Dynamic Experiential Narrative Theory (DENT©) Position Paper

Objectives

This position paper aims to:

  • Summarise the background and pragmatic rationale for DENT and its relationship to Intentional Peer Support in organisations and for individuals
  • Give an overview of the DENT approach
  • Define the terms within DENT and relate to the theoretical background
  • Conclude with a vision for outcomes of DENT action research

 

Background and Pragmatic Rationale

Between them, the authors have a rich background of a combined 40 years of training, expertise, and practice in the fields of pedagogical psychology including; psychotherapy, counselling, coaching, peer support, and teaching, delivered across the public, corporate, and third sectors, up to CEO level in Corporate and Third Sector organisations. They have specialist interest and expertise in the areas of Leadership, Stress and Addiction.

Currently, they run various businesses, utilising the full range of their skills. One providing interim directors, executive coaching, and business consultancy for small to medium sized businesses; one providing personal and business coaching, training, and facilitating to those wishing to grow and better themselves; and a Community Interest Company serving the more vulnerable in our communities, with a passion for working with organisations to drive up the standards and quality of peer support provision within our communities.

Though, because DENT is grounded in Social Constructionist concepts, we see DENT as an essential and salient approach for leadership, organisational development and the development of communities of practice, this initial position paper is produced off the back of our work for the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) in the UK and will reflect the benefits of the DENT approach within the field of peer therapeutic coaching, for improved mental and emotional health.

The background and rationale of the DENT approach would not be complete without emphasising that, despite their vast range of experience and skills, the authors predominantly see themselves as peer coaches, have trained in the field of peer support, and have developed a Diploma up to Master Coach level, underpinned by DENT, and which is discussed elsewhere.

 

DENT and Emotional and Mental Health (MH)

It is the ‘lived experience’ of the peer coach/leader (e.g. the authors have faced and successfully overcome life challenges) that has inspired the authors to ‘mind the gap’ both within therapeutic techniques, and within the way in which various services are provided. The DENT approach is therefore equally informed by therapeutic and coaching practice experience, lived experience of challenges and service provision, as well as academic theoretical knowledge and understanding.

The authors have an interest in capturing the practice they have evolved intuitively during their years of practice and distilling it, through research, into an approach that can be made useful to those they have a passion to serve. The outcome is always aimed towards beneficiaries and doing their bit to improve the quality of healthcare provision with the widest possible reach.

It seems like a timely decision to publish this work, during an era which has seen the past decade adopting more recovery focused and user led approaches within statutory and third sector organisations. In fact, ImROC had very ambitious aims back in 2008, to populate the public-sector health service workforce with 50% peer professional staff in the duration of their implementation of recovery-based services within the sector. (https://imroc.org/resources/implementing-recovery-new-framework-organisational-change/ )

The authors see DENT as taking the recovery approach a stage further, focusing its Purposeful Peer Initiative on the outcome, not just of recovery, but of Purposefulness and Purposeful Occupation for peers who learn the DENT techniques. This would include a clear focus on departmental goals in the organisational setting. Previous research by Emma Jaynes (Jaynes:2018) has shown that meaning and purpose in life is positively correlated with good quality of life, and so the authors adopt Purposefulness as the goal of DENT, leading to the individual becoming Adept in life (career, work and community) and personally fulfilled.

DENT overview

DENT takes a universal, pragmatic, world-centred approach to human development. World-centred for DENT means that individuals will learn how to better relate within themselves and outwards with their world. In doing this, it recognises that a totally introspected, self-bounded person is unlikely to meet their full potential. Similarly, a totally extrospected, unbounded person will come into conflict with the environment in which they need to relate and operate, and equally as unlikely to meet their full potential. The introspective and extrospective views need, to state it simply, be integrated.  Both views are likely to suffer from having unmet needs in different areas, that need attending to in order that they can both aim to self-actualise and, if they choose, transcend their own limits and serve usefully in some capacity.

With this world-centredness, DENT aims to support individual and social development through mediating and resolving the tensions of the person-in-the-world interface. These tensions are constantly changing, which means that the individual needs to become effective and efficient at adapting, if they are to relate with their world with calmness and consideration. DENT has coined this term and names it ‘Adeption’.

Adeption is the ability to constantly meld the person-in-the-world, with their environment, with ease. This interface of the person with their world, results in personal experience. Personal experience is a large part of the feedback the individual gets from negotiating mutuality in the person-in-the-world environment and then acting to meet those agreement.

Feedback provides learning and growth opportunities for personal and social development as the person reaches out towards their full potential alongside and with their peers. The way in which a person makes sense of, and consolidates, their learning, is through narrative. This might be through self-reflection, self-talk, dialogue, conversations, and feedback from, and to, other purposeful peers.

DENT is pragmatic to the extent that theory underpins a set of techniques that have been honed through practice and experience, as demonstrated in the introductory section of this paper. Techniques form the tools which individuals, through social groups, can utilise to support them towards meeting intentions, potential, purposeful occupation, and self-actualisation.

 

 

DENT terminology and theoretical placement

DENT occupies a Social Constructionist position with particular influence from Phenomenological and Discursive Psychologies. In summary, the Social Constructionist view shies away from essentialist limits pertaining to the notion that a person has a fixed identity, or an essence, that, at the core, never changes. Instead, identity is fluid (dynamic) and constantly changing and shifting in relation to our circumstances, others, the environment, and further. Once we accept that view, the potential for change becomes probable.

Social Constructionism, instead, holds the view that our identity is constructed from a limited range of discourses that are available to us in our culture. We choose a subject position which is culturally, socially, historically, politically, and geographically specific.  Social Constructionism tells me, for example, that a health challenge may be a part of my experience but my relationship with it and experience of it is in constant flux. I can change it and how I relate to it and I can even call it something else that I choose and take another perspective on it. Social Constructionism also acknowledges the power relations inherent in any relationship, be it with an organisation, a person, the culture, or an institution. This aspect will form a deeper part of the academic enquiry into the practical applications of DENT within Peer and Professional Peer relationships.

Dynamic

As already outlined, DENT recognises that everything in our world is in a constant state of flux. As such, as we grow and change, and, as everything and everyone in our environment changes as well, we must learn to continually re-negotiate our relationship with ourselves, others, and the wider environment. This means individuals must be adept at resolving the tensions, conflicts and frustrations that arise in socialising, by continually updating a sense of both inner and inter-relatedness, to maintain equilibrium in the face of the veracity and volatility of environmental change; to cope with uncertainty and ambiguity; and to behave congruently in mutuality with their social groups

Experiential

In the phenomenological sense, our experience is both subjective and intersubjective. Subjective, in the sense that only ‘I’ can experience ‘my’ encounter with myself, others, and the wider environment. In that sense ‘I’ am always alone. However, whilst it may seem paradoxical, our relatedness means that ‘I’ would not be the ‘me’ that I experience, had I not met ‘you’, or been ‘there’, or seen ‘that’, or done ‘that’ during my life. This is intersubjectivity.

In DENT, the experiential is expressed in the richness of the description of a lived experience. How it feels in ‘me’, to be ‘me’, today, as an embodied self, in my physical, emotional, psychological, social, and spiritual ‘reality’.

The experiential is something very different to narrative. The experiential is pre-interpretation. The narrative is a device I use to construct, using language or ‘talk’, my identity and place, or subject position, in the world.

Narrative

In the Discursive Psychological sense, all we have is language. Without talk, we cannot make meaning or sense out of our world. Language ‘does’ something, it is the tool we use to make sense of the experiential.

Discourse, in the broader sense, is how meaning is formed, expressed, and controlled in a culture.  It can be interrogated at the micro level, in our day to day conversations and dialogue, and the macro level, in the social, cultural, political, and historical landscape in which we find ourselves. When we create our subject position, we can only choose from a limited range of discourses.

In DENT, it is recognised that, using our talk, we actively and purposefully construct our experience, acknowledging that it is always contextual, in the broader sense, and power relations are inherent within it.

Narrative, in the DENT theory and techniques, becomes a means by which we understand the subject positions we currently inhabit, which we can then deconstruct and reconstruct, on purpose, to consciously fulfil our positive intentions for ourselves and our lives.

Anoni and Sociali

There is a concept that we must deal with in this theory. This is the sense of separateness we all have within ourselves, that part which, no matter how many friends we have, or how much one may feel connected in our communities, with all others, or with all things, is always alone. In DENT, we call this Anoni. The Anoni can be contrasted with the Sociali, which is the expectations placed on the individual to healthily fit in their various communities.

Within me, I have this uncertain, ambiguous quality that is indescribable. I know it, but I cannot name it and it can cause considerable frustration as I try to name it and communicate it to others. If I do name and describe it, I am using words that are socially constructed and understood. Those words are imperfect.

I have an observing self which can stand back and comment on how I feel and think about myself in a way that others might understand, but I can never quite get to the Anoni.

I can tell a story about Anoni which is healthy or unhealthy, and the frustration of not being able to describe it makes Anoni more intense and feel worse.

It is the peer coach’s job to help another to tell a healthy story about the Anoni and, to avoid the deep frustration of being able to bear the Anoni, the human must become purposeful, and to cope with the ambiguity of frustrations of the Anoni and yet still be an effective operant in the world, that is an effective Sociali.

Freedom comes about best when one is able to construct a healthy story which is aligned with the Inter-View; Self-View; and Life-View. In DENT Terms the three views need to be integrated. From this congruent alignment of beliefs and behaviour, comes a deep acceptance of the Anoni, and hence a reduction in its capacity to hinder and obstruct progress. When the Anoni is focused outwards on service, it is quietened and contented, we call this healthier version, the Social Anoni.

 

Combining the Phenomenological and the Discursive – the experiential and the narrative

In a very practical sense, if we can arrest the current narrative for a moment and tune into our current embodied experience, we create a pause. Within this pause we can get a sense of the current embodied state. The talk, at this juncture, comes from an intuitive and descriptive place of conveying what that current embodied state ‘is’ for me right now.

We describe the richness of our experience whilst remaining acutely aware of the way we are constructing it in our talk. What position we are taking, what our intention is, in short. What is it I am telling myself? What is it I want others to know? What is the function of the narrative I am currently telling?

What does my current telling of my story achieve for me? What purpose does it serve? If I want to change my life or my health, how does my narrative need to change?

It is here, with these types of questions that we can see how inextricably linked are our lives and our experiences with our narrative, or our ‘talk’ about it. Language ‘does’ something, it is an agent, we can only change something, with language. It is the most powerful vehicle for change.

From the place of pure experience, we can choose the path of the future narrative by purposefully, intentionally, and carefully constructing that path, through the coaching tree, using the Cycle of Adeption, towards the achievement of Adeptness, and a life of perpetual growth and purposefulness.

Vision, Research, and Conclusion

Vision

Our vision for DENT is an ambitious paradigm shift. Rather than a superfluous topic deemed interesting to study, we can see the overall pragmatic benefits of the DENT approach for improving (even remedying) social cohesion.

This can be achieved at a macro level when organisations; institutions; businesses; families; and the community take on board and pass on the DENT philosophy as underpinning their cultural ethos.

At the micro level, DENT improves and restores emotional and mental health; brings purposefulness to people’s lives by encouraging and supporting mutuality and service; builds good, solid, trusting relationships with self and others; and enables people to achieve that which they had never imagined possible.

Research

How do we know this? Currently, we have a large body of anecdotal evidence gathered. We are preparing to further our research in the following areas:

  • The direct and indirect benefits of DENT based Intentional Peer Support (IPS) :

o   For Leadership

o   In businesses and Organisations

o   For Emotional and Mental Health

o   For gaining and retaining employment

  • Investigating the extent to which modelling DENT IPS in community group settings impacts the health of the wider community

Further research interests include doing our bit to advance the ImRoc 10 key challenges (https://imroc.org/resources-supporting-the-10-key-challenges/ ) and realise a fully integrated mental health service where ‘peer’ professionals are the norm. This links in with our multiple level DENT based Peer Coaching Diploma aimed to provide career progression for those who wish to continue using their lived experience in their practice, beyond the lower NHS pay bands.

 Methodologies

We will use a blend of methodological approach in our research, including a survey based quantitative approach, qualitative methods including discursive and phenomenological approaches derived from semi-structured interviews and written feedback, and ethnographic research.

 

Conclusion

This paper has provided a brief outline and overview of the DENT approach for use within leadership, organisations and in support of individuals with emotional and MH challenges. It signals a move onwards from the traditional medical and recovery models, to a purposefulness model which is taken up and delivered by qualified peer professionals, thus enabling those once afflicted to live an adept and purposeful life, embodying and demonstrating DENT principles, whilst passing on their skills in the community and serving others.

DENT recognises the potential gulf between the ‘Anoni’ and the ‘Sociali’ and enables reconciliation of it by practicing and appropriating the DENT techniques as a way of life, leading to personal contentment and social adeption. DENT places itself within the field of Social Psychology. Melding phenomenological and discursive theoretical approaches.

The authors’ primary purpose is to be of service and leave a legacy of resilience behind them for our friends, families, communities, society, and the planet.

Together, in unity, we are stronger.

Emma Jaynes & Keith Abrahams

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