Posted by on Jun 24, 2015 in Uncategorised | 99 comments

“The person is not the problem, the problem is the problem”. These words of Michael White have become well-known within the field of narrative therapy. In this chapter we will explore ways of externalizing problems and the possibilities this brings.

Image from Denborough, David. 2014. Retelling the Stories of Our Lives: Everyday Narrative Therapy to Draw Inspiration and Transform Experience. Norton Books: New York 

The following questions and answers about ‘externalising’ were created in response to regular requests from practitioners. We’ve tried to respond to some of the questions that are most commonly asked in training contexts. This article was first published in The International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, 2002 No.2, and can be found in the book Narrative therapy: Responding to your questions, compiled by Shona Russell & Maggie Carey (Adelaide: Dulwich Centre Publications, 2004).

Externalising – Commonly Asked Questions


This is a story of ‘Sugar’ by Aunty Barbara Wingard. It’s a story about trying to find new ways of working, of trying different things and taking new steps.

Please find the article here: Introducing ‘Sugar’

This short film gives helps us visualise what ‘externalising’ problems can look like and make possible..

In collaboration with the World Health Organisation Matthew Johnstone tells the story of overcoming the “black dog of depression”. More information on the book can be found here: http://matthewjohnstone.com.au/


In this presentation, Mark Hayward draws on Michael White’s ideas described in the book Maps of Narrative Practice. Mark takes us through Michael White’s Statement of Position Map 1 and how this map enables externalising conversations. Within this presentation Mark also invites you to chart an externalising conversation. We hope this video will enable you to begin using externalising ideas with people you are meeting with!

Please download the following interactive documents.

Statement Of Position Map Powerpoint presentation
Joe transcript


“Externalizing conversations in which the problem becomes the problem, not the person, can be considered counter-practices to those that objectify people’s identities. Externalizing conversations employ practices of objectification of the problem against cultural practices of objectification of people” (White, 2007, 26).

White, M. 2007. Maps of Narrative Practice. Norton Books: New York



Further resources

If you wish to learn more about externalising problems, you may wish to enrol in our Externalising Conversations online course


For Reflection

Which resource in this chapter particularly caught your attention and why?

What sort of problems could  be externalised in your context?

What difference might this make?



Now please consider talking with others below about the ideas, questions and wonderings these resources and questions have raised for you! Please include where you are writing from (City and Country). Thanks!



  1. Hello, I am writing today from Nova Scotia, Canada. The resources in this chapter have provided an array of practices for externalizing conversations, all of which confirm Michael Whites notion; “The person is not the problem, the problem is the problem.” Mark Hayward’s discussion using maps in narrative therapy really caught my attention. Creating a guide to externalizing problems and what the process might look like when we are introducing questions and responses that create space between the person and the problems they are facing. Maps are such a profound metaphor for life; a birds eye view. I feel the knowledge shared from this chapter will serve myself and many others who become involved in these conversations. As we let go of attachment to dominant stories and create space between ourselves and the problems we face, who knows what new opportunities and possibilities can come to be!

  2. From Melbourne, Australia

    I loved Mathew Johnstone’s depiction of depression in the story of the black dog. I had stumbled along one of his books previously and have found it very helpful in explaining the experience to clients of all ages. It seems particularly appropriate with children also, who can be helped through making abstract concepts such as anxiety more concrete.

    Externalisation seems like a very intuitive and human thing to do – like in cultures or traditions where moral qualities are deified – I’m very interested to know more about it – I am thinking also about the need to be careful around the notion of responsibility and self-efficacy- if you locate the problem outside of yourself, do you feel equally able to do something about the problem?

  3. I found both the Externalizing – Commonly asked questions as well as Mark Hayward’s video to be very helpful. I was particularly interested in the portions about responsibility and avoiding externalizing “combat” themes as well as finding the client’s way to describe a problem that may have previously been a diagnosis (depression) or adult description (temper tantrums).
    How would this be applied to couples dealing with infidelity? I would love to know if there was information out there specific to couples dealing with this issue especially at the beginning of the process when they are in crisis.
    I am excited to begin practicing externalizing conversations in my own life/world before jumping in with clients. I can see many applications to any problems a client may have.
    I am writing from Lakeville, Minnesota, USA.

  4. Hello everyone, I am a fourth year social work student and I found Mark Hayward’s discussion on externalising particularly helpful. Utilising charts to map conversations was the most insightful aspect of this discussion. Charts would be a helpful tool for reflection and something that I would like to incorporate into my future practice. I also found the discussion on being responsible with the use of externalising with perpetrators of violence and in situations of abuse useful. Thank-you for this content.

  5. Hi, I am writing from Adelaide, Australia. I particularly, enjoyed the case study example, by Mark Hayward. I think it clearly demonstrated how externalising can be used in a counselling conversation.I think the vast amount of problems can be externalised but Mark Hayward also highlighted where he set his limits for externalising problems in relation to violence and abuse. I think the difference it makes is it allows the person with the problem to be an active participant and an expert on how to resolve their own problem rather than a passive participant. It allows more insights to be gained on the problem this way and to achieve greater depth in the conversation.I think it also results in more solutions which are generated by the individual with the problem which in turn means they are more likely to act upon as you have their buy in.

  6. Upon reflection, Maggie Carey and Shona Russell’s article was a particularly insightful resource about externalising because it really spoke to the conscious and unconscious space that creates, influences, forms and establishes experiences in our lives. I really connected to their encouragement not to judge the externalising process, but to be curious about it: to dissect it, to learn about it’s history and place it in a context and culture, and accepting the changes and evolution of what is being externalised. Pertinent to this process is that our thoughts and our stories do not manifest abstractly, rather, there is a history to everything and once we can externalise and see it form as “our story” we can begin to challenge it and critically reflect on its relevance.

    I practice Social Work in Central Australia and I think that post-colonial trauma can be externalised in this context. And to clarify, I don’t mean externalising it in a way that devalues and diminishes the experience of that trauma, or negates responsibility and accountability that we all must take on in relation to this trauma, but to locate it in a bigger sphere of systemic violence and oppression is important. On the one hand, this effect can produce a level of disillusionment and helplessness, but I think it can also be externalised in a way that can promote solidarity, resistance, advocacy and resilience.

  7. I really enjoyed reading about ‘Sugar’. I think having a physical representation can really help to externalise and being able to engage with ‘Sugar’ by asking questions was extremely helpful. Externalising has so many therapeutic benefits and can enable a person to examine a difficulty and problem solve more effectively when the problem is distanced somewhat from themselves.

  8. I live and work in Alice Springs in Northern Territory of Australia.

    I was particularly drawn to the cartoon video of the Black Dog. This visual display of someones experience of externalizing and exploring depression, together with the commentary, clearly demonstrated how powerful this approach can be.

    I also enjoyed the talk given by Mark explaining how he had worked with Joey in a way that allowed Joey to define and own his bullying behaviors without shame or blame.

    I believe that externalizing could be used in grief counseling to encourage people to explore, describe and experience their grief in a way that allows them to accept the death of the person they have lost, express their pain, and ultimately create a new relationship to the dead person which can assist them in adjusting to life without that person.

    This might prove a particularly effective approach when grief process is prolonged rather than adaptive.

  9. Hello everyone,

    I guess the resource that stands out for me is the 4 step process for statement of position. I have worked with externalising before in regards to Acceptance Commitment Therapy, however, it has not got the same emphasis on position, as we always assumed that it was a negative position on the difficulty or story.However,I can see how this aspect can increase client control on the topic and shift the power away from the therapist and into the clients hands.

    I have used techniques in externalising across multiple settings, from diabetes management and lifestyle change through to panic disorder or victims of crime. I find the process to be brilliant at depersonalising the difficult experiences, however I also like to use it in regards to some positive feelings, such as when a father is involved wholly with his children, or someone with depression is able to get on top of their distress. The reason for this isn’t to decrease the effect of the moment but to build recognition for these moments and have them further develop the clients story of success.

    In essence, by using externalising techniques, the clients are able to better understand their own journey and understand that they may not be “angry” but they are experiencing anger and by depersonalising it, they have better recognition for it and more likely to treat it.

  10. I found the presentation by Mark Hayward and attached material particularly useful to help guide externalising conversations beyond externalising the problem to helping the person consider their context, values and weave alternative storylines.
    Seeing the black dog video again also powerfully highlighted the value of externalising.

    I feel that as Social/Community Workers we are trained to consider and naturally consider people in the context of their culture and history and much larger systems, so we naturally externalise peoples problems. However, this gives me the tools and language to assist people to externalise problems for themselves and to use this as a means of reclaiming their lives.

    Problems that I may assist people to externalise in my context might include mental health, parenting struggles, alcohol use, violence and self-esteem issues. I feel that in externalising these things, people are given an increased sense of self-worth and empowerment, and confidence to move forward with their lives.

  11. Most of the resources in this chapter were extremely useful in furthering the understanding of externalisation
    In my work setting these ideas are especially helpful with clients who have internalised negative attitudes about themselves. it is also helpful to those who have internalised oppressive social structures and identities.

  12. All of the resources are useful. I particularly appreciated the “Statement of Position Map 1” because it is a sensible, practical, ‘simple’, ‘working tool’ to keep on track with observations notations, conversational progress and success level, especially where a person’s “attention” skills and thought congruence are challenged. Besides the person asking the question surely would be challenged to remember everything that transpires in a session LOL 🙂
    Working with individuals from ages ranging from young children-adult in culturally diverse contexts provides for a vast range of problems and management of these.I loved the “Black Dog” as a metaphor for externalisation of the problem especially in relation to those with language difficulties.
    What difference might this make?
    I love the way this provides a safe place/space to explore difficult, painful and or scary issues for the individual concerned.

  13. I found the video of Mark Hayward is really useful with the transcript of Joey. It make me understand the externalizing much better and very practical as well.
    After studied this chapter, I have better knowledge that externalizing is just a start of narrative therapy and it is different with other theories. It is going to enrich the alternative stories and making people to externalize the problem from people. This golden rule “The person is not the problem, the problem is the problem” is kept in my memory now.

  14. The Commonly Asked Questions provided a great background to the meaning of externalising, based on how problems are internalised. Placing space between the person and the problem I understood already, but the idea of externalising ‘good’ as well as ‘bad’ experiences/traits added to my understanding.
    The Maps of Narrative Practice video provided a practical example of how to apply these concepts and I found myself applying this to my own personal situation as I worked through it.
    In my context, I saw how I could externalise attachment issues, and rather than being labelled a ‘bad’ mother, partner and daughter, I could use this distance to explore the effects of the past and how I reached this identity under the influence of others’ ideas and beliefs.
    The difference this might make is that I am able to explore alternate definitions of mothering and partnering that allow me to retain a sense of separate ‘self’ which may not be ‘bad’ after all.

  15. Which resource in this chapter particularly caught your attention and why?
    Externalising, in particular the point about “professional language” which has become such a common experience, for eg when a client is referred to you by their GP because of their depression or anxiety, they already have their problem internalised. I also really enjoyed The Statement of Position Map 1with explanation from Mark Hayward – I found this very useful and could see how you could use this as a framework to create movement through a session.

    What sort of problems could be externalised in your context? What difference might this make?
    I work in trauma and torture and the impacts of these including the somatic symptoms could all be externalised. In the case of refugees who may not speak the same language as their counsellor this technique could benefit clients where they are able to describe the characteristics (or draw, paint etc) of their problem rather than being confused by traditional psychological professional language.

  16. I really liked Mark Haywards video. He described externalization gracefully and also when to be careful with externalizing.
    In mental health depression, psychosis, anxiety, and not wanting to take medication could be externalized.
    This would be helpful in seperating someone from the problem so they could describe the problem and discuss its impacts upon them.

  17. I love the transcripts of “Externalising – commonly asked questions” and the video of Mark Hayward, which provide contexts and practices helping to understand where and how externalising works. Besides, the video of “I had a black dog, his name was depression” demonstrates a vivid example of externalising for me.

    Actually, I feel that externalising does exist in our daily life, typically when interacting with small kids, though we may purposely avoid it wth the grown-ups considering that it might be naive.

    A few days ago, when I used externalising in the discussion with a lady who was suffering from depression, the sense of humour did intrigue kind of curiosity from her.

  18. One of the ideas that especially struck me were the parallels between the Statement of Position worksheet, and an approach to working with young African American men I’ve used to explore the contours of self, masculinity and oppression in marginalized communities–work that we published back in the 1990s. My associates and I, like Mark, used questions much more than statements. These were the four angles of questioning after they had viewed a rap-music video: (1) what did you see? (2) what did it mean to you [what was the theme, moral, or statement being made]?, (3) What makes you say that [their position on #3]?, (4) How does what you saw fit with your personal & cultural values? and (5) If what you saw is contrary to your values, what can you to to improve the situation? Mark’s worksheet was very powerful for me, because he used themes similar to ours, but his focus was on the problems on individuals, whereas our work focused on the perils of masculinity and social oppression. His give to me is a way that I can address both personalized and social problems (as part of socipolitical development) using a very similar framework! Thanks, Mark!!

    The one thing I didn’t understand was the value of tracking statements over time in the worksheet? What advantage does that provide over simply classifying important things that were said in the appropriate category?

  19. I have experienced the impact of externalizing conversations in my practice. It allows me and the client to find space from a seemingly overwhelming and heavy problem story. The video by Mark Hayward really helped me understand the importance of establishing the client’s position in relation to the problem. I am looking forward to integrating this more fully into my sessions. I am wondering about externalizing good things and how it fits into externalizing conversations with clients.

  20. As a community development worker, I loved the article on Sugar and it has encouraged me to consider how I might apply narrative therapy techniques in my work with culturally and linguistically diverse communities, particularly in the area of mental health. I loved the fact that it externalised the problem in a way that was culturally appropriate, humorous and non-threatening (it engaged the whole group rather than putting any individuals on the spot). I think this would also apply to the refugee communities we work with and might be an effective way of addressing the stigma and shame attached to mental health.
    Thanks, Dominika from Cairns

  21. Hello all! I am fascinated with externalizing and the freedom that often comes when a person is able to separate themselves from the problem and begin moving toward the life they wish to live. I found Mark’s video to be very informative, especially in the use of the Position Map. It was very easy to follow the up and down and up and down progression that eventually led to a clear position on Joey’s part. Reading about these things is helpful, but ‘experiencing’ it through someone else is extremely beneficial.
    I also have to add that I loved ‘Sugar’ and it has given me pause to think through issues that my school community is facing and how I might be able to address these issues in ways that are non-threatening and brings them to life.
    Thanks for a great chapter filled with valuable information!

  22. I enjoyed hearing more about when to externalize and when to limit the externalization process, as I find this to be a delicate dance. I appreciate looking at the client in this way – balancing the ways the client did not “create” the problem and “is not the problem” yet is responsible for behavior and the process of resolution.

  23. Externalizing sounds a very helpfull techniqe, but when children come for therapy they sometimes don’t feel that they have a problem. Their parents bring them to the therapist. Do you recommend naming the problem by the parents ot the therapist first. Or rather waiting for the child to come himself to the conclusion about the name of his problem?


    Yafit form Israel

    • hi Yafit, I’d suggest you read the book ‘Narrative therapy with children and their families’ by Michael White and Alice Morgan for some ideas about this. Especially the chapter 5 of this book entitled ‘Fostering collaboration – between parents and children, and between child protection services and families’. Warmly, David D

  24. Thank you for this abundance of many-media references and resources, a real treasure trove!
    The Sugar and Black Dog stories left a strong impression on me. There is something empowering – if not comforting – about being able to externalize a problem so that it loses its ability to exert power from within, and to act as an oppressive force on one’s life. The mere act of placing the problem outside of oneself allows for a shift in perspective, as the transformation vis-a-vis the black dog so cleverly illustrates.
    Much gratitude to Mark for providing a step-by-step analysis of Joey’s gradual understanding of bullying… with guidance, but more importantly, in his OWN way and time.

  25. I was very moved by the WHO black dog video. I counsel clients with mild to moderate depression within the IAPT framework in the NHS as a trainee counsellor at University. I am a mature student.

    I am very conscious of the stories clients tell themselves and have always felt as though working with metaphor is a great strength of mine. Obviously listening approach to clients.

    Thank you. I also have a young teenager and this story telling approach important and useful in parenting for me.

  26. Really great to see an example of the position map in process.
    Thank you for working through it so thoroughly and showing your thoughts as the process went on.

  27. Which resource in this chapter particularly caught your attention and why?
    I loved Matt Johnston’s “I had a black dog” story. The illustrations subtly yet simply captured the text and took me as the audience on a journey with a person changing his relationship with his depression. For me it expressed very well the power of externalising – and the liberation that can be engendered.

    What sort of problems could be externalised in your context?
    I work with men and women whose lives have been affected by childhood trauma. Being able to externalise conversations about past overwhelming experiences can lend people some distance, a reflective space, from where they can choose how to reinterpret their story.

    What difference might this make?
    The story can being to lose its constitutive power over the storyteller.

  28. Deo le Roux from Cape Town South Africa

    Paraphrasing Philippa’s concluding question – What relevance do you see for yourself in Michael’s initial explorations with children regarding externalization?

    It reminds me to seek out opportunities to engage with children in dialogical teaching and learning, so they teach and I learn.

    Which resource in this chapter particularly caught your attention and why?

    Mark Hayward’s video is a winner in my view. Why? Because of its simplicity. It confirms the view that if you understand something really well, you can make it easy for others to understand.

    What sort of problems could be externalized in your context?

    Not being a counselor/ therapist and researching Narrative Practice for personal interest I went through much of the externalization process in a self-reflective manner, without a discussion partner.

    In the end this provided me with a better understanding of the dynamic of internalization and externalization. It provided insight into cases where I had internalized certain events/ negative conclusions and it became clear that this response was not inevitable. Rather, I allowed internalization due to lack of an understanding of the consequences. Being aware of this pitfall (apparently) enables me to circumvent it quite simply without further strengthening the internalized aspect.

    What difference might this make?

    From self-observation it is evident that recognition and contemplation of ‘negative internalization’ weakens the effect in due course. Internalizing positive conclusions seems useful at first. However, I’m not convinced that this is the best way to respond. At the moment it seems to me that a sense of personal agency does not necessarily have to be based on a ‘positive internalization’ for any given circumstance. It will be interesting to see whether this view is confirmed as time passes and I have more practice in observing the dynamic of internalization and personal agency.

  29. Catherine Strathalbyn SA
    I liked the diagram of the two people, one with the problem inside of them and one with the problem next to them.
    In my area of mental health, problems of worry, isolation and painful family relationships could be externalized. This would make a difference by separating out the person from the problem so the problem can be discussed with some distance.

  30. I’ve also had success using externalising with children. It seems effective to create a book about overcoming the externalised problem, with illustrations by the child if possible. It works well with “anger management” or “anxiety” issues (usually called something much different when externalised by the child). The finished book can be shared with others who can then support change in dealing with the problem, and even reflect on their own issues. I also love the idea that the story then has a life of its own and I imagine it being brought out again later, or even just resurfacing in future times for the child or others in their world.

  31. I have found externalising conversations very helpful when working with young children who have usually been present in doctors offices, at parent teacher interviews, and even around conversations their parents have had with other family members and friends, where they hear on a regular basis that they are a problem and how they are a problem.

    I usually get young children to draw and rename the problem, we then look at the picture while exploring what intentions the problem has for their life and how they can be defeated.

    I have been looking for a way to engage young adults in externalising conversations that would also be helpful and fun. After reading ‘introducing sugar’ i am inspired to maybe one day introduce an interview role play where the young adult 14+ or a close friend of theirs could pretend to play the role of the “problem” and be interviewed by the parents and myself with questions that get the young adult to outline the differences between them and the problem, what the problems intentions are for them and their future, what makes them strong and what weakens them etc. I think this would be another nice way to elevate the young adult into the role of expert in their life and show their own unique strengths on how they would weaken the problems influence as well as outline the supports needed to achieve this.

    The best thing about externalising conversations i have found, is that it allow’s the child’s voice to be louder then the problem. It shifts the parents position to now stand with the child as a team instead of against the child with the influence of blame, and it instantly repairs relationships as people feel encouraged by the work instead of experiencing a feeling of defeat.

  32. I find it encouraging that I have used some of the methods here described in the chapter Externalizing – Externalizing conversation. In my context we work in a strengths based and person centered approach, which places people whom we assist in the centre of their journey towards healing and change. Listening to the person’s story, being genuinely interested and validating their experience provide the foundation of working on externalizing the problem, giving room for the person to see her/himself in a different light and to enable her/ him to find a way to recognize and accept “I’m not the problem” however I can work towards finding a way to understand and cope with the problem”. In my context I enjoy working together with the person, “throwing” myself in conversation of the creation of their story lines, exploring the problem and giving it a name and also providing the person an opportunity to become aware/ acknowledge “hidden” skills, qualities and values, which increase self-awareness and worth.

    Black Dog presentation was very descriptive of how to externalise a problem – to become skillful and confident in externalising conversation and the usage of metaphors/language that has meaning to the client.

    I agree to the ” Commonly asked Questions” article that having these conversations utilising externalisation methods would require practice to become confident in using the client’s language in ways to separate the person from the problem and to build on creativity in characterising the problem/effects. This would be an area I would like to explore and practice.

  33. Lesley from Australia – Externalising is such a powerful way to acknowledge the persons authority of the knowledge and preferred way of living. I like the idea of the person becoming “the consultant” , the primary author to work with the counsellor to expose the problems effects and its intentions and bring forward the persons resistance to the problem. I believe that this type of pathway of enquiry places the person as the expert in their own life . I have done studies in Narrative and use narrative ideas in my work with people. It is so refreshing and less exhausting to not be looked upon as a professional with the answers. I build on the externalising conversation by sending the person a Therapeutic letter and have received many comments from the people who come to see me how helpful this tool is.

  34. I believe what really caught my attention was the point that an externalized problem need not be an “enemy” or something we, as therapists, teach people to erase or totally get rid of. The video of the black dog explains this well. The dog does not completely go away, but it can become smaller, less menacing, and even be a “teacher”. I found that incredibly important. When we teach our clients to externalize, we teach them not necessarily to combat their problem, but to tame it, and possibly, even see it’s value.
    On a similar note, listening to Joe’s transcript gives the message of how, through externalizing conversations, bullying might not be as enormous as it is originally seen. Something as simple as identifying the types of bullying, makes the problem seem less overwhelming and impossible to deal with.
    In my context, I think of how I worry so much about everything. Will I be late? Will I cause trouble for others? Will this project turn out well? I used to be called “the worrier”. But now, having externalized it and called it “the grey cloud”, I see it as something that is sometimes dark, but sometimes not so dark. I also see how the grey cloud also signals to me (like a teacher) of making sure I have done all that I need to do so that I make the best of my situation. So it becomes a guide, to see if I have covered all my bases. A guide and not a burden.
    And this externalizing has helped me, with, as the narrator of the video of the black dog, said, with humour integrated in as well. So I can say to myself “hey grey cloud, you seem pretty dark today”. And I feel more in charge of it, rather than it of me.

  35. Eve from Toowoomba, Queensland
    I have found this particular concept of externalizing very interesting and something that has been quite helpful in therapy. I introduced the concept to a client recently and for the first time she said she was able to see her situation in a different way and to see it without blaming herself. The processes provided by Mark in the video have also helped to give me ideas about future directions in working with clients. I liked the article on “Sugar” – working differently, and thought that externalizing the problem was a very powerful way to interest and engage clients.

  36. Which resource in this chapter particularly caught your attention and why?
    Externalizing resonates a lot with my practice of Theatre of the Oppressed and remind me of what we call ‘Cops in our Head’. In that sense, the idea of externalizing problems starting by ‘The person is not the problem…’ and going on a journey of naming it, naming its effects etc. is a new way of investigating these ‘cops’ or problems. In this sense I loved to read about ‘Sugar’, but also to be guided step-by-step through the chart by Mark Hayward.

    However, what first caught my attention was the ‘black dog’ of depression. It reminded me of the earthquakes in 2015 in Nepal, and afterwards especially parents approaching me being scared that their children were traumatized now. Many of these parents lived in remote areas with limited access to in-depth information, and in our conversations I felt like they didn’t really have a concept of trauma, but rather had heard the word around so much, that it became like a scary dark and unidentifyable dark cloud hanging over their heads. Videos like the ‘black dog’ might be a way of introducing ideas, such as depression, to people who are interested without getting into the clinical jargon – and also as a way of making it less a pathology, but a display of effects it can have on our lives – something that is easier for people to identify with, to say ‘yes, I experience that, too, sometimes’ without making them feel scared of being sick. However, as so many communities also have their own ways of conceptualizing trauma, depression and treatments in their own cultures, I am wondering how we could learn from each other and enrich each others’ knowledge we have gathered throughout many life-times. In that sense I really appreciate narrative therapy and its connection to storytelling, but also the invention of ‘Sugar’ 🙂

    What sort of problems could be externalised in your context?
    In my context, I am interested in investigating how fear, anger/defensiveness and physical symptoms of those could be externalised – especially in contexts of violence against women, cast-based discrimination or natural disaster. I am not clear from this module yet on how physical reactions are being engaged with in narrative practice and hope to learn more about it in the future. But I love, that the socio-political and cultural context is given weight here.

    What difference might this make?
    Not defining oneself over the problem, being able to take a stand back and observe the problem, rather than being it, could be a very empowering moment for people who experience for example anger or fear after having experienced sexual violence. At the same time, I also keep thinking about Mark Hayward’s thoughts on how to engage with perpetrators and their responsibilities and the connections with the cultural context. I am wondering if externalizing aspects of their line of thoughts and behavior might help men and boys, but also perpetrators, in deconstructing internalized thoughts and behavior of patriarchy and its effects on the people (especially women) around them, without getting extremely emotional and defensive about it. I am wondering if that would allow men to acknowledge the pain that is inflicted on women and engaging in constructive thoughts of how they envision themselves and the society they live in.

    • PS: I wanted to share that in the last week our theatre’s Social Theatre Team and I have developed a Forum Theatre Performance on HIV/Aids together. The Team consists of 9 members around the age of 20 and only three of them are female. I have worked with the female members in women’s theatre-sessions before, where we have also talked very openly about sexuality and sexual experiences, but was quite curious about how this mixed group would engage with the topic as part of its learnings related towards HIV/Aids – especially given that sexuality is a big taboo-topic in Nepal and that I as their ‘Joker’ (facilitator) was a new member in their group.
      Anyways, inspired by ‘Sugar’ I developed a performance as HIV-virus and also asked the team-members to take the stage as HIV-viruses to share what they have researched about it. I was astonished by how easy it was for the majority of the team-members to engage in this conversation, to share and to ask questions. Our session took almost two hours and we could have gone on and on. I also believe that the following sessions were much more informed and open, due to introducing the virus in such a way at first. It really helped us to develop a sensitive, informed and confident performance.
      Thank you for the inspiration!

  37. I am a student counselor and I have only done my first 50 hours of counseling. I have already had a very successful outcome with one client since I started using narrative externalizing. My client was cutting/self harm and has been under counselors for two years. I tried narrative and we named the cutting behavior as a cutting monster. The client stopped cutting by week four of the narrative therapy. Thank you so much for having this free course. It’s really helping people who would otherwise not get help. I have also suffered from jealousy problems and have been through counselling for it myself. No counselor ever tried narrative on me before so I have been externalizing my jealousy for myself and I am having some great relief from the problem.

  38. I have found this lesson particularly interesting and valuable for my current work with children. Working with children that experience severe behaviour problems and anger issues, I find the idea of externalizing helpful. However I think there is an important in near and far externalizing, in insuring I do not fully remove the child responsibility from the incident. I am hoping to use some of the techniques suggested in the Mark video, especially using the map. My hope is to use the map to further my ability to develop a full understanding and move through the analysis with the child. However, I do question what to do when a child is resistant to externalizing the problem or providing their own name and narrative to it.
    Strathmore, Canada

  39. I’ve been enjoying this exercise over the past fortnight, an idea that I have utilised a great deal in my work with treating eating disorders but haven’t visited for awhile. In particular I was able to engage two ladies this week in naming and thinking about the effect that their problem’s have had on them thus far. The feedback was tremendous from these ladies about their no longer feeling ‘crazy’ that they were responsible for the havoc wrecked on their relationships and careers. We were about to work towards an understanding about what the cost has been with regard to maintaining these problems and the perception that other’s have of them. I was thinking as a result of watching the video from Mark that now I have the next steps in my mind for how to proceed with the next sessions with both these ladies and others. I felt revitalized in my work by revisiting these ideas in session.

    I have also been thinking about how I have been engaging with the children I work with lately and feeling like I was leaning too heavily on cognitive behavioural strategies that aren’t entirely playful and will be happy to begin to take Mark’s lead in getting the children to describe their problem. I am hopeful that this will begin to decrease the divergence I witness between the parent’s position on why their child is coming to therapy and the child’s version of the problem. It seems so obvious now to put the child in the executive position around their problem, I feel silly to have been blinded by this in my recent practice.

  40. I really enjoyed Mark Hayward’s presentation and resources, and ‘Sugar’ (especailly the cultural relevance). I was particularly interested in Mark’s explanation of his stance in regards to externalising when the person has participated in acts of violence or abuse. It makes me wonder about people who may have been forced to commit violent acts against their will, and how complex this would be in terms of identity, culture, social and relational background, etc.
    I think that feeling stressed, depressed, or overwhelmed and constantly ‘time poor’ could be externalised. I can imagine that this could put distance between the person and their problem, enable them to see the impact of the problem and the mismatch with their values, and then give them space to view ways of addressing the problem.

  41. Which resource in this chapter particularly caught your attention and why?
    The resource that caught my attention were the maps of Narrative Practice by Mark Hayward. The reason the resource caught my attention was because I found that when I try to externalize a problem I struggled to ask the correct questions and as a consequence the problem became more complex.

    What sort of problems could be externalised in your context?
    In my context any kind of problem can be externalized since the person who is dealing with the problem knows exactly how it is impacting on them.

    What difference might this make?
    I did an exercise on myself to understand what problems were distressing me and what steps I had undertaken to address these problems. I found that most of my problems were in the past and did not exist in the present since I have been actively dealing with these problems during that time.
    I found that I subconsciously kept going back to my old problems which were very active in my mind. Externalization gave me the tools to separate these problems and appreciate myself more and make me feel good about myself.

  42. I loved the linked resource “Introducing Sugar” by Barbara Wingard. I have found externalising successful, though have only used this practice to navigate externalising problems. I am very interested in continuing using this practice to explore positives, strengths and the ‘gems’ to thicken the preferred story.

    Though what has really excited me was the use of externalising as a facilitator in a community or learning context, much like the “Introducing Sugar” story. I can imagine the use of this practice in learning sessions. Initially I thought of subjects such as healthy bodies, safe sex practices would be great topics to externalise though I now imagine this practice could be introduced in many learning opportunities. I can see this practice not only used in a therapeutic context though possibly as student projects designed for learning tools and developed as a community.

    Communicating and negotiating concerns in a community learning environment can sometimes be tricky and can entice defensive responses. This is an area I would like to explore more and introduce externalising processes, to avoid a perception of blame when raising concerns and increase the outcome to remain solution focused.

    Brisbane Australia

  43. The resource that struck me the most in this chapter is the video with Mark Haywood talking about externalising and the statement of position map 1. I liked how the process supported the young boy to discuss and describe his views and preferences regarding bullying. I was thinking about how other ways of working might approach working with him and how he might be seen as a problem in himself, or his relationship with his mother (or other important person in his life) might be problematised. I also liked how other examples were given of how externalising can elicit rich descriptions of issues that can be given an expert’s label (e.g. the black depths, pounce of the wolf monster). I’ve been thinking about what could be externalised in my context (domestic violence). I think perhaps perpetrator tactics like secrecy and trickery (Laing and Kamsler, can’t remember date) could be externalised, and emotions/feelings. I’m wondering if physical sensations can be externalised? I don’t know. I will have to do some more reading. What would this mean for a person if a physical sensation (or “trauma symptom”) was externalised, would it be helpful? In some domestic violence services at the moment there is a strong discourse of trauma/symptoms and sometimes the political and social contexts get lost.

  44. Every part of this lesson was useful and engaging, but perhaps the part that gave me most food for thought was the Commonly Asked Questions.

    It was good to start thinking about the relationship between poststructuralism and narrative practice. Related to that, the links between narrative practice and social justice came into sharper focus for me in this lesson, including joining some dots between these things and intersectional feminism and medicalisation.

    One thing that especially excited me was the idea of handing back the role of expert to the person with the problem – and I saw how beautifully that exploring ways to externalise the problem can do this. I have adhd, and I’ve been building my own metaphors, and finding ways to conceptualise it that make sense to me since I was diagnosed, and sometimes I feel really frustrated by the clinical definitions that seem to be imposed on me – and on other people I know with adhd, who also often have developed their own ways to conceptualise it.

    One idea I find challenging (although I see that it makes sense) is externalising ‘strengths’ as well as ‘weaknesses’, and I also wonder where or how to draw the line in externalising. At a certain point, I find my whole idea of self is challenged. I’m going to think and read more about this.

    One way I think problems could be externalised in my context:

    Earlier this week, after reading most of the lesson, I was talking with a creative writing student about the writer’s block he was suffering. Because of this lesson on externalisation, I thought about how ‘writers block’ is a clinical, authority word, that doesn’t fully (or at all) reflect the individual writer’s experience. So I talked with the student to understand exactly what the experience he was having was – and this was SO helpful.

    I did falter when it came to exploring possible solutions, and I found I kept impulsively trying to offer my own solutions, and floundered, unsure how best to try and encourage ideas for actions from the student. He definitely made good headway with this on his own steam though, so it ended well!

    I have more thoughts on narrative practice and writers’ processes, but this is getting long! Lastly, related to this, I had an ‘aha’ moment yesterday when I realised that the widely shared TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert – ‘Your Elusive Creative Genius’ – seems like it might be a pretty good, accessible example of externalising a strength? (Even if some of her other work unsettles me.)

  45. Which resource in this chapter particularly caught your attention and why?

    I really appreciated the example of the position map with Joey’s story. I believe using this resource in my practice would assist me in understanding where the client is at in their understanding of the situation. It would assist in externalizing the “problem” and identifying the values they desire and move toward the person they want to be.

    What sort of problems could be externalised in your context?

    I work with youth in a School setting so externalising could be used both in counselling appointments with the student, developing understanding and support in the family and educating staff.

    What difference might this make?

    This would assist students, parents and staff to view the problem as separate to the student which will result in a more supportive and empowering response.

    Thankyou Dulwich centre for making these resources avaliable. I am really enjoying learning more about Narrative therapy.

  46. Hi,I´m Veronica from Argentina, again. I want to share an experience with you. Last week I was stolen (or I lost) my wallet with my national identity card, my driving license, my credit card, and some money. And thinking that “the problem is the problem” helped my so much to stay calm and go to the police station. I solved the problem of getting all these cards again in just one week. I could focus on solving the problem and not on feeling sorry for myself. My self confidence was increased and I felt so happy for this.
    The SOP is a very usefull guide to make externalising a real process. I use to paint in class with my students and the image of “the black dog” inspired me a lot. The children can enjoy externalising their problems by making a picture of them, and personalising them.
    I found that objectification of the problem, instead of the person, is a very important new point of view. It is so easy to speak about the “problem kid”, at school…
    The problem is the problem takes you to a new place from where you can observe the problem separately from the person. That opens you a door to a new group of tools to solve the problem.
    Please forgive my English mistakes…
    See you and thank you.

  47. The powerpoint presentation was the resource that stood out to me, especially slide 2. This slide talked about experience-near and experience-distant descriptions. Experience-near descriptions giving ownership to the client and not putting the therapist in the expert role.
    Slide 3 then lead me to think of other ways externalising could be included in therapy – such as drawing or other art, music and sounds or play therapy.
    Personally, I love the concept of externalising which is one of the ideas that drew me towards Narrative Therapy.
    In regards to Narrative work I imagine a person signified as a piece of clay and slowly a little ball is taken away and placed beside the larger piece – after some time the larger piece of clay is surrounded by smaller pieces with the larger piece still in the middle. This to me signifies all the alternative stories a person has, not just, as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie so eloquently put it, one single story.

  48. Which resource in this chapter particularly caught your attention and why? Matthew Johnstone’s Black Dog of Depression clip really caught my attention in how well it visually portrayed the externalisation processes; and the considerate use of language.

    What sort of problems could be externalised in your context?
    In my work, I aim to externalise a person’s experience of PTSD (I might name it for this purpose “the dark terror of night”), particularly as the trauma response of the client group can be considered normal reactions to abnormal event(s) including ongoing persecution and human rights injustices.

    What difference might this make?
    It seems to provide the person consulting me with a sense of breathing space between them as a person and the heavy, isolating experience of the problem. It also helps to normalise their experience. I have found that externalising also helps to build trust and rapport.

  49. Singapore

    I found the statement of position map very helpful – it gave me an overview of exploring together with the client a fuller, richer story behind issues/challenges. It guided me in the types of questions I would sensitively ask and for what purpose.
    It is interesting that these could be linked with the phenomenological exploration of an artwork. Asking ‘what stands out in their artwork’ could lead to deeper conversations concerning the client’s values, experiences, position and connections.
    Externalising the problem to create distance and a springboard for further enquiry resonates with art therapy and I’m excited to integrate this further into practice. The problem and not the person is addressed and externalised as an artwork which in itself becomes the third element in the art therapy triangular relationship. This third party – an object of transference and countertransference.

  50. I have found this chapter on externalising really useful to take forward with me in my practice. I have had some training in narrative therapy during my course on systemic practice and really took to the ideas around the problem being separate to and not defining the person. I also found that there is a lot more to applying the technique of externalisation and externalising conversations and at times I have found myself struggling to apply it as effectively as I would have liked. Watching Mark Hayward’s video was really useful and the idea of having a map to refer yourself back to and structure some of the ideas of externalising is something I am definitely going to take away. I also really liked the idea of ‘charting’ and feel like this will support me in recognising the intentions behind certain questions I am asking for. As Mark noted in his video, using a chart can also be useful to gauge whether the questions you are asking are too high up the map and that more time may be needed on the other levels first.

    I also found it really useful reading the common pitfalls of externalising in Shona Russell and Maggie Carey’s paper. I can recognise that at times I may have focused too much on externalising only the ‘bad things’ with the hope that an individual will recognise all the good qualities they have within them. As the paper noted, externalising can be done for both and this is only the start. The focus in on strengthening the alternative stories. This has given me a lot to take away and think about and I feel that this chapter has helped me to engage with narrative theory on a deeper and more appreciative level than I had initially.

  51. I truly liked the whole idea of Externalising as to Labeling the problem this way the person is able to see the problem as something to solve and not view it as that of themselves personally.This person is more able to understand and identify a solution to make the changes in their own behavior or how they feel about themselves.
    Bulling was a good example, yet in a child that is anxious I feel can also help.

  52. Hola/ Hello Friends Of DC!

    Well, my coments about this Map on externalizing conversations are: It’s great to see that there are some practices that allowe people to take distance from what they call their problems, specially when it’s been soo long since they have been strugguling with them.

    At the same time I Could say that the efects of externalizing are great! Because they provide a point where to ”pull” to an other places: richer stories!

    In an other book I read that the questions we make thru externalizing conversatinos are called ”relative influence questions” because they try to find what are or were the effects of the problem, what are the present of the problem, and where do we want to go regarding the problem.

    Also a very good point I can find here, it’s also the chances we have to separate ”Qualityes” and to find out how they were created.

    Thank you Dulwich Center.

  53. “The person is not the problem, the problem is the problem”: what powerful language and wonderful to dip our toes into “externalising” the problem. Though we are cautioned not to allow this to imply a lack of responsibility in areas where violence (actions or language) may be present such as bullying: noted by both Russell and Carey and in Mark Hayward discussion of Joey’s transcript.
    Shona Russell’s and Maggie Carey’s “Externalising – commonly-asked questions” is a great introduction. The idea of “externalising” our problems (e.g., anxiety, depression, lack of self-worth) and personal qualities (e.g. our strengths) is exciting as it opens up being able to have a myriad of conversations with what is out there, outside of ourselves; opening up multiple stories and possibilities in dealing with this external thing, the hitherto problem. Seeing problems as social constructions is inviting, as we can then deconstruct them outside a self-blame framework: this provides us with a feeling of power over our problem (or any other aspect of our being). Being able to choose how we name this externalised problem has the potential to empower us and even bring humour into the stories as we talk to this thing. “De-centring” this problem creates a space between us and the problem and is a powerful image wherein the space can be filled with conversations utilising our strengths and skills. I wonder if this could be useful around a dining room table in a family context.
    Introducing Sugar: this story emphasises the power of image and the conversation, allowing participation through questions and answers on the participants terms (culture), of humour in thickening a story, and how by doing this in group normalises the issue.
    Matthew Johnstone’s story of overcoming the “black dog of depression”: the power of visually seeing the “black dog”, how dealing with this dog can sap all energy and take over your life, with the importance of understanding this as an “equal opportunity mongrel” and “being open and authentic” to those who love you. This is empowering, for so often we feel we are alone with our issues, excluding our loved ones from our pain.
    Mark Hayward’s presentation thickens our understanding: provides examples of questions, giving boundaries to the problem; focussing on us being the expert of our problem; exploring its history and effects, how it operates (when, how, whom); our position on the problem bringing in our values. All good fodder for our own conversations, with ourselves, our families.
    Joey’s transcript: how to be careful separating the problem (violent behaviour/ bullying) from the person (9-year-old); exploring background for ideas, choices and position, including values. How Joey is empowered through questions from his parents.
    Reflecting on my own personal practice, I like to see issues on my shoulder, easier to chat to and brush off as unhelpful. Reading about externalisation reinforces the usefulness of seeing the problem as separated from me.
    Brisbane, Australia

  54. New South Wales, Australia.

    The concept of externalising is also a concept I have come across previously. However, I found the concept of externalising in “sugar” really cemented the concept for me and I felt like to took externalising to a new level. I am excited to continue to use and to develop my use of externalising. I feel externalising is am empowering tool for the client and also the clinician, it reminds us not to see a client as a diagnosis (something I have noticed in the “hospital story”). Separates the client from the illness, empowering them.

  55. I found this information very useful, we can all remember that a 9 year olds’ need respect for their intelligence when talking with them. There has been no blame placed on Joey here and Joey now feels confident enough with the therapist to own up to types of behaviour he has engaged in. Further Joey was able to eventually come to a value position on bullying and as he has been given an opportunity to discuss the subject instead of being ‘told’ he has learnt quite a lot about the effect of his behaviour on others.

  56. I really liked the video of Mark and the way he explains the practice of externalization. One of the things that caught my attention was the position on the problem and the values of the person considering the problem. I never thought of it that way. On my practice I use externilizing, but i find it dificult to ask question of externalization because of the internilizing practice I’m use to. Althought, I keep trying.

  57. I am writing from Perth, Western Australia.

    I have been exposed to externalising during my studies, but only at a basic level. These resources have deepened my understanding of externalising, especially in regards to how this tool is useful for ourselves and clients.

    I found Mark Haywiods statement position map to be helpful practically in applying externalising into my life and work. Working in this way can feel out of the comfort zone for some therapists, however the many examples provided for how to introduce externalising to clients will help to minimise the clumsiness and increase my confidence for introducing this practice into my work.

    I also found Barbara Wingard’s story of ‘Sugar’ to be very insightful. It demonstrated to me the non blaming and non threatening aspect of externalising. The reading lead me to reflect on times with my clients when I have attempted to explore a ‘problem’ (without externalising) and there has been some resistance and denial expressed by the client. It was obvious to me that this was because of shame, embarrassment or uncomfortableness around the problem. In this situations I can really see the value in using externalising. Externalising minimises the shame as it removes the problem from the persons self or identity, reinforcing the person is not the problem. By externalising problems we are likely to experience less resistance as shame has been minimised.

  58. Michael White’s “The person is not the problem, the problem is the problem” is a great mantra to remember. I enjoyed Mark’s video, particularly as it was an application of the theory to a real-life conversation. The map would be helpful in doing one’s own critical reflection as well as in supervision. I appreciated Mark’s thoughts on the limits to externalisation around issues of violence. Responsibility and accountability are important. I appreciate Mark’s concern for the therapist’s sensitivity. I think this will be a case of practise, practise, practise. We won’t always get it right but we keep on trying. Externalisation is a tool I’ve used in my own journalling as well as in my story coaching with clients and small groups. I currently work in Scotland where I live and occasionally in Canada.

  59. I really appreciated Mark Hayward’s video; it was conscious and very informational. I particularly enjoyed working through the map with the brief transcribed case example he provided. It was great to work through the tool in a the context of a case but in a safe way. I found his suggestion of taking such a map to supervision as really interesting, something I plan on doing. I have also spent time reflecting on Mark’s thoughts around the responsibility practitioners have on externalizing struggles and he’s thoughts on violence. It brought forward an important issue that needs to be worked on delicately within the context of a session. I would love to do more reading on the same.

    • I work in Brisbane, Australia

      I liked the black dog video.
      I found Mark’s transcript and session really helpful, to hear his thoughts about how the conversation went and to see that experienced practitioners like him don’t have linear conversations but still cover what they set out to. I like the idea of mapping where the conversation has been. I liked how he persisted in getting an answer to his questions and hearing his reflections. I often feel like other people know how to ask things better than I do. Reflecting on conversations in this way helps to develop skills. I would love the opportunity to see more sessions like this.

      The children I see have similar problems to this – good to see how this ‘antisocial type’ behaviour can be externalised while still acknowledging the effects.

  60. There is something intrinsically interesting about the idea of externalizing conversations. I am eager to try out these methodologies and help clients to be released of the self-defeating view of themselves as the problem. In this way we allow clients to regain a level of dignity that allows for the freedom to express narratives openly. I quite enjoyed the commonly asked questions of externalizing as they laid out perfectly for me the basics and essentials for learning to apply externalizing in practice. I was particularly interested in learning how to know what to externalize and was interested to hear that there are opportunities to externalize not only negative views of self but the positives as well.

    In my context I could see that there are many opportunities to externalize clients views that they are helpless. Many of the clients I see come from situations where they are struggling to see any way out of their issues. It might help clients to release themselves from narratives that restrict their abilities and strengths to solve their issues.

    I am excited to learn more about how to help clients externalize.

  61. Newcastle, Australia at the moment, but I’m from Italy
    I really love this perspective about externalising. It is a very interesting way of see things and a very useful tool to use first of all with ourselves and of course later with our clients.
    All the inspirations and the materials here are powerful and easy to access at the same time.
    Narrative Therapy is a new field to me and I’m very fascinated of this “new world”.

  62. Alberton, South Africa.
    I found all the resources about externalising extremely helpful. Mostly because it spoke about and demonstrated not only externalising the problem, but also what would be considered the’good things’. We often think it is okay to leave the good qualities internalised, but that limits our ability to further investigate the histories of these good qualities, which in turn, limits the person’s ability to construct a richly described alternative story that highlights future possibilities.

    For me, the Statement of Position Map 1 is very helpful if one is new in the practices of Narrative Therapy. It is a very useful guideline to make sure that one navigates the field of exploration into the possibilities of externalisation effectively and thoroughly.

    I have come across a problem of perfectionism and because it is acceptable and preferred in the culture in which I find myself, it is not viewed as a problem. The person who is experiencing it as a problem, has a different view to the cultural norm he functions in. Because it is regarded as a ‘good thing’ his family and friends make a point of verbalising it as good. He therefore has a problem externalising it, although his position is that it is hindering him in achieving his goals.
    The materials will certainly help me to ask the right questions to help him to externalise it in a near description and I believe once it is externalised, a wonderfully rich alternative story will be created.
    These materials have better equipped me to embark on that journey with him and others who will consult with me in future.

  63. I also loved the Black Dog video and will share a link to it on my counselling website. While the dog was actively trying to bring the person down, it also had a character that was not all together threatening, inferring that it could be tamed. Perhaps it’s because I love dogs, but then I think many people do, which makes it such a relatable character to portray depression.
    The issue of Worthlessness that was discussed reminded me of the power wielded by other people in our lives. I have seen clients who have previously attempted to create a preferred narrative for themselves, but the people around them resisted and discouraged their change. It seems sometimes that other people like to keep a person how they’ve always known them and that is so counter-productive to someone who wants to challenge the dominant story in their life.

    • It’s a good point Karen, about the others in peoples lives and how they support certain narratives. It is an excellent reminder of the importance of seeking additional information in creating thicker stories, and a really important aspect of this is seeking who would support a preferred narrative, who is most likely to play a part or wouldn’t be surprised by the new story.
      These people are so important in encouraging and supporting the process of generalisation of a new narrative from the therapy room to the real world of our clients where lasting and meaningful change can take place.

  64. I loved the black dog video- will be using this for psycho ed with clients. I also appreciated the resources on externalisation- as this is a very new concept for me. I believe externalisation may also play a role in empowering people, as many often feel guilty for not being as happy or fully functioning as others. Perhaps externalisation can assist shift the blame away from self to the external?

  65. I am reminded of the power of language in the very first line of this module. “The person is not the problem, the problem is the problem”.

    In my experience as a social work student, social work intern, social worker, then social worker student and intern again (!) I found that is has become accepted for health care workers working with children and families to prescriptively diagnose and assume to know all about the service users depression* without addressing the impact of having a ‘cloud’ of depression* over them. Naming and externalizing problematic behaviors and in engaging people in the process of thickening the thin and often problematic storylines can negatively inform their perspectives, self-concept, and identities.

    I very much appreciated the presentation by Mark Hayward who posed various questions to a young boy who had t-rex tempers following him around!

  66. The externalising process gives the client the opportunity to place the “problem” outside himself,
    so that it can be watched and looked at from a certain distance as if you would look at an object.
    Through out placing the problem talking about it from different stances becomes easier and it opens up for new possibilities which did not exist before.
    With gratitude Ute

  67. I found the “Introducing Sugar” article very useful in consolidating my understanding of the theory of Externalising. “The Black Dog” clip then consolidated my new understanding. I think that the provision of a metaphor/creation of a character allows us to externalise our negative self-talk and perceptions, as well as provide something concrete to refer to outside of therapy sessions to keep the negativity distinct from our self-concept.

    My students often refer to themselves as dumb and as failures. I think I could work with them to create a character to represent the fear of failure to empower them to work against this fear. They also carry a stigma from living in a socio-economically disadvantaged area; externalising the fears and emotions that come from this could also empower them to see themselves differently, and achieve different results in their life.

  68. This was an amazing chapter! The short film “I had a black dog. His name was depression” had a very important impact of how well the notion of internalizing is now part of my way of thinking. I was also impressed with Mark Hayward’s presentation but would really like to hear more about responsibility for the effects versus externalizing the problem. In working with offenders who have sexually abused children, I am wondering where/how to draw the line in externalizing the problem areas and where/how to ensure there is also a clear sense of responsibility for actions that caused harm to others. Is there further reading on this particular subject?

  69. I found in the discussion about how clients name the problem very interesting. The narrative used by many clients to describe the problem is in professional language. This leaves the context of the “problem” being narrated in a language that is often unfamiliar, it is being understood from a lense that is not consistent with the theoretically based description used by professionals and therefore not an authentic way to express the experience from the clients perspective. This was evident in the transcript with ‘Joey’ where he found it difficult to articulate his thoughts on bullying. I also appreciated how Mark ‘stepped back’ from his original question when he realised that the question was to difficult for Joey to answer. I felt this releases the worker from a position of authority and instead uses the response as a platform to gauge the position of the client.

  70. I am particularly stirred by the story of “Sugar.” Here is a technique that feels almost childish in its presentation, yet the approach comes from a position of sophistication, understanding and non-judgement. By using play (and play-acting) to communicate a problem, the learning and discussion environment is made safe. Further, by ensuring the play-ing is culturally informed, the message is made intelligible and receivable and, most importantly, the audience is invited to become a visible and included part of the process.

    There are two moments in the Black Dog film that stand out for me. The first is where the man is engaging in finger-pointing conversation with another person while the Dog bites his hand. This image captures beautifully the reminder that, in so many encounters in life, we cannot know where someone is coming from. Imagining everyone with a dog nipping at their fingertips is a sound reminder to react to others with generosity and compassion.

    My second Black Dog moment is when the man throws a stick for the dog. The idea of a person being able to change their relationship with a previously stultifying obstacle to the point that they can have fun with it is incredibly uplifting and significant. It speaks beautifully to what is achievable, and of what to aim for, through the process of narrative therapy.

  71. I have really appreciated this chapter for all the inspiration it provides! As many others I particularly enjoyed the “Black-dog video” ’cause it is a great example of how externalizing can effectively work in triggering healing strategies. I also found Mark’s lecture full of practical tips to put externalization into practice directly. I have sometimes charted my conversations before but in a very different way and using a different perspective. I have found the idea of “mapping” the conversation so brilliant and helpful! Thinking “geographically” as the problem were a region that can be identified, mapped and then escaped… great!

    If I reflect om my contest, I may come to problems that might be externalized. As a career counselor I often face feelings of uncertainty, despair, hopelessness that the individual has internalized. I often meet people who have internalized their unemployment in such an extend they start punishing themselves for it. They seem to have forgotten the fact that unemployment is often the result of a social and economical dysfunction, not an individual failure.
    Just in this regard I find so interesting what stated in the Commonly Asked Question about problems constructed by culture and history. Even if I find a little bit hard to grasp how “we see externalizing conversations as small ‘p’ political action”. Could anyone kindly develop a little bit more this point?
    If I am thinking about unemployment then it is very easy to see the bond with culture and society but what about depression, tantrums, anxiety? I need a little bit of an help here, thanks! 🙂

    Reading the comments I have also get another inspiring way of using externalization to explain western concepts as labour, career and so on to non-European citizen.

    Thanks a lot! Looking forward to the next chapter!

    An Italian working as career counselor in Sweden 🙂

  72. Again thank you everyone at Dulwich Centre for this wonderful wealth of knowledge and expertise. I was enthralled by it all but I spent the most time on “Externalising – commonly-asked questions Co-ordinated by Maggie Carey & Shona Russell” the following sentence kept me very busy but also worried. “As narrative therapists, we believe that it is the rich description of the alternative stories of people’s lives that provides people with more options for action and therefore enables significant changes to occur.” This is very powerful and puts this area of study in a nutshell. However, what if you get it wrong and haven’t been able to find the real “problem” to externalise in a new story-line? It appears to me that this is very delicate, so much so, that I can imagine working like this only in a team or at least with one other therapist. Is that usual in Australia? Of course, someone like Mark Hayward with his experience and engaging manner makes it sound almost playful and definitely doable and he inspires me to learn more. I think I’ll be doing quite a lot more study before trying this out with the refugees I’m presently working with in Berlin, Germany;) On with the next chapter thank you so much.

    • Hello Fracine,

      You’re very welcome! It’s wonderful to hear that you have been finding the course enthralling. Thank you for your wonderings about identifying the ‘real problem’, I think it is a very relevant question!

      From my perspective I think that it’s important to think about the history of where ideas about a ‘real problem’ have come from in shaping our thoughts on how we talk with people.. Ideas of what are the ‘real’ problems seem to change over time and often it is those with the most power/authority/legitimacy that get to decide on what the ‘real problems’ are and therefore the right actions or responses that are required..

      For me, Narrative Practice doesn’t require us to identify or decide on a ‘real problem’ – but rather invites those we meet with to identify and richly describe whatever problems they are troubled with.. often there might be more than one problem, often problems exist in relationship to other problems, sometimes problems might change as we investigate them, or take new shapes as we continue to meet with people.. or sometimes some problems might become more pressing or less pressing to talk about than others at different times..

      Narrative Practices invite us to assume a posture where we are guided by those we meet with as to what problems are most important to to talk about or relevant to a storyline.. This releases us from that worry of having to identify the ‘right’ or ‘real’ problem!

      (These considerations are also linked to the difference between ‘Structuralist’ and ‘Poststructuralist’ ideas which you will read more about in the chapter “Critical Thinking”)

      In relation to your question about therapists in Australia, there are lots of different configurations of how people work here.. Some people work individually and some people work in teams. I really appreciate your reflection that you can only imagine working in these ways with others though.. I think that working with colleagues and in communities of practice has been a vital part of the development of Narrative Practices and certainly it’s been very important to me to be connected with other practitioners ideas and offerings.. It seems exciting to think that perhaps this online forum might be one way to open up connections that might not otherwise have been made across different nations and communities? I wonder if there are colleagues you might connect with here to continue these reflections!

      Thanks for making space to expand more on this particular theme Fracine – I wonder if others also have ideas about these themes?

      With warmth Phillipa

  73. The statement of position map, very well explained by Mark Hayward, is a very helpfull instrument. Because you can easily switch between the different levels, it releases you of the pressure of having to make progress. This means that you can take your time and stay close to the language of your client.
    At first “physical pain” seemed something that is so internal that it could not be externalised. But talking in an externalising way about the effects of the pain opens new ways, makes the story of the pain richer.

  74. I am in agreement with many of the previous posts on the most striking resources in this chapter: The Black Dog video and the Joey transcript. I appreciate the Black Dog externalization of depression, particularly vivid was a point in the video when the dog was biting the man’s hand and it made him irritable, that inner pain being expressed outwardly. With the transcript, as a grad student, I could visualize the session and my use of this when working with a person who is being influenced by a problem.

    Currently I am especially interested in using externalizing conversations with a couple, but thus far everything has been primarily used with individuals. I will have to do more research on this, but with what information we have learned thus far, I think that externalizing the problem(s) that is/are influencing their relationship could be very powerful in uniting them against the intruder that is seeking to separate them.

  75. The Black Dog video was striking, and a resource that is easily accessible for the conversations I share every day, with social work colleagues and clients.

  76. Well where do I begin? So much fantastic material.I still find the concept of the person not being the problem,the problem is the problem so powerful,”giving a person authority over their own problem”. What a very commonsensical approach,to look at oneself in relation to a problem/issue from this different perspective.I enjoyed the use of metaphor/characterisation with the examples of Joey and his ‘Pouncing Wolf Monster’,’The Black Dog’ and ‘Sugar’.Serious issues regarding bullying,violence,depression and diabetes addressed so skillfully.’Sugar’ I found very interesting due to my background as a Nurse.Such a serious health issue bought to life,’Sugar’ a substance with an attitude! What a wonderful way to disseminate vital information,using knowledge of local language and practices.Getting people to work collectively,using idioms and humour must surely be more effective than handing out pamphlets alone.I could see ‘Sugar’ working very well in our Pacific Island and Maori Communities here in New Zealand where diabetes is very problematic.The potential health benefits could improve people’s quality of life immeasurably.Bring on the next chapter!!

  77. Thank you for making this material available. In some of the reading material in this session regarding externalising, there was a suggestion to characterise the problem in an experience – near way. Can you please clarify what is meant by this and how this plays out?

    • Hello Deborah,

      Thanks for this question! In the book ‘Maps of Narrative Practice’ by Michael White he suggests that “an experience near description of the problem is one that uses the parlance of the people seeking therapy and that is based on their understanding of life (developed in the culture of their family or community and influenced by their immediate history). In using the word ‘particular’, I am acknowledging that no problem or predicament is perceived or received in identical ways by different people, or in identical ways at different times in a persons life. No predicament or problem is a direct replica of any other predicament or problem..” (White, 2007, p. 40).

      This might mean that we inquire about the particular words, images, metaphors, feelings, colours that richly describe the experience someone has of the problem.. the particular way they experience or would describe the problem they are facing.. Does this make sense?

      Warmly Phillipa

      • Thank you yes it does.

  78. I have used externalising conversations alot in my work with children, young people, their parents and teachers. I find it can be an extremely powerful way of inviting a different way of looking at a ‘problem’ especially with children/young people who have been positioned in a certain i.e. ‘naughty’, ‘angry’ ‘anxious’ etc. Sometimes when things are very stuck saying something as simple as “when does the anger happen the most/least” can help move conversations on in a different (and hopefully more thoughtful) direction.

    I loved the Sugar metaphor and I really want to use this idea of creating a character for the ‘problem’.

    I found the video and resources from Mark Hayward very interesting and it has given me a lot of ideas for my externalising conversations.

    I also found the ‘black dog’ video very moving and such a good example of externalising.

    Thank you; another excellent and inspiring chapter, which has given me alot to think about and use in my work.

  79. This chapter was simply refreshing and resourceful in so many ways. In terms of the resources, all of them have provided so much information and different ways of looking through the lens of narrative practice. My first pick would be the short film about overcoming the “black dog of depression”. I’ve seen the video earlier and now watching it in the context of narrative practices and immediately associating it with my personal experiences, this film has helped me identify with these experiences in a holistic manner. It helped me identify the authority I have over these experiences and “taming” it was a metaphor I chose to privilege. Culturally, this short film is much required to help the society in India to look at problems as external to the person, thereby reducing the stigma and discrimination associated with mental health concerns. It is of much significance in schools too where students are often perceived as “problem children” or “trouble makers”. This has inspired me to try and adopt these practices at my workplace in group settings.
    I have however been thinking about the challenges that narrative practices will bring in a culture that I come from where labelling and internalizing is acceptable and promoted and where simple and easy solutions or advice are more acceptable than long term work.
    The personal account by Aunty Barbara Wingard has been so inspiring. As someone who has been engaging in externalizing practices in individual therapy sessions as well as Personality Development classes with students in school, this account reinforced my beliefs in these practices. I am now inspired to document my work to identify the moments which have been externalized and then consciously identify the process thereafter.
    The presentation and charting demonstrated by Mark Hayward has been phenomenal in developing my understanding of the process of the Statement of Position Map 1. The transcript of Joe helped me understand how the four areas of inquiry can be used practically and why they are so significant. Mark’s address regarding externalizing and responsibility was quite insightful for me. I have always wondered how a sensitive experience like abuse can be externalized. It was beautiful to begin the process of looking at how cultural influences or secondary emotions like shame can be externalized. I would love to read and learn more about this.

    In my context and the field of mental health, I genuinely feel that the problem I would define as “experiencing a mental concern” itself has to be externalized. Mental Health concerns are not spoken about because of the fear of stigma and discrimination. It is time that these problems are externalized. On a more socio-cultural note, experiences like divorce, miscarriages, domestic abuse and childless marriages are stigmatized. I think the need to externalize these problems and not viewing women as the problems in these spheres is highly significant. It is important to bring in the conversation regarding the patriarchal nature of society and the position of women in the society to be able to address these problems as external entities in my context.

    This will certainly help address the position of women in the society, make it easier for women as a group to voice their rights and needs and also help address the secondary concerns especially emotional outcomes resulting from the existing societal beliefs about these problems.

    Looking forward to the next chapter! 🙂

    Lamia Bagasrawala, Mumbai, India

  80. This was a very helpful module and I am already looking forward to deepening the level of conversation with my counselling clients. The last part about statement of position maps resonated the most for me.

    I feel that some clients may be more receptive than others to speaking about their problems in terms of metaphors and as a counsellor I need to be mindful of not getting carried away, and matching the client’s pace and preference.

    A big you thank you to everyone at The Dulwich Centre for making these resources available online!

  81. I very much enjoyed reading the transcript of an excerpt of a session that illustrated the externalizing concept, along with reading the pdf. I am trained in psychodynamic psychotherapy–it seemed that this approach is more directive (though I don’t know the backstory on previous sessions). It also seems that the externalizing can help people keep feelings of shame at bay so that they have more freedom to openly think about and consider behaviors, feelings, thoughts etc. It seems to me that the externalizing can really help do this, in fact, I use externalizing alot in my work, helping people create images to symbolize feelings like anger, shame and compassion in combination with a mindfulness technique, ie. watching the symbol pass–clouds floating away, buses driving away, etc. I also refer to movies like Inside Out, to talk about personified emotions, I feel this really helps people to feel more levity around sometimes intense feelings and also bring home how typical these feelings are–innate to all human beings. I wonder though how shame comes up to be addressed in a narrative therapy situation, especially when it’s unconscious. I do feel that psychodynamic setting allows for uncomfortable, unconscious feelings to arise (sometimes after years) that then using externalizing can support. Another thought! I also enjoyed reading the excerpt on “Sugar”. I do work with refugees and imagined that this technique could be of use with some of our clients who might otherwise have difficulty understanding Western conceptualizations of health and mental health problems, and also groups that experience extreme stigma related to mental health.

    • Hi Dayna,

      Thanks for your comments. In following chapters you will have a chance to read more about the positioning of therapist in narrative practice (see chapter Collaboration & Accountability) … this might assist in relation to your questions re the approach being more directive.

      And in the chapter on Critical Thinking you will find a paper entitled ‘Post structuralism and therapy: What’s it all about?’ that I hope will assist in clarifying how a narrative approach departs from psychodynamic concepts.

      I hope this course is helpful to you.

  82. I found the example Mark Hayward used to explain the process of externalising really simple to follow and helped me understand how to bring this into practice. The chart was particularly useful to understand how you can go through different levels in this process, and it doesn’t have to be linear and how the person sets the pace not the practitioner.

  83. I thought the “Joe Transcript” was very powerful and a good example of position. Coming at the problem from a variety of angles allows the person to decide which parts of the problem, if any they want to have in their life and which parts they want to minimize, tame or fire.

    One way that I enjoy learning new approaches to therapy is to see/read actual transcripts, so thank you for including this.

  84. The black dog video was effective, particularly because of it being visual.

  85. My favourite section in this chapter was about the big black dog – I watched the video and realised that there are very simple and incredibly powerful ways of realising a problem and externalising it to both distance yourself from it for clarity and also take away some of it’s power and authority over you.

    It has made me think about an importance in finding an appropriate metaphor – for example I love dogs and so even though I saw the dog as taking on the persona of depression, I still felt an affinity towards it which I think would have been helpful in a therapeutic discussion. If the depression had been a bat (which I am not so keen on!), I think that I might not have seen the ‘softer side’ of the depression so easily.

    Would it be appropriate to work with someone to choose a metaphor for the problem which feels like it both sums up the feelings of the problem – but at the same time allows some room to form a positive emotional connection with it?

    • Hi Jas,

      That’s something that crossed my mind too. I loved how depression has been characterized in the video, but found myself wondering why a dog! 🙂

      When working with a client, I have found it to be most helpful to build on the metaphors that he/she introduces rather than suggesting one myself.

      Warm regards,

    • Hello Jas!

      Thanks for engaging with this course. In responding to your words about ‘finding an appropriate metaphor’ I am thinking about the upcoming chapter on ‘Collaboration and Accountability’. There will be some ideas within this chapter which speak to how we can co-create and collaborate with people in richly describing metaphors which fit for them from what’s called a ‘de-centred position’. For me, this is about asking questions that enable people to articulate their own experience.. sort-of like we are ‘investigative reporters’ – for me I am not so interested in suggesting metaphors or images but rather thinking about how I can ask questions which have people describing their experience in new ways..

      You also had me thinking about how externalising questions are not free from dominant discourses or the operations of power and privilege. For example, in attempting to richly describe a problem someone is facing, I could ask something like.. “is it red? or blue?”. In this question there is an implicit assumption that the problem has a colour and that it will be one of the options I have suggested.. and perhaps I as the counsellor/community worker know the appropriate answer! However, I could also ask something like, “Does it have a colour? Is it red? blue? or something else?”. In this way we can open up more options for someone identifying a metaphor that best fits for them..

      I really appreciated Jas your reflections on the ‘softer side’ of problems.. I know that in many of the conversations I have had, people have expressed a sense that through a relationship with the problem, they have discovered or engaged in particularly treasured parts of their life.. However, I think this is up to the people we meet with – sometimes people are not going to have a positive connection with problems like this and attempting to direct conversation towards problems having a softer side might not be helpful .. perhaps our job is to ask questions which open up investigation of the metaphors people choose in ways that might honour the complexities and contradictions of life.. What do you think!?

      Thanks for your thoughtful contribution! With respect, Phillipa

  86. The idea of externalising is not entirely new to me. One of my university lecturers introduced me to the concept a couple of years ago.

    Before I experiment too much I need to learn to apply this concept to my own life, and strive to externalise the things that are problematic to me.

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