Colouring Narrative Therapy’s Solidarity by Marcela Polanco

G’day and welcome to this Friday Afternoon discussion which for the first time features presentations in both English and Spanish.

Within these presentations, Marcela Polanco addresses the acculturation/decolonization of narrative therapy into Latin America through the means of “translation resistance” (Tymockzo, 2010). Drawing from the same political, epistemological and theoretical tenants of narrative therapy, she presents its translation into her Colombian Spanish. Marcela proposes a therapy of solidarity as a Latin American version of narrative therapy. She presents this proposal as furthering the life of narrative therapy keeping it from becoming colonizing, refreshing and reinventing its practices when ‘arriving’ to a new linguistic context — Colombian Spanish. Marcela Polanco is a narrative therapist originally from Bogotá, Colombia, and currently resides in Monroe, Louisiana, USA.



Diálogo con la terapia narrativa desde la solidaridad colombiana/latinoamericana
por marcela polanco



marcela polanco hace referencia a la aculturación/descolonización de la terapia narrativa en Latinoamérica por medio de una “traducción de resistencia” (Tymockzo, 2010). Tomando los mismos principios políticos, epistemológicos y teóricos de la terapia narrativa, ella presenta esta traducción a su español colombiano. marcela propone una terapia solidaria como una versión latinoamericana de la terapia narrativa. Ella presenta esta propuesta como el continuo desarrollo de la vida de la terapia narrativa previniendo que se vuelva colonizadora, refrescando y reinventando sus prácticas al “llegar” a un contexto lingüístico nuevo—el español colombiano.

marcela es terapeuta narrativa originaria de Bogotá, Colombia, y actualmente vive en la Monroe, Louisiana, USA.

A paper by marcelo polanco and David Epston

Polanco, M. & Epston, D. (2009) Tales of travels across language: Languages and their anti-languages. The International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, 4: 62-71.

Further reading

Excerpt from: Polanco, M. (2011). Autoethnographic Means to the Ends of translating/Decolonizing Narrative Therapy: The birth of Terapia Solidaria [Therapy of Solidarity]. (Unpublished PhD dissertation). Nova Southeastern University, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

Akinyela, M. (2002) “Decolonizing our lives: Divining a post-colonial therapy”. The International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, No. 2, pp. 32-43.

Akinyela, A. “Testimonies of Hope: African Centered Praxis for Therapeutic Ends” in The Journal of Systemic Therapy, Spring 200562-71

This essay describes Testimony therapy, the name given to a range of therapeutic practices grounded in the culture, history, and experience of the African-American community. Testimony therapy is an African-centered therapy that focuses on the personal stories of those who consult with the therapist, as well as the collective stories of the African experience in the United States. The focus on storytelling relates Testimony therapy to narrative therapies. The focus on and centering in indigenous cultural ways of being relates this approach to therapies such as the Just therapy of the team in New Zealand. Testimony therapy is communitarian, that is, it emphasizes the person within community and is social constructionist in its outlook.

Barmigan, D. (2003). Eduardo Galeano. The Progressive.

Galeano, E. (2005). The upside-down world. In Pilger, J. (Ed.), Tell me no lies: Investigative journalism that changed the world (pp. 386-408). New York, NY: Thunder’s Mouth Press.

García Márquez, G. (2003b). The Solitude of Latin America. Gabriel García Márquez. Nobel Prize Lecture (A. B. Ruch, trans.). Retrieved from

Martín-Baró, I. (1988). Acción e ideología: Psicología social desde Centroamérica. San Salvador, El Salvador: UCA Editores.

Martín – Baró, I. (1998). El fatalismo como identidad cognitiva. En I.

Martín – Baró (Ed.), Psicología de la liberación (pp. 39-128). Madrid: Editorial Trotta S.A.

Reynolds, V. (2010). Doing Justice as a Path to Sustainability in Community Work.

Reynolds, V. (2010). Activism and Solidarity: The Role of Activists in Academia, Ally Work, and Direct Action—YouTube

Chandra Talpade Mohanty (2003). Feminism without borders: Decolonizing theory, practicing solidarity. London, NY: Duke University Press.

Published on January 24, 2013

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Jennifer Swan

    Hello Marcela,

    I found your video very interesting and it got me thinking about ideas of translation. I come from a very different context to what you were talking about, but it got me thinking more about learning about narrative ideas in a very middle class context, then practicing these ideas in a working/welfare class and cross cultural context in Australia. I am a relative ‘beginner’ in using narrative practices and sometimes my ‘translations’ across class have been clumsy and confusing (‘broken class-lish’) it certainly pushes me to think about the ideas and practices and how I use them. So much emphasis is placed on the use of spoken/written language in narrative writings, yet so many conversations are full of other ways of speaking, ways that are very specific to culture and class.

    Thankyou for you articulate discussion of these ideas,


    1. Marcela Polanco

      Hi Jen,

      Thank you for sharing your reactions.

      Translation is certainly an interesting idea to explore. I appreciate you opening a different context from where to explore various possible translations. I am thinking that within the context you mention, translation could be consider as taking place within one language, but still between two linguistic arrangements given by the particularities of class.

      Very unfortunately, I haven’t had the opportunity yet to work in my native country Colombia since I became interested in narrative therapy/therapy of solidarity ideas. Still, by growing up there I know that distinctions of class are significantly relevant, and I know it has been source of interest among some Colombian colleagues. (I actually found the abstract of one of their articles that you could read here: The article itself is in Spanish though and I couldn’t find a translation in English).

      As we become aware of culture or class, as you very well put it, translations within one language, or between oral, written, visual, etc. traditions sound incredibly interesting to consider!!!

      Many thanks, Jen.

      I hope you are enjoying your weekend.


  2. Susan Lord

    Thank you Marcela!

    I am very moved by your video and your ideas.You have reminded me of my own experiences of narrative therapy, before I knew of the term narrative.

    The ideas of solidarity, as you have described, and the quotes that you have posted will remain in the forefront of my mind when deciding whether narrative parameters or ethics have been achieved. This is a decisive and definitive guide which I hold dear. Certainly it was evident in the ‘charter’ but not in so many words. Thankyou for explicitly delineating this central aspect of ethics and narrative.

    I would also like to emphasize the value of the emotional account.

    The most moving narrative experiences I recall are those which are spoken colourfully and dramatically, because usually it is this language from whatever culture, that is the most intense; and in that intensity, lies the meaning for that person.

    I have frequently wondered why I have been drawn to these accounts or stories. Having watched and listened to your video, this jigsaw piece has slid into place.

    Of course it is not what happens to us so much as how we perceive and react to the experiences.

    So someone with a relatively minor difficulty may have had a tumultuous reaction, which may indeed have effected them as much as major trauma has effected another. Ie. It is the meaning of the event for that person. So it is natural –or expected that ‘trauma‘ would be described in colourful or extreme terms. When a story is described it would of course, be dramatic and colourful to the listener because it has made that impact upon the client.

    Unless the therapist can feel this impact, or the meaning an event has for a person, they cannot possibly respond in any real way – the more real the story, the more real the response, and subsequently the more closely aligned will be the scaffolding, responses to and perception of unique outcomes, co-research and re-authoring, the more rich the remembering, the witnessing and the whole value of the therapy.

    The way in which the story is told will effect the outcome of the sessions.

    While there are differing cultures, languages and ways of living, the intensity of the retellings will speak more than words.

    Possibly, some people’s language may not sound intense but in getting to the nitty gritty, I would expect that each person will tell their story with great, if not a roughly equal intensity –even though it may be quietly or subtly expressed.

    I would suggest that the greater the intensity, the more valuable and helpful, the therapy.

    I would also say here that narrative’s valuing of meaning allows for the drama.

    As Marcela has suggested, to make a difference, the story needs to be an emotional or emotion-filled account. Of course this may be spoken softly with little apparent emotion in the voice but if we look very closely –and perhaps asked a scaling question –eg. How much distress has this problem caused, I think we might be surprised with the intensity of the answers. Such scaling questions could be asked of any of the emotions, with a similarly intense response.

    Thanks again Marcela!


    1. Marcela Polanco

      Dear Susan,

      It is great talking to you…

      When you wrote: “You have reminded me of my own experiences of narrative therapy, before I knew of the term narrative”, in turn reminded me of conversations I’ve had with various narrative therapy colleagues around the word about how Michael White and David Epston provided us at first with a language we can speak now about experiences we’ve had. This is a language that renders itself available for its reinvention. In a way, the narrative therapy analogy provides us a linguistic context for us to talk about the ethical and moral considerations of our work, as David D. invited us to consider, as you very well indicated. Isn’t this extraordinary.

      I also I appreciate that you picked up the consideration of “emotional account.” I really liked the notion of stories being “colourful” (or “colorful” in American English). It helps me consider further what I learned from that conversation with that young woman, and also critique my own use of the word. I want to re-think it, considering how “emotions” have been source of underground psychological trafficking. Colourful stories, as you assist me in considering, more richly speaks to what David Marsten, David Epston and Lisa Johnson (in press) call the “ethics of excitement” in their work with children. They wrote: “Spontaneous excitement is achieved with the element of surprise and the flare of originality…[it] relies on an understanding of children in relationship to agency.” Also, it connects me with the work of David Epston and Caley O’Dwyer Feagin on the “poetics of inquiry.”

      Colorful stories, “ethics of excitement,” and the “poetics of inquiry” clearly situates me in what you wrote (in a way that I actually “heard it”): “The way in which the story is told will effect the outcome of the sessions.” Therefore the ethical considerations on how to assist in the “co-theorizing” (Rappaport, 2008) or “co-research” (Epston, 1999) of stories that have poetic resonance has been one of the most important learnings from my translation labor, translating both Michael White and David Epston texts. As my dissertation reviewer Ron Chenail commented, my translation labor brought me back to where it seems that Michael White and David Epston (1990) started. This is, to the consideration of the literary merit of stories ( So, oddly, and interesting, I have arrived to the beginning during my translation labor so I can re-start; but now in my colorful Colombian/Latin American territories so that it is a decolonized beginning!!

      Thank you Susan, for feeding these ideas!

      Un abrazo,


Leave a Reply