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.



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 950 Comments

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    For me the narrative metaphor is a tapestry of opportunities to see and discover agency in our lives. By seeing our lives as stories we can choose to live by the stories that benefit us and not those that might seek to keep us oppressed.

    By seeing my life this way I think that I could shake off a number of the negative thinking patterns that have kept me from moving forward in my life. Ideas like I am not worth anything or I can’t lead.

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    Charlie O’Bree

    I would describe the narrative metaphor as a rich tapestry that can unlock freedom for us all. By seeing our lives as being made up of many stories we it frees us to choose to live by stories that are in our interest and not of those that might seek to oppress us.

    By seeing my life through this way I think I could shake off a number of the ways of thinking that have held me back. Ideas that have come from painful experiences in my life.

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    Hi, I’m Rob from Victoria. The narrative metaphor interprets life through the lens of the stories we inhabit. We have each constructed stories according to plotlines that ‘connect the dots’ between meaningful events in our past. Depending on its theme, the story created can powerfully shape our identity and expectations in either positive or negative ways. However, this biographical plotline can be selective, tending to gather evidence to support a particular narrative. This gathering reinforces it further and increases its dominance in our life as time goes by. A narrative thus developed not only interprets our past; it also explains the present and shapes our future. If we have constructed a negative story by ‘privileging’ negative events, we end up living out of a negative narrative.

    But what about the events that don’t fit the narrative, and have been overlooked in telling the story? These gaps are like events in someone’s history a biographer left out because they did not fit the plot he was trying to focus on. Had they been included; they would have shown another aspect of the person and presented a ‘thicker’ understanding of them to the reader. The narrative metaphor looks for such incidents in our past, or gaps in the story, that don’t fit the dominant plot we live in. It allows us to reassess whether we are overlooking important events that would enable us to tell a thicker, more positive, or preferable ‘alternative story’ about who we are. The narrative metaphor is curious about events in our past that have been obscured by the dominant narrative, and about the skills and knowledge that we had used at the time to counter it. These skills and knowledges are often the very resources we need to live in a different more preferable way.

    Thinking in this way might allow me to reauthor my own narrative, or help another person reauthor theirs, by acknowledging positive meaningful events that have been obscured, because they have not fitted with a negative plotline that has become dominant. The consequence might be a more hopeful approach to the present and future.

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    Hi. I’m Emma and I am writing from Perth, Western Australia. I am a women’s counsellor in Private Practice. I was very attracted to the understanding of narrative threads as a larger tapestry of interwoven stories. Sometimes for clients the threads of their tapestry are pulled so tight that they are unable to tell where one thread ends and a new one begins. IN some cases the thread can be restricting and choking. I see counselling in narrative therapy as a means of assisting clients to loosen the threads of their tapestry, to touch and feel them between their fingers, to see the vastness and richness of colour and texture and to begin to pick out the strongest and most beautiful of the the threads to start creating a new piece, all the the while understanding that the weaker, duller threads have their part to play in making the complete masterpiece.

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    rhea k

    Hello! I’m writing from India. The dot exercise was a wonderful way of making sense of the narrative metaphor. It reminded me of how our lives, and the way we remember it, is full of contradictions and resistances that get reduced and sidelined in the face of the dominant idea. The module made me think of the role of a therapist akin to that if an editor— both jobs involve noting gaps and inconsistencies. They are both curious about what the story will look like if you step into the implicit references. They come from a space of believing that people are unreliable narrators, not in the sense that they are choosing to present a false narrative, but rather that they leave out strands that don’t match their current perspective. The world teaches us to look for consistences. I’m excited for this course because it showed me how there are no singular truths.

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    novie john b. palarisan

    From the Philippines

    How would you describe the narrative metaphor?
    these are storylines that we make or of others that make it a solid conclusion on how we live our lives. These are very powerful insight as it drives us on how we think, feel, and act.

    What might thinking about stories in this way make possible for you?
    This make it possible because in whatever way we create stories micro and macro stories that led to a great story. We form a story that will dictate how we live our life.

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    Hello everyone,
    I am Xenia, I live in Chicago, IL, USA. I am ethnic Ukrainian, but now I am an American, grateful to both countries for making me who I am. I have two Master’s Degrees, in Russian Literature and in Applied Psychology with a focus on gender and sexuality studies – and basically, here are the four reasons I am here.
    Narratology is my modus operandi, the way I communicate with others and with myself.
    And of course, metaphor is my number one tool – even now I have used a metaphor to describe a metaphor!
    So, what is a metaphor? It is obviously a Greek word where “meta” means “trough” and “fero” means “carry” – something that I use to carry through… through barriers, I guess. For instance, a barrier of misunderstanding. I carry the burden of the meaning through the river of misunderstanding, jumping from stone to stone, and these stones are metaphors.
    I believe that is what Ivor Armstrong Richards meant when suggesting the terms “vehicle” and “tenor” in “The Philosophy of Rhetoric” (1936), where the tenor is what is carried – the meaning, and the vehicle is the way of how I carry it.
    Also, metaphor is about surprise and unity. To find a good metaphor means to create a strong image of the meaning that will reach your addressee’s imagination and make a print of what you wanted to say. Metaphor is somewhat unexpected, using the word from one domain in the context of another one – and thus uniting what has seemed non-relating or even opposite.
    We use the metaphor for modeling new meanings, giving usual things unusual images, and all-in-all this process builds a story – a model of reality, how we see it; the model of our reality. Basically, the story is a metaphor for our perception. But wouldn’t it be more convenient (or even normal) to have one story for one reality? Absolutely not – and this is what Chimamanda Adichie tries to prevent us from. Why? I am a psychologist, a parenting coach. During my sessions, I tell parents that there are two types of attention – intentional and nonintentional. While intentional attention driven by your willingness builds a kind of tunnel or a tube, focusing on something special, nonintentional attention catches the details unconsciously. Having one story for one reality is like using just intentional attention without enriching our information with different details that may be crucial for the context. And this is a perfect way to wake up prejudice and discrimination.

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    I am from Brazil but currently living in Australia, the material was great for reflection on the complexity of individual and societal situations.

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    Ko Man Lut

    How would you describe the narrative metaphor ?
    I am writing from Hong Kong. It is interesting to know narrative metaphor that emphasize there are many different stories rather then single story in lives that we need to pay attention and listen to different stories. The interpretation of stories can end up with different conclusions of lives with different perceptions in different cultures.

    What might thinking about stories in this way make possible for you ?
    I can explore lives of different people through stories in their lives. It is very interesting to find out different aspects and meanings of lives in different stores even from an individual.

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    I understand the narrative metaphor to be about how we construct our concepts of reality. Our experiences, cultures, worldviews and values shape how we construct these stories.

    Each person’s own narrative then becomes a point of reference from which they understand their present and future experiences. It becomes a lens through which they interpret their sensory experiences of the world and make meanings out of them.

    What is possible through the use of stories? They help us to explore other possibilities, other potential realities. If we can take off one lens and put on another, we can view different possibilities for our present and future reality. If we can understand that all stories are simply that – different perspectives on reality and not the whole truth – we can hold all stories about ourselves and the world more lightly, be more psychologically flexible, and more easily let go of the stories and perspectives that don’t serve us or that are perpetuating suffering for ourselves and others.

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    James Delahunty

    For me the narrative metaphor highlights the idea that we understand and interpret the world through lenses that are coloured by the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves and others. That confirmation bias plays a huge part in our unconscious authoring of the dominant story, in that we place emphasis on the things that confirm how we already view ourselves, and we may miss or minimise things that do not fit. The concept of alternative stories is powerful because it allows us to question this emphasis and begin to notice some of the things we may normally miss. As such we may begin to understand that there are many different events and stories that make up who we are and that an acknowledgement of the nuance and complexity in all of us can serve as a gateway to greater self-understanding and self-compassion as we loosen some of the long/strongly held rigid ideas about who we are. To also see others as people with many stories that make up who they are rather than taking mental short cuts in order to define people. This may open the door to greater compassion and an exploration of people’s strength and resilience when it may not be as apparent at the surface.

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