Inside Jacob’s story: exploring counsellor contribution to narrative co-construction using imaginary dialogues with a Biblical character!
Talbert, Linda Louise
Psychotherapeutic practice often involves the telling and retelling of a client’s stories of life in collaborative, meaning-making dialogue with a counsellor. This study demonstrates and explores the dynamics of counsellor contribution to this narrative co-construction, particularly the ways in which the counsellor’s inner conversations, reflexivity and interpretive style may emerge in practice and have an influence on the client’s understanding, re-evaluation and cohering of his or her own story. The multi-voiced, multi-layered intersubjective space and time in which this kind of narrative collaboration takes place is a difficult area to access for study but one whose potential impact on the client should make it the focus of respectful, ethical monitoring and careful reflective practice. Using phenomenological theories of reader-response and dialogical play, my research sets up an analogy between the way a reader might reflexively interact with life story episodes in a written text and the ways a counsellor might listen to and interpret a client’s stories of life over the course of a counselling contract. My project uses a comprehensive and episode-rich story of a life, the iconic ‘womb to tomb’ story of Jacob in the book of Genesis. My own hearer/reader response to the story gives rise to the creation of a set of imaginary dialogues between two interlocutors, Jacob as an elderly client reviewing his life story and myself as counsellor, listening to his stories of life. This methodology is used as a means to access an in vivo lived experience, as it might unfold in practice, of my counsellor contribution to Jacob’s story and the interplay of voices and standpoints which characterise it. Attention is drawn to the inchoate, but deeply human, intersubjective aspects of narrative co-construction as a process and the value of this form of reflective practice to surface actual praxis experience for analysis. Insights surfaced by this reader-response methodology point to the significant extent to which the hermeneutical standpoints and dialogical voices of a counsellor are actively involved and implicated in narrative co-construction.