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 44 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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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