Externalising the problem

Posted by on Jun 18, 2018 in Uncategorised | 4 comments

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


  1. The Shame Mat is such a powerful tool for physically representing the externalisation of Shame. I can only imagine the energy shift when the women experienced this for the first time – I’m sure the yarns would have freely flowed that day!

  2. The Shame Mat is certainly something I would like to incorporate into my work place in dealing with children and families, in a positive way for children to open and acknowledge their identity.
    Unfortunately most families I work with will not openly disclose they are of First Nation descent, until I acknowledge that I myself am.

    There is still a sense of shame for some families that is hard to break down that barrier.

  3. I had heard of the Shame Mat and the purpose behind it. Which led me to using it in when I facilitated my Positive Futures Program for indigenous men. When first using the mat the participants were a bit hesitant, but after using it a couple of times the men were comfortable using it before each session. The outcomes I have seen since using the mat have been positive. The men have been more open in talking about the reasons why they commit domestic violence on their partners. There has been more disclosers and exploration into behaviours, feelings and consequences of their actions. Since using the mat I have found that they are more engaging, and want to participate in the program. Also very accepting of being challenged around there offending behaviours, I believe the use of shame mat has enabled this to happen.

    On many occasions over the years I have questioned myself, why do I keep fighting for positive outcomes for my people. Through the reading it made me think and become aware that I am not alone in this fight and there are many more indigenous passionate people out there doing the best they can and fighting on not matter how many times they have been disappointed , they get up and continue on with the fight. Kerry has shown this through her ability to overcome adversity and strength to become one of the respected leaders of her community. By telling her story through using poetry as a form of therapy she has found a way to move forward even in her darkest hours. I will take from the reading that we all have struggles through life but we have to find the strength to overcome these hurdles. This reading has given more than ideas I can utilise in work practice. It has given me a new outlook into my life and the reason why I am passionate about the field of work I have chosen to do not only for myself but mainly for outcomes for my people.

  4. The Shame Mat invented by Aunty Kerry Major and Aunty Dolly Hankin is a tool I want to incorporate into my practice. Immediately I thought of the wall, a common description my clients’ use in describing their journey to find work/employment. For instance:

    “All those skills I have to learn, it’s just a wall that is too high to climb” or

    “There is a wall between me and that job and I just don’t know how to break it down” or

    “You tell me about these skills or bricks as you put it that I can use to build a path but I see those bricks as something to break down not build up”

    Where the woman at Murri Court Woman’s Group “wiped” the shame away, I’m thinking of clients stepping over a small brick wall, one metre by half a metre, polystyrene or something, with a tagline such as: The first step is the hardest, or something similar. I’m looking for a physical action of commitment.

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