Documents & Audiences

Narrative practices have a rich history of creating and sharing documents and engaging audiences. Here we look at a number of different ways of doing this!

Image from Shaun Tan’s book – The Red Tree

One of the early defining characteristics of narrative therapy was the creative use of documentation or the written word.

In this video presentation, David Newman describes the ways in which he is using living documents with young people in an inpatient ward.   

Further reading:

Here is an earlier paper by David Newman describing his use of the written work within narrative therapeutic practice: Rescuing the said from the saying of it by David Newman



This paper illustrates how we can use four different categories of document. Examples of each of the following documents are offered and the author also shares some of his experiences, dilemmas and learnings in creating therapeutic documentation.

Letters recording a session

Documents of knowledge and affirmation

News documents &

Documents to contribute to rites of passage

Using Therapeutic Documents Hugh Fox 



Ncazelo Nucbe-Mlilo is a Zimbabwean psychologist and narrative therapist living and working in South Africa. Here, she introduces the ‘Narratives in the suitcase’ project which seeks to use journey metaphors and creative documentation to assist child refugees.

This work is inspired by the work of Glynis Clacherty and The Suitcase Project (see link below). It also draws upon ideas from Sherri Osborn.




In this paper we read responses to the following 8 questions.

1. What is meant by the term outsider witness?

2. Why is it important for there to be witnesses to preferred stories?

3. What is the history of these ideas and ways of working?

4. What are definitional ceremonies?

5. What sort of responses do outsider witnesses make?

6. What are some of the common hazards of outsider-witness practice and how can these be avoided? Do you have any helpful hints about these?

7. What are the different contexts in which outsider-witness work takes place?

8. What do you enjoy most about outsider-witness practices?

Marilyn O’Neill, Hugh Fox, Gaye Stockell, Anne Schober, Jeff Zimmerman, Emily Sued & Dirk Kotzé all provided material which Maggie Carey, Shona Russell compiled and which David Denborough’s editing and writing brought together in the following article.

Outsider Witness Practices Paper 




For Reflection


What forms of documentation might be most relevant or resonant in your context?


Are there particular ideas or practices you found within these materials you might draw on in your future meetings with people?



Have any of these questions got you hooked? Have you got another question you would like to pose to those joining you in this online learning? Please let us know below! Please include where you are writing from (City and Country). Thanks!

This Post Has 387 Comments

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    I was most intrigued by the Shared Living Documents. I can imagine how I could have incorporated this when I taught literature. If I were to use this style of documentation in the context of a classroom, I would have to be incredibly sensitive in selecting the themes/skills as to not trigger traumas.

    Also, I assumed the clients would be doing all the letter writing. I was surprised to learn that therapists write letters to their clients. How touching. I pictured myself making notes and writing letters as an outsider-witness.

    – Kimberley, B.C., Canada

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    Isabel Beuve

    Í have found this chapter full of very valuable resources and information. The Suitcase Project has really touched me, just a shoes box can make a difference.
    The outsider witness paper has made me reflect on the importance of other people opinion and how it can be turned into a useful tool.
    I strongly agree with written language being often much more powerful than words, however, Í have never worked with such concrete and creative documents like the ones in Fox ‘s paper. These are simple yet full of meaning. I will definitely keep this chapter for further use.
    Thank you and greetings from Spain

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    The forms of documentation most relevant to my context is the Outsider-witness practise. I believed that the witnessing of a preferred story and the construct of definitional ceremony can be a very useful tool, encouraging people to develop rich alternative stories that are anchored in a social setting.
    In a private setting, when my husband or my children describe a problem they are facing and I feel move by it, I will ask them the steps they want to take to resolve the problem. I will then share how relevant these steps are to solve other issues in my own life. Finally, I will describe how empowering this exchange was and why.

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    What forms of documentation might be most relevant or resonant in your context?
    Hopefully becoming a school counsellor I believe documents of written words or drawings from the children could be very helpful. As mentioned in the session, words can be harsh and even some young children may struggle finding the words, so drawing or counselling cards may be beneficial.

    Are there particular ideas or practices you found within these materials you might draw on in your future meetings with people?

    I like the idea of outsider witness however, I believe a modern twist could be done to incorporate this in a every day clinical way that is easier to orchestrate. For example in my context of school counselling, a friend of the student or parent or sibling of the student could be the outsider witness. This will help validate and authenticate the clients preferred story.

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    I must admit that working in a Public health Mental Health service, i have very rarely handed copies of notes to people i have had therapeutic sessions with unless it has been a CBT approach with homework and information sheets etc.
    I love the thought that during a session, i could have the confidence to take notes, clarify accuracy and maintain a comfortable rapport. It has always frightened me! But the value as has been seen in this chapter is immense. I am certainly excited about attempting to do this though.
    Paul Far North Queensland , Australia

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