Outsider Witness Group

This, like editorials, letters, reading out their words that you’re writing down, etc., is a practice of acknowledgement and uses a particular structure and the resonance of group members to achieve this.

It has its history in both the work of Barbara Myerhoff (Number Our Days, 1980, Simon & Schuster Trade) and also Reflecting Teamwork in Family Therapy as developed by Tom Anderson (Andersen T:  The Reflecting Team: Dialogue and meta-dialogue in Clinical Work. Fam Proc 26:415-428, 1987 ).

Michael White developed these ideas much further so they’d be coherent with therapeutic practice and avoid the problems sometimes associated with Reflecting Team practices.

One immediately apparent difference is that the group members don’t just speak to each other but are interviewed by the therapist according to the structure of the map.

It requires at least one other person – the therapist is not an outsider witness to the interview and cannot easily shift to this role. Fellow therapists or students are often a resource to fill an Outsider Witness Group (OWG) but people with personal experience of similar problems as the interviewee are generally much better as the possibilities for personal resonance are better and the likelihood of hierarchical, non-transparent or non-accountable responses are less.

Again we have four areas of inquiry and these are designed to promote practice principles of transparency, accountability and a reduced hierarchy. Working to these principles can be a stretch for professionals who are habituated in practices of advice-giving, interpretation, reframing, theorising/formulating/hypothesising, praise and affirmation, normalising etc.

Even telling stories with a moral undermines these principles so preparation of group members (particularly where they’re highly trained professionals) in ways of speaking and not speaking safeguards the group from those habitual but hierarchical practices above.

As an example I frequently say to the group before we start “At no time will I be asking for your suggestions or theories.”

Off we go! Read Chapter 4 which goes into some detail of the history, necessary preparations, cautions etc. associated with this practice.

Check out the video which is an OWG for the second interview with KJ. Let me know what you think and then use the exercise to give it a go yourself!

Outsider Witness Exercise

In groups of four with an interviewer, interviewee, and two outsider witnesses

  1. The interviewee describes something about their practice they are pleased with to the others in the group (e.g. a step they have taken; a question they have asked; a conversation with colleagues)
  2. The interviewee then tells a story or anecdote to illustrate how this is expressed in their work and describes what this might say about something they give value to in their practice. The interviewer can ask questions to help them describe the story in detail.
  3. The interviewer turns to the outsider witnesses (taking care to keep the first person in the observing position by not looking at them), interviewing them in turn using the following questions:
    Which particular words and phrases struck you as the person was speaking?
    What image came to mind as they were speaking? What picture did their words paint for you? What sense did you get about the things that are important for them?
    Why it is that you were drawn to these words and phrases? What did they connect with that’s important to you? What is it about your own work or life that meant these things – out of all possible things – caught your attention?
    What has it been like for you to be connected to this person in this way? How has it affected your thinking? What has it confirmed/challenged/ reminded you of? What might you want to remember from this?
  4. The interviewee reflects back about the kind of experience this has been for them.

    The person who was the interviewer first then takes the interviewee role and speaks about something they are pleased with in their practice etc. Each person should get to experience each role.

You can download a PDF of this exercise here.

Please note: a certification module is available for this course. Click here for more details.

Image is the Catawba Deerskin Map, created by Indigenous crafters around 1721. Quote says, "Maps give us part of the story and ask us to fill in the gaps." by Huw Lewis-Jones in The Writers Map

KJ's D&D Bonus Content

During the outsider witnessing, Elliot mentioned that he had this image of KJ casting a spell to banish the Taskmaster. KJ actually does play Dungeons & Dragons, and has created a stat block for the Taskmaster as a monster! (A ‘stat block’ gives all the relevant information, including statistics, skills, and abilities, to be able to play the creature in a D&D campaign.) 

KJ uses the banishment spell as it is written in D&D Basic Rules (p. 217).

Special traits description The Taskmaster has studied the power of magic shaped through spoken and written words. They can use that power either to illuminate and guide, or to obscure and demoralize. Fey Ancestry. The Taskmaster has advantage on saving throws against being charmed, and magic can’t put them to sleep. Manipulation. While the Taskmaster isn't wearing armor, their AC includes their Charisma modifier. Actions Description Ink Blade. Melee or Ranged Spell Attack: [rollable]+5;{"diceNotation":"1d20+5","rollType":"to hit","rollAction":"Ink Blade"}[/rollable] to hit, reach 5 ft. or range 60 ft., one target. Hit: 5 [rollable](1d8 + 3);{"diceNotation":"1d8+3","rollType":"damage","rollAction":"Ink Blade","rollDamageType":"piercing"}[/rollable] piercing damage plus 10 [rollable](3d6);{"diceNotation":"3d6","rollType":"damage","rollAction":"Ink Blade","rollDamageType":"psychic"}[/rollable] psychic damage. Spellcasting. The Taskmaster is an 8th-level spellcaster. Their spellcasting ability is Charisma (spell save DC 13, +5 to hit with spell attacks). The Taskmaster knows the following bard spells: Cantrips (at will): friends, prestidigitation, vicious mockery 1st level (4 slots): disguise self, dissonant whispers, [spell]silvery barbs[/spell] 2nd level (3 slots): invisibility, shatter, silence 3rd level (3 slots): nondetection, sending, [spell]motivational speech[/spell] 4th level (2 slots): confusion, dimension door Reactions description Rousing Verse. When a creature the Taskmaster can see within 30 feet of it fails a saving throw, the Taskmaster magically weaves together stirring prose, allowing the creature to reroll the saving throw and use the higher result. Bonus actions description Demotivate (2/Day). The Taskmaster hurls magical insults at one creature it can see within 30 feet of itself. The target must succeed on a DC 13 Wisdom saving throw or become [condition]frightened[/condition] of the Taskmaster for 1 minute. While [condition]frightened[/condition] in this way, the target can’t take reactions, its speed is halved, and any hit the Taskmaster scores against the target is a critical hit. The target can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a success.
Image is the stat block for The Taskmaster, including stats, actions, bonus actions, and reactions.
4th-level abjuration Casting Time: 1 action Range: 60 feet Components: V, S, M (an item distasteful to the target) Duration: Concentration, up to 1 minute You attempt to send one creature that you can see within range to another plane of existence. The target must succeed on a Charisma saving throw or be banished. If the target is native to the plane of existence you’re on, you banish the target to a harmless demiplane. While there, the target is incapacitated. The target remains there until the spell ends, at which point the target reappears in the space it left or in the nearest unoccupied space if that space is occupied. If the target is native to a different plane of existence than the one you’re on, the target is banished with a faint popping noise, returning to its home plane. If the spell ends before 1 minute has passed, the target reappears in the space it left or in the nearest unoccupied space if that space is occupied. Otherwise, the target doesn’t return. At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 5th level or higher, you can target one additional creature for each slot level above 4th.
Image is the text of the Banishment spell.

You can download a PDF of The Taskmaster and Banishment text here.

Have you battled the Taskmaster and lived to tell the tale? We’d love to know about your tactics! 

We also know that the Taskmaster is not the actual Big Bad. We suspect they’re working for the Lizzm Family (with siblings Abe and Capta Lizzm calling the shots), and we’d love to hear if you’ve got stat block ideas for the Lizzms or any other monsters you’ve been dealing with. 

Let’s end with a quote from the book:

Therapists who are unfamiliar with the maps described in this book may initially find them awkward, unnatural or unspontaneous to use. This is to be expected. When new territories of therapeutic conversation are being entered into, it can take considerable time to become familiar with such territories and to become proficient in the skills associated with these explorations. The key is practice, practice and more practice.

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