Coyle Presents Narratives of Liberation in Appalachia

“While it was great to present to the international community the richness of the hills and hollows of Kentucky, the fact is that people in Appalachia are suffering from oppression.”

So says Dr. Suzanne Coyle, the director of the Marriage and Family Therapy Program; and associate professor of pastoral theology and marriage and family therapy at Christian Theological Seminary.

Coyle recently presented a peer-reviewed research report titled Narratives of Liberation in Appalachia at the International Family Therapy Association World Congress, in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The thesis of Coyle’s presentation is that the Appalachian region of the United States  is impacted by many cultural discourses that oppress the people in that region.  She conducted her research while teaching a course called “Mountain Stories: Care for Self and Community” at the Appalachian Ministries Educational Resource Center (AMERC). The course is a part of the cross-cultural program at Christian Theological Seminary.  “We used narrative practice to explore how people can uncover their spiritual stories,” says Coyle.  “Then we develop those stories in order to challenge cultural images and assumptions that are oppressive.”

In narrative therapy, the therapist collaborates with the client to describe their lives to a level of detail that goes far beyond the “problem” for which the client is seeking help. In doing so, the client is encouraged to understand his or her life beyond the problem, living out the narrative therapy motto: “The person is not the problem, the problem is the problem.”

By focusing on the problem’s effects on people's lives rather than assuming the problems are inside or part of people, distance is created which makes it easier to investigate and evaluate the problem's influences.

Coyle says there is little qualitative research on culture and regional values in Appalachia. “People living in that area are in need of services. My hope is that my research will lay the ground work for therapists working one-on-one to improve their lives,” she says.

Coyle may be the only faculty member teaching in a seminary or theological school in America with a postgraduate diploma in Narrative Therapy and Community Work, having earned her degree from the epicenter of narrative study, the Dulwich Centre in Adelaide, Australia.  She has also presented in Australia as well as in Puerto Rico at the ABC/USA Biennial on using narrative practice in the life of the church.

“This is an ongoing research project,” says Coyle.  “I conducted more research this past spring as I taught another cross-cultural course through AMERC  titled ‘Mountain Stories: Re-storying Spiritual Narratives.’”  Coyle says her research will form a chapter in a book to be published by Fortress Press titled Uncovering Spiritual Narratives: Using Story in Pastoral Care and Ministry.  


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