The Narrative Metaphor

Posted by on May 10, 2015 in Uncategorised | 133 comments

In this chapter we examine how stories are an important frame through which we make meaning of our lives. In each reading and video provided we invite you to be on the lookout for the multi-stories of people’s lives rather than a single story.

Photo: Shaun Tan: Eric (with permission)

 

This dot exercise from Jill Freedman and Gene Combs was animated by Will Sherwin to help you visualise the Narrative Therapy concept of ‘multi-storied lives’.

 

For more from Jill and Gene you can go to narrativetherapychicago.com.

For more from Will Sherwin and Bay Area Narrative Therapy Resource, trainings and radio shows you can go to sfbantr.org.

 


 

Novelist Chimamanda Adichie warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding. In ‘The Danger of a Single Story’ she speaks about how our lives and our cultures are composed of many overlapping stories.

 


 

We have included here an extract from Alice Morgan’s influential and highly popular text in which she provides a brief introduction to the narrative metaphor

What is Narrative Therapy – An Easy to Read Introduction | Alice Morgan

 


 

In this short extract Michael White’s speaks about the possibilities that the narrative metaphor opened up in his therapeutic work, what attracted him to the narrative metaphor and offers an example of how the narrative metaphor shapes therapeutic conversations.

The narrative metaphor in family therapy | an interview with Michael White


 

What is the narrative of our lives – and can we influence the way our story is told? Michael White and Barbara Brooks, a memoir writer, join producer Gretchen Miller in conversation on ABC Radio National and online. Michael and Barbara joined Gretchen Miller to talk about the grand narratives of our lives and how much influence we have over the way our story unfolds

The Power of Storytelling

 


This (draft) Charter proposes a framework for considering storytelling rights. We hope it will spark discussions about the rights of people who have experienced trauma/social suffering in relation to how their stories are told and received.

Narrative Therapy (Draft) Charter of Story-Telling Rights by David Denborough

Article 1  Everyone has the right to define their experiences and problems in their own words and terms.

Article 2  Everyone has the right for their life to be understood in the context of what they have been through and in the context of their relationships with others.

Article 3  Everyone has the right to invite others who are important to them to be involved in the process of reclaiming their life from the effects of trauma.

Article 4 Everyone has the right to be free from having problems caused by trauma and injustice located inside them, internally, as if there is some deficit in them. The person is not the problem, the problem is the problem.

Article 5 Everyone has the right for their responses to trauma to be acknowledged. No one is a passive recipient of trauma. People always respond. People always protest injustice.

Article 6  Everyone has the right to have their skills and knowledges of survival respected, honoured and acknowledged.

Article 7  Everyone has the right to know and experience that what they have learnt through hardship can make a contribution to others in similar situations.

 


 

Photo: Shaun Tan: Eric

For Reflection 

 

How would you describe the narrative metaphor?

 

What might thinking about stories in this way make possible for you?

 


 

Please now share your thoughts & reflections below and then continue to the next chapter! Please include where you are writing from (City and Country). Thanks! 


133 Comments

  1. I am compelled by Freedman and Combs envisaging of the potential of narrative therapy for not simply solving an isolated/particular ‘problem’ but for giving people a vehicle to explore new ways of living as a whole.
    It is helpful to be reminded of the many and varied external factors that can influence the thinking of an individual. Helping people to ‘story’ these influences and giving dignity to their story is not only beneficial to the individual themselves but may be useful in helping them to have broader perspectives in regards to their perception of and relationship with others. I am reminded of Wheatley’s comment, “You can’t hate someone whose story you know”. Coming from Northern Ireland, and living in a community influenced by a legacy of conflict, I am interested in the possibility of ‘storying’ for divided communities too.

  2. G’day everyone,
    I currently undertook a unit in the theories in counseling and psychotherapy,and although the postmodern approaches were covered, it was after the units reflective journal and essay. This had made me critically examine Beck’s cognitive theory, and in particular the use of schema(mental representation of events)-change methods. As the collected data on schema changing appeared to be convincing as an effective treatment, although the assumption of a “cognitive distortion” or a maladaptive core belief did appear to be at the discretion of the therapist. The therapist is then asked to persist in arguing this belief of the client (Persons, Davidson & Tompkins, 2001).

    This therapist controlled situation felt to me to be a hindrance in the therapeutic treatment of Cognitive therapy, making an uninformed judgement (or thin description) of the client, and contributing to the blame society.

    The Narrative Metaphor to me represents the acknowledgement of social injustices, without the accusation of delusions or dishonesty. In a cognitive view on Narrative therapy it may be explained be the story being the schema, and the problem saturated story as a cognitive distortion (although this I feel should be replaced with “dominant schema or story”). This still appears to be more complete with the assumption that the person is not the problem, the problem is the problem, or a victim will always “own” being the victim, and not a survivor of a problematic situation.

    As I am still studying, critically thinking in a Narrative way will play an influential part in my future assessments.

    Thank you for the opportunity to write on your forum,
    Cheers, Shane Thomson
    (raised in a major city in WA. residing in a rural city in WA)

  3. After thinking for a long time that I wanted to explore narrative therapy, I am so grateful to have found this page and this this on-line course!!

    I see narrative metaphor as an opening to the world around oneself, so often we see our journey and that of others as one way or another but in actual fact there are so many perspectives that can been seen. A bit like a kaleidoscope depending on how you move or view the picture your story can change or can form greater meaning/understanding.

    To continue to be curious about the other untold stories and knowing that other stories exist, is for me the uplift I need to keep going within my work. To promote change to continue within my workplace that focuses on the rights of the people we are working with but also each other.

  4. The narrative metaphor is a beautiful way to see beyond stereotypes and labels we tend to give ourselves and others. To be able to understand that we are not defined by a singular story is very freeing. I was especially drawn to Chimamanda’s ted talk because I had previously been thinking specifically about the individual, couple or family and had not thought of the cultural context.

    Thinking about stories in this way allows me to have genuine empathy and compassion for both myself and others. I loved the idea of connecting the dots outside the dominant story line to see multiple stories and create rich descriptions.

    I’m writing from Lakeville, Minnesota, USA

  5. The Narrative metaphor resonates so closely with my experience particularly working with children.

    So often the children I work with are referred as a ‘problem’ child or ‘naughty’ child and have had many many thin descriptions pertained to them over time by people in power, such as their parents, teachers, principles, medical professionals so often that they have internalised these stories of themselves and as such have temporarily lost the ability to recognise that they have other alternative stories and other skills, strengths and resources at their disposal.

    I love the messages depicted in ‘the danger of a single story’.
    Power is such an important factor and I loved the statement ‘power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person but to make it the definitive story’.. this is my complete experience working with children, who are vulnerable and not in power.

    People in positions of power in the child’s life have strengthened their thin descriptions and made thin conclusions from these by giving privilege to stories and events that support their ‘angry’ or ‘naughty’ label which completely disregards the students strengths or value.

    I also love that narrative therapy highlights the person as separate to the condition/disease/diagnosis/issue/event- this in itself is so empowering.
    It is amazing how often I speak with children and they think all they are is ‘angry’ when really they are a person who experiences anger.

    Something that stood out to me is the notion that dominant stories are ever changing and constantly being edited through personal experience of attributing meaning, through other people’s attribution of meaning and also the social and cultural context in which the person exists in. fascinating.

  6. I would describe the narrative metaphor as a means of realizing that we are all experts of our lives. Each of us with a multitude of stories; thin and think in description, dominant and alternative in focus and varying in meaning and levels of interpretation. I have been witness to the changes that occur in ones life through the process of narrative therapy. As alternative and unacknowledged stories come to the surface there is such a natural release in grip to the once dominant, problematic story lines. As our attention becomes guided towards the stories that fulfill our sense of connection and life force we are able to open our eyes to see things from a view point we have not yet stood before. A place of respectful, non- blaming openness to the stories of our fellow brothers and sisters travelling through this human journey, under this great blue sky.

  7. Thank you Chimamanda for introducing me to not only the single stories but how they can be related to the more neglected events in people’s lives then how to build scaffolding and step into some of the less explored territories of lives and be on the lookout for multi stories.
    It was good to be reminded of how easily we can become patronizing, express pity and assume and therefore misunderstand the single story.

  8. I really enjoyed the various audio and texts introducing the narrative metaphor – such a wonderful device for conceptualizing the way we talk about our experiences and our *life*, and what we give meaning and attention. I am aware of making links with other therapeutic approaches and concepts, and understandings within psychology. For example, the idea of rumination in depression – when we can’t move away from particular thoughts or a particular set of memories which sit with our depression, this is similar to the notion of a dominant story which is ‘problem-saturated’. I think the narrative metaphor would help clients become less overwhelmed or stuck in a negative self-story – similar to a mindfulness or ACT approach where we try to visualize thoughts as external, and have the idea that we can change our focus to other thoughts and stories about ourselves. This makes NT resonate with me.

  9. Thank you for providing this resource. I am attracted to narrative therapy because it seems to resist trauma that can happen in other forms of therapy. It empowers ourselves and our clients.

  10. The Narrative metaphor is so important in the lives of people we work with. I work with children who have experienced trauma and their narratives can be so terrible but we have the power to write a new story for them and that can be powerful

  11. Since beginning this online course I have been constantly thinking of the narrative metaphor, how excited I am to learn more and how thin stories affect my own life. Just this one section has been incredibly enriching. I see the narrative metaphor as enabling one to explore their multifaceted human experience. Not just the positive and/or negative thin stories but rich, all-encompassing experiences, endured and enjoyed by all humans.

    Thus, it enabled me to explore my own self and experience and notice thin stories which frequently arise telling me a certain ‘truth’ I have come to believe. As a practitioner I constantly try and practice from a strengths-based approach I believe narrative therapy is an amazing framework for doing so. Not just for acknowledging someones strengths but supporting people to explore themselves in a new way.

  12. I’m a new social worker, having just earned my MSW last May, and I work in a mental health hospital within the California prison system providing group and individual therapy to incarcerated men. I was drawn to Narrative Therapy after taking a class in Solution Focused Brief Therapy where the concept of externalizing was introduced.

    My understanding from this first chapter is that the Narrative Metaphor is a way for people to reflect on the paths they have taken to understand who they are and examine whether conclusions reached via these paths are warranted. It seems to me that narrative therapy seeks to encourage people to think outside of well-worn paths that lead to thin conclusions that don’t serve them, and instead become curious about the neglected paths that paint a more detailed and complex picture, which honors both the impact of suffering on our experiences of life as well as the resilience we all carry inside us.

    Thinking about stories in this way is helpful in my own development as a social worker, as it helps me to notice when I am reaching thin conclusions that disrupt my ability to progress (such as self-doubt influenced by my new-ness to the profession). This also helps me in my work with clients who are routinely seen as their problems in a system that is meant to reinforce that thin conclusion over and over again.

    I am incredibly grateful that this course is available online and at no cost! Thank you so much for this opportunity. I am excited for what’s to come!

  13. How wonderful it is to read everyone’s perspectives on the narrative metaphor – so rich and diverse. For me, the narrative metaphor means an opportunity to understand something that can be difficult to interpret or make sense of.

    Thinking about stories in this way offers a lens through which to uncover the meaning behind human experience and validate the varied conscious connections that intersect during lives. I think that it is a way in which empowerment can be fostered and strengths can be remembered – allowing the individual scope for choice and control in their life. In this process, unique to each of us, the self is freed of a particular story or narrative which presents the opportunity for liberation, growth and transformation.

  14. I have always been a story teller myself and in my work I learn about people through the telling of their story. I realised through this unit on the Narrative Metaphor how much I already use story telling in the work that I do. I really enjoyed learning about the thin story and the importance of looking for more than just the dominant story, that there is a rich tapestry of stories that describe our lives. I look forward to hearing many more stories from people I work with and assisting them to find the rich story that is their life.

  15. Thank you for this Dulwich Centre. My name is Melanie I’m a Social Worker writing from the Gold Coast, Queensland, Aus. My previous role was working within an Emergency Department Hospital in NSW. This content helped me to reflect on what I found challenging when working within a health setting. I would often find patients would be defined by their illness or Mental Illness and this alone, would be their common story while being treated. Although it is true that these diagnosis need to be brought to the forefront in order for them to receive appropriate medical care, many other aspects of the person would be overlooked. Acknowledging and validating these other ‘stories’ would often effect a patients mood, recovery time and discharge plan in a positive way. It’s difficult to sometimes see a ‘whole’ person in an environment such as a hospital however if we try to, the health outcomes can often be greater.

  16. I am from Metford NSW Australia. The narrative metaphor is a method of identifying and externalise a story and emotions connected to it. I think of a pipeline that runs from a big dam into different pipes. When a client start their story, it is like a dripping tap. It is a therapist job to encourage a client to open that tap to allow a thicker stream of “story” to pour out.

    What might thinking about stories in this way make possible for you?
    As a therapist it allows me to understand where the client is coming from better. To know what life event have influenced the client and the original single strand (dripping tap) story.

  17. My name is Tracy, and I reside in South Florida, USA. Narrative Metaphor has been an ongoing fascination of mine, that I didn’t recognize as I grew in my profession. I kept hearing others comment that I always focused on someone’s story and was encouraged to pursue narrative Therapy. I was particularly drawn to the concept of identifying thin conclusions or rather the danger of thin conclusions, and the ability to develop thick and rich stories that better reflect the overarching journey of life. I am currently a therapist at an addictions facility, and have seen firsthand the danger of focusing and believing the negative thin conclusion placed upon many ‘addicts’, ‘junkies’, ‘down and out’ clients who have lost the ability to expand their story or cannot remember other parts of their story that can inspire, teach and develop growth.
    I was thrilled to find this course, and am looking forward to gaining a better understanding of narrative therapy as well as how to honor people by assisting them in recognizing the fullness and richness of their story in a larger context.

  18. I would describe narrative therapy as a way of looking at individuals through their stories. We all carry stories and how we relate to those stories can shape who we are. Sometimes individuals resinate with single stories or thin stories rather than opening to the multi-storied narrative on one’s life. Narrative therapy provides a framework in which we can explore and become curious about the stories individual resinate with and maybe investigate how to include the whole story or multi-storied factors of the individual. I love the TED talk by Chimamanda Adichie . It’s it funny how we so often make assumptions about cultures when there are so many facades that remain unexplored. Without this awareness we risk missing out on the richness of the multi-stories of people’s lives.

    Thinking about stories in this way will help me develop a better understanding of the whole person. I hope to develop awareness of how I listen to stories and learn to discern how the thin stories impact our lives. I hope to develop a better understanding on how to be curious enough to help individuals seek out the stories that have been suppressed. I look forward to what else I will learn through this course.

  19. Hello everyone, I’m Myles and I live and work as a clinician in rural QLD, AUS.

    I found this lesson, the narrative metaphor, probably the most eye opening information around therapy (and personal experiences) that I have come across in my practice thus far. Although a simple concept, it is amazing how often we oversight it, particularly the “one story” process, whether we are stereotyping or delivering brief intervention therapy for services. It is very easy for us to say as people and clinicians “Ah… there is the problem, this is what has caused it, let me structure my thinking around that one precise story”.

    The narrative metaphor itself is a beautiful way to describe someones life, much as some of the best books in the world have multiple characters, story-lines which all tie together in a wonderful tapestry to provide character development and create the holistic story that we can appreciate and understand. To read one such book from a single point of view, or to read a chapter out of context, so to speak, would cause the reader to make a judgement, positive or negative, which may not represent the book appropriately. In such a way, it is with people, we can judge on simple stories or explore them more with the person to understand their character and difficulties with them.

    In this way, by thinking about stories which create people, I hope to become a better clinician by better understanding the client journey and providing better intervention around it. I think the concept of shifting the perception of “victim of trauma” to a “story of survival” to be a useful one and may help with attribution change during therapy.

    I am looking forward to learning more about the core concepts of Narrative therapy and applying them in my practice.

    • Myles,

      Reading your paragraph when you stated, “describe someones life, much as some of the best books in the world have multiple characters, story-lines which all tie together in a wonderful tapestry to provide character development and create the holistic story that we can appreciate and understand.” That was wonderful, and I realized that I have always enjoyed reading and subsequently I enjoy the stories of people’s lives in much the same way, and recognize how that impacts how I work with clients.

  20. Therapy is my second career; my first is as a technical writer so the ideas of language and meaning being so interconnected resonates strongly with me. I am drawn to the concept that we identify so strongly with our dominant story that we lose sight of the other stories of our lives and even more importantly identifying the possibilities of other deeply buried stories and desires. This approach reminds me constantly that people are rich, complex human beings and that to simplify ourselves based on what we currently know or think we see is limiting and a disservice to them and to myself. I love that this approach requires us to always challenge our biases and the way they limit us.

    I am just starting out and so am in the process of finding my voice as a therapist. Thank you for this introduction, and I am looking forward to understanding how to hold these creative conversations with people.

  21. Hi, I am writing from Adelaide, Australia.
    I would describe the narrative metaphor as how we perceive ourselves through our experiences and influences which has the potential to
    be continually redefined.

    I think what thinking about stories in this way makes possible for me is the exciting realisation that through this approach I can assist others and myself to re-evaluate the external influences that effect their life and my own which can be life-changing.

  22. I live in Alice Springs in the Northern Territory of Australia.

    It seems to me that the best examples of narrative metaphor are those given given by Elan in the therapy interview where he describes his extreme guilt first as a dark spirit and later as a funny cartoon character as he feels the weight of the dark spirit lifting. From this I would describe the narrative metaphor as: a way in which an individual can express their personal relationship and understanding of an experience they are having in a way that describes or conveys to another their own unique perspective of that experience.

    Thinking about stories in this way would assist me in being able to empathize more fully with the people I am working with as a counselor, because I will be able to more readily accept, acknowledge and come to an understanding of each persons sense of what has happened (or is happening) for them.

  23. Hi , My name is Maya and I am a post graduate social work student from India. My specialisation is in the area of mental health. Most of my work is centred around children in institutions and experiences of trauma. Mental health as a field , especially child and adolescent mental health is , still dominated by deficit oriented approaches. Mental health services for children focus to a large degree on behavioural regulation. i was drawn to the idea of the therapeutic space as a vehicle for social change and i feel narrative approaches have done a good job in blending the perspectives.
    What i would like to take back from the narrative metaphor is
    – a strengths based approach to solving problems
    – and looking at a person as a part of the wider context and addressing wider questions of power and dominant discourses.
    – viewing the client as an expert in their own lives.
    This is especially important while addressing experiences of trauma and violence.

  24. I’m exploring more about narrative therapy from the United States, and more specifically from Wisconsin where I work in a rural community which is highly polarized in terms of socio-economic situations for residents. There is a small extremely wealthy population of farm and company owners as well as retired individuals who chose to retire to very high-valued lake properties and then a very large population of working families. I work as a mental health/ substance abuse therapist in a public mental health system. Professionally, I am highly involved with individuals who have substance abuse or criminal justice involvement. Personally, I am very interested in mind-body work and helping people to find alternative expressions of their stories through the way they integrate their mind and their body.

    In response to the reflection questions, I think that one of the things that is the most important for me about the narrative metaphor is that it encourages and gives permission for people to look past the narratives that cause them to feel “stuck”. So many of the individuals I have the opportunity to serve report feeling “stuck” and report that the problems that they describe are multi-generational (and in fact staff at my work who have been around much longer than myself frequently attest to this), and being able to identify those narratives as just one strand of a larger story can be utterly transformative. I am interested in integrating these techniques with mind-body practices as I believe that these frequently help people to break out of the “thin narratives” that are discussed here.

  25. Hi, I’m Leanne from Brisbane, Australia and I am doing practice-led PhD research into therapeutic writing. I am interested in using narrative therapy as a framework for my research/writing.
    I see the narrative metaphor as representing people’s lives as a story. As such, the story can be changed. Thinking about stories in this way allows people to re-story their lives, to move away from the dominant ‘thin’ story they have told themselves, or have been told, and have indoctrinated as their view of identity.

    • Hi Leanne, your research sounds really interesting to me. Is there a way I can follow you or read your findings when you’re finished?

  26. So I’m exploring the benefits of narrative therapy for a post grad course I’m studying at Cambridge University in the UK in Child And Adolescent Psychotherapeutic Counselling. I work with adolescents who have cancer and I’m fascinated by ways in which we can support individuals to prevent their cancer identity becoming their dominant story. Also the impact that is made in relation to positive survivorship when that is the case.Would love to hear from anyone else working in the field of TYA/AYA cancer

  27. I am exploring more about narrative therapy from the Riverland, South Australia.

    The resources included in this first chapter have strengthened and added much depth to my understanding of narrative therapy.

    I see the narrative metaphor as the therapist walking alongside others to lead them to see themselves in a range of new ways, to see strengths and stories they have never noticed. This will help people to have positive self image, it will empower and build confidence, it strengthen people to continue to resist oppression and live happier, fuller lives despite the problems/barriers they might face or continue to face.

  28. Hello, my name is Nicola, and I’m from Brisbane, Australia, studying counselling.

    How would you describe the narrative metaphor?
    I found the dot animation very helpful, that there are many events that occur in our lives, and focusing on one theme and using events that only support that theme can lead to a very limited way of thinking about yourself or others. It reminds me of Sean Covey’s book the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens, and he talked about how paradigms are the way we see ourselves and the world, and if you look for events to support a paradigm or mindset, you’ll find them. I love that narrative therapy brings possibility and adds richness to the stories we tell about ourselves and others.

    What might thinking about stories in this way make possible for you?
    Thinking about stories in this way means that I can help clients to break out of limited stories or themes that define them in negative or unhelpful ways, and look at other ideas and stories in their lives, ways they can identify things about themselves that are more helpful or beneficial.

  29. Hi. I’m a Psychologist in private practice. I have a part-time contract to provide services to an Aboriginal service. I also see a lot of older adults. I believe that Narrative Therapy offers a lot to these groups. My first impression of the readings was pleasure at how congruent the values and methods of Narrative practice are to my own. I like that the environmental context is important and that the approach allows for appreciation of people’s survival skills and knowledge.
    I would describe the Narrative Metaphor as a structure for envisaging a person’s view of the world which provides me with a starting point for understanding their story and ways of assisting them to develop, strengthen and enrich alternative stories. it is a respectful approach which acknowledges context and the possibility of change.
    I think it will provide a framework for my curiosity towards alternative ways of supporting and helping people identify alternative, less problematic ways of being in the world.

  30. The approach highlighted for me in a more structured way the importance of the story. I always have appreciated stories in my personal and professional life. The concept of narratives unwraps opportunities for the therapist and for individuals and communities to experience new dimensions and meanings for life events and stories.
    I found narrative therapy to an empowering strategy for people and gives them the chance to re-tell their stories and to learn ways to transfer the knowledge and skills they have to future life situations. People within the context of the concept of narrative therapy are the experts of their lives and have the right to re-claim their stories and to share with others. I particularly appreciate the notion of healing associated with the concept of justice.

  31. WOW! I am a social work student from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, and I was directed to this website and course by one of my instructors.

    After finishing this first section, I am extremely impressed with the model for helping myself and others unpack the stories that we are telling or that we are being told about ourselves or about others.

    I would describe the narrative metaphor as an umbrella. When the umbrella is closed the story is being told, but is not effective for shielding the individual from the harm of such a unilateral and partial description. The object is still an umbrella, but it is not operating as it should be. When we open our selves and our stories up we see that from the centre there extend different lines, each one unique and heading off in its own direction. This opening covers the individual in sunny or rainy weather and provides them with a sense of security and confidence. It also creates a safe space for others to come under for shelter as well, inviting them to also explore not only the wonder of our open umbrella, but perhaps they will discover that theirs will open as well.

    Thinking about stories in this way makes it possible for you to explore, wonder and probe with curiosity the underlying assumptions I am making and it opens me up to be able to consider alternative possibilities and storylines. This makes the umbrella fuller and more effective!

    • This metaphor of the umbrella is brilliant. It seems the perfect way to visualize the strengths and pitfalls of one story or many. Thank you for connecting us with this everyday image amidst a sea of academia.

  32. Hi all, firstly I am happy and excited to tell that I’m starting to take further study in narrative therapy. The reason for that is because of this statement “The person is not the problem, the problem is the problem”. from Michael White. Actually, it is really difficult to work on but we shall try it when negative thinking comes out automatically, our cognitive distortions.

    How would you describe the narrative metaphor?
    For this reflective question, the immediate thought comes out in my mind is the conversation between Michael White and Barbara Brooks on ABC Radio National and online. Indeed, it’s a very fruitful conversation. In the conversation, Michael said “And in my own work I find that I meet many, many people who are feeling quite desolate and quite empty and it’s pretty clear to me that most of these folks have a very ‘thin’ sense of that stream of consciousness, or a ‘thin’ experience of it.” For me, it’s so important to have this idea for starting to learn about narrative therapy. Narrative metaphor is all about thin description, think conclusion, and how to make it towards a rich and thick description through those alternative stories, according to Alice Morgan’s influential and highly popular text, What is narrative therapy? An easy-to-read introduction.

  33. The narrative metaphor is the paradoxical story we tell and retell to make sense of, interpret, and even justify our experiences. I consider this concept a paradox because I understand the narrative metaphor to be, in one regard, cathartic and liberating in that it involves defining and labelling our experiences. In the other regard, however, I understand the narrative metaphor to be entrapping as it is prescribing just one, often linear understanding and interpretation of our experiences. Many of the authors in the resources included in this chapter often referred to the latter as the “thin story” because it fails to incapsulate the substance, complexity and fluidity of our experiences.

    Thinking about this process makes it possible to understand the ways in which we are conditioned to find one story, adopt it, and use it as a framework in experiencing our entire lives. In a world of fear and anxiety, I consider this part of a coping mechanism. Change forms when we challenge the story we are telling ourselves and explore where it comes from and if there are any other stories in our space. Part of that challenge requires strength in being vulnerable enough to let go of our old stories and embrace the possibility of new ones.

  34. Just the idea of how people tell a single story, rather than recognising that everybody and everything has multiple stories, that our lives are “multistoried” with a dominant and alternative stories, has helped my own introspective organisation of story. I enjoyed reading about this new topic (for me), and the refreshing language including thin conclusion vs rich description. It served as a timely reminder to practice curiosity and asking questions, also that people are the experts in their own lives. Taryn, Broome.

  35. The narrative metaphor is the way in which we assign meaning to experiences in our lives in order to understand our lives and build our identity. Like Joan Didion wrote, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” By allowing ourselves to look beyond a single narrative or dominant storyline, we are able to see alternative storylines and perhaps different opportunities or identities we didn’t even realize were there or had simply forgotten about. For instance, I may believe I am socially awkward and that I’ve always been that way and always will be. But if I allow myself to remember times when I wasn’t socially awkward or if I ask other people what their perception of me is and they see me in another light, I might start to believe a new version of myself and a different future for myself as a social being. Erica, Los Angeles, CA

  36. I’ve always struggled with the story I feel has been imposed on me in therapy, they always bring out the tragedy more than I feel comfortable with so that the days following a session are shaky as I hold together through the gauntlet of bad memories. My thin description has been one of “well at least it wasn’t as bad as…” while I internalize a bully. I think David’s story of the therapist colleague re-telling his patient’s story was very powerful. The alternative interpretations aspect has been commented on here a lot but what got to me was that he probably felt really heard. That’s what many people seem to really want

  37. The narrative metaphor is one way of describing the way we perceive our own lives – as a story. There is often a dominant story, which for people who have experienced trauma, could be described as a “thin story.” Stories are always influenced by the social context in which they originated and it is important not to separate healing from justice. The aim of narrative therapy is to assist people to author alternative stories and reconstruct their identity in a way that is no longer defined by the trauma.

    In thinking about stories in this way, I am encouraged to “dig beneath the surface” in my conversations with the communities we work with, and to look for the stories of survival and hope.

  38. Pauline from Surrey, Canada

    The Narrative Metaphor is introduced into the Narrative Therapy to encourage the therapists to assist the clients to explore multiple life stories, especially those neglected ones, which might transport them to an unplanned new territory of dreams, expectation and actions.

    Thinking stories in this way, I might have more passion to discover the fascinating diversity of lives around, not judging people in a rush and not regretting that I might have missed something on the road.

  39. One of the many things I admire about the Dulwich Center is that it practices what it preaches. Rather than limiting its reach to privileged professionals by only offering expensive training opportunities, it offers affordable points of entry and free resources for those with limited means. To me this is an example of taking an awareness of oppression, community-building and diversity seriously.

    As a person of African descent in in the USA trained as a clinical psychologist, I have often found myself alienated from the core ideas of the field–its focus on pathology and DSM-thinking, and lack of a sophisticated understanding of how how social forces impact individual well-being and communities. Narrative praxis was love at first sight for me, because it focuses on strengths and and acknowledges forces beyond inner workings of the mind. As I return to small-group and community work after many years in the academy, becoming a student of it is my first priority.

  40. Really enjoying the journey as narrative therapy brings together all my pasts (post-colonial literature and social work) in a way that I never thought would merge. Such a simple yet profound concept that also ties all the elements of client experiences into a strengths-based, client-centric way. I guess this course has already shown me how the theories were taught can be seen in the reality we see in our clients and also within ourselves.

    THANK YOU

  41. I’m so grateful to have stumbled upon this therapeutic modality, and for this introductory course which offers so much valuable information and insight – both as a writer and artist, as much as a seeker in life.

    The process of setting off from one story line but allowing for different points of view and reference; then going off in unplanned directions and along newly embraced story lines, is a beautiful and supportive one. It fosters an environment where aspects of our identity that have been left aside, can become more fully addressed and integrated into a more holistic/wholistic understanding of our-selves and our life’s journey.

  42. Kia ora from Herena in Aotearoa-NZ.

    How would you describe the narrative metaphor?
    Narrative metaphor is a way of finding meaning through storytelling and how we form ourselves and our lives in the telling; this may be implicated in what we tell, how we shape the stories, what we forget or omit to tell. Narrative metaphor is powerful because in telling the stories of our forming, we are formed and are further informed. The listener is also formed.

    What might thinking about stories in this way make possible for you?
    In making this comment, I am positioning myself as a therapist who is an indigenous person from this country (Māori), and with a background in theatre making. After coming out of the other end of formal psychology training, and stumbling onto this course, the parts of me that were lying dormant whilst I traversed academia have been reawakened and revitalised. Narrative therapy makes total sense to me. It speaks to an old tradition of sitting together at the fire and telling stories of how we came to be – and in the act of telling – rebind ourselves into the story. It enables the teller of their own story to recraft their stories – to recognise the many stories of their lives, and to open up other possibilities of being and doing, thus engendering the potential for liberation. I think I need to consider more how I as a potential listener to others’ stories may influence the telling, that I have a part to play – and the way I engage in or respond to the story could inadvertently influence a certain censorship, e.g. over emphasis on certain plot points, omission or brushing over of details, etc. But I suppose on any given day, the same story retold over and over again, will be changed in some way. This section reminds me to be very mindful of my engagement- to be ethical, and to receive stories as a gift.

  43. Sonja from Quorn South Australia
    The sense that we are more than just one storyline, we are more than the sum of one event, one story, one person, one worldview. Our storylines are complex, made up of multiple volumes, not bound in one hard cover, but interleaved and entwined. We are the sum of our storylines, thickened stories. And if we can support the people we work with, engage with, to tell their thickened stories, then they are in a position to discover solutions to life challenges.

    Thank you so much for this online course…..many years ago I participated in a Tree of Life workshop, and it has never left me….remained something strong in my memory, and became part of my storyline…

  44. Pong from HKSAR China
    Thanks for the sharing of the idea of Narrative practice. Narrative gives a meaningful story(or stories) to a person that they can explore their life experience or events through the interview. A connection between the person’s life experience can be build to thicken their identity.
    In a contrast to other traditional therapy, narrative practice treasure a lot to the participation of the person that he/she is the best person to handle the problem facing. It makes narrative therapy a person centered therapy

  45. Deo le Roux from Cape Town South Africa
    What a pleasure clicking around on this website. A big ‘Thank You’ to Michael White and folks at Dulwich Centre for this free gift!

    How would you describe the narrative metaphor?
    As applied in Narrative Practice, well, it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread, much more nourishing in this form, refreshing and unique in its ability to reconcile so many of the elusive, troublesome and redeeming complexities of identity/ consciousness.

    What might thinking about stories in this way make possible for you?
    Working through this material, at times, it seems to me that all things have become possible. I won’t be a bit surprised if, in time, this turns out to be the case.

  46. Catherine from Strathalbyn SA
    Thankyou for this online course. I am studying to be a peerworker in mental health and feel that some of the themes of Narrative Practice can help me have healing conversations with my peers.
    The Narrative Metaphor is a way of understanding someones current prodicament and from this beginning we can seek out other storylines that can be thickened so a broader story is experienced. Seeking to take people from a one dimentional story to a many faceted one that tells of their skills, preferences, knowledge, desires and so on.

  47. Helen from Sydney NSW.

    Thank you for providing this online course and the materials that speak so well of Narratives aims and objectives.
    I really enjoyed the video from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, it was a great opener to understanding the influence stories have on our lives and how we can be seen thinly by others through stereotypes, arrogance & naivety. I also loved how Alice Morgan points out that we have choice! “We can choose where to go and what to leave behind”.

    Clients often feel stuck, some because they don’t know which path to take, and others because the life that they want for themselves is in conflict with the life and choices that others have chosen for them.

    I also like the thought that we can reshape our lives and create new preferred stories of ourselves. That we can reflect, learn, and grow from our experiences and that our lives don’t have to be defined by ‘the problem’ that creates havoc in our lives and relationships.

  48. Kia ora, thank you for the chance to start learning about narrative therapy online and for free.

    I’m going to try and respond after each chapter to make sure some of it sinks in!

    Some of the ideas I’ve taken from this chapter are that our lives are stories and we’re all story tellers. We’re all novelists and in order to read ourselves and write stories for ourselves – and each other – that are healthy, nourishing, sustainable, surprising and rewarding, we need to care for all the plots, characters and themes of our past, present and future. Being deeply curious can restore the “balance of stories” and return dignity (“paradise”) to the story teller.

    Single stories can serve the powerful and dispossess those the story is supposed to be about. But by telling our own stories, and practising ‘double’ and multiple listening, we can reduce the influence of problems/single stories in our lives.

    We earn the title/role of ‘story teller’ by being human, not by being ‘well’ or ‘good’ or ‘white’ or ‘black’ or ‘published’. Being story tellers means that we are active, creative producers – not just recipients or readers of culture. We all have a role to play in our communities. Like the Charter of Story Telling Rights says in Article 7, we all have the right to share our stories and in doing so co-create healthier, more just communities.

  49. Hi!
    I am Karina. Am really learning a good deal from the articles and audios, and would like to share my own reflections.

    My understanding of the the narrative metaphor is that it is a symbolic way of understanding and making meaning of our lives, where we create a dominant story, that then has consequences on how we live our lives. In narrative therapy, we take the thin storylines that are making our lives problematic, and flesh out alternative stories and narratives that reflect our strengths, hopes, and dreams.

    I find this this to be rich in therapeutic value and possibility. Every life story, as expressed, has exceptions. Our life is not so “thin”, following a narrow path or plot. Instead, there are a plethora of different events and relationships that, if examined and discussed, can create a very different story or stories. And if one’s life story is full of sadness or loss or mistakes, by narrating alternative stories of happiness, gains or success, then one can appreciate a very different life, and distinguish oneself from the reason for going to therapy in the first place.

    As a therapist of adolescents from privileged families who engage in self-harm, or have made suicidal attempts, I hear narratives of self-loathing, failure, hopelessness, and helplessness; and how the world would just be a better place without them. I see how sitting with them to remember alternative stories can pull them from sticking to these problematic life plots and energize them by rediscovering less remembered strengths, hopes, and successes.

    • Firstly I would like to thank Philippa for your warm welcome and guidance during this inspiring journey! Thank you.

      Many valuable insights during this first session of Narrative Metaphor. Having an understanding that we all have many stories in our lives that form our identity and bring meaning to our lives – stories that change and take different pathways, stories which are very unique and personal and that we are all experts in retelling our stories.

      Chimamanda Adichie’s presentation was capturing and a valuable reminder that untold and unrecognised stories ” rob people of dignity”. No matter how “problematic” one’s life might present at the time, this persons stories matter. Not just a single, thin story. Being genuinely curious and asking questions in a respectful manner as Alice Morgan describes are key elements to discover those untold and unrecognised stories. I dare say that sometimes we tend to focus on one’s problems forgetting the hidden skills and competencies that give a different and new meaning – an alternative story.

      David Denborough’s Charter of Rights I find fundamental in the different field’s of context we work in supporting individuals through their experiences and potential traumas in order to make sense of their stories to reclaim new possibilities in life.

  50. Eve from Toowoomba, Queensland
    Reading about the narrative metaphor has been very interesting. I am just starting to study this therapy and plan to use use the concepts with Indigenous and non Indigenous clients. I am interested to see how Indigenous clients will respond. I have already found a number of clients have resonated with the idea of understanding their own stories and of adding more layers and meanings to reveal more complex story lines.

  51. Lesley from Melbourne, Victoria. Thank you Dulwhich for an interesting and thought provoking 1st session. I completed Narrative therapy training at Bouverie centre in Melbourne back in 2007. I currently attend a Narrative reading group however thought it time to refresh and update my Narrative ideas and learnings, therefore I am completing the online narrative training offered by Dulwich and if the first session is anything to go by I’m glad I have. I work as a counsellor at a Community Health centre in Melbourne, Victoria and work from Narrative Practice ideas. Loved The Dot Exercise by Jill Freedman & Gene Combs. This clearly explained the multi-storied concept of narrative. Thrilled about the NT Charter of Story- telling Rights, how respectful and acknowledging of the people who consult us. Looking forward to learning more”

  52. Deborah from Hong Kong

    I am excited to share the dot exercise with the families and children of adoption, allowing different stories of a child’s life to be recognized and honored. So many adoptive children feel they are defined by “adoption” instead of adoption just being one of many parts of their lives.

    Often, we find children of adoption suffer from anxiety, which might come from developmental neglect. Our children struggle with issues that are often too quickly adressed in such a way that suggest the adoption is the problem. Of course, the dominate storyline for an adopted child might be the adoption, but it is not the only storyline. And, for an adoptive parent, the adoption is one of the most beautiful and meaningful moments of the parent’s life. Bringing the adoption and the other story lines together allow a child to be valued for just “being”.

  53. Hi,

    I’m Julia, working as a theatre-activist and community/peace worker in Nepal.

    Thinking about the narrative metaphor and listening to Chimananda Adichie has resonated a lot with my personal values, beliefs and professional approaches. It reminds me of how powerful the stories we tell ourselves, to others and which we are being told, are in shaping our own lives, relationships, choices, desires, fears etc.; and how much they are influenced and even inter-connected in different ways with ‘dominant cultural, social and political narratives’, even when those are rather thin or single-storied.

    I work a lot to bring stories and people on stage, that are not part of these dominant narratives – stories of women for example, of marginalized ethnic groups, and thus of people whose stories and histories have often been neglected, re-written and re-interpreted by others. In that sense, the introduced literature and featured talks encourage me to keep doing this work in an attempt of reproducing cultural narratives, that can embrace difference, that can be inclusive and diverse, complex and contradictory, and that can be ‘owned’.

    In that sense I connect the idea of a ‘narrative metaphor’ very much with the idea of re-producing more holistic, inclusive and diverse narratives within individuals, communities and societies.

    In addition, thinking about theatre-workshops, that engage with inter- or intra-personal conflicts and often generate transformitavie processes, I also feel that narrative practices could support survivors who tell their stories of trauma and abuse in re-connecting with other parts of their stories and identities, so that trauma becomes a less dominant reference point.

    Similarly, introducing the idea of multiple story-lines or rich descriptions could be helpful to conflicting parties, who have created thin descriptions or single stories about themselves and ‘the other’ – I’m curious to investigate how it could support people in re-connecting with their own multiple stories, complexities, contradictions etc. while being able to re-humanize ‘the other’ in the same way – acknowledging our own weaknesses, as well as our strengths and allowing the same space and existence for ‘the other’ so that ‘the other’ is no more.

    Thank you for the food for thought and emotions 🙂

  54. Hi, I’m Nicole writing from Toronto, Ontario,

    I have heard Narrative Therapy talked about a lot over the years as an effective treatment modality for trauma, but in completing this module I can see it is so much more and there are endless possibilities to how it can be impactful, empowering and insightful.

    I also had been told over the years it is best practiced in long term counselling or therapy. Based on what I have learned so far from this course, it seems it could be used in many contexts in counselling. I work in a short-term brief setting sometimes single session with children and youth who have a family member with a mental health challenge. Would there be different considerations in utilizing narrative practice in a single session with a client or family?

    Looking forward to continuing this learning journey through the other modules.

    • Hi Nicole, in response to your query about short-term counselling work. I draw on Narrative Therapy within a Single Session framework and from my experience find that Narrative works very well in this setting, often delivering 2-4 sessions on average.
      Regards
      Lesley

  55. Hi, I’m Susie, from London UK. I work with people who have an experience of psychosis in the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK.

    Dot exercise – I definitely recognise the thin narrative, people with psychosis who can’t really account for their experiences, reject the medical explanation but don’t seem to have another explanation to offer, struggling to make sense of what’s happened to them. I’m already thinking of power and oppression, the dominance of the medical narrative, most of my clients have been detained against their will under the medical narrative. How hard must it be to develop a different narrative in the face of such dominance? I’m also remembering a family where the mother repeats and repeats that her sons don’t listen to her, she just wants them to listen to her. It’s hard to develop the description, narrative, about the situation.

    The danger of the single story – I’m struck by her early comment, of our vulnerability and impressionableness in the face of stories. How vulnerable my clients and colleagues are in the face of the dominant or medical narrative of psychosis. I’m encouraged by social media, in these early days of Brexit (the referendum where Britain chose to leave the European Union) and increase of racist violence in the UK, how Facebook and Twitter share many stories of refugees and immigrants to counteract the dominant media and right wing opinions. I’m encouraged myself to continue, and increase, the contribution I make to discussing clients in our team meetings, to continually bring other stories about our clients and their lives, other than they have an illness and need to take medication, or they are badly behaved.

  56. Hi Emmalene from the Tweed Valley (previously from Adelaide),
    For me the Narative Metaphor is best described as the catharsis gained from exploring one’s own experience from a slightly alternative lens, the notion that the problem is external to self and that being able to gain a separation from self and others, from self and experience and self and society are very important for change.
    I regularly draw on the idea that the problem is the problem and that it invites us and others to engage in patterns of relating that can be counter-intuitive and problematic for us. I enjoyed the idea that Michael made in the ABC interveiw that the notion of hearing our story being narrated by an alternative person can be cathartic in and of itself. I work with families often whereby the narrative is held like a heavy weight around their necks and to be understood and valued in their context and experience is a very new idea to them.

    I enjoyed this idea about stereotypes inviting us to see the world in a one dimensional fashion without consideration for the broader ideas and experiences that have come before. I think about this in relation to a new article I read recently about a woman in France being condemmed for wearing the burkini and how ridiculous this seemed in a world that has become wrapped up in the idea that radical, Islamic extremism has become the norm instead of the exception and that in some way this lady on a beach, enjoying herself could have anything to do with acts of terrorism across the globe. I also began to consider how the way in which we speak about events has significant power. I am reading Judith Herman’s ‘Trauma and Recovery’ which is speaking about the manner in which we attribute language to experience can have power over the experience.

    But, I digress, perhaps as Barbara Brooks identifies in her points about the importance of a flow of ideas before the creative, structured side takes over!

  57. Hi, I’m Tiffany from Strathmore, Alberta and am currently working through my masters in counselling. I’ve found Narrative therapy to be intriguing and hopeful in working to demonstrate multiple story lines and events in life. As well, using the multiple stories to redefine events I think can be very impactful for individuals that have experienced trauma. Going through the first lesson I am further intrigued on how to engage resistant clients in telling their story and moving away from the single defined story they have developed for themselves.

  58. Hi, I’m writing from Adelaide, Australia.

    For me the narrative metaphor could be described as exploring unfinished stories.

    I love the quote from Chimananda Adichie in her TED talk mentioning “the single stories create sterotypes, the problem of stereotypes is that they are not untrue but that they are incomplete, they make one story become the only story.”

    The effect of being “incomplete” is challenged by the narrative metaphor as is not necessarily changes a story, but aims to uncover the depth within it and how it can powerfully change an individuals perception.

    There are so many new possibilites in thinking by viewing stories in an expansive manner. A few that come to mind could be:
    – Taking comfort in shared experiences with others by seeing similiatries in a story
    – Seeing the uniqueness of a situation and the strengths that ones has developed because of that.
    – Or even recovering a sense of value from uncovering forgotten truths and exposing dominant falsities.

    A good reminder for myself as a therapist to use in my own life stories!

    Thanks for the great resource, looking forward to the further chapters.

  59. I would describe the narrative metaphor as developing my ability to actively listen , acknowledge and share that there are powerful alternative stories that dominate peoples lives which does not always fit with the dominant discourse.

    Thinking about stories using the narrative metaphor allows me to retell the story not only to the dominant discourse but also to the person who owns the story and acknowledge them of resilience in the face of adversity.

  60. Thank you for this opportunity to engage with narrative ideas in a supported and guided way.

    I think the narrative metaphor to me means that there are many different stories of our lives, and the context we find ourselves in means that certain stories are privileged above others. I’m hoping that by thinking about our lives in this way and stories in this way, I will be able to find ways to articulate and bring forth alternative stories, especially in certain conversations at work, where there are some powerful dominant discourses. I am interested in learning how to support the people I work with (“clients”) to articulate these alternative stories as well, and how to be a useful advocate for this way of working in my workplace. By the way, I live in Sydney, Australia!

  61. Hi, I’m Esta from Hobart, Australia and am finishing post grad studies in social work. I love the idea of stories capacity for healing. I especially love the description of thin stories and thin conclusions and there being multiple stories. I also love the idea of fattening these non dominant stories to create new identity and meaning. Looking forward to learning more skills and awareness around this. 🙂

  62. Hi. I’m a writer, editor, and creative writing teacher living in New Zealand. I’m drawn to narrative practice because I love story, and have, since I can remember, been aware of conceptualising the world, and my place in it, through story.

    To me, the narrative metaphor means making sense of the world, defining things and trying to understand them, ordering experiences, and making plans, using story. Stories are our organising principles.

    When I first came across narrative practice (only recently!) I felt almost instant excitement. Here, it seemed, was a whole treasure chest of new (to me) ways to look at story and its usefulness to individuals and society. I’m not sure where exactly I’m taking this exploration, or where it’s taking me, but, already, what little I’ve learned about it has given me some ideas that I’m sure I can bring into my work – in both writing and teaching.
    I also want to say – I love the way that narrative practice *gives permission* for people to tell multiple stories about themselves. That you don’t need to seek one true story for yourself, in any given situation. That honesty doesn’t depend on this. it’s perfectly OKAY to have multiple, perhaps contradictory stories alive in your mind – and they can still all be true … they’re just each a different set of dots, joined in different ways.

  63. I am a LCSWA working in a State Hospital in Morganton North Carolina USA. I help facilitate a Narrative Therapy group here with our patients. It is wonderful to watch our patients learn to tell their own stories. It can be slow process due to patients gaining stability in their own journey. I am excited to learn more about how to use this therapy here and in the future with other patients and clients. The ability to express one’s own story and be able to use one’s own words couched in the place, time and different circumstances impacting that person’s life journey is a wonderful thing and an ability I hope to encourage in my patients/clients.

  64. Hi, there.I´m Veronica from Argentina. As a teacher I can say that the narrative metaphor is an excellent tool to build a way out of the generalization. Which is a very common bad practise among teachers. I love listening to my students and watching their transformation during a conversation in which we pay attention to each other. We spend a long time with the kids at schools, but, I´m not glad to say that sometimes it is not a quality time.
    I think I´m going to study narrative therapy deeper. It seams to be a kind of magic key to people´s soul. Thank so much, for this opportunity.

  65. Well, I’m just a Medicine student really interested in stories and behaviors, that’s one of the reasons I’m taking the course, to get to know how we can get to know better the other one, so we can treat them as they deserve. In med school we generally are taught about the disease, and when we’re next the patient, telling their story to our classmates and tutors, we are just focus on that disease, what are the symptons, the phisiology and all these medical stuff (that of course, has its meanings, we need to know the technic), but we forget about whom that persons are, what are they’re suffering, what makes them happy, what are their really stories. I really think this class would help me to be a better professional and, more than that, a better human being.

  66. As an art therapist, narrative therapy seems a natural flow of describing the stories behind the artwork – what is shown/not shown, how the image/figures are portrayed, and what stands out in the picture. This all links to whether there is a rich/thin story, the connections to past, present and future as well as themes. It is interesting how themes can be one-sided and how they are very much shaped by context, family of origin, upbringing, expectations and experiences. And if experiences shape our thinking, then experiencing the creativity of reauthoring a new perspective and life story could enable hope and freedom from the past.
    Narrative therapy can lend a richness to the process of creative art making: preverbal witness writing/poetry or a story can enrich reflection and processing leading to greater integration or insight.

  67. How would you describe the narrative metaphor?
    For me, the narrative metaphor represents series or networks of ideas, images, sensations, and experiences that are threaded and encoded in our episodic memory to form stories about ourselves, others and the world. Paradoxically or cyclically, our stories and the meaning we attribute to them determine and are determined by what we selectively pay attention to. There are dominant and perhaps intrusive stories that overshadow the spotlight for other potentially helpful and hopeful stories; a process that inevitably influences and structures our lives.

    What might thinking about stories in this way make possible for you?
    For me, thinking about stories in this multidimensional way allows me to open my mind up to the numerous potentialities of the Self – who I am really? (or Selves, who are we inside of me?). All of the sudden the term ‘stories’ feels more light, free, and innate, as opposed to ‘story’ that seems to carry the unrealistic heavy burden of encompassing totality. Thinking about stories in this way may make it possible for me to recognise (and help others to recognise) the richness in other narratives beyond thin descriptions or temporal events, to the deeper, less acknowledged, realm of personal meaning, skills, beliefs, values, hopes, and dreams.

    I appreciate how the approach to narrative therapy centres people as the experts in their own lives and views problems external to people. It was refreshing to read material that uses language to refer to fellow human beings in a neutral, non-hierarchical, collaborative manner, such as “person consulting me” (as opposed to client or patient).

    Thank you and I look forward to the next chapter.

    Regards, Leigh (writing from Dahab, Egypt).

  68. What a lot to reflect on:
    • Opening with the powerful image of the dots, how we so easily move into joining one set of dots, our dominant story; how by noticing other dots (events) either implicitly or explicitly, may lead to linking of other dots that lead to multiple stories, multiple possibilities.
    • Chimamanda Adichie’s telling of the danger of the single story, taking me to how we can relate that to the power of stories of the indigenous people in Australia; the idea of starting with “secondly”, such as with the British discovered Australia or the indigenous people lived here for over 40,000 years; stories of “Muslims” and “Islam” in today’s political climate; and a single story being applied to or by a person robbing them of their dignity as a multi-storied person (with multiple dots), de-legitimising them (reminding me of the power of single storied labels we all so readily use).
    • Alice Morgan’s introduction that is full of gems: the power of curiosity (now seen as a key aspect of being a good leader); the idea of a conversation being a journey with multiple paths to choose from, with each intersection allowing us a choice, with no right way to go (this reminds me of Cavafy’s poem Ithaka); narrative therapy being non-blaming, respectful, seeing problems as separate from the person and the person being the significant player in determining the direction of the conversation (reminding me of our children’s mantra “we are the bosses of ourselves”); her great example of her story of being a competent driver, “thickening” it with events supporting that “dominant story” while “selecting out” ones that do not, or living parallel stories depending on the audience; how the social context (gender, class, race, culture and sexual preference) influence stories and how we see ourselves and perform in different contexts; and the idea of thickening out “thin descriptions” supporting a dominant story into a “rich description” allowing for multiple stories that do not support problems.
    • Michael White’s reference to “giving meaning to some of the more neglected events their lives”, the “centring of the meaning-making skills” and “building a scaffolding”.
    • The Power of Storytelling: the rich interplay among Michael White, Barbara Brooks and Gretchen Miller reminding us of the power of reading and the power of not staying within defined roles, the defined interpretations of our lives.
    • The richness of the Narrative Therapy (Draft) Charter of Story-Telling Rights by David Denborough.
    I see the joy of these concepts is that they can be applied to every aspect of our lives.

  69. The narrative metaphor, in my mind is the way that we as humans organize our experiences and fit ourselves into those experiences. In my clinical work I often see people with rigid definitions of themselves and their lives. They are working with just one story of themselves. These clients are often experiencing anxiety and depression because they do not fit into what they think “should be.” Thinking about these stories as part of a greater tapestry of stories rather than the source of rigid thinking is important. This module has helped me to be with the client in their single story. From that place it was easier to help them discover all the other stories in their life. This feels more collaborative. Recently, it has made possible the idea of integrating stories from the past with stories of the present to make a single, more meaningful picture of a client’s identity.

  70. As a High School Teacher I find the more stories students tell the more complex their lives appear. Having the skills to ‘connect the dots’ and join their stories will be a valuable skill to possess.

    Being able to have students trust in telling their stories and sharing their truths will benefit the students to feel they have been heard, understood and valued. This is a vital part of the healing process for many difficult situations.

    I am located in a small country town in South Australia, I stumbled across this training whilst I was helping a student who felt dismissed by the school counsellor. I had no knowledge of how to help him and I Valued the ability to talk and help this student through their problems.

  71. How would you describe the narrative metaphor?

    For me, it is a symbolic representation of our thoughts, feelings, emotions, life energy, and experiences that are held in memory of a moment or period of time. Even if we have a photograph of an experience, the metaphor allows us to relive the moment in all of its felt-sense experience for us. Behind every metaphor lies opportunities for expansion, embelishment, fantasy, and exploration of additional possibilities. Metaphors for me symbolize endless possibilities of expression.

    What might thinking about stories in this way make possible for you?

    I enjoy “stumbling” upon beautiful metaphors that appear within a conversation with another person, while listening to a story, or in the state of being aware and present in a moment that captures my attention to the point that my mind holds it in amazement. If I can help my clients see metaphors in their life stories with a similar state of awe, amazement, or curiosity (as mentioned in today’s lessen) I think they would see that hope (also eluded to in one of today’s stories) for being more than the single story they have been telling themself.

  72. How would you describe the narrative metaphor?

    Humans are compelled to create narrative containers to organize and make meaning of the events and relationships in their lives. Everyone’s “life story” is a collection of many threads and storylines. Choosing to tell one of those stories requires us to draw upon a series of sequential events from which we draw meaning, but often those choices are influenced by a pre-existing set of limiting beliefs. To transform thin descriptions to rich ones, we can (and can help clients) enhance a thin storyline by including additional events, especially those that seem contradictory, in an effort to reassess the deeper meaning of a story — and at times even revise it.

    What might thinking about stories in this way make possible for you?

    I have been teaching memoir writing workshops for two decades, and have seen students undergo extraordinary transformations in the classroom when encouraged to engage with their personal narratives differently. Applying principles of (literary) narrative structure to a life story often causes individuals to perceive their story in a different light, and then allows new insights to be reached about the self. My main challenge as a writing instructor is similar to what Barbara Brooks described — helping writers move beyond a simple, episodic, right-brain accounting of events and into a more nuanced, contextualized, reflective left-brain telling of their stories. The narrative-therapy distinction between thin and rich descriptions are particularly helpful for me, and I hope to incorporate it into some of my lectures.

    Thank you, Dulwich Centre, for such an accessible, well organized, and entertaining module!
    (I’m coming to you from Southern California.)

  73. How would you describe the narrative metaphor?

    The narrative metaphor is a way for people to be motivated to tell their story in multiple ways that they see themselves. This metaphor also facilitates people (and counselor) to move throgh time and contemplate their values, skills, relationships, and changes during their lives. In addition, this facilitates people to be critical of the one story perspective, and be motivated to move beyeond it, and start saying and acting new stories about themselves and their relationship.

    What might thinking about stories in this way make possible for you?

    Thinking about stories help me to appreciate the complexity of experience. As a clinical practitioner that is trained in a cientific/practitioner model Im exposed to clinical manuals and EBP throght out my training. This sometimes attempt the stories of the people that go to the clinic. So, thinking in a narrative way can make posible for me to look for other stories (beyond the training manual and the problem) and facilitate justice and the right of people to tell their story in a more richer way.

    My first language is Spanish, sorry if any mistake.

  74. The narrative metaphore is a way, Narrative practice work, that in the first way tries to add arguemantation, provided for the people cunsulting rather than for an institution, to the main plot of the people’s stories. In this particular way, what this metaphore tries to do, its to enrich people’s stories, in a way that they ‘catch’ a newer perspective about what’s happening in their lives.

    this metaphore warns us about the danger of a single storie telling: Enclousure, struggling, get bogged, presure, an so on. Thats why this therapy works to desolve this matters, and pushes away all, to increase stories and open endings.

  75. How would you describe the narrative metaphor?
    A process of enquiry by which someone opens to the possibility of multiple story lines, as opposed to a narrow and linear approach to life experience, in an effort to unlock the deeper significance of the experience. Narrative therapy techniques encourage the participant to widen their perspectives, therefore engaging with a richer interpretation of life experience.

    Dominant story lines leak power from the individual, because he/she engages in a cyclic belief system, which at best fosters rigidity. Contrastingly, opening to the possibility of multiple interpretations, and recognising strengths – even in contexts of powerlessness and dysfunction – leaves the individual a more conscious participant in the deconstruction process. In other words, the person is better able to determine or reflect on their own experiences; they are now seeing from multiple perspectives, which places them in a position of power.

    What might thinking about stories in this way make possible for you?
    This approach gives me permission to look at things from all angles. I tend to fall into the trap of identifying my weaknesses, even in the context of therapy. I see what I have ‘allowed’ to happen, which creates a subordinate position from the outset. The narrative metaphor appeals to me as it is encouraging an unbiased approach, taking me away from limited methods of identification of events in my life.

  76. How would you describe the narrative metaphor?

    The narrative metaphor provides individuals with a recognisable and accessible vehicle for constructing, examining and reforming their personal and broader cultural experiences.
    The use of the narrative metaphor is intrinsically empowering as it creates a framework that is created in and true to the unique “voice” of each person as they tell and re-tell their story.

    Just as we can look at a traditional narrative and examine different themes, perspectives, changes with different story tellers, meanings, morals, lessons etc the same avenues can be applied to personal narratives. I have often found it useful to ask clients questions such as how they think another “character” may tell a certain part of their story, or what they see as a central theme to the current narrative and how they feel about that theme.

    I have found working within the narrative metaphor to be a creative and inspiring experience and one that has universal application.

  77. How would you describe the narrative metaphor?
    people have many stories. Naturally, people try to understand and give meaning to their lives by connecting events and creating story lines. The more a particular story line is reinforced the bigger it becomes and therefore will become a dominant discourse. The issue with having one dominant story is that this can lead to thin stories or skewed stories. Having a dominant discourse means that a person may become clouded, hindering the person from discovering their strengths, true identity, new directions and resources.

    What might thinking about stories in this way make possible for you?
    So far this training has opened up doors for exploration for myself and people who I work with. Awareness is power, now that I am aware of the way I interpret my life story (and others) I will be able to explore this and unlock strengths and open up more possible directions. With awareness, alternative stories are possible.

  78. How would you describe the narrative metaphor?
    Karen from Brisbane, Australia

    The narrative metaphor is a way of assigning meaning to a person’s experiences and recognising that it is one interpretation of the way things are but that there are many others. The dot metaphor was a helpful visual analogy.

    It was helpful to hear about many stories and understanding about how perspectives can occur when a particular story is told again and again. The material caused me to reflect on how thin stories can be told and perpetuated and my role in this. It gives me confidence to notice and highlight differences and to make explicit my experience of the type of story being told and ways to invite alternative perspectives/interpretations with the potential to help frame new ones.

  79. How would you describe the narrative metaphor?
    The narrative or story metaphor translates our lived and imagined experiences and perceptions in terms of the narratives we create to express and explain them to ourselves and others.

    What might thinking about stories in this way make possible for you?
    These narratives can be problematic when they are “thin” , that is, when narrowed or reduced to a select constellation of experiences or events that doesn’t allow for other possible interpretations. However, by exploring references and allusions to other events in a person’s life, we can discover new or alternative stories which create and link different sets of experiences. These “thicken” the person’s story, adding multiple layers of complexity and possibility. Thinking about stories in this way allows me to externalise the “problem” and invite the teller to take different perspectives on the story. This opens the possibility of new interpretations, new stories. The aim of this process is to build on stories that promote a person’s positive and healthy view of self and the world around them in their own words, in narratives of their own making.

  80. Hello I’m Terry,
    In describing the narrative metaphor, as I read the article I pictured an object being passed around the community, a visitor in families spending time then moving on to somebody else’s home. Certainly the concept of therapeutic metaphors has been a focus in the types of therapy I offer, the extended story lines or as I conceive them the extended landscapes of problems and the meaning making possibilities of each landscape.
    So I’m describing the narrative metaphor as a curious external yet internal stance in which to talk about and experience at the same time. I imagine it’s useful to be in a story experiencing it and outside of the story commenting upon the past, the present and future contexts selectively and at a safe distance at the same time. I enjoy the safety and the connection the approach offers. I’d go further and describe the narrative metaphor as bringing the awareness that features of stories and there meanings are often tightly held and the metaphor concept by definition is a process moving and unfolding.
    What might thinking about stories in this way make possible for you?
    I’m currently in the process of working through many ideas and concepts of a future research project. Something I’d like to decide soon and get on with. I’m stuck not being sure what direction, what theme etc. So I’m thinking, as I write, what is the story I’m working on with regards to being stuck or the story of being undecided. Mmmm. Seems to come back to the story of I need more information, more guidance, I need to read more broadly, a story of not having enough to get started! So thinking of stories in this way makes possible, a recognition that I’m the story teller and the end result of the research project is not the meaningful aspect, it is the journey, the people I would meet, the communities I would enter, the knowledge and wisdom gleaned on the journey itself, that’s the meaning of whatever topic I eventually decide to pursue.
    Onwards!!

  81. It really resonated with me how thin story lines in the lives of clients have already defined and labelled them through their experiences, positive and negative and others ideas, interactions, perspectives and opinions. As therapists, we have the privilege to co-author with the client to “flesh out” their story. I love the concept of the “Dot Exercise”, this gave me a great visual I can hold onto when I am with a client, that we are “multi-storied” in our lives. I am excited to see where these dots take us, the journey that will be taken intersecting along the way, the gaps that will be shown and filled in as new perspectives and forgotten experiences are recognised.

    I loved the talk by novelist Chinamanda Adichie, it made so much sense the danger of seeing our lives as a single story, making us incomplete, there are so many other experiences, perspectives and exposures that make up all of who we are. There is power in our story, the how’s and the why’s and through all this we can begin to make sense of it all, see how our story has shaped our lives and ultimately influence the steps we take, the choices we make and ultimately to empower people through their stories to have a hope for the future, create new possibilities for living and to recognise the hidden potentials and resources within themselves to achieve their breakthrough and break free from the chains that bind them. Love it, what an exciting journey.

    Thank you Dulwich Centre for bringing such a well-rounded, easy to follow online course to further enrich our journey as therapists.

    Blessings
    Denielle

  82. Hello! My name is Alejandra. I’m from Heredia, Costa Rica.
    Great first lesson.

    The first time I heard about Narrative Therapy was last year in a short talk with a great man called Carlos Chico, from Chile. In just about 3 hours, he was able to transmit his passion and respect for this form and ethics on therapy. And by taking this first lesson I can begin to understand why.

    I find it to be such an amazing approach to empower people’s lives and assist groups and communities in building better stories for themselves. I find it fascinating, as on one hand it presents the therapist as a gentle collaborator in the search of the person’s own answers for its difficulties or problematic events and on the other hand deeply respectful of the knowledge that already exists in the person, community or group.

    ***How would you describe the narrative metaphor?***
    I’ll describe it as a space for a person’s self-discovery through the recognition of the limitations -imposed or self-imposed- in his/her life story. With a consequent development of new stories, richer in content and in possibilities for him or herself to achieve a better life journey, created and sustained by events of his/her own life.

    ***What might thinking about stories in this way make possible for you?***
    It makes change possible, almost tangible. It generates a thicker sense of empowerment from the inside out and a more real sense of respect for the complexities and multi-storied lives of others.

    Greatful for the effort in putting together this course, I’m really looking forward to the next chapters.
    Best!
    Ale.

  83. “With each step that I take with the person consulting me, we are opening more possible directions” , these words of Alice Morgan are in my opinion one of the “fil rouge” of this first chapter.
    Open more possible directions means help the person to see that him or her is “multistoried”.
    The person is the author of not just one story, but of many stories, and as an author he or she has the incredible power to write and re-write stories according to his or her inner self.
    Every person is submerged by stories, some of them belong to the individual and some to the community. A therapist help the person to avoid the “thin description” and its effects (a very limited vision of ourselves and the world) by inviting him or her in “new territories of life”.
    Finally, I was really impressed by the Charter and in particular I found the Article 4 very powerful. This article declares the right to be free from having problems caused by trauma and injustice, in other words be free from the consequences of “bad stories”, the stories that we didn’t choose but we experienced as a passive character. Article 4 is an hymn to freedom: the freedom for every person to be considered “other” from his or her problem.

  84. My name is Daleen Pieters and I live in Alberton, South Africa
    Firstly I can not omit to say that I can hardly contain my excitement when broadening my knowledge of Narrative Therapy and the Narrative Metaphor, as it has played such a crucial part in the retelling of my own life story, with Gys Els and David Epston as my preferred co-authors on my journey by means of technology (e-mails) and face to face consultations with them both.

    When understanding that the Problem Story is but a thin strand of a rich life, we do not only acknowledge that the person is not the problem, the problem is the problem, but we also acknowledge that the person has a rich story to tell and we are the respectful and privileged listeners. What an honour!
    The dangers of single stories as explained by Chimamanda motivates me to listen carefully to the telling of a story in order to find the clues for a thicker and diverse plot. Single stories are not just misleading, but can do so much damage to the person’s dignity, self respect and future prospects and should therefore be challenged with respect and curiosity, with the person’s consent and with the therapist as a co-traveler on this road to discovery.
    Acknowledging people as experts in their own lives, as mentioned by Alice Morgan, empowers them to find the hidden stories – those moments of strength or insight that they have forgotten about or misplaced or was dominated by the problem story.
    I think Michael White expressed the roll of Narrative Therapy beautifully when he described it as “a place to stand when dealing with issues and revisiting difficult experiences” because it gives the person insight into their personal strengths and alternative stories and the Problem story is no longer the only place where they can stand.
    The Charter of Storytelling Rights is a very exciting concept. Living in a country where human rights were ignored and abused for many years through dehumanizing of people based on race, I feel that it is crucial that justice and therapy should be interlinked. Even on a personal level, if a person is seeking help with writing a new, multi-faceted story with a thick plot, whatever the problem story was, the person’s story-telling rights should be upheld, respected and honoured. I just attended a Masterclass Seminar by David Epston and he repeatedly mentioned the roll of the Narrative Practitioner as a respectful and curious listener. I believe the Charter of Story-Telling Rights re-enforces that idea of being a respectful listener.
    Thinking about stories in terms of thick or thin plots with alternatives and counter-stories, makes it easier to know what types of questions to ask to dethrone the problem story as the dominant theme in a person’s life.

    The Narrative Metaphor gives the therapist a clear idea of the desired outcome that is not just based on an abstract concept. We have all read good novels and we have all read bad novels. We know what to look for in a good book and this makes it possible to assist a person in finding the best-seller within their lives by skillfully and respectfully asking the questions that will help them unearth their alternative, rich and descriptive story.

  85. Great lesson. I learned a lot. I really enjoyed Chimamanda’s talk. It caught my attention what she said about Africa and how people think Africa is a country. I was born in El Salvador and I always knew I am an American because I was born in the American continent. However, some people say “America” as if it is a country not a continent. I have news, America is a continent and the United States is a country.

  86. I find the notion that our lives are shaped not by a single story, but by multiple stories that intersect and intertwine, fascinating. I also find it is crucial to grasp this notion in order to understand the complexity and uniqueness of human existence. Chimamanda Adichie speaks of this with such eloquence that at the end of her TED talk, it’s imposssible to imagine life experience in any other way. I have used her talk in my teaching practice many times to help undergraduate students begin to understand the power and influence of stories in a broader cultural context and also to help them understand their self-stories. It is timely to be reminded of this now.

    I also found the visual nature of the dot exercise useful for understanding the interconenectedness of stories. I am always mindful that we each learn in different ways – the visual demonstration of the concept of the narrative metaphor was a great way of acknowledging this by allowing other perceptions to come into play.

    And finally, it was terrific to be reminded that one of the crucial strengths of Narrative Therapy is its desire to position individuals central to their own lives with the potential to become active agents of change in a collaborative partnership.

  87. Wow- thank you so much for your website. As a ‘starting out’ practitioner your course and overall resources on the site are amazing. I have had very little experience with narrative therapy – given the push currently in academia for CBT- thank you for the opportunity to ‘expand my tool box’.

    Initial reflections are that all of us are made up of a complex layer, of stories- in fact I resonate with the term ‘multistories’. I feel that some stories may even play out in a parallel fashion, so we can be experiencing different stories simultaneously. I also feel that environment may have an impact on how we tell our stories and trust would play a part in respect to whom we feel safe to tell our stories.

  88. The Danger of a Single Story by Chimamanda Adichie – no matter how many times I watch and re-watch, I find new and different ways that I have focused solely on a single story in my own life and how that has (perhaps) impacted my self-perception/esteem/confidence today. Adichie’s tenants can also be applied in my clinical/community work. From a ‘professional standpoint’, narrative practice in general supports my belief that the more I learn, the less I know – in that I will never and can never possibly be the expert in the lives of clients who consult me as a social worker. This supports me to ‘dig deeper’, ‘stretch’ or ‘exercise’ and highlight non-problem saturated stories that have been (perhaps) hidden amongst the natural stress and turmoil of life.

    I am excited to reflect further on these concepts and find ways to integrate them into my personal and professional life.

  89. Kia ora,
    I guess for me, narrative is about allowing people to see themselves from a different angle. To see the power, strength, determination, resilencies, as opposed to fixing on the powerless state or the problem saturated experience, and fixing that as truth. Narrative is entirely new to me and its so interesting just how much impact stories have on us – the stories we hold about ourselves and the stories we tell about others. there is a lot of power held in stories. looking at stories as power-full, i start to see that there is a need to be mindful of stories; to positively challenge stories; to explore stories; to better understand the person, for me, it might begin with hearing the stories they tell themselves about who they are.

  90. I like the basic idea of narrative therapy that people live a lot of stories. For each of us is important to know that we can always choose a story to live. I also agree that we live in the context of events; that our behavior and our psyche behave differently depending on our environment. Through the principles of narrative therapy, I decided to work in such approach.

  91. I appreciated the dot/string metaphor and it’s application to narrative practice. I like the way it illustrates how each of us have several stories in our lives happening at once and how dominant stories are created and upheld. By thinking of stories in this way it makes alternative stories possible and assists as a practitioner in thickening a client’s alternative story by highlighting the same. This has helped me gain a greater understanding around narrative practice and simply the magic that can appear to exist in finding and thickening an alternative story.

  92. Dear All, thank you so much for offering this course for free. My name is Ute Weitbrecht, and I am living in São Paulo, Brazil. I am German, and therefore try my best to express myself in English.
    Below please find my reflection to the Narrative Metaphor. I very much appreciate your feedback.
    Warmly
    Ute

    How would you describe the narrative metaphor?

    Through story telling we can express and make public images that we have created in our minds. Our verbal and non verbal expressions are indicative of our thoughts and feelings and crucial to each storyline.

    What might thinking about stories in this way make possible for you?

    Thought patterns and belief patterns are inherent to education, life experiences, socio-cultural backgrounds etc. Almost unnoticed they become the lenses through which we look at and experience ourselves. They affect our choices of verbal and non verbal expressions with which we create social realities. Through story telling a light can be shed on these patterns making them more evident and thus re signification can begin.

  93. I’ve been fascinated by narrative and involved in its practice since the 90’s. After some time away this is the perfect refresher. I was fortunate enough to attend a training by Michael White himself and it was wonderful to revisit his writing and hear his voice. I do wish others could experience how very vibrant and passionate he was, as I don’t think it’s evident in this recording, fascinating as it was.

    I came away with various thoughts to ponder:
    The concept of catharsis in ancient Greece. That an experience would change the person’s ideas thoughts feelings and be transformed in some way.

    The importanceof a person’s connection to a wider world – none of us are just the individual. It’s problematic to see the true self as separate from the context or environment – a cul de sac.

    Michael talking about Finding another place to stand where identity is no longer defined by the trauma.

    Trauma interrupts stream of consciousness memory and disrupts our ability to access ways our old coping strategies

    The deepest resonance for me though was David talking about the therapy space being a place to act for justice and modeling the kinds of conversations we need to participate in, and the challenges we need to make and accept, to ensure that we do not inadvertently ally ourselves with injustice.

  94. I really enjoyed the dot to dot exercise, such a simple but effective way to explain thick and thin stories. We can choose how we connect our dots. I also really like David Denborough’s charter of storytelling, I have put it on my wall to challenge myself about whether I am upholding these rights with my clients.

  95. Thank you Dulwich Centre for offering this course online so that I could better understand Narrative Therapy and how it can be used to support the families that I work with. I found the dot exercise to be a fun and interest way of introducing the concept of Narrative Therapy.

  96. I very much enjoyed this introduction to Narrative Therapy. I am currently an English high school teacher who writes and wants to start her own business in counselling through story. So much of the resource materials resonated with me. The idea that the stories that we tell ourselves are usually based on thin description and the way to change that is through looking at other alternative stories that could exist within our own contexts/frameworks is so similar to how I work with the students at school that require welfare support.

    Thinking about my own self, I realise that I have constructed many narratives throughout my life pertaining to who I perceive myself to be. My default narrative is connected to the story of the victim. I have worked hard as an adult to construct the survivor narrative so that my default narrative holds significantly less power. Amazing concept – in my own life and in my own work with others, deconstructing the dominant narrative, and replacing it with a stronger and more positive narrative can really impact our quality of life.

    I also liked the idea of the ‘client’ becoming the writer of their own story and the counsellor, a facilitator/light along the way. I have always believed that we own our stories and our lives, and that only we can change or fix them.

  97. Since storytelling is such an important part of all cultures, I am excited when I think about the possibilities of this method of helping clients as a way to show our similarities across cultures. Working in Aboriginal communities where the value of storytelling is already accepted, it opens new doors to help and break down barriers, while empowering the people who need to tell their stories. I think it will be vitally important to chose analogies that are culturally-relevant. This is an exciting journey indeed!

  98. I am doing this initial work to extent my understanding of narrative, inside of a self-help movement. To grow our movement and obtain this by growing ourselves and our own narratives. To find solutions embedded in our own experience… …creating awareness and connection with each other…

    …I need to spend more time with this first chapter…

  99. Thank you for access to this fantastic resource. Previously I have had a minimal training in narrative therapy and have found this module excellent and thought-provoking. The richness of resources in the module mimics the richness we can find in thickening and developing our stories. In particular, I loved the dot exercise and can see it being useful in therapy sessions. Alice Morgan’s “possibilities for conversations” resonated with me as the decisions we make in therapy sessions about which story to follow can be challenging.
    Chimamanda’s talk was an excellent reminder to apply this to my own life and my use of stories.
    Overall this module has been an eye-opening and exciting start to my narrative therapy journey.

  100. I have learned so many good things from this module. This is how I have understood the narrative metaphor:
    I would describe it as a means to understand how life stories are told and what impact this has. Stories are made up of events. These events are linked together to form a story of someone’s experiences. However the events that are linked together are privileged whilst others are subordinated and neglected. If the story told is a problem saturated one, the events chosen will be consistent. However, what we know is that lives are made up of numerous events that can contradict the dominant story. Therefore many strands of stories can be told about one person, which can exist amongst the problematic experiences. This thickens the narratives of people’s lives which can be empowering for those who have been negatively impacted by one negative story of their lives. Most likely, other people who have more power can confirm that negative story in theory description of that person. That means that living with the awareness of one problem saturated story can be an oppressive experience.

  101. We all know the story of the two shoe sales people sent by their shoe company to a third world country to investigate possible business opportunities. The first reports back: “We can’t do business there: nobody wears shoes.” The second reports back: “We can do so much business there: nobody wears shoes.”

    Having been introduced to the notion of thin description as not providing us with an accurate representational richness around the many stories we all experience and embody, I have now begun to think about the fact that when different people are presented with the same situation (eg: family dysfunction, devastating bushfire, a non-shoe-wearing nation), they can construct entirely different narratives for themselves in relation to that information. One event is many stories.

    Working with the narrative metaphor provided by the client (or client group), the role of the skilled narrative therapist, as I understand it, is to identify the dominant trauma, problem or obstacle as presented by the client. The narrative therapist then facilitates and encourages the individual, group or community to recognise the many different interpretations their key experiences are open to, and to investigate, discover and embrace those interpretations (ie: those stories) which are empowering, useful, healthy and self-affirming, and which enable them to move forward through and beyond problems, traumas, negative stories, negative self-talk, and so on.

    I work in public libraries and community centres. Coming from a strong literature background, I have a long-standing interest in stories and storytelling, and how we – individually and collectively – understand and define ourselves through (both nonfiction and fictional) narrative. I am also interested in the power of story to bring people together, to solidify relationships, to connect the disenfranchised, to make visible the invisible, and to contribute to a healthy and robust community.

    Traditionally, public libraries privilege books and authors over readers. My work in reader engagement and development follows a reader-centric model, and this feels entirely in keeping with the narrative therapy approach.

    Suzanne, Adelaide, South Australia

  102. The narrative metaphor allows us to take into perspective the truly complexity of one’s life. It allows an individual to discover its active role as a “meaning-maker” and to regain control over the events, even over those most scattered and painful.

    As a career counselor working with immigrants, I am trying to introduce the narrative practice into a different field then therapy. I have found it as a powerful empowering tool to boost motivation and self-confidence in people experiencing not just unemployment but also segregation and despair. Narrative practice introduces a new holistic way of approaching career counseling, a way that can take into account the whole individual with its values, beliefs and array of experiences. It’s an inspiring and amazing journey!

  103. I’ve only recently been properly introduced to narrative therapy (workshop by Vikki Reynolds in Oakville, ON, Canada, February 2016) and I find it absolutely fascinating. Chimamanda’s TED talk was a wonderful illustration of how our stories can limit, or expand, our view of other people, the world, and ourselves and our place in the world. Jill Freedman and Gene Combs’s dot exercise is very helpful, and I can see myself using that as a means to explain narrative approaches to my clients. I sometimes try to describe this to my clients as a movie broken down into many, many frames and what sense we would have of any given film if we were only shown some of these frames. If we were shown different frames would we have a different sense of the film and it’s message? I also find this approach to be much more client-centred than CBT/CPT, particularly in the context of the storytelling Charter of Rights. What NT makes possible for me and for my clients is the facilitated transition from a trauma narrative to a resistance narrative for which my clients can take ownership. Similar to Shauna Ianson’s comment, above, I’m looking forward to being quieter during my sessions, getting out of the way of my clients’ exploration of their problem story and watching for the emergence of alternative plot lines.

  104. I so appreciate this introduction to the narrative metaphor. It is remarkable to see how we live our lives and create our sense of identity through the stories we tell about ourselves as well as how we are influenced by the stories told about us by others and by society. The invitation to be “on the look out” for contradictions and unattended experiences is exciting. I feel peaceful knowing that when I’m working with others as a school counselor that these alternative plot lines will emerge simply by allowing them to openly explore their problem story–I don’t have to create that alternative for them. I can’t wait for the next lesson to learn more about externalizing the problem.

    • Hi Shauna,
      I just want to comment on your response. As a teacher myself, just finishing my Master’s in Counselling, I can certainly see how narrative therapy would be extremely effective for students. As I go through this Chapter, I often think of how my students certainly could change their narrative from “being down and cutting” to one where there is hope and goals in the future. I can see them learning this themselves, as you point out so eloquently, it is just up to us to guide them with the proper questions.

  105. This was a great introduction to Narrative Therapy and the problematic nature of a single story. It has me thinking about my own stories that I tell about myself and how they are limited given the “thin descriptions” I often use. It also made me think about how I contribute to other people’s stories in both positive and negative ways.

  106. Before this course I knew nothing about Narrative Therapy. The more I read the more I love. The recognition that it is not a single story but multiple stories that make a person who are they are. The dot exercise was really helpful in understanding how multiple stories can be drawn out and how they all connect. I love the reminder that it isn’t one conversation, one event, accident or illness that defines a person. There are multiple conversations, multiple life events and many stories that will all contribute to a persons life.

  107. I thoroughly enjoyed this first chapter, it made me think how limited we are when looked at only under one point of view, if we have just ‘one’ story, how this is restrictive! Due to the complexity of the human being and the amount of interactions all the time, choose just one look way is really give up a world of possibilities. This sent me the idea of freedom, so the relation made by Michael White with a bird has resonance and meaning for me.
    Listen Chimamamnda telling her story, besides having been delightful, showed me in practice the richness of livings, experiences and feelings that we can gain only through new ways of seeing and how strong this impact in everybody lives.
    I was trained in using a Narrative Approach as Clinical Psychologist in Brazil and I had the pleasure of experiencing in my practice the power of to gain various possibilities offers a person, something besides having a new identity, something like as having a new life. But always good to remember how important is to be attentive for this at work, as a mother, in my relationships, at all my life. Thanks!

  108. Beyond a little previous reading – I am new to Narrative Therapy. But as soon as I began to read about the way we tell and/or adopt stories about ourselves – I recognised this and could apply it to my own life.

    I haven’t finished this chapter yet – but I’m thinking of the way the “thin story” creates a barrier between the carrier of the story and others – like a veil, a screen, a mask – and how important it is to look through and beyond this barrier.

    I find myself wondering – this thin story may still serve as a form of connection – eg: between a child and their family – disrupting this story may well cause conflict and/or confusion – and we would need to be prepared for that.

    Sometimes the mask may have been an attempt to find a way to interact with others – but it may not be as productive as first thought.

    I’ll be keen to find ways to see past the barrier, and also for suggestions of how to support people to re-story themselves.

  109. I live and work in Berlin, Germany I work in Film and Television. One of your participants said the following: “I can’t remember who it was that said ‘history is written by the winners’ but implicit in this statement is the acknowledgement that there is always more than one story, and that stories are can be both empowering and disempowering, for individuals and for nations.” This comment resonates so entirely with me here and now, in Berlin. I am busy documenting the “stories” the Syrian refugees are telling… Due to so many formal requirements to start a new life here many of the refugees tell you what they think you want to hear and what might help their applications for residency. After just this one online module I feel more empowered to ask the questions that might help me find parallel, or even entirely new storylines that empower these courageous people to move from feeling like losers to feeling like winners.

  110. This first lesson certainly stimulated dialogue within me and with others. I am in graduate school, learning to listen attentively to the stories of my clients. The narrative metaphor is one that I have identified with since childhood. I believe that each day is another sentence in the book of my life,that each decision adds to the plot, that new characters are being introduced while others fade into the background. This metaphor comes naturally to me and is very helpful to me in conceptualizing how cultural context is so influential for me, for my clients.

    Chimamanda’s story made great impact upon my already developing identity as a therapist. How I see others is informed by the context of my culture, fortunately my context is also beginning to add more and more stories from these ‘others’ and, in the process, giving me a much fuller understanding of humanity and our many stories we all have, if one would but listen.

  111. This course is a treasure of inspiring people and idea’s.The narrative metaphor is a new way of looking at people and their problems. The focus does not have to be on solving the problems, but on how people can live a life that they prefer. The problem is not the only story, but a dot in a richer story.
    As I try to use some of the ideas, I notice that it will take a whole lot of practice to leave the expert position, which is so dominant present in our hospital (I am an occupational therapist in a psychiatric department of a general hospital in Belgium)
    Looking forward to more

  112. Listening to Chimamamnda’s talk was thought provoking and laughter evoking.
    Really enjoyable.

  113. I have thoroughly enjoyed this introduction to Narrative Metaphor. The concept of people living “multi-storied lives” has not only resonated with me at a professional level as a therapist but has enabled me to look at dominant stories of my life and connect the dots to the other stories around it. Chimamamnda’s TED talk has inspired me to look at how my perceptions about people and world come from the single story I have witnessed or heard. It has encouraged me to adopt the stance of curiosity that Narrative Therapy stands for. Her talk helped me understand the association between the narrative metaphor and the socio-cultural experiences. The understanding that stereotypes are in fact he result of a single story and therefore incomplete, has given me a different perspective of now working against stereotypes. It has helped me understand the significance of exception or alternate stories not only at an individual level but at a societal and cultural level.
    The ideas of introducing the temporal dimension of experiences and narratives as well as looking for details and complexities to create thick descriptions are now beginning to consolidate and hold significance in my understanding of the narrative metaphor. Further, the concept of “Catharsis” as described by M. White as being transformative and bringing about a shift in one’s sense of identity helps me look at it in a rather positive sense and something that I would actively want to engage in. And this is in contrast to the not so desirable connotations that the term has in my cultural context.
    I would thus describe the narrative metaphor as the focus on these thick descriptions of multiple stories, beyond the dominant story, along a temporal dimension. This of course is in the conscious presence of the given socio-cultural context, involving re-authoring stories collaboratively to being about a transformation.

    Engaging with stories as descriptions of events and experiences and believing in the presence of multiple stories will certainly help me re-author the narratives of my personal experiences. It will help me look back at events and experiences temporally and with a focus on specific details and look around for other connecting stories to be able to identify the different stories that were not so dominant for so long. This is in fact going to be ‘cathartic’ for me. I’ve already started the process by beginning to look at alternate stories for some of the more recent occurrences in my life. At a professional level as a therapist, it will certainly help me look at problems as external to people and begin a collaborative process of looking for alternate stories and creating thick descriptions.

    Here’s to more learning and sharing!

    Lamia Bagasrawala, Mumbai, India

  114. I really like the concept of the dot exercise, and the way this provides a visual representation that from one thin line we can weave many, many stories. I am a musician and rely heavily upon sensory experiences to weave my own stories and to understand the stories of others. I use hand drumming a lot in my own work and find that individual stories are shared, heard and developed very naturally using this particular context. Above all, this medium celebrates the unique nature of each story within a spirit of adventure that simultaneously builds strong connections with self and others.

  115. I understand the narrative as a metaphor of our experience. When we are exploring our stories, we are not entrenched in them. We are able to practice reflective thinking, curiously seeking to recognize and understand the interpretations that we hold in our lives and how they shape our perspective of the world and ourselves. Developing the ability to see our stories allows us to get space from the events/our experience in our lives, allows us to imagine other, richer stories, affords us the ability to gain some levity from negative stories, develops more flexibility both in our thinking, perception and behavior, and ultimately leaves us with the freedom to more actively create the self and life we want to live.

  116. Maintaining a stance of curiosity is the reason I became interested in narrative practices.Curiosity is what makes us want to look for alternate stories,for a richer understanding of the the original thin description – “a thin description which can lead to thin conclusions about peoples identities” (Alice Morgan) The phrase “the person is not the problem,the problem is the problem” to me is a powerful one.How often do we take things at face value? Make snap judgements about people we barely know? Chimamanda’s discourse showed us how globally stereotypes perpetuated by media/books/films can lead to ignorance fear and prejudice,”show over and over again a people as one thing,only one thing”…but finding multiple stories/narratives regarding race or culture helps break those stereotypes down.On a one to one level, maintaining our stance of curiosity by asking questions we genuinely don’t know the answers to not only de-centres ourselves,but allows those consulting us to take the lead in re-authoring their own lives.How cool is that? Rock on chapter two.

  117. I thoroughly enjoyed this first chapter – thank you for making this online resource available.

    For me the narrative metophor is the development of possibilities, the ability to see beyond one story and map many different ones on to and around a certain situation (including the points of view of the different people involved in the story).

    I think Chimamanda’s talk reflected this beautifully. Her talk is so relevant today, especially with the dominant narratives that are abounding in the media around people who are having to leave their home country and seek refuge in another (in sometimes extremely dangerous ways). I know here in the UK there are some very prominant ‘single stories’ which do not appreciate the complexities.

    I work with children within the school context as an Educational Psychologist. I hear many thin stories and I try hard to work with the children, families and school staff to find alternatives in the stories that they share. I find using narrative therapy helps greatly and just this first chapter of the course as inspired me to try harder with developing possibilities.

    Looking forward to the next chapter.

  118. I am thinking about meeting a salesperson who is trying to sell me something I do not need or want. The question to ask is what the salesperson is NOT telling me. What the salesperson is telling me is one single thin story. If I know all the stories dealing with the said product, I may not buy it.

    Chimamanda talk is absoutely insightful. I truly enjoyed her talk.

  119. Wow, thank you Dulwich Centre for this resource. Whilst many of these articles and clips are familiar to me, to read and listen to them all together with the focus on stories has added so much richness to my understandings. In particular I loved what Michael said in the radio interview likening our language of inner life to the flight of a bird; perchings and transitions. What wonderful freedom that metaphor conjours up, and it reminds me or gives me permission for my therapeutic work with people to fly a bit more freely!

  120. It reminds me not to judge or characterise a person by a single story, I will be mindful that they are so much more than the story they tell themselves, and that if it is a problem saturated one, it is likely to have been generated by other people. I will take a curious stance, and ask them questions, to discover what their journey has been and uncover at least a few of the narrative strands of their life.

  121. Watching and listening to Chimamanda’s stories made me realise why I had been feeling increasingly frustrated and saddened at work when over hearing colleagues define individuals by a singular unfortunate act or by applying unhelpful diagnoses to them. The richness of peoples lives and lived experiences are far greater than any stereotype. Chimamanda has reminded me of the importance of gentle curiosity. With colleagues I now find myself saying so here is the person’s diagnosis, now tell me what journey got them there.

  122. I was trained in using a Narrative Approach at university, but have found myself drifting away from that since commencing practice. I felt revisiting it now after gaining experience would be helpful. I found Chimamanda Adichie’s talk fascinating. I’m always aware that my clients have more than one story, but the dot to dot illustration was a great way of showing it pictorially. I wouldn’t mind making a copy of that illustration and putting it up somewhere to remind me of the richness of people’s lives. The connection between story-telling and narrative therapy was great too. Thanks.

  123. Thank you to Dulwich Centre for opening up this course- Narrative Therapy really resonates with me especially as I think of the stories of many of my students. Chimamanda Adichie shares a wonderful collection of stories, I think that everyone should listen to her speak she is a most eloquent and inspiring person. Her words encourage me to remind myself and others not to dwell on the current stories we are hearing about our Muslim friends- stories of terrorism and jihad which have a tendency to override the stories of a beautiful peace-loving, caring and compassionate group of people.

    Stories give us a frame of reference for our lives but too often we focus only on a single story where we often get stereotypes and an incomplete picture. Stories matter and they can empower us but we need to balance out the many stories in life- just a single story can rob individuals of their dignity if they focus on the negative. We need to enjoy the rich tapestry of the many stories that make us the people we are.

  124. I found this absolutely fascinating. Listening to Chimamanda speak made me consider the relationship between the stories we tell ourselves as individuals, and those we tell ourselves as cultures. I can’t remember who it was that said ‘history is written by the winners’ but implicit in this statement is the acknowledgement that there is always more than one story, and that stories are can be both empowering and disempowering, for individuals and for nations.

    What I love about the narrative metaphor is the way in which it invites possibility, new perspective and re-authoring. I love the way Michael White compared the process of narrative therapy to the process of writing: as a writer, this really resonates for me. I spent a lot of time in my early career working as an English teacher with individuals who had never had the chance to develop their literacy skills fully. I was amazed by how powerfully this impacted on their life experiences and it sometimes seemed that the only way they had learned how to describe themselves, and their lives, was through scripts which had been given to them, or imposed upon them. What joy there was in working with them to open up language as a medium of expression: often it had a transformative effect on their lives, with further reach than I had imagined.

  125. Hi to everyone…

    Firstly – I would to say how much I am enjoying and am grateful for this online course. I do see it as a real opportunity to take this new way of looking at stories into my life and my practice.

    I think that the word tapestry used in the closing video sums up perfectly the narrative metaphor. Our lives are incredibly complex and incredibly vibrant with experiences jostling continuously for acknowledgement and position.

    I see our narratives as calling on so many different mediums, from our senses to the more visceral and intellectual interpretations of the world around us, that it is sometimes hard to believe that we can get through a day of experiencing without turning into a dribbling wreck by the end of it!……

    I enjoyed listening to the Charter and Article 4 resonated deeply with me. I feel that problems can be like looking up from the bottom of a deep well. When you shout for help, even if you are heard it can feel like the rescuers will not always be able to reach in to pull you out.

    I think that exposing the problem as a type of entity in itself is incredibly cathartic for people as it allows them to see the problem for what it is and not concentrate too hard on the sides of the well.

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