A-Different-story (1)I’ve been a Chris Beels fan ever since reading his 2001 book, A Different Story…: The rise of narrative in psychotherapy. This book is really a memoir, telling the story of the rise of the influence of narrative therapy from the perspective of a psychiatrist with a breadth of experience. Whenever possible, I have also assigned this book, along with Lynn Hoffman’s excellent 2002 memoir Family Therapy: An intimate history to social work and psychology students. It is rare to be able to hear from an elder with such a breath of experience.
Peggy Sax


Here are a few details with lots left out (read the book for more):
– Chris’s journey in psychiatry began in 1955,  when he switched from teaching in an Episcopal boy’s boarding school to enter medical school ostensibly to become a psychoanalyst. He chronicles his disappointments in analysis that paved the way for his journey from psychoanalysis to public psychiatry.

– In 1969, Chris & his colleagues started a crisis center in the South Bronx (“The Tremont Crisis Center”) that built upon the skills of community psychiatry, while bringing into practice an entirely new voice in psychiatry: the social, environmental point of view (in contrast to the customary somatic medical view of diagnosis and medication and the psychological view of psychoanalysis).

– Chris discovered and gives tributes in his book to many ancestors including Freud, Dewey’s group at the University of Chicago, Harry Stack and an interpersonal basis for psychological problems and their cures, family therapy, Gregory Bateson’s system metaphor and the idea of schizophrenia as a transactional thought disorder thereby taking the blame off the patient (and alas placing it on the parents), the Ackerman Institute…Murray Bowen…and Michael White and David Epston.

– With colleagues, Chris created a family therapy institute at the Bronx State Hospital…

– Chris became interested in the influence of anthropology and studying culture specific illnesses.  He became intrigued with – and a collaborator in- the work of Vivian Garrison a medical anthropologist, who was studying folk-healing practices, comparing the diagnoses and treatment processes in the medical services with those in the folk-healing settings.

– Chris developed a special interest in marriage and its therapy, with an earnest look at the relevance of family therapy addressing parent-child problems, and Bateson’s way of looking at differences. I was particularly moved by Chris’ personal reflections on his own experiences, and his belief that his own marriage with his partner/wife Margaret has been more therapeutic than his three experiences with analysis.

– In 1975, Chris left the Bronx State Hospital to work at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. At 45, he began a new chapter at the Washington Heights Community Service where his main job was to train a new generation of psychiatric residents, psychologist as social workers. He faced the great divide between public and private practice and their different systems for accountability.

All of these experiences (and more!) set the stage for Chris’s discovery of narrative therapy! He devotes 2 chapters in his book to “White and Epston.”

The book concludes with reflections on psychiatry as both science and narrative, and on the effects of authorship on his own life. Here is one of my favorite paragraphs, on p242, at the beginning of Chapter 14: A Seder in Princeton.

The narrative approach brings the power of authorship to the real authorities, the storytellers themselves In writing this book, I began to think about the effect of authorship on my own life – the public witness, the chance to rewrite, reclaim. Performing life as a book is something like marriage-as-therapy that I mentioned at the end of Chapter 7. The public performance, of either memoirs or marriages, requires a special kind of discovery, in the sense of revealing oneself. It is the truth of outward commitment and intention, the discovery before an audience. As I thought about this similarity of writing and marriage as public forms of narrative, I wondered how to end a book that was also about rewriting history and inventing ritual. The answer dropped into my life last April. Margaret’s sister Nancy invited us to her home in Princeton for Passover.

moltz_epston_BeelsMichael White considered Chris and his wife Margaret as close friends. When Michael came to Vermont, he would sometimes stop “on the way” in New York so he could spend time with Chris and Margaret. David Epston and Chris frequently correspond and collaborate – and visit whenever they can.



BeelsArtistDid you know Chris Beels is also an accomplished artist? This brings a new meaning to his words about “getting ready to go to Belgium for a week, a pilgrimage to the work of Rubens.” Here is the link to Christian Beels’ online gallery.


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