Michael White was interested in the ways people construct meaning in their lives. In developing the notion that people’s lives are organized by their life narratives, White came to believe that stories don’t mirror life, they shape it. That’s why people have the interesting habit of becoming the stories they tell about their experience. White’s innovative thinking helped shape the basic tenets of narrative therapy, which considers the broader historical, cultural and political framework of the family. White lived in Adelaide, South Australia. Together with his wife, Cheryl, White worked at the Dulwich Centre, a training and clinical facility that also publishes the Dulwich Newsletter, which White used to explore his ideas with the field. Michael died in April 2008 and will be remembered by many for his outstanding contributions to the world.For information on Michael White’s theory and practice of Narrative Therapy click here:
In Memory of Michael White , By Lorraine Hedtke & John Winslade, Taos Institute Associates
Michael White died unexpectedly on April 4, 2008, while on a teaching tour in the States. Besides being an honorary associate member of the Taos Board, Michael was the co-founder of the Dulwich Centre of Adelaide, Australia, and most recently the founder of the Adelaide Centre for Narrative Therapy. Along with David Epston, he is credited as the founder of narrative therapy, and their work has touched hundreds of thousands all around the world.
Michael was expressly interested in serving those who did not have a voice and who had been disenfranchised by the systems intended to help them. In the United States, he is known mostly for his in therapy work. Less widely known are the ways he worked for social justice around the world. He worked to address the issue of deaths in custody among aboriginal communities in Australia. He spearheaded projects working with HIV Aids in Zimbabwe and set up counseling programs for people in Palestine who are survivors of torture and at the same time worked to establish narrative therapy in Israel. He worked as community builder in Bangladesh and worked for political justice for asylum seekers in Australia.
Michael injected a sharp post-structuralist analysis of power into his work and this deeply influenced his work in domestic violence programs and anti-violence projects. He taught in Hong Kong and Russia, Ireland and England, Brazil and Korea, to reach out to people who had been diagnosed with severe mental health concerns. He listened, really listened to people, and amazing things happened in his presence. He took great joy in witnessing an alternative story to a story of oppression and literally would fall off his seat with excitement.
Michael’s brilliance, his ideas, and his writing bless us all, even those who never read his work directly. He has written prolifically about narrative ideas, even establishing his own publishing house to disseminate narrative practice. He created a robust practical application of Social Constructionism. He could make sense out of meaty ideas from anthropologists like Myerhoff, Geertz, and Turner, psychologists like Bruner, William James, and Vygotsky, and philosophers like Foucault, Derrida, and Deleuze. He wove their concepts comfortably with stories from his clinical practice, or offered us a metaphor from a recent bike race. Michael left us maps – blueprints of sorts — to continue to use to make sense of the world in his absence. Through his exploration of the “absent but implicit”, however, he ensured that his absence is underscored with his ongoing implicit presence.