within a family counselling team who work primarily with those affected by violence. She is also a senior teacher of the Dulwich Teaching Faculty.

This piece of Narrative therapeutic and group work describes some recent consultations she had with a mother and her two daughters traumatically affected by their loved father’s and partner’s violence. This occurred at Uniting Communities.

In particular, Carolyn describes the ways Narrative ideas support us to research children’s and female partner’s contradictory and concurrent memberships, or connections of love and hate, towards those who have harmed them. She also describes in detail the pragmatics of how as a counsellor, she is accountable for the hopes of these women for their dad and partner to take and “live out” responsibility for the devastating impact of his children witnessing his violence towards their mother.

Unusually and concurrently, this father is participating in a men’s group for those who are ashamed of the acts of violence they have perpetrated. Carolyn describes how the conversations with the female members of the family translate to conversations with the leaders of the group for men to face up to the impact their actions have on women and loved children in their lives. She describes how this translation occurs without this endangering the women and children that have informed her.  The group work is obviously  informed by Narrative Invitational and feminist principles. Carolyn hopes that you find this resonates with your practice or your team’s practice and that it encourages you in this important and challenging field that we work in.

Published February 12, 2016

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Phillipa Johnson Cook

    Hello Carolyn,

    Thanks for sharing such helpful and important ideas with us. I enjoyed so much of what you said but at this moment was particularly drawn to the ways you are finding to safely weave together conversations with mums and kids, with dads and with schools in responding to violence. I am left feeling encouraged and hopeful in continuing to work towards this in my contexts.

    I also really appreciated the attention you are drawing to how someones position (as facilitator or insider/participant) can shape the way something is heard and therefore the response someone has. It has me considering how vital ‘insider’ voices are in shaping conversations of accountability and change and ways that I can take this up further in my practice.

    Thanks again! With warmth


  2. Narrative Collaborators Central Queensland

    Dear Carolyn,

    Thank you for sharing your Friday afternoon video. We are a group of people in Central Queensland who meet in Rockhampton monthly to improve our narrative practice skills and knowledges. We watched your video as a group and it reminded us of the complexity and multi-layeredness of working with domestic and family violence. We wanted to share a few of our responses with you and the family you worked with:

    ‘I really appreciated throughout the whole presentation the idea that people are not positioned as “victims.”’

    ‘It reminded me of my past work with street kids and the ways they responded to violence, the ways they handled it. It was part of my practice to try to bring out a positive, a strength they had showed in responding.’

    ‘Values keep coming up. It reminds me of that quote about the importance of history and roots. It has me thinking about how people can be agents rather than victims. I’m a teacher and I’m thinking I will go back and change the essay I am giving to the students tomorrow to get them to respond to that quote so they can think about the history of values in their families and cultures. It will help the students to think about living out values with sustenance, putting them into practice.’

    (Quote: ‘A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots’ – Marcus Garvey)

    ‘It had me thinking about how important it is that we become clear on our own values and ethical stance. As we work on this and have that progression into clearer values, we can be more helpful to people. If we are not clear on our values and our positions then people will notice that and experience us as judgemental and our values will keep clashing with theirs in unhelpful ways.’

    ‘I really appreciated the many ways to get richness of the story. That it wasn’t just about the trauma. To resist that pressure of “getting to the point”. I liked the use of familiar music to build a sense of safety. And recognising the idea that a therapy room can be quite an abnormal environment.’

    ‘Hearing about the story that was passed on by the receptionist was important. This had me thinking about my reaction to the story a person shares with me. Sometimes people can tell what I’m thinking by the shocked look on my face. This was actually useful the other day because a woman was telling me in a really matter-of-fact way about some serious violence she experienced. When she saw the look on my face, I think it helped her to realise what a serious situation this was, instead of her being so used to it and just accepting it.’

    ‘What stood out to me was Carolyn’s words about ‘working very hard’ to interrupt the discourse. It has me thinking about how sometimes I might feel helpless when a discourse is affecting someone like a parent who continually talks negatively about a child. It makes me realise that I can’t just drift in a conversation like that, I have to be influencing and that might mean working hard to interrupt the discourse. I am meeting with a family again tomorrow who have been influenced by discourses about autism and violence and I want to be more influential in interrupting those discourses so that we can reach other points in the conversation.’

    Thank you for sharing your work with us and please thank the family for sharing their stories in this way. It will make significant differences in our ways of thinking about and responding to families going through difficult times in future.

    With warmth and respect

    Narrative Collaborators Central Queensland

  3. sonja pastor

    thanks you for this Carolyn, I really appreciated your presentation and found it useful and thought provoking

    warm regards from Sonja

  4. Angel Yuen

    Dear Carolyn

    Thanks so much for this engaging video with many helpful narrative practices for working with families where a father has been violent towards his female partner. For several years I’ve been interested in seeking ways to elevate agency of children and share your thinking about “not seeing children as just victims of atrocity but how they’ve responded to atrocity”. Following a feminist ethic I also very much appreciated your commitment to not wanting to increase the discourse of mother-blame and instead be curious about lines of enquiry that can be asked to excavate ‘action’ – and the ‘intentions’ behind the action. So much more that resonated, but in particular I drawn to your work with ‘all’ family members and how you translate safely, mothers and children’s concerns (ex: dad telling child to not tell grandparents he broke mum’s arm) with practices of accountability in your work with men (their fathers/partners) in the ‘Men’s Stopping Violence’ group. Such hopeful ideas to help keep communities safer…

    And what a poignant quote from Hannah ‘He’s a dad who’s not a dad’. Hearing her words made me think of many young people who would find resonance, and it had me curious about possibilities for questions for fathers about what actions they feel they could take to become more of a dad, or what their preference might be – ie: Maybe fathers could be something to the effect of …‘What’s it like to hear this quote from a young girl whose father has been violent to her mum? Is it your preference to have your child see you more as a dad…or does that not really matter to you?’

    Thanks again Carolyn for sharing your work. I’m looking very forward to sharing the video with many others.


  5. Gen Corin

    Thanks Carolyn this has been helpful in refocusing and strengthening my attention to utilising narrative practices / perspective, within the already prescriptive program I am facilitating at the moment. Reframing the material and structure required by this program with a more narrative respectful and accessible way is something I aim at.

  6. Laurel Phillips

    Hi Carolyn,
    It was helpful for me to again hear an application of re-authoring conversation. I can appreciate a gentle interruption in the thin story of violence with a focus on responses to violence and what these responses might be saying about treasured values or way of living/being.
    I also appreciate the extension of the counselling conversation in other directions – to the men’s group, to the teachers – as a way of perhaps maximizing an opportunity to effect change. This idea, of a counselling conversation regarding the effects of violence on the family, stretching into other arenas makes good sense, especially from the view of creating longterm, sustainable change. I like the idea of counselling as something that is not confined by four walls, and that it has the potential of rippling out for maximum social change effect. I’m not sure if I’m making my point clearly but, the gist of this thought is in our ability to make more of our conversations than only effecting change for people we consult with; that change needs to occur in the areas surrounding families experiencing violence for it to be long lasting on a social change level.
    Thank-you for this video. Oddly, it’s Friday, about 2pm (afternoon) as I watch this, in Mexico.

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