Externalising the problem

The person is not the problem!

“The person is not the problem, the problem is the problem”. These words of Michael White have become well-known within the field of narrative therapy. In this chapter we will explore ways of externalizing problems and the possibilities this brings.


by Tileah Drahm-Butler

Stories from Michael White about externalising

Transcript is available here

Shame Mat

Externalising can be used with groups in creative ways. Aunty Dolly Hankin and Aunty Kerry Major in Mount Isa, for example, have created the Shame Mat!

‘You can call me Sugar’

This is a story of ‘Sugar’ by Aunty Barbara Wingard. It’s a story about trying to find new ways of working, of trying different things and taking new steps.

Please find the article here: Introducing ‘Sugar’

(from the book Telling our stories in ways that make us stronger by Barbara Wingard and Jane Lester)

Talking about Grief

Aunty Barbara has also created a character of ‘Grief’ to assist people to grieve and honour.

Please find the article: Grief: Remember, reflect, reveal

(from the book Telling our stories in ways that make us stronger by Barbara Wingard and Jane Lester)

Lateral Violence

This is one of the most influential externalising conversations ‘scripts’. It was developed by Aunty Barbara to assist people to talk about Lateral Violence.

A conversation with Lateral Violence 

Also included are documents about the special skills that Elders and young people from Woorabinda community are using to respond to Lateral Violence.

(from the book Aboriginal narrative practice: Honouring storylines of pride, strength & creativity by Barbara Wingard, Carolynanha Johnson & Tileah Drahm-Butler)

Aunty Barbara:

Aunty Barb encourages you to give it a try!

This video is from a workshop with Aunty Barb, Carolyn Markey and Chris Dolman.


Reflections from

Tileah Drahm-Butler

This Post Has 49 Comments

  1. kemcdougall0@gmail.com

    I really loved this area of Narrative Therapy especially Drahm-Butler’s (2015) article that helped me view Aboriginal stories within a broader social context. This shed some light on how Aboriginal people can come to view themselves negatively and place blame on themselves through having witnessed western political influences, past government policies and paternalistic initiatives that have been viewed in the past as normal occurrences. What was powerful for me was seeing how Aboriginal peoples stories about resistance are way of taking political action that can be empowering for them to externalise shame.

    Even Aboriginal people hearing about other Aboriginal people’s stories was very powerful in helping them decolonise their story. Narrative therapy is instrumental in helping Aboriginal people heal as it is not associated with traditional bio-medical therapy that attracts shame. This helps Narrative therapists engage Aboriginal people and hold space for them to tell their story in a way that reflects their knowledge that is one more step towards them healing.

    Especially compelling for me was Drahm-Butler (2015) mentioning how Narrative therapy takes a position of curiosity that uncovers the story behind the story to eliminate thin conclusions and uncover richer broader narratives based on people’s own knowledge.

  2. Tammy Townsend

    I live in Deniliquin NSW and I am just starting my studies towards becoming a counsellor. I really liked the idea of the Shame May and the discussions around this. I could see myself using this. In addition to describing the feelings of shame I would also have clients describe the feelings of pride so we can work together to make a new story where they can feel pride.

  3. jariah

    I have enjoyed reading all these creative and practical examples on externalising conversation – using topics that are so relevant to working in an AMS

  4. petersmokeydawson@gmail.com

    The transcript of the interview with lateral violence was brilliant. It allowed an open conversation with the full anatomy of lateral violence in a way that I think many people would feel a lot safer than if they were asked themselves to talk about it. I did a lateral violence workshop with Richard Frankland last year and found it very powerful and helpful in understanding the intersectioning impacts of colonisation.

  5. Nicola

    I love that the focus is on honouring the persons strengths and resiliency. Rather than ‘labelling’ people as being a ‘problem’ it reframes as ‘having a problem’. So empowering. Love the shame mat and the idea of leaving shame at the door, thank you Aunty Dolly Hanke and Aunty Kerry Major for this beautifully creative opening ritual for your group and for sharing it with others.
    Watched the Alberta video on Lateral violence and found that to be very helpful in understanding the reasonings behind it.

  6. TeriLucas

    I like the concept and practice of externalising. A playful, light-hearted demonstration of the idea is terrific too, and having initial set questions to get people going with it is an excellent idea. And the Shame Mat! Tremendous. Leave your issues at the door. We’re all permitted to begin afresh.

  7. Miranda Leon-Madgwick

    Externalising the problem was identified by Aunty Dolly and Aunty Kerry of Mt.Isa with the shame mat. What a great ideal to give this emotion a form of being and place it where it belongs, at the door. This is something a will do with my community members I work with. By using the therapeutic tool of externalising the problem from the person and than exploring all the history, development, impacts and how to control it power for good in the community members live would improve their wellbeing. And this is something that is more understandable than other professional methods.

  8. Summer

    I created a shame mat with the participants of the women’s group I facilitated. It really resonated with them. It was interesting to see how it was adopted by the other staff in the organization, that were not part of the program, who would take a moment before entering the room to leave their shame behind too.

  9. deborahdowsett@internode.on.net

    I really loved the chapter on sugar, and also the video of Aunty Dolly and Aunty Kerry when they spoke about creative processes to get people yarning, I also love the part about time and how this really does not set up the group well when you put in these time frames that are small.

    This the issue I face in mainstream services and this module has empowered me to have those conversations with my programs manager as well as I feel I can give myself permission to be creative than the clinical version of me which I’ve never been comfortable with and this has impacted on how I work effectively. So much to reflect on.

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