Critical Thinking

In this chapter we take a look at the ways critical thinking can contribute to our practice. Narrative practices invite us to be curious about where our ideas come from and their effects. Here we look at some of the theoretical assumptions of narrative practice, ways we can strengthen our critical thinking, and how this can influence our work.



Critical does not mean destructive, but only willing to examine what we sometimes presuppose in our way of thinking, and that gets in the way of making a more livable world”

Judith Butler reference

This paper by Mary Heath begins by defining critical thinking and setting out a personal history of the author’s journey toward becoming a critical thinker. Some dimensions of critical thinking are outlined, together with questions which might allow readers to apply them to specific contexts.

Critical Thinking | Mary Heath



An invitation to talk about privilege from Salome Raheim

The relations and practices of power that influence our lives are often invisible to us. If we do not proactively look at how relations of power operate to create advantages for some and deny these advantages to others, it hinders our work as therapists and community practitioners. Without examining the operations of privilege, we are unable to see the circumstances that create constraints on other people’s lives. We are unable to appreciate their daily efforts to work and live in the context of these constraints, or to resist them.

Furthermore, we are unable to see how our lives are made easier. We think that the ease with which we are able to operate in the world is the norm and become oblivious to the fact that everybody’s life is not like our own.

What is more, unless we routinely examine the operations of power and our place within these operations, we fail to notice how we are liable to inadvertently impose our expectations, our cultural ways, our ways of thinking, on the people with whom we work. These impositions tend to diminish those who consult us, and they are destructive to the good work that we wish to accomplish.

This examination and deconstruction of the operations of privilege improves our practice as therapists and community workers. It is only when we recognise what people are up against that we can notice and invite people to richly describe their stories of resistance. It is only in examining the operations of privilege that we can become more aware of the potential for our practice to have negative consequences of inadvertently marginalising and diminishing people’s lives and subordinating their stories.

This work has a particular resonance for those of us who are from marginalised groups. Examining the operations of power and privilege renders visible the constraints upon our lives. It helps us to understand that these constraints are not due to individual deficits, group deficits, or cultural deficits. The problem is not located within us. This lessens the influence of shame and makes resistance more possible.

In the following pages, we have enclosed a range of exercises that we hope will assist in exploring these issues further.

Please open this new page to read on.. : An invitation to narrative practitioners to address privilege and dominance


Narrative Therapy and Community work are considered Postmodern and Post-structuralist in theoretical orientation. Here Leonie Thomas helps us make sense of what this might mean and focuses on a few areas of Post-structuralism while offering some answers to commonly asked questions.

Leonie Thomas Post-structuralism Reading



For Reflection

What does ‘critical thinking’ mean to you?


How might your practice be different on account of your engagement with these materials?


Do you have any stories or sayings that keep you connected to ‘critical thinking’?



Please now respond to these questions in the forum below! Please include where you are writing from (City and Country). Thanks!

This Post Has 198 Comments

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    Sandra from Sevilla, Spain.
    Critical thinking means a constant questioning of my assumptions…keeping in mind “Does this erception reflect an objective reality or it it an assumption?”
    This sentence struck a chord “Sometimes acknowledging to myself that I have acted in ways I am not proud of are the most profound points of self-reflection” Judith Butler.
    Very interesting last article on post-structuralism specifically, the concept of identities as fluid, ever-changing social constructs.

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    Hey again, I am writing from Adelaide, SA. What does ‘critical thinking’ mean to you?
    How might your practice be different on account of your engagement with these materials?
    I found this section of the course to be one of the most important. I have a core belief of the importance of everyone acknowledging and being aware of privilege and the influence it has. This section reminded of me how it will be important in practice in a clinical sense. Even, when in the work force being mindful of coworkers and potential privilege I have over them and thought processes they may be having that someone like myself might not have.
    Do you have any stories or sayings that keep you connected to ‘critical thinking’?
    I just remember taking a class in second year uni Psych degree which involved questioning everything. When the world or society tells us something is the way it is- we are allowed to question things and not just accept things for what others say they are.

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    The stories that keeps me most connected to critical thinking are rooted in my experience working in a drop-in Centre in Toronto, Canada. The men and women attending the drop-in were street involved, and living with concurrent disorders. Many were also involved with the justice system and suffered from perpetual poverty. Desperate conditions would lead to a lot of escalated situations in the drop-in and more often than naught participants would be inebriated, high leading to rudeness, violence, and even personal attacks on the workers. It was challenging work and at the end of the shift, I would find myself in front of a supervisor asking the same questions: “Why can’t they appreciate what we do for them?” “Why can’t they be grateful?” “Why can’t they participate in the programs we have established to help themselves out of their predicaments?”
    I was new to the social work flied and had so much to learn, but it never occurred to me that I was speaking from such a privileged position, taking up space and power and speaking of these people without taking into account the poli-socio-economic forces and systemic injustices that they were subjected to every single day. My supervisor would always challenge my way of thinking and propose new ways for me to understand difficult situations. This process of constantly challenging myself to see difficult situations from different perspectives and to always weigh in privilege and dominance became a reflex and it is still one of the most significant part’s of my practice as a social worker.

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    The Leonie Thomas article was enlightening!
    It was interesting to think about the connection between structuralist thinking and traditional methods of therapy. It is a very pervasive belief that people have a true self that can be uncovered. And often, this true self is assumed to resemble the cultural stereotypes associated with a person’s demographics. I am so glad we are moving beyond that kind of thinking.
    It is worrying to consider how certain narratives help certain groups maintain power, and prevent other groups from living a good life. I find myself wondering how the scientific revolution, which seems like a valuable step for humanity, has led to outcomes that can be so harmful.

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    Glynis Thorp

    Writing from outback Australia. I am an Australian of mixed breeds having Irish, English and Viking heritage. I am a mature woman who grew up in the exciting 1960’s and the radical 1970s in the outback. I kept in touch with what was happening on Carnaby Street in London and the British pop scene via radio and magazines. I had a narrow view of what was happening in the USA from watching films. Eventually I would watch the world on black and white TV so I was influenced by journalism. I share the concept that every song has a memory as there was and still is fabulous music from this era. With the exciting times of change during these times comes sadness as well as there were many tragic situations happening in the world like wars, assinations and natural disasters and lack of recognition of some races of people with horrendous outcomes. For me critical thinking includes me being able to understand why i may see the world as I do and what has affected my values and opinions knowing that I am constantly evolving. Critical thinking to me was very difficult when i first started doing University level study which involved me reading papers and finding evidence of why something may not be true based on evidence and counter theories. Initially I thought who am I to question what this academic is saying and then I became aware of the importance of being able to look for counter theories and other evidence. Critical thinking to me is also something that I find is very important personally. As a therapist I must be aware and acknowledge that the struggles through the depression of my parents and grandparents and how this influenced their values and how I was raised. I must also be aware of the importance that I place on my core values and how I can be skeptical of those whom I see breach these core values. I must be aware how best to work with people who come from totally different backgrounds and ways of thinking who have had different experiences in their lives. The differences in opinion have become very evident during this pandemic and having to “counsel” people with entirely different view points to my own. It is challenging however i will use some of the material in this course to get them to explore flows of power as many people are angry that they feel they are being forced into things they do not wish to do. Critical thinking is also very important in this area so talking about counter theories and alternative perspectives and I am particularly interested to ask the question regarding who will bear the cost? I have enjoyed and remain inquisitive to learn more.

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    My name is Sami and I’m beaming to you from near Kingston, ON, Canada.

    Critical thinking for me started in high school, especially prompted by friends who, like me, listened to punk/anarchist music such as Anti-Flag. Because of their messages I developed a view of the world that noticed the contradictions and also developed a clearer idea of my beliefs and values. Unfortunately if it were not for them, I would not have developed critical thinking skills. A liberal arts education watered those seeds and amplified their effect.

    Because of those influences I am currently listening to Anti-Flag! Their song Fabled World (a new song to me) really resonates (and my context is that here in Canada, Sept 30 is the first ever Truth and Reconciliation federal holiday). The lyrics of this band point out how power, politics, and privilege affect so many people, and how political decisions systematically disadvantage certain groups of people. In my therapeutic practice, this attention to power and privilege comes into play, and I am ‘ruffled’ by injustices that are forced upon my clients. Behind the scenes of facilitating therapeutic conversations, I am attentive to the dynamics of the workplace that may hinder or help bring about policy changes within the agency or community. The feeling that there are barriers to change and improvement weighs upon me – for example, knowing that a client needs X but the systems that be will not make any adjustments.

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      My name is Lara and I am an Associate therapist in California.
      What does ‘critical thinking’ mean to you?
      ‘Critical thinking’, is essential to me, particularly as a mental health professional. It means I think logically and with my own mind toward a situation, rather than allowing a general consensus or another person or those who hold power to sway what I assess to be true. Even if this is difficult, especially when ethics come into play, it would question my integrity not to think critically.
       How might your practice be different on account of your engagement with these materials?
      My clients don’t need to share my views, values, and/ or beliefs. Whatever we are working on, I want them to have an identity and value system that are true to themselves. Even this is uncomfortable for me, I must address this via self-reflection.

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    Manpreet Kaur Mann

    I am a social work student, and I am studying at the University of Wollongong NSW Australia.

    What does ‘critical thinking’ mean to you?
    For me, critical thinking is to think in a logical way and use evidence to support personal opinions.

    How might your practice be different on account of your engagement with these materials?
    I will use my critical thinking while working with my clients. My critical thinking will help me to understand the problems of the clients and to make logical arguments in the practice.

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    I have been fascinated by critical thinking and post-structuralist ideologies – so much so that these ideas took me away from my study of psychology and onto the path of social work! Not only do we need to be mindful that there is no one objective truth, but we need to be aware that our involvement and engagement influences what we hear and how we perceive and understand what we hear! I love the exercises on unpacking privilege – and I intend to use these in my practice, and also in my personal life to start unpacking and addressing some of the ways I inadvertently use my privilege.

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    I am a cis-gender, white, heterosexual woman living in Victoria, BC, Canada. The city I live in (the warmest and driest during Canadian winters) has long been a destination for unhoused Canadians trying to avoid living on the street in below zero temperatures. The Covid pandemic amplified this problem and stripped back the thin veil of invisibility that often makes it possible to look away from social issues of power and privilege that create discomfort. I have seen this discomfort lead to reductive thinking, polarization, and pathologizing. Additionally, as a Canadian, this summer also provided clear evidence to support Indigenous accounts of deaths and burials on the grounds of former residential schools. The unmarked graves of hundreds of Indigenous “residential school students” have been located – and our nationwide acknowledgement of this cultural genocide has reached the mainstream. Across Canada, September 30th is marking the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation – another step toward accounting for the destruction wrought by colonialization.

    Both these examples are bound up in privilege. The conversations that are – and are not – happening are necessary to healing – at individual and community levels. I found this chapter on Critical Thinking to be so much more robust than I expected, and I am grateful for another opportunity and another place to delve into the complexities. I am hopeful that, enabled by humility, courage, and respect, this discourse will bring more dignity to more people and more situations.

    Finally, I appreciated the inclusion of Mary Heath’s article On Critical Thinking. It was not only a refreshing consideration of what critical thinking is, but also the reference to bell hooks’ ideas around safety and the need to build skills and take risks to understand our capacity to manage those risks (p. 15) – and conversations – blew my mind. Heath concludes her article by 1) explaining the power of writing in the first person, 2) moving beyond the stereotype of critical thinking as being individualistic, dispassionate, and callous, and 3) the importance of honouring and valuing relationships as a necessary tenet of critical thinking (p. 17).

    For me, this portion of the course has been the most impactful. Thanks.

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    Writing from Naarm

    What does ‘critical thinking’ mean to you?
    Critical thinking involves the capacity to engage in ideas that are confronting to you, and to do so in a way that takes into consideration other points of view. This consideration comes through actively seeking out alternate ways of thinking, and by having the awareness that your own personal way of thinking is informed by what you know, rather than any sort of objective ‘truth’.

    How might your practice be different on account of your engagement with these materials?
    Leonie Thomas’s piece on post-structuralism and therapy was particularly engaging for me. The discussion on how structuralist thought influenced therapy to ‘find the inner-self’ really assisted my understanding of how narrative therapy focuses on the relationships that people have with their ‘problems’ and the world around them. I think this understanding will assist my practice in re-focusing my attention to relationships and how relationships adapt and change, rather than seeking a single ‘truth’ about a person in order to understand them.

    Do you have any stories or sayings that keep you connected to ‘critical thinking’?
    ‘You don’t know what you don’t know’. Our selves, our opinions, are formed by the knowledge that we have access to in our immediate environment, which comparatively to the whole spread of knowledge that humanity possesses is quite narrow. It’s important to remember to stay curious and never assume based on personal knowledge.

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