International Work

Collaboration with Family Therapists from Norway


October 2005: Family Therapy Agency in Trondheim visits Cape Town


In October 2005 a group of 19 therapists from The Norwegian Church’s Family Counselling Agency in Trondheim, Norway attended a four day workshop with me. This trip to South Africa and workshop in Cape Town was initiated and organised by Anthony Hawke, a clinical psychologist and ex-South African who has been working in Norway for the previous 18 years. I met Tony at the Conference of the South African Association for Marital and Family Therapy (SAAMFT) in Durban in May 2004. The group expressed an interest in being exposed to teaching about therapeutic work that was contextual to South Africa yet relevant to their own work-context.


Workshop Theme: Creating and Sharing Community as Therapeutic Practice


Day 1: A Therapist’s rites of passage in post-apartheid in South Africa

I used the rite of passage metaphor to tell about my personal journey as I migrated from innocence to accountability as white South African therapist who lived a very privileged and protected life. Using my work in the Strand Muslim community as example I explained my professional migration from consulting room to community work. I described the many ways in which this journey from living apart (apartheid) to living/working/sharing together (saamheid) became a public and political journey for me. As the story about the Strand Muslim community includes stories of forced removals a visit to the District Six Museum provided the visitors with a wonderful illustration of the effects of the apartheids legislations on the lives of thousands of South Africans. Our tour guide, Joe, touched people with his passionate yet dignified tellings of the history.

Day 2: Engaging with responsibility, restitution and resolution in the light of abusive practices.

I used the story of my therapeutic engagement with a man who sexually abused children to illustrate and discuss themes of responsibility for abuse, restitution and resolution. I chose this work in order to deal with issues that the Norwegian therapists are familiar with, but I made many connections between this kind of abuse and the relationship between perpetrators and victims to illustrate our efforts as a nation to engage with and deal with our abusive past.

Day 3: Creating and sharing community in the context of poverty, violence and HIV/AIDS

We kept this day open to visit community projects that I am involved with in Paarl. I chose these specific projects as HIV/AIDS, poverty, violence, unemployment and crime are such prevalent problems that healers in our context have to confront. At Drakenstein Hospice Elizabeth Scrimgour, the Executive Director, did a power-point presentation to give some of the back-ground of the organisation and the challenges they face as well as the projects that they run to address the needs. Estelle Raymond, a pastoral therapy student who does voluntary work with a group of boys who raped and tried to burn a young girl showed a visual presentation of the children and the farming community in which they live. Thereafter the group visited the day care centre and met some of the cancer patients. The group then split up and joined Estelle and various staff members of Drakenstein Hospice to go out into the community to visit people/patients in the informal settlements of Paarl. When we got back we were served lunch at the Hospice and we used the opportunity to talk about and reflect on the experiences and catch others up on what each smaller group had experienced.

Day 4: Compassionate witnessing, trauma and community work

This last day was spent on giving an opportunity for de-briefing after the experiences of the previous days. I shared some theory on witnessing and how it fits with therapeutic practices. This was also a good opportunity to talk about my approach to trauma work as well as answering questions regarding community work.


June 2006: Visiting The Family Counselling Agency in Trondheim

I visited Norway in June where I was the guest of the Norwegian Churches Family Counselling Agency, South Trondelag in Trondheim. The invitation to offer training and consult with the team of therapists who work in this office was a follow-up to the training I did during their visit to Cape Town in 2005. The group came to South Africa under the leadership of ex-South African psychologist, Anthony Hawke, and director of the office, Stig Winsnes.

I was asked to focus my training and consultation on working with couples. I gave a theoretical over-view of my approach to couple therapy on the first morning. For the rest of the week my time at the Family Counselling office was spent consulting with couples while two staff groups took turns to observe the therapeutic work from behind a one-way-mirror. Tony Hawke acted as interpreter while I worked with the Norwegian clients. Afterwards the team did reflections and discussions on the sessions and I had the opportunity to refer to my theoretical framework in discussing the therapeutic work that they witnessed. The feedback from clients and colleagues was very encouraging and I realised that the years of doing “live” supervision and interviewing in South Africa has paid off. I loved the opportunity to DO the work instead of just talking about it.

I was also invited to do a one day workshop with the theme “Witnessing trauma, political action and sustaining hope” at the City Mission of the Lutheran Church in Trondheim. This workshop was attended by priests of the Lutheran Church who minister to people who are affected by a diversity of problems such as HIV, drug and alcohol dependency, sexual offenders etc. This meeting was organised by Siv Lindstrand, a priest who runs a day care centre and programme for people affected by HIV.

During my visit an open day was organised by the Family Counselling Agency in collaboration with City Mission to share some of the impressions that the group brought with them after their visit to South Africa in October 2005. This meeting was attended by a larger audience of therapists, academics, theologians and judges from the family court. We gathered in an old church in the centre of the city for a moving liturgical ceremony of organ music, lighting of candles and prayer. In her message Siv Lindstrand reminded the audience of the plight of the poor and people living with HIV/AIDS, thus setting the tone for the day. I was asked to give a talk on “Conflict, oppression and restitution” and shared some examples of work that I am involved in South Africa. The team that visited South Africa used a power-point presentation of Drakenstein Hospice to share some of their experience during their visit to the Hospice as well as to the community where people are dying of AIDS. Upon their return from South Africa the staff of the Family Counselling Agency started sharing the dream of the Drakenstein Hospice staff to build a Day Care Centre for AIDS patients and their children in the community. They managed to collect money for this project and presented me with a cheque for NK 500 000 (R500 000+) !

June 2007 Second visit to Family Counselling Office, Trondheim, Norway

I consulted at the Family Counselling office in Trondheim on 18 and 19 June 2007. On the first day I worked with two teams of therapists who each brought a client/family for consultation. I consulted with these clients while the teams observed and video recorded the conversations. Afterwards they reflected and discussed with me the ways in which I interviewed the clients and their learnings from observing the work. They also shared reflections and concerns and we were able to discuss these.

On the second day I consulted with a group of counsellors who work in communities around Trondheim. Some of my colleagues at the Trondheim office meet with these counsellors regularly to provide opportunity for supervision and consultation. I was asked to consult with two colleagues about work with families and to do it in such a way that the Trondheim office colleagues could also learn from me as I demonstrate my work in the position of supervisor/consultant.

June 2007, 8th International Narrative Therapy & Community Work Conference, Kristiansand Norway

I presented a paper entitled Witnessing as healing practice in the context of poverty and illness in South Africa. I reflected on my work as consultant to the staff of Drakenstein Hospice. I was joined in the presentation by Oyvind Sanvik, Magnhild Fiskvik and Ragnhild Eide Bustnes from the Trondheim Family Counselling Office who reflected on their experience as witnesses when they visited Drakenstein Hospice in 2005.


September 2008: Family Therapy office from Stavanger Norway visits Cape Town

Workshop Theme: Narrative therapy within the South African Context

Day 1

The narrative of a therapist’s rite of passage: From “Innocence” to Awareness and Accountability in SA

Part of our context is, of course, our history and the challenges of living in and participating in the healing of a post-apartheid, post-TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission) community. I have a very powerful personal story to tell regarding this challenge and the transformation of my own life and practice as white Afrikaner, middle-class women. Narrative therapy has become the vehicle to my living and doing accountable practice in this country where my people, the Afrikaner, is responsible for much of the injustices and oppression. As a white South African I have benefited much from these injustices which have now been named crimes against humanity. The morning will be spent on me telling the story of my life in South Africa and how narrative practices enabled me to reach out to a Muslim community and become involved in therapeutic work a few years ago. The ripples of this work is still continuing and I have many stories to tell about the practices of re-membering, witnessing, therapeutic documents, taking-it-back practices, communities of concern, celebrations and an ethic of risk and collaboration as it formed part of this collaboration. Part of the context of the lives of the Strand Muslim community is the forced removals that happened in the mid 60’s. In the afternoon we will pay a visit to the District Six museum which will highlight further the context of the forced removals and the effect of these events in the Apartheid time on the lives of communities. The story of District Six will be told by a person (guide) who has first hand experience of the forced removals in District Six.

Day 2

I have three colleagues, all past narrative therapy students of mine who still consult with me about their work from time to time. They each work in three different school communities that reflect the South African context in interesting ways. We split the group into three smaller groups for that morning and each group visited with one of these therapists to learn from them and to witness their work and working contexts.

Linda van Duuren works at St George’s Grammar School in Cape Town. This is a private school that is known for its efforts to promote diversity and facilitate the education of young people from very diverse cultural, religious and social backgrounds. Linda also runs, along with a colleague Helene Schoeman, a course on narrative practices for teachers.

Therese Hulme works in two schools in a very poor urban area, Kraaifontein. Her work involves a lot of the effects of poverty and neglect – like family violence, sexual abuse and educational deprivation. Therese is currently completing her doctoral studies in the practices which support therapeutic work and healing in communities of extreme poverty.

Estelle Raymond works at a school in an extremely poor rural farming community outside Paarl. She became involved with this community while doing a counselling course where I was her teacher. She is a lawyer by profession and was approached by the courts to do therapeutic work with a group of boys who gang-raped and tried to burn a nine year old girl. Estelle’s work in that community has rippled out as a result of her contextual awareness in her therapeutic practice and many people are involved in various aspects of the empowerment of the community.

After lunch we could get back to the conference facility to do reflections in the presence of the Linda, Therese and Estelle. I will interview each small group about their experiences, learning and the transport that they experience. This would give the group the opportunity to catch up with the experiences of the others and to give back to Linda, Therese and Estelle the effect of their work on the visiting therapists’ lives

Day 3

Narrative ways of working with victims and offenders in the context of violence and abuse

Since this is a public holiday (Heritage Day) we will work in the morning only. I have worked with many “victims” of violence – often domestic violence and sexual abuse that happened in the context of families. I will share some of my work with victims and also with offenders. Much of my understanding of the work of forgiveness, healing, accountability and restitution that I practice in the wider South African context has been informed by my work in the context of violence, especially family violence. I will do a theoretical discussion with case illustrations and give time for questions and discussions.

In preparation for the visit to Drakenstein Hospice the next day will do a briefing about witnessing and how one can be respectful and compassionate witnesses in a context of illness (HIV and AIDS) and poverty.

Day 4

Narrative practices at work in the context of HIV and AIDS

We will visit the Drakenstein Hospice as a group. This visit will give the group the opportunity to witness the effect of poverty and AIDS on the lives of many people in South Africa. Elizabeth Scrimgeour, the CEO of Drakenstein Hospice, and Fran Tong were narrative therapy students of mine. Justine Goliath, also a social worker, has done narrative therapy courses with me and I have a long history (since its foundation in the 90’s) of teaching and consulting to staff and volunteers of this hospice. Elizabeth will explain the background of the AIDS pandemic, the work of the Hospice and also about the work of Butterfly House, the Day Care facility that is currently being built. Fran will do a short talk on narrative therapy and its application with bereavement and grief. Afterwards the group will have the opportunity to go out in small groups with staff members to visit patients at their homes.

We will share lunch with the staff and have a feedback/reflection session at the hospice in the afternoon.

Day 5

Narrative therapy and trauma

On our last day together we will use our experiences of the week to do exercises that will illustrate some of the ideas that inform my work with trauma in South Africa. We will be able to explore ideas such as hope, compassionate witnessing, the therapeutic relationship and also the effect of witnessing trauma on us as therapists. I will illustrate the use of narrative practices in other work in communities and especially in the contexts of trauma. Therapeutic documents as used by narrative therapists have been very helpful in this regard.

We will spend some time on saying good bye and reflection. We will start looking ahead to how each visitor could take their experiences home to stay with them as support to their lives and work in Stavanger.


October 2009: The Trondheim Family Therapy Agency Staff attend the Narrative Therapy conference in Cape Town and visit Butterfly House

During the conference in Cape Town some of the members of the Trondheim staff team participated in a plenary session with Elizabeth Scrimgeour from Drakenstein Hospice where they shared the story of Butterfly House and their involvement in it.


October 2010: Visit to Stavanger, Norway

I visited the Norwegian Churches Family Counseling Office in Stavanger Norway from 15 to 26 October 2010 on the occasion of their 50th jubilee celebrations. Anthony Hawke, the leader, and the rest of the South African Committee, Astrid Rasberg, Finn Christensen and Vigdis Eriksen together with the staff made my stay a memorable one in many ways.

Consultations and teaching:

During the first three days of work I consulted in the Stavanger family office with the staff. The three teams of therapists each took turns to present different themes for discussion and consultation.

Monday was spent with the team under the leadership of Arnhild Bakker who presented a very thorough and moving summary and reflections on the staff group’s visit to South Africa in 2008. The purpose of this presentation was to include the new staff members in that experience and to provide context for the rest of the week. I was deeply moved by the detail of what has been witnessed and the impact it has had on the group in the past two years since I last saw them.

Tuesday it was the team under the leadership of Kristi Lise Bernhardt who chose to present a “case” that reflected the complexities of consulting with elderly couples. The staff has concerns about including minority groups who are not currently well-represented in their work at the family office. This gave us the opportunity to “unpack” the discourses and challenges that impact the lives of elderly family members and what it entails to consult with them in a respectful and meaningful way.

Wednesday’s team under the leadership of Astrid Rasberg presented a very interesting family where violence and drug abuse had a very long and destructive influence on the lives of a young mother and her daughters. Anne Sofie Saeb&oslash worked with this family for a year in collaboration with two other therapists from other agencies. I was able to interview the family while the rest of the staff watched and later also interviewed the team who worked with the family together with the mother. These interviews developed into a “Consulting your consultants” kind of interview where we were able to reflect on the knowledges gained and progress made in the year of the therapy.

Thursday and Friday: Two day national workshop

Healing relationships: A participatory therapeutic approach from South Africa

This workshop was attended by a big group of therapists from around Norway. I started by presenting a summary of our context – historic and present – and the main social problems facing us. I then spent most of the two days talking about, illustrating and inviting discussion about the main features which informs a participatory therapeutic approach. I referred to the work of Kaethe Weingarten as her Witnessing Positions Grid has been extremely useful in developing my own practice and also in assisting the Norwegian groups that visited South Africa in the past to respond in meaningful ways to our context. Her work with reasonable hope formed part of the workshop content as it fits well with a participatory approach to therapy.

I was very encouraged and strengthened by the participation and response from the audience and found this workshop to be a very rewarding experience.