Mind games : applying White’s principles of narrative therapy to the creation of a cabaret about depression and bipolar disorder

Loth, Joanne Marie (2011) Mind games : applying White’s principles of narrative therapy to the creation of a cabaret about depression and bipolar disorder. PhD by Creative Works, Queensland University of Technology.


This PhD represents my attempt to make sense of my personal experiences of depression through the form of cabaret. I first experienced depression in 2006. Previously, I had considered myself to be a happy and optimistic person. I found the experience of depression to be a shock: both in the experience itself, and also in the way it effected my own self image. These personal experiences, together with my professional history as a songwriter and cabaret performer, have been the motivating force behind the research project.

This study has explored the question: What are the implications of applying principles of Michael White’s narrative therapy to the creation of a cabaret performance about depression and bipolar disorder? There is a 50 percent weighting on the creative work, the cabaret performance Mind Games, and a 50 percent weighting on the written exegesis. This research has focussed on the illustration of therapeutic principles in order to play games of truth within a cabaret performance. The research project investigates ways of telling my own story in relation to others’ stories through three re-authoring principles articulated in Michael White’s narrative therapy: externalisation, an autonomous ethic of living and rich descriptions. The personal stories presented in the cabaret were drawn from my own experiences and from interviews with individuals with depression or bipolar disorder. The cabaret focussed on the illustration of therapeutic principles, and was not focussed on therapeutic ends for myself or the interviewees.

The research question has been approached through a methodology combining autoethnographic, practice-led and action research. Auto ethnographic research is characterised by close investigation of assumptions, attitudes, and beliefs. The combination of autoethnographic, practice-led, action research has allowed me to bring together personal experiences of mental illness, research into therapeutic techniques, social attitudes and public discourses about mental illness and forms of contemporary cabaret to facilitate the creation of a one-woman cabaret performance.

The exegesis begins with a discussion of games of truth as informed by Michel Foucault and Michael White and self-stigma as informed by Michael White and Erving Goffman. These concepts form the basis for a discussion of my own personal experiences. White’s narrative therapy is focused on individuals re-authoring their stories, or telling their stories in different ways. White’s principles are influenced by Foucault’s notions of truth and power. Foucault’s term games of truth has been used to describe the effect of a ‘truth in flux’ that occurs through White’s re-authoring process. This study argues that cabaret is an appropriate form to represent this therapeutic process because it favours heightened performativity over realism, and showcases its ‘constructedness’ and artificiality. Thus cabaret is well suited to playing games of truth. A contextual review compares two major cabaret trends, personal cabaret and provocative cabaret, in reference to the performer’s relationship with the audience in terms of distance and intimacy. The study draws a parallel between principles of distance and intimacy in Michael White’s narrative therapy and relates these to performative terms of distance and intimacy. The creative component of this study, the cabaret Mind Games, used principles of narrative therapy to present the character ‘Jo’ playing games of truth through: externalising an aspect of her personality (externalisation); exploring different life values (an autonomous ethic of living); and enacting multiple versions of her identity (rich descriptions). This constant shifting between distance and intimacy within the cabaret created the effect of a truth in ‘constant flux’, to use one of White’s terms.

There are three inter-related findings in the study. The first finding is that the application of principles of White’s narrative therapy was able to successfully combine provocative and empathetic elements within the cabaret. The second finding is that the personal agenda of addressing my own self-stigma within the project limited the effective portrayal of a ‘truth in flux’ within the cabaret. The third finding presents the view that the cabaret expressed ‘Jo’ playing games of truth in order to journey towards her own "preferred identity claim" (White 2004b) through an act of "self care" (Foucault 2005).

The contribution to knowledge of this research project is the application of therapeutic principles to the creation of a cabaret performance. This process has focussed on creating a self-revelatory cabaret that questions notions of a ‘fixed truth’ through combining elements of existing cabaret forms in new ways. Two major forms in contemporary cabaret, the personal cabaret and the provocative cabaret use the performer-audience relationship in distinctive ways. Through combining elements of these two cabaret forms, I have explored ways to create a provocative cabaret focussed on the act of self-revelation.

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ID Code: 49434
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD by Creative Works)
Supervisor: Hadley, Bree, Comans, Christine, & Kavanagh, David
Keywords: cabaret, depression, bipolar disorder, narrative therapy, persona, parody, provocateur, vamp
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Creative Industries Faculty
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 03 Apr 2012 07:22
Last Modified: 03 Apr 2012 07:22

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