The Narrative Metaphor

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

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



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.

As you listen to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s powerful speech about the danger of the single story, please also think about how Chimamanda’s own life experiences shape the stories she shares, including her class privilege which she has written about elsewhere.



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! 

This Post Has 1,131 Comments

  1. karenggrant

    i see the narrative metaphor as a way to describe how we make sense of our lives and who we are. By connecting the events, characters, locations and time frames of our past experience, we create a single story that informs who we are, what we are, and where we are going.

    The use of the narrative metaphor enables me to consider, or reconsider, all the things I may have missed, or misinterpreted, in order to create this single story. It suggests there are other, or more, stories to me. It also suggests that as the author of this story, I can re-author what I have created. And even more intriguingly, as the future is unwritten, the narrative metaphor suggests I am empowered to write, even determine, what is yet to happen.

  2. laurencavanaughlicsw

    Hi, my name is Lauren. I am an social worker LICSW in Fairhaven, Massachusetts (just south of Boston). I have worked in different settings; psychiatric hospitals, substance abuse facilities, I’ve worked in low income communities with those who struggling with mental illness and currently work as private therapist. Given the information so far, when I think of the narrative metaphor I think of a quote I often use with clients that guilt is I did bad and shame is I am bad. Its such an important distinction to make when overcoming mental health and substance abuse struggles. Thinking about narrative metaphor helps me understand empathy and the whole person, not just their circumstances, childhood, or choices. I see so many of my clients with pervasive guilt and shame from both trauma they were responsible for and for trauma from which they had no part in making. Clients are so unique and when you dig deeper you learn fun things about them like they were on the chess team in high school or they know how to play the piano or they have some other special, hidden talent. Its like opening up a world inside them and getting an idea of what they really are and what they really want out of therapy and treatment. I think considering the narrative metaphor you start to consider different ways to help them and get to know them better. Another thing is perspective, I always say if you cant change something, you can change the way you look at it. Helping to find that new perspective helps people redefine themself and the way they’ve experienced their life circumstances. I know for myself there have been many life choices and experiences that I thought would follow me wherever I went, but I decided to change, to make a new story and find a new way to live. In that, I was able to create a narrative that would suit a better life for myself.

  3. dhranpob.boonkumswadi

    Hi My name is Dhranpob but I go by the name Dan.

    I might describe narrative metaphor to others that There are many things what mind tell us from experiences. We unintentionally or automatically chose the obvious one to lead our lives.

    I might use another metaphor like museum that is full of pictures, which have been drawn by your mind. The main stories are the pictures that you chose to put in front of/ or at centre of the museum surrounded by spirt light. Alternative stories are the pictures in others minor sections. You, clients, can chose which pictures can be at the spotlight of the museum. Customers that come to visit the museum are people and experiences that you see in your own life.

    About the narrative metaphor, it reminds me of one of my friends and her boyfriend. My friend told me that she had a conflict with her boyfriend because he did not care about her at all, being not adaptive. After talking for a while, I found out that in the past few months, her boyfriend has driven her to the restaurant and every payment was his treats.

    About my friend and her boyfriend story, it indicates that the story that we tell others and ourselves highly are highly influential. She focused on the story that her partner was being maladaptive to their relationship and ignore the story that she got treated.

    Thinking about story this way, I can be aware in my mind, my choice and reality. I can be aware that something I think might be from the dominant story I pick and I ignore other stories. Then, I have a choice to explore about other stories to reduce the affects of my dominant stories or examine the dominant story that it make sense in the specific situation or not. The stories that embodied me might not be effective in some specific situation. As a result, I can recreate the new story or pick the new stories to lead my life.

  4. Erin Weinstein

    Hi! I am Erin and I am a therapist in New York! The narrative metaphor to me is that we are all scribes of our own memoirs, and that story is constantly unfolding. As we go through life, we need our story to fit into what is aligned with the main character of our story, so we sometimes throw out details and stories that don’t feel aligned with the story we tell ourselves about who we are.

  5. Paulina

    I would describe narrative metaphor as way of seeing the life, considering when we know someone and their stories, we must have in mind, who they are, where they come, and what they are telling. always with respect and curiosity, and probably if we listen the stories these way we can see more, and search more stories that come along with these first story, giving us a richer story.

  6. Alma

    Hi All, my name is Alma and I am a counsellor living and working on Kaurna Land, in South Australia.

    I began to imagine an infinite stream of sparkly dots running through a collective stream of consciousness from the beginning of time; with each of us connecting particular series’ of dots into threads and passing these threads back and forth. I was reminded of the “goat tracks” metaphor for neuroplasticity; and I thought about the connectedness we can experience with ourselves and others in telling and sharing threads of dots (stories), and also the risks involved if particular threads are prioritised; leading to the obscuration of other threads, and to disconnected relationships with ourselves and others.

    There are a great number of pigeons in my neighbourhood, most of whom seem to sit on the roofs of the apartments where I live. The proverb “birds of a feather flock together” popped into my mind as my attention wandered between the pigeons outside and the dots on the computer screen. Then, the phrase began to take various forms… “dots of a feather are like plots together” … “dots create plots but what dots got forgot?”… and so on. The old birds proverb has always struck me as problematic given that also: “opposites attract” (and many other possibilities), and so I reflected on how the proverb that came to me is itself an example of the ambiguity and contradiction involved in absolutes or single-threaded stories.

    I particularly enjoyed thinking about storying as an ancient universal human thing that we do. I realised this idea of humans-being-humans is something that has always fascinated me; and is maybe also part of what I find exciting about art, dance, ritual, music, and so on. Exploring some of the similarities between the experiences of artists, writers and narrative therapists, and thinking about stories in the ways I’ve described might help me to explore stories in the future with more curiosity and creativity; and avoid getting caught up in them. For example, sometimes themes of hopelessness tend to suck me in, which can make it difficult to be curious and creative; so being able to conceptualise the idea of alternate and rich stories which connect to people, places, social, political, and cultural contexts is quite helpful.

    I appreciated the signposts towards more learnings about the indivisibility of the conceptions of healing and justice; and the decolonisation of human rights conversations. Thinking about stories with these ideas in mind will hopefully help me to increase my awareness of and interrupt some of the patterns and practices that are and have been harmful in counselling and psychotherapy…

  7. James

    I am writing from Western Washington State in the US. I find the Narrative metaphor to be an interesting contrast to the way that I have conceived of counselling for the last several years as a cognitive therapist. In cognitive therapy, we help those whom consult us to identify how feelings and thoughts relate to each other and how challenging thoughts that are unhelpful can influence the way that we feel. The narrative metaphor does something very similar but in a way that is more organic to the person whom I am consulting with. Instead of asking a series of questions that help the person that I am consulting with to reframe the thoughts that they have, I ask questions from a place of genuine curiosity in a way that helps the person that I am consulting with to find their alternative story. Very similar, but very different as well. I have found that when I used this different mindset to do a similar thing, the results are different in consultations. I hope to be able to learn more about why this works the way that it does as it challenges me greatly!

  8. Ana

    Narrative Metaphor in my opinion is to acknowledge the power that our brain has to make sense of the world by telling a story. I see that as part of an inbuilt coping mechanism. Where we try to stick with stories we were told, use that as guidance to take decisions and to remind us who we are and why we behave the way we do.

    I believe that as a social worker and therapist, to be curious to hear the stories that people are telling us, the different narratives, to be intentional when asking questions about their journey so far, we can actually read between the lines what are people’s values, who are the main characters that might be important to be involved in the “next chapters”, understand people’s drives, etc. Being aware about those information will help us support the client to write these “next chapters” in a way that hopefully will help them find healing.

  9. Nicholas Farr

    Nic from Melbourne, Australia here.

    The idea of the narrative metaphor resonates with me and I would describe it as the possibility to view, understand, and make sense of one’s experiences from many different perspectives. Chimamanda Ngozi noted how vulnerable we are to stories and I can think back to things that I read or that were told to me as a young person that still stick with me today. How would I see myself and the world differently if I had grown up with different stories?

    Thinking about stories in this way (that there are multitudes of them) will help me understand my experiences in a more fluid manner. For the people that I support, I hope to bring that curious questioning and support people to see themselves and their stories from different perspectives.

  10. james.grgetic

    Hi, I’m James, from Victoria in Australia.

    The narrative metaphor and narrative therapy for me comes across as a person centred approach that encourages the individual to build their identity and understanding of the world and its challenges via the construction of stories. These construction of stories allows the person to externalise the problem and separate themselves from that problem and allow them to identify the skills they have to challenge these problems by fleshing out their understanding of themselves and the story (called the thickening of the story).

  11. Beatriz

    Hello. My name is Beatriz I’m an LAC in the U.S. at the beginning of my counseling career. I was drawn to therapy during graduate school because I’ve inherently believed that every person has a story & stories that have shaped where they are and where they can be. Thinking about stories as complex interwoven threads in a person’s life helps me picture the overt and obscure themes and plots. I’m able to identify the client’s strengths, resources, and unique gifts they possess and help them recognize and empower them to shape their story in the direction they desire. It also allows me to tap into my curiosity, and implement it in a way that leads to discovery and helps the client reflect and acknowledge the moments in their story where they have overcome adversity. I believe many clients are stuck in a story riddled with trauma and not-so-great moments. By using the narrative metaphor, we can assist in their recognition of their capabilities to go forth and take new paths.

  12. mccartyc

    Hi I am Crystal in Kitchener, Ontario working as a Psychotherapist. What I love about the Narrative metaphor is that it is relevant for people to connect with. I value the strength-based approach of finding alternatives and subordinate stories that create new opportunities based for folks to explore.

  13. sally lima

    My name is Sally and I am a nurse working in Victoria Australia seeking to extend my understanding and expertise working with patients, their families and other health care professionals. I “stumbled” across narrative therapy this year when I was looking for something that would extend what I had learnt undertaking a graduate certificate in coaching and counselling. The concept of narrative therapy very much resonated with me and this lesson covering the narrative metaphor has reinforced this is a rabbit hole I wans meant to fall down. I see parallels from narrative therapy with phenomenology, seeking to understand the lived experience. Narrative therapy provides the avenues to support an individual to explore that lived experience with curiosity as a puzzle to be explored rather than a problem to be fixed.

  14. Carla

    Hello, my name is Carla and I am writing from British Columbia in Canada. I am a lecturer and supervisor at a local university, in the department of counselling psychology.

    I am also writing this at a time of turmoil in this world of ours that is epitomized in several ongoing wars, one being played out in the Ukraine and another involving Israel and Gaza. Both of these wars center around very thin story lines and metaphorically poverty ridden narratives that are told about different cultures, people groups and history.
    For me, the narrative metaphor is a way of being with self and others that facilitates empowering conversations and connections between people. It enables us to fill out spaces between story lines or plots that diminish human experience and identity, makes deeper meaning possible and enables increased possibilities for differing choices, hope, and a revised identity as well as interpersonal relating. The narrative metaphor way has the power to enrich our inner world and to change the way we relate to each other. The possibility exists that this way of being can foster more peaceful ways of self understanding,, understanding of others and of the context in which we live. Thank you for making this course available.

  15. lauren.galea

    Waterloo, Canada
    I would describe the narrative metaphor as a person centered approach to therapy that encourages the therapist to be curious about an individuals story, while acknowledging that their are multiple story lines throughout one’s life.
    By thinking about stories in this way, it reminds us that the individual is the expert in their own lives, and that often times individuals have the solutions to their own problem but may need support to get there. I feel this is a very empowering approach to use, and creates safety in the therapeutic process.
    I always enjoy listening to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie- The power of a single story as it puts into perspective the importance of exploring alternative story lines and not placing assumptions.

  16. Andreas

    My name is Andreas and I’m from Denmark. I work as a clinical psychologist with a younger population facing a multitude of different problems. I was particularly struck by how the power dynamics within relationships both at a personal, communal and cultural level are contributing to who gets to have the biggest say in regards to which story will be the most dominant and in doing so casting other possible stories to the side. I can see myself using this new insight in the work I do with the people who seek my help by paying more attention to what the context(s) for the dominant narrative might be for each individual. In addition to this I will definitely use the Dot Excercise – either implicitly in guiding my own focus, questions and listening or explicitly by positing the idea to clients, that there are other stories to be told of and by themselves which might help challenge or at least put into perspective the problems they are currently facing. I had some knowledge of narrative therapy prior to starting this course and often try to use externalization in therapy with clients which I find to (if succesful) enable an atmosphere of creative and cooperative exploration of the problem as it becomes an almost seperate entity in the room rather than an irremovable part of the person.

  17. Tammy

    Hi, my name is Tammy and I was born and raised in Adelaide but have lived in the UK for the last 20 years, currently in North Wales. I’m a counsellor and was trained in the Rogerian person-centred approach to therapy, which is still quite prevalent in the UK, and the philosophy which unpins the model – the client as expert of their own lives with their own resources to solve their problems – still really appeals to me. The narrative metaphor seems to sit quite well with this understanding. I understand the narrative metaphor as viewing our lives through the lens of story, story-telling and authoring. Like many others who have commented, I immediately connected with the visual of the dot video and could see the similarities with confirmation bias and the Rogerian idea of distorting or denying experiences which do not fit with the established view of self. I can see in my clients, mostly survivors of sexual violence, that those who tell thin stories can become very stuck, as though on the singular track of that particular story, and those who are able to open themselves to different (richer) perspectives are more able to move forward. I also like the way that the simple language of stories and story-telling is accessible as a model to clients.

  18. Konstantin

    The idea about who I am is not constant and defined thing. We are tend to collect some facts memories according some story line. All of this shape our self-image which can become rigid. But the image is not true. It is only one option to interpret life events. A lot different factors were ruled out. The context wasn’t considered.
    There is an opportunity to rebuild the self-image. For that purpose, we can use a different narrative, including other life events, considering intention of people, structure of relationships, broad context around. All of these will shape other story lines, lead to other conclusions. Finally It can help create other understanding of yourself. All we know about ourself it is myriad of stories. Using narrative metaphor we can re-write yourself, find other meanings for our stories.

  19. Sylva

    I love article number 7, in which we acknowledge that the person’s experience can be of use to others in a similar situation. I have a podcast in which I hold space for those who have been through trauma or traumatic experiences to share their experience and wisdom. They get a lot of healing just talking about it, and they are always bolstered by the idea that their experience will ring true to someone out there in the thick of it. Often, they also remember someone, or some part of someone’s story or even just a sentence they said, that got them through. Stories are SO important!

  20. amashilda

    Hello, my name is Mariya. I live in Minsk, Belarus. For me, narrative metaphor is a way of understanding and communicating experiences, events, and emotions by framing them as stories. It involves storytelling techniques to make sense of the world and our place in it. Thinking about stories in this way can make it possible to understand complex ideas and emotions: using stories to explain abstract concepts or emotions, we can make them more relatable and easier to understand. Connect with others: Stories are a universal language that can unite people. Sharing stories can help us build empathy and understanding with others. Create meaning: Stories can give us a sense of purpose and direction. We can find meaning in even the most difficult situations by framing our experiences as part of a larger narrative. Inspire change: Stories have power to inspire action and change. We can motivate ourselves and others to work towards a better future by sharing stories of struggle and triumph. Generally speaking the narrative metaphor is a powerful tool for making sense of our lives and the world around us. By thinking about our experiences as part of a larger story, we can find meaning, connection, and inspiration in even the most challenging times.

  21. jramirez2

    My name is Jacquie and I am a mental health worker. I really love the concept of using a narrative metaphor because it can easily be used to explain a “problem.” This can totally broaden the scope of what is going on and all aspects connected to it.

  22. veronicaaliu

    To my understanding, Narrative metaphor is a concept by which individuals are understood through their stories. As individuals tell their stories, they construct their identities and make sense of the world through personal stories. These stories are a means of communication and convey information about their beliefs and emotions. The narrative metaphor emphasizes this storytelling as a means of communication, highlighting how we use it to make meaning, establish connections with others, and navigate the complexities of people’s lives.
    Thinking about stories this way can give me a new understanding and insight. Firstly, it allows me to understand individuals better and how they navigate through their lived experiences by recognizing the stories they tell about their experiences. It can also create avenues for improved communication and empathy, appreciating that everyone has their unique narratives that can foster meaningful connections and conflict resolution. Additionally, it will encourage me to explore and deconstruct prevailing cultural and societal narratives that lead to positive social change. Embracing the narrative metaphor can empower individuals to harness the power of storytelling for personal growth and a well-enhanced relationship with others.

  23. Cary

    Hello! My name is Cary. I live in Washington State, USA. I found this course online searching for ways to increase use of narrative therapy in practice with clients. For me, the narrative metaphor is an important concept that can be used to explain, explore or express experience unique to the individual taking it outside a smaller lens that can limit view or perspective. Thinking about stories this way can broaden the scope of their narrative, and interwoven tapestry of their stories giving hope through hard moments.

  24. sakrawczyk

    My name is Stephanie and I am a social worker providing support to people who have current involvement with the criminal justice system. I live and work in the western suburbs of Adelaide, which is the traditional Country of the Kaurna people.

    I really enjoyed the reading by Alice Morgan, “What is Narrative Therapy”” which establishes some key tenets of the narrative approach. Based on my reading, this article links narrative metaphor to the idea that people make sense of their experiences and relationships through stories. Our sense of self might also emerge through narrative, as we develop and sometimes share an account of our perceived strengths, struggles, abilities, values, etc. I also really liked what Alice says about living ‘multistoried’ lives, as “no single story can encapsulate or handle all the contingencies of life”. This notion in turn suggests that we can rewrite/revise those stories about our experiences.

    My clients have often suffered extensive trauma and significant material disadvantage, which can lead to “thin” stories about their limited agency in imagining and working towards they lives they want/deserve. My feeling is these “thin” stories amplify my clients’ sense of hopelessness and disconnection from the wider community, which can sometimes precipitate further destructive behaviour towards themselves/others. I am interested in the ways that narrative work might interrupt ingrained thought/behavioural patterns for my clients, offering new spaces and opportunities for being in the world. I’m also hopeful this narrative approach will lend support to my role in advocating for political changes that address clients’ material disadvantage (e.g. the housing crisis), although I’m not sure how yet…

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