Beginning to use narrative practices

Posted by on Jun 24, 2015 in Uncategorised | 33 comments

In this final chapter we take some time to reflect on your learning and the next steps you might take in your journey with narrative practices.




Here we consider the process of beginning to engage with narrative ideas and practices. In this article Alice Morgan shares some of her thoughts:

Beginning to use a narrative approach

You will have found this exercise within the article for this chapter. We invite you to:

  • Think about just one thing that has particularly resonated for you about narrative ideas and practices that you have been trying to apply more in your work.
  • What would you call the principle or idea? Give it a name. Say something about it – describe what it is about, your understandings of it, in your own words.
  • Give some more details about it, e.g.: When did you first notice this idea or principle in the work? What told you that it was important to you?
  • What are you currently doing that you would say is a reflection of this particular idea, practice or principle? Say a little bit about the times you thought you had managed to apply the idea or principle to your own practice.
  • When you did it, what did you notice? How did it affect, for example:
    1. The conversation you were engaging in at the time?
    2. Your thoughts about yourself?
    3. The other people who were with you?
    4. Your hopes or plans?
    5. Your feelings?
    6. What was this like for you? Did you like it or not?
    7. Did it suit you or not? Or something in between?
    8. Why is it that you give this evaluation? What did it seem to fit with?

Please now share your thoughts and responses with others below!



To join with others in ongoing and further conversations you can visit:

Narrative therapy Facebook Communities

For other avenues to learn and exchange ideas you can visit:

Training @ The Dulwich Centre

International Narrative Therapy & Community Work Conferences

The Dulwich Centre Email News

International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work

More detailed online courses in Externalising conversations and Re-membering conversations



Feedback:  Please provide us with your thoughts on how this course was for you or your hopes for future courses! We would really like to hear from you … thanks!  Email


Certification Module

If you would like to receive a certificate for completing this course you can do so for a fee of $77. In order to qualify for this certificate you will need to:

  • complete a brief essay about narrative practice (1,000 words)
  • complete a short quiz with a passing grade of at least 80% (the quiz can be taken more than once).
Click here to take the certification module


Thank you for joining us on this journey.

We hope you have found this course helpful in some way!

We hope to see you again soon. 


  1. Hello from Texas! I am excited to begin training in narrative therapy. I first became interested in narrative therapy while in Grad school – I naturally gravitated to it as a former English teacher. We are full of stories, some good and some challenging, but if we “read” our stories with patience and compassion there is an opportunity for growth.

    I am trained as an EMDR therapist. After using that modality for several years, I have become inclined to see it as too harsh and intense for survivors of trauma. I have seen many successes with EMDR, but there is such a risk involved with staying within “the window of tolerance.” What appears to be true for most, if not all, who suffer with PTSD is that thoughts and beliefs become internalized to the point of shame, anxiety, fear, etc. So, the concept of externalizing is what most interests me about narrative therapy. Externalizing feelings, negative beliefs, and harmful thoughts or behaviors seems paramount to understanding our wounds and let the healing begin.

  2. Thank you so much for this course I havr learned so much. While I am not a therapist, I will find this practice really helpful in my mentoring position. A lot of parents in the area of mentoring I am volunteering with, are judged by others because of their children’s association with the criminal justice system. They feel judged as parents and feel their children are judged also. This practice will be of immense help to me and other mentors. We have touched on the topic, but this course has really illuminated what I had touched on.
    My wish is to get into community research and to collaborate with the homeless community in my own community. Homelessness is a problem I am passionate about. Those living without a home are stigmatized greatly and it is a problem that is seen as an ‘individual’ problem. It is assumed those living without a home have alcohol, drug or mental health problems when really it is a much broader structural problem. We must examine our assumptions about a community of people who have hopes, desires and dreams just as we do and to work with this community to assist in realizing these hopes,dreams and desires would be so rewarding.
    If anyone has any experience of using this practice in community research I would be delighted to hear from you.
    I look forward to continuing my journey of narrative practice learning. Thank you once again Dulwich Centre for sharing this wonderful knowledge with the world.
    Ann from Dublin in Ireland

  3. Hello! This is Jade, from Toronto, Canada.

    I want to thank you for providing this course—it has taught me more tools for counselling, and relating to others and myself, than anything else I’ve learned! The commitments and values underlying narrative therapy (“the problem is the problem”, justice and healing, a de-centred stance, empowering autonomy, and the importance of language in constructing our worldviews) resonate deeply with my own core values, just as Alice Morgan writes. I feel it gives me hope and the tools necessary to actually tangibly integrate these values into my practice for a powerful praxis. I feel that the accessibility of narrative therapy bridges some complex theoretical thinking with very hands-on skills that can be used in virtually any setting! The tools I’ve learned— externalizing, writing documents, collaboration, outsider witnesses and others— are some skills I’ve already begun to practice and implement in my work and everyday life. Noticing the language I use has been perhaps the most valuable skill, and I have had to opportunity to make a conscious effort to reflect on the language I use to describe people and problems. This is so helpful!

    I am looking forward to beginning my journey with narrative practice, and feel I am able now to begin implementing some of these skills and building on them. I am also looking forward to learning more about narrative therapy, and building on this knowledge. Thank you Dulwich Centre!

  4. I’m excited to do more reading and learning around all of the topics. I feel like I could start with the externalising conversations, I have an idea for a document clients might be interested in writing, and am definitely going to continue thinking about justice doing and examining privilege.
    Many thanks for the course, I have been promoting it!!

  5. Alkmaar, The Netherlands

    I am delighted by this course and very grateful for your efforts and Philippa’s guidance. Thank you for offering all these resources for free and constructing the material in such an inviting manner.

    I resonate with the values and methods of Narrative Therapy and I’m excited to deepen my understanding. Particularly the ideas of Externalizing and Outsiders Witnesses speak to me as ‘liberating’ concepts to lessen the power of negative self talk and identities that undermine us in a creative and even playful way. I have spontaneously used these ideas in my own life and it worked; I’ll apply them more and start exploring them in my work with others.

    Many thanks and warm greetings from The Netherlands!

  6. As a Social Worker I find the concept of identifying different narratives that I and others have created a very powerful approach. Both in my life and in the life of the people that I work with. By reflecting critically on how these different narratives affect me and whose interest they serve I have been able to break free from some of the oppressive narratives in my life.

    A toxic narrative that I have been able to identify is, “I’m only valuable to society if I am working in a paid job.” I have identified that I have received this narrative through a variety of different people, institutions, systems, structures and stories. During a period of transitioning between professions I have had periods of unemployment while undertaking further education. That narrative has knocked my self confidence down a number of pegs. However, since I have identified it, discovered the exceptions, analysed who benefits from that narrative and began reauthoring a new narrative. I have began to regain my self confidence as I begin my new career as a social worker. These narrative concepts will be invaluable in supporting people as a Social Worker.

  7. When I think about what I have learned about narrative therapy in this course, two aspects come to my mind: one, which seems to be the foundation, is an attitude of critical thinking. This means to me encountering myself and other human beings with an open heart, with compassion and with the knowledge that everyone’s experience is different and influenced by many social, political, historical and other contexts. This is a principle that I feel very much commited to. I am developing this attitude or way of life through my nonviolent communication and mindfulness practice. I can see various effects of this practice in my professional and personal interactions with others, especially as it helps me to listen with empathy and care.
    The second aspect is the therapeutical skill in which I see myself as a co-researcher who supports the author in developing thick descriptions about themselves while leaving the authroship with the author. Here, I really like the method of externalising and, in my context, of outsider witnesses. I am a community worker and rarely work with individuals/clients. Therefore, some of the tools (e.g. therapeutic letter) seem weird to me and I will figure out if and how they could be useful in my work. But, in the work with communities which have experienced traumatic events, I can see how bringing witnesses to the stories can bring about change. This is something I would like to experiment with.

    I’d like to thank all who made this online course possible and shared their valuable experience and thoughts with the intention to enlargen the community and create collaborative spaces for growth and learning. I am also grateful for the many comments I was able to read which helped me understand some of the ideas better and see the diverity in which the content could be understood, relfected, summarised, paraphrased and translated. Thanks to all!

  8. My name is Glen. I live in Newcastle, Australia.
    Solidarity and a de-centred stance are the two ideas / concepts that resonate at this moment as commitments and intentions. One aspect of Solidarity for me is an ‘ironclad’ commitment to people who seek my assistance that “the problem is the problem”.
    An aspect of a de-centred stance for me is a commitment to people being the expert on their lives and it is only the person seeking assistance (the young person K) who can describe what living with this problem is like and to say what his position (or positions) is (are) in relation to it. These are K’s stories to write, not for his father or I to foreclose in some way on what one or both of us believe should be the narrative arc of the stories. I respect K as having authorship.

    This is a question I will think about further. One recollection is work I did over twenty-five years ago with a man (I will call him “J”) who was struggling with the effects of cocaine, alcohol and gambling addictions on his life. We had reached a point where our conversations had not seemed to make much difference and J conveyed that he was in a ‘dark place’. Somehow we stumbled into his relating a story to me. A friend had told him when he went through the turnstile at the racecourse that he was given a pumpkin in place of his real head. From there we talked about “Mr Pumpkin Head”, what it said and what its urges were and so on. We laughed – at last! I had no idea at the time that it was an externalising conversation. Back then I did not know anything about narrative ideas and practices. Perhaps I have been trying to recreate the influences of Solidarity, a De-Centred Stance and Imagination in my work each day that people consult with me ever since “Mr Pumpkin Head”…

    A recent example comes readily into my thoughts. I have in mind work I have been doing with a young person, who I will call “K”, who is about 10 – 11 years of age and his father. We reached a point when it looked like the work of the past six meetings had just “conked out” and had come to nothing. I encountered the effects of Frustration and how it extended its invitation to me. It says things like, “I’ve done all I can”, and worse! “The parents have shamed this kid… And he (K) has internalised a representation of self as bad…” and so on, a range of statements based on structuralist assumptions, with internalising attributions. When the Frustration gets me in its grip, I can feel the influences of Hope and Imagination draining away.
    I ‘started again’, made inquiries from a curious, ‘entering the territory for the first time’ stance. The central features of the problem emerged anew and its influences, which seemed to become apparent more clearly than before. I recalled Mark Hayward’s ‘statement of position’ synopsis. I inquired with K regarding what living with the problems (the Anger and the Guilt) is like for him. I have written this question down and given K & his father a copy of this. I have asked K to consider this question between the end of our last meeting and our next meeting.
    I think the young person and his father noticed that I was very much present for them and present in an imaginative and ‘poetic’ way at times too, which is something that I have always tried to do but it would likely be ‘intensified’ in this last session. I found it a more refreshing and creative experience. Mostly it would be positive because I perceive that people appreciate the efforts I am making. Perhaps sometimes it could be negative. When people use metaphors to describe their experience I might get ahead of them a bit too much and I need to stay as ‘experience near’ to people as I can. However, I do not anticipate that the people consulting with me would likely experience any ‘negativity’ as such. I perceive that they would experience me as both compassionate and optimistic. Overall, “Yes”, it definitely suits me. The main reason is because I would like ‘my therapist’ to be informed by the same or similar commitments and intentions.

  9. The concept of co-researching mirrors something that I’ve had in mind for the past couple of months – the concept that therapy is 50/50 and to not work harder than your client.

    The genesis of this concept (or rather the conditions that lead to it) was my psychological training where I was expected to plan each intervention, administer it and have a quantitative improvement post-intervention. It’s easy to see how this creates an imbalance in the relationship and focuses the sessions on on symptom reduction or increase in functioning.

    This lead to a lot of anxiety in me and a restlessness in therapy to always be ‘doing’ things. As I finished by training, practicing more independently and getting better at co-researching problems with clients, the changes were palpable. Therapeutic conversations felt less twitchy and flowed better. Clients exuded more calmness and power and I felt much more relaxed and in the zone.

    It’s still something that I struggle with, but it feels like it’s a concept that has embedded into my practice. I feel it is a great encapsulation of narrative therapy and social work – that two heads are better than one and that all our stories are worthwhile and deserve to be told.

    • From the UK
      Think about just one thing that has particularly resonated for you about narrative ideas and practices that you have been trying to apply more in your work.
      Identity and identity migration
      What would you call the principle or idea? Give it a name. Say something about it – describe what it is about, your understandings of it, in your own words.
      I would call it “route” acknowledging its potential to find a way and have lots of different ways and still be there as it sounds like ‘root’ and may sprout as well.
      Give some more details about it, e.g.: When did you first notice this idea or principle in the work? What told you that it was important to you?
      I noticed this especially when I was studying Shiatsu and learning the theory and practicing with my fellow students and eventually people from the general public. I think this was when I reconnected in a different way with my own body and its memories. This prompted and enabled me to attend a year’s training course on trauma.
      What are you currently doing that you would say is a reflection of this particular idea, practice or principle? Say a little bit about the times you thought you had managed to apply the idea or principle to your own practice.
      I am currently exploring and sharing some concepts of identity in relation to mental heath and the impact of torture and abuse.
      I think I managed to apply this to my practice both by seeking support for myself and sharing support with individuals and a particular family group.
      When you did it, what did you notice? How did it affect, for example:
      The conversation you were engaging in at the time? I noticed a sense of relief and that the conversation became wider ranging and included more ‘not knowing’
      Your thoughts about yourself? I am learning more about myself and others
      The other people who were with you? They said I’d heard them.
      Your hopes or plans? I hope to continue to develop this further through research, reflection and practice on both a personal and professional level and I plan to do some more training when/if this is possible.
      Your feelings? With support, I have been able to have my feelings and to find these strengthened my resolve. The kindnesses shown to me deepened compassion and enlivened my processing.
      What was this like for you? This was like a re-connection with my past identities that came to help me out and introduce themselves to what was going on. Did you like it or not? Yes
      Did it suit you or not? Yes Or something in between?That too
      Why is it that you give this evaluation? Because this is what I found in answer to these questions this morning. What did it seem to fit with? It seemed to fit with the situation that is the most difficult and challenging to me at the moment.

  10. I find Narrative Therapy a very exciting way to work as it fits with my beliefs with regard to not pathologising people and not blaming the victim but working with people in a non – judgemental way that locates the problem outside of themselves and therefore works against self blame. The approach I utilise the most is the thickening of a person’s story so that clients who think they have never been able to cope are able to identify that so many times they have been able to do this. I would like to employ writing letters to clients as I think,(the evidence indicates this) that they would be able to have this letter to remind them of the positives that came out of a counselling and how they have been able to do many things in their lives despite the ‘thin narrative’ they have internalised. Though I have always tried to think about power and privilege in a relationship I am now more acutely aware of this and will be more reflective and think about power and privilege in a deeper way.

  11. (From France)
    Thanks to Phillipa Johnson and all the people at the Dulwich centre for providing such a gripping course. The key element which attracted me to narrative therapy is externalisation. It brings so many opportunities for the person to look at its “problem” differently and to act upon it.
    I wish you all the best.
    Take care.

  12. One of the aspects that connected with me during this chapter was that therapists are often perceived to have the power, the expertise, in the therapeutic relationship. Building on the ideas of cultural equity, the therapist should take responsibility for deconstructing this imbalance in collaboration with the client. Examining the assumptions that influence people’s view on therapists and deconstructing them to create space for collaborative work with the client as the primary author.

  13. Hi, I am from Sydney and I have found the idea of using externalising really useful when helping clients through their problems. It has been very helpful to let them see that their problem is not part of them but that it is outside of themselves. Also, I have found letting the clients become the expert in their own lives has been very useful.
    We have found ways in their own lives where they have found a way out of a problem and fixed it and so this has helped us to look for other ways where they can help themselves and so give them the strength they need to move forward.

  14. Thank you very much for this course. In some ways it is similar to Solution-Focused Therapy, but to me – as a writer and a psychologist working with artists – it is more valuable, as it focuses on telling stories.

  15. Hello all, this is Lucia, from Spain.
    The two concepts that have touched me most or that have made me look at some of the things that surround me differently have been the externalization and the critical thinking. As coach, many times I have to give courses, teach people to deal better with theis lives, and these two concepts have helped me enormously in building the new couse we are launching in september. I have found that externalization is vital in order to see the circumstances that we are living as something apart from the person because when people start identifying the problems as a part inherent to themselves it is much harder to get the out from that idea. I really wanted to do something different to what people are used to here, in my country, and narrative practices are not common at all in Spain, so this I’ve found this approach really helpful, specially in some tough context such as abuse or cultural differences with foreigners (that some don’t get to assume).
    I’ve talked about these two, but I have found so many useful tools (Narrative documentation is awesome and the sense of collaboration enriches the entire community) in this course and such an awesome approach to therapy that I am going to apply it in my job and in my day-to-day life.

  16. Hi I’m H from NSW. In her article, Alice Morgan wrote that she has been involved in conversations with children where the power relationships were minimised. I work with kids in groups and there is a level of behaviour management involved, which changes the power relationships. However my aim is to let kids express whatever they are feeling without feeling pressured to do anything they don’t want to. Sometimes they need some encouragement though!!!

  17. I have still to overcome “a trepidation” when it comes to using narrative ideas/practices but what I say back to “trepidation” is I am filled with curiosity and excitement at the prospect of it becoming a whole new way of working with women. All the practices resonated with me but I was especially smitten with the learning’s of Documents and Audiences. How the written word can help people get their language back, how it engages the reader to enquire “what’s next”, how it documents the PAST,PRESENT and FUTURE and the fact it is literary as opposed to diagnostic and therefore tells a story. I want to have more narrative conversations , not relay advice. As David Newman says ‘the spoken word can often be confronting and complex in its tone, rhythm, or the way we sit.’
    I want to invite women to contribute and co-write their case notes as well as their support plans and give them the opportunity to acknowledge their achievements and share their pride.
    I believe I am becoming more aware when someone uses a narrative description because I feel a warm and fuzzy happening, such as when a woman recently said how she sometimes pauses, unsure of what she really wants to say, so she refers to it as her “speech bubble”.
    Thank you to “the team of Life”

  18. My response may or may not fit the posed stimulus questions for us to consider and comment on. There is so much I would like to share, but justice would not be done to this in such a short space. However, I believe what I am about to share is an honest recount of what I am moved to say in regards to this Amazing introductory course on Narrative Approaches. That what I share is up to the readers to take from it what they choose if anything.

    The contents of this entire course resonates well with me. To single any thing out is a challenge, because they are all a necessary part of the tapestry of Narrative Therapy (NT). One thread missing can begin the unraveling of the rest of the tapestry. There is such wholesome ‘goodness’ in the ‘tapestry’ that Michael White and David Epston have created and woven that others have embraced.

    What I would like to share, is something I see and value highly especially when working with others, i.e an underpinning, fundamental principle which is a Positive Spirit of Intent that seeks Peace knowing that the highest happiness is Peace. Healing is a path to Peace. How this is achieved is in the first instance is dependent upon the Therapist’s qualities, knowledge, skills and abilities to engage with the person seeking therapy and build a quality relationship underpinned by Respect and dignity, that can creatively navigate the path ahead for both to successfully achieve desired changes/healing/outcomes. I have worked with people from birth to the aged from different cultural backgrounds. Respect, Dignity, Validation and Acceptance are some critical core desires and expectations that hold substantial weight in human existence. Narrative Therapy highlights that these are a necessary requirement of its constructs and practices. Coming from a cultural background of a minority group, that is consistently and continually having its life essences squeezed out of it like a slow death; I believe Narrative Therapy provides opportunity for people to engage in critical conversations that can enable them, to arrive at a place and space that can be: empowering, healing and peace making, grounding and balancing oneself within and with the world around them.

    I would also like to share one of the challenges of my culture in terms of communication/engagement i.e.’Silence’. This is a critical element with a special place and purpose in communication. Documentation regarding this is scarce and my experience with those who have been alerted to it, is that of a lack of understanding and misinterpretation of what it truly is and its purpose. This issue of ‘Silence’is one that I believe Narrative Therapy Approaches have capacity to respect and support, in ways I have not yet observed outside of my culture. It may simply be that I have not come across documents/books that might now discuss this issue. I would be interested to know of any other culture that has this element of ‘Silence’ in their communication system.

    I want to explore further the aspect of “Silence” as it plays a very important role in my culture and communication. It is much broader and more complex an issue than that of silence raised by Heath, M. (2012) “”On critical thinking”.

    I would like to that the Dulwich Centre and all those who have contributed to this course. Thank you also to the other course participants for their comments which I have thoroughly enjoyed reading and learning from .

  19. As I have not used narrative therapy practices at this point it is difficult for me to reflect on times when I have done so. I am eager to get started and have enrolled for the online course in externalizing conversations after witch I will do re-membering conversations. I am planning to use narrative documentation as part of a project I will shortly be beginning with a group of people who wish to produce a play about lived experience of mental illness. The aim is to show the play to interested groups and in schools to help reduce the stigma attached to mental illness. My plan is to begin the process of writing the play by asking people in the group to draw a time line of significant happenings for them in their experience of mental illness and then introduce this to the group. I will then invite the group to identify common themes and the strengths people used to help them through difficult times. From this we will look at the story we wish to tell.

  20. Now that I have read through the chapters in this course and listened to fantastic presentations, I see the chapters intertwined and therefore find that no single chapter resonates for me more than the other. This course has been inspiring and has made me reflect on my ways of working. The multiple stories, presentations and articles have provided insight and motivation to utilise narrative practices – validating the person seeking assistance as the experts of their own lives and inviting the person to find those hidden competencies and strengths to reclaim ” their preferable lives”.

    I had a great opportunity to apply externalising conversation and writing a letter after a session with one of my clients. I had just finished reading those chapters and was full of excitement of applying those methods. The opportunity came so naturally and I thought now I’ll give it a go. From the very first moment I walked through the door to greet my client she described feelings that she was experiencing, strong and very descriptive words which had a strong impact on her. The descriptions she used “stood out to me ” and I began asking questions about The feeling and how it was making her feel and act etc. As other mixed feelings and thoughts rose during conversation I asked if she was comfortable for us to do a ” Mind map” as we spoke using her own words – to visualise The feeling/ impacts and the aspects she would prefer. I asked if she would prefer to do the mind map – she preferred me to do the writing. I believe this visualisation was a useful tool for her to gain control of those mixed feelings and to visualise her purpose.

    At the end of our session I asked if she would feel comfortable and agreed to me writing her a letter based on “her story” in todays session. I described a little about narrative approaches and if she felt comfortable trying this approach. My client agreed to this and I wrote her the letter. Although I was very excited of the opportunity to write my first ” narrative letter”, it wasn’t as “easy” as I thought. I questioned myself if I was using the right language; how well did I use externalizing questions and metaphors, was I interpreting her use of words correctly… I worked on the letter trying to apply the wisdom from chapters I had completed in this course and by validating her story. With some guidance and suggestions from my supervisor whom has a wealth of knowledge in Narrative Practices I had my first therapeutic/ narrative letter written. I felt so pleased to have had this experience. When we met the next time with my client she felt slightly hesitant to read the letter. I asked if she wanted to read it at the appointment or take it with her. She chose to read it at our session and stated ” I like this, this is what is happening”.

    A great experience, something I will endeavor to continue in my context, however I think ” practice makes a master” and you learn by doing – to become more confident in using narrative practices, – the usage of language, scaffolding questions and understanding in practice for example ” Statement of Position Map” in externalising conversations.

  21. One thing that resonated with me was the idea of outsider witnesses. I have begun to use this idea to advocate for people I work with who find it difficult to get their voice heard. I used it to start a conversation and then invite the person to join and then let them take over and express themselves.
    The word I would like to call the principle or idea is respect. The reason I want to use the word respect is because I remember a person who I support wear a cap with the words respect printed on it , no one really took notice of the cap. We used go for various therapy appointment and the person used to always be upset after the appointment. I asked his why this was and he told me no one cared for his opinion and did not let him express himself and respect him. Using the outsider witness idea on the next appointment I spoke to the therapist about how the person was dealing with his life. The person then joined the conversation felt respected about positive things being said about him and as a result the therapy session have been productive and have helped the person be valued and manage the problem that impacts his life.

    In a nutshell for me narrative therapy is about communication, power and privilege, for very often stories get lost due to the dominant discourse. Narrative therapy provides resources so that everyone has a voice and feels valued. This is what I will take with me on completing this course.

  22. There were so many ideas and aspects in this course, which inspired and encouraged me to transform and improve my practice and existence. Like others already said, it doesn’t necessarily feel like single pieces, but more like a flow of connected ideas and transformations.

    When I think about what I have tried to apply most until now, I think about the idea of creating thick und multiple stories and the idea, that all of us are the authors of our own stories. The story-metaphor resonates very strongly with me and others in the context of my theatrical work. And working with people whose stories are written and marginalized by others, I feel and felt that the idea of primary authorship was a very comforting and encouraging one. The questions shared throughout this course were and are immensely helpful in researching and embracing these stories. I would call it ‘Telling stories TO make us stronger’. I noticed this idea for the first time two years ago, even though I didn’t have words for it at that time. It was, when I facilitated the first women’s theatre-laboratory in Nepal and realized how important and powerful it was for the participants (whom I prefer to call co-researchers from now on) to tell their stories. A few months later a woman’s theatre group (Madalenas Nepal, if you want to learn more about us) had evolved out of this laboratory and we staged the Nepali adaption of ‘The Vagina Monologues.’ It was very controversial at the time of rehearsal, but afterwards random spectators would approach us, hug us and encourage us to tell these stories all over Nepal; they were telling us that it was powerful and healing for them to listen to and watch these stories and that it has supported them embracing similar stories about themselves and others with compassion, rather than with fear about talking about some of the biggest taboos in Nepal.
    These two events were the first of many to come, when I felt like I was becoming the teller of stories, which made me, my co-tellers and our audience and community stronger.

    Ever since this realization, I have focused on developing skills that allow me to learn about and share stories in ways, which make the teller and her/his audience and community stronger. This also includes that in my recent workshops I have encouraged people to re-member their own stories and feel the ownership, agency and right for edits they have in their own stories. Through this course, I feel like I have gotten the language for processes, feelings and directions I have been following and investigating for a while now.

    I am currently planning a bit of a long-term project of developing a storytelling-performance with people from different backgrounds living in Austria in the present time. I do this in an attempt of bringing people across generations, countries and cultures together, who live in Austria nowadays, in order to celebrate diversity and the value it can have for all of us, while also making clear that at the end of the day, we are all human beings.

    Since I started this project, but also before, I noticed that there are many people who are eager to share their stories with me and a wider audience, if they find a space where they feel comfortable and confident to do so. In this sense, I have also embarked on a journey to create ‘a safe space that pushes us’, which will be further enriched in the future by Mary Heath’s and Bell Hook’s ideas of creating safe spaces in ways, that allow us to cope with risks of disagreement and conflict.
    I realize now, that the conversations I am having are much deeper and whether it is in my work or private life, I value the depth of conversations and the connections that can be developed or strengthened as a result of that. These stories and connections enrich my life. I find meaning and peace in my being, and am much kinder and more compassionate towards others and myself (at least I try). I also realize that in my head I started re-writing my own story. This time, instead of all the violence and trauma I had focused on before, I focus on bringing a balance to my story – one or many stories which are able to acknowledge the pain, but also the healing, beauty and wisdom I have encountered in my journey.

    Lastly, I want to thank all those involved in offering this course. Thank you for allowing me to move ahead in my own journey of ‘finding medicine in the wound’ and sharing it with people around me. Thank you for allowing us to create new stories and generate new meaning of old ones.

  23. Emmalene – Tweed Coast

    Having now finished all the readings in the course provided, my mind is whirring with ideas about how I might reflect, improve, refine and employ some of the ideas contained. I have enormous gratitude for the amount of work and effort that has gone into developing this unique and free course. What a great wealth of knowledge and a thoughtful approach to training.

    I think I was draw to this study at a time when I find myself becoming increasingly eclectic about the ways in which I work with people. I think about the dominant theories of my discipline and how increasingly, I am moving away from some more of the manualised CBT approaches. The overwhelming observations I make about my use of these concepts is that I use the ideas around thinking-feeling being connected and thinking traps and this is about where I leave it. Though, as part of medicare funded work, I guess I am invited to relay on this ideology. One which I actually feel disconnected from and find arduous to ‘teach’ to people. It’s interesting to consider what dominant ideas deliver to our work and when we stop to challenge them, how easily they fall away in importance.

    I have found the idea’s about externalising resonate clearly for me. I was first introduced to this idea in working with a young girl around disordered eating. Around half way through our work together, my supervisor encouraged me to help the girl to see the eating disorder as separate from her and therefore an adversary that she could either invite into her life or take steps to minimise it’s impact on her daily functioning. She was able to give her eating disorder a name and this went some way to her being able to communicate with her family and friend’s about it’s influence in her life. Once we put a name to the disorder, it was like we were all in a battle against it and this proved to improve the therapuetic alliance tremendously.

    The second idea that resonates for me it about being curious and developing skills to open conversations with patients in order for them to do the thinking. I first witnessed this type of idea in watching ‘Good Will Hunting’ and was amazed at Robin William’s character’s ability to draw out thoughts and ideas from Matt Damon’s character. I was later lucky enough to have a skilled narative therapist as a supervisor and would regularly find myself answering my own questions and having my own revelations long after the sessions were over for the week. I guess this is the type of therapist I am working toward, from the value I have that lasting change comes from within.

  24. This got over-long, and I’m not entirely sure it makes sense anywhere except in my head, but anyway …

    Like others who’ve recently commented, I’ve found it hard to isolate just one thing to talk about. But I think that what I find compelling, above all, about narrative practice is the way it seems to be a never-ending process of creation.

    From a ‘client’ conceptualising and naming a problem as a character in their story … to a theorist writing about new ideas they’ve begun to incorporate into practice … to a whole community coming together to dream up a grand metaphor for an impactful, ongoing project … those who are involved in narrative practice just keep on creating – collaboratively and tenderly – in myriad ways and at all scales, building on and augmenting what has gone before.

    I couldn’t think of a good, pithy phrase to express exactly what this means to me (‘continual creating with tenderness’ got closest), but a metaphorical image in my mind sums it up:

    I imagine the narrative practice community as a huge team of builders, who welcome all comers, as they work on a strong, intricate structure, that they’re growing ever outwards and upwards.

    It’s colourful and ornate in parts, utilitarian-looking in others. It has places to shelter, platforms to stand on, corners to confer, places to play and shout.

    Some people work on central parts; others round the edges. Some build massive frameworks; others add detail.

    Now and then, a person builds a new structure a little way away, and then a group builds a bridge to it. Sometimes someone builds something, doesn’t like it, dismantles it, and tries something new.

    Everyone has different roles; and they often switch around and regroup. They challenge and help each other.

    As for how that relates to my work …

    As background: I cobble together a working life from a number of freelance and part-time jobs and roles – writer, researcher, interviewer, tutor, magazine editor. Most of my jobs have an activist aspect. I’m excited to think about all the ways I could start to incorporate elements of narrative practice into what I do. (Outsider witnessing, documentation, and externalisation all offer interesting possibilities.)

    In doing so, I’m quite interested to keep the above building-team metaphor in my mind, and imagine myself – and the other people I work with in different jobs – working on various edges of the structure.

    It’s intriguing me to think about how I can use this to conceptualise my work in ways that are useful for me. For example: When should I be doing some building, and when should I, instead, be gathering materials for others to build with?

    Exactly what kinds of structures should my groups be building? For what purpose? When should I be holding a framework steady while someone else hammers it together? When should I ask someone else to do the steadying? Do we need to get together and draft a plan for a particular bit of structure, or should we just start making and see what happens? And so on.

    Thinking about my work in this way could help keep me focused on collaborative creation (even at times when I feel either less than creative, or less than collaborative!) and also provide a framework for me to think about what is the way I can contribute most usefully to any given job, and provide the type of input or support that is likely to lead to productive and creative outcomes for everyone. (This is something I struggle with sometimes – knowing just where and how to place myself in relation to others when it comes to any job.)

    Sorry – I’ve slightly veered away from the questions in the exercise, but this was really helpful for me nonetheless.

    Anyway, overall, I just want to say – I have LOVED this course, and this feels very much like a beginning for me, rather than an end.

    I acknowledge that Dulwich Centre stands on the traditional lands of the Kaurna people, and I pay respect to the Elders, past and present.

    A huge thank you to all involved in creating and maintaining this course.

  25. So many narrative ideas and practices have resonated with me throughout this course however, I wish to focus on documentation. Throughout this course I have been challenged about the way in which I complete my documentation and how it could be more transparent and empowering. When completing the documentation and audiences section of the course I was interested in the living documents which David Newman discussed in his article “rescuing the said from the saying it”. I was interested in how creating a record of people’s experience, skills and knowledge could both empower the individual who is writing it as well as encouraging the reader.
    A client who was nearing the end of their time in therapy came to mind. This particular client has made great progress in overcoming the challenges they were originally facing and had begun writing poems and songs about the emotions they previously felt. Although nervous about how the client would respond I decided to ask. The client’s face lit up with excitement at the prospect of sharing their journey with other people who had experienced similar difficulties. The client also stated that it would provide a sense of closure to leave the creative writings of the previous challenges with me to be used to encouraged others. I believe asking the client to contribute to a living document gave a sense of empowerment as they felt that their experience was knowledge worth sharing. I hope that this assists the client to move into the next stage of their life feeling empowered and able to overcome with the skills and knowledges they brought with them and developed along the journey. I look forward to seeing how the sharing of this documentation will influence future clients.

  26. There are so many different points to N/T that I am interested in, and as I am still a student with very little fieldwork experience I will talk of being the client in those times that the tenets of N/T could have worked.
    The role of the therapist being more of an influence than an expert – I believe this is where therapy differs from community or social work – a therapist listens whereas a community or social worker ‘fixes’.
    Externalizing – I was able to move past many of my issues by divorcing them from myself. Almost a take on ‘the monkey on my back’, my addiction was not me, merely one chapter in the book of my life, just as being a mother was not all that I was.
    Thickening a story – “I’m just a mum” I would answer for two decades as I raised my children – thickening that story gave me more self-confidence to go forward and start studying and volunteering.

  27. I see Narrative Practice as a holistic approach and the way one idea flows into the next to make up the whole, makes it difficult for me to single out one specific idea or practice, but what really excites me the most and keeps me thinking, is the process of scaffolding questions. It is not easy and requires a lot of skill! I am still very young in the practice and stumble quite often, but I take courage in Michael Whites words, that it takes practice, practice and more practice.

    I call the process of scaffolding questions the ‘process of finding the things that are not lost’. It is through the asking of the right questions at the right place during conversations that we encourage people to fill the gaps in their stories. To find the descriptions that externalize the problem, to find the unique outcomes that will eventually be the beginning of the alternative story, finding words or names that are near descriptions of those outcomes, and finding the connections or relationships in the person’s history that unearths hidden skills and knowledges. Ultimately, for me, scaffolding questions lead to the person’s finding of the new, richly described alternative story with a multi-stranded story line that creates the distance between themselves and the problem story. In my opinion it is therefore the vehicle for all of the Narrative principles and practices.

    I first came across scaffolding questions when I was on the other side of the practice. I was looking for help to overcome a problem and was most fortunate to get it in the form of NT. Having gone through years of structuralist approaches and finding no solutions, Narrative Practice was completely new to me. I remember that I found the questions a bit unsettling at first because it assumed I knew things. When the scaffolding of questions revealed that I did indeed know quite a bit, I could start writing my alternative story. Within two months I no longer required medication to quiet the voices and my knowledge of my skills made it possible to put methods in place to live a productive life. This is where my interest in Narrative Practice began and my total fascination with the process of scaffolding questions.

    I have studied Mark Hayward’s notes on using Michael White’s Scaffolding Distance Map and have found it extremely useful and helpful. I have started using it in assisting two people who are seeking help with overcoming the problem of active addiction. Having overcome the problem of addiction myself using the principals of narrative therapy, I knew it could be useful but addiction is a complex and cunning problem that tend to stick around stubbornly for a long time.
    Scaffolding the questions within the zone of proximal development proved to be very helpful and we made great progress in externalizing and discovering unique outcomes that surprised us.
    Once we discovered unique outcomes, the conversation became energized and the person was more eager to search further. In fact, the optimism was of such a high level that I had to take great care not to applaud and not to take sudden leaps in levels, but rather build on and explore the discovery and what it meant.
    I felt like I was a privileged observer. I was genuinely curious and asked questions that I truly did not know the answers to. I also discovered new ways of looking and listening, and learnt a lot from the person and the process.
    The person was surprised at what they discovered of themselves and it was as if the light went on inside them. Like an a-ha moment. I think that is what it looks like when someone finds a place to stand outside of the problem story.
    I have great hope that a deeper understanding and continual practicing of the process of scaffolding questions could lead to successfully externalizing addiction. I believe it could lead to the discovery of histories, unique outcomes, skills and knowledges that could be useful over the long term to keep addiction and its effects at a distance. My dreams are that long-term programs of Narrative Practice to keep the problem of addiction at a distance, will be put in place in South Africa. My biggest dream, however, is to become as proficient as I can at applying all the principals and practices of Narrative Therapy in my endevour to assist others in writing their preferred, multi-stranded and richly described autobiographies.

    I try to keep a decentred influential position, so my feelings around finding things that are not lost remain that of intense curiosity. I have feelings of deep gratitude for what I get to learn through experiencing the effects of scaffolding questions and find the challenge of doing it ‘right’ (timing and wording etc.) very stimulating.

    As a writer and a poet, I experience scaffolding questions as a very exciting and a creative process. It is like watching a plot unfold. It is like sitting in a room with an author while he is writing his autobiography and you just know it will be a best-seller! There is not much that can be more beautiful than that!

    I would like to sincerely thank and acknowledge Phillipa for the thoughtful way in which she lead us through the course materials and would also like to convey my thanks to Dulwich Centre for making this online course available. I realize that Dulwich Centre’s history is tied to that of the Kaurna people and would therefore also like to respectfully acknowledge the Kaurna Nation and their Elders, both past and present.

    Thank you for a very pleasant learning experience!

  28. I found Alice Morgan’s paper very useful in helping me reflect on the way I am using narrative practices. My comments below come from the exercises in this paper:

    One thing that has particularly resonated for me:

    Externalising conversations – I think of this principle as externalising, but also as renaming; that is being able to rename a problem or issue in a way that is helpful and not a within person narrative.

    I first noticed externalising when I was training as an EP, I had a supervisor who was experienced in using NT and this caught my interest. I brought Narrative Means to Therapeutic Ends (White and Epston, 1990) and externalising jumped out to me straight away. It spoke to my frustration of all the within child/person narratives that I was hearing around problems and gave me something to work with. I tentatively started using these ideas and was quite stunned with how powerful it could be to externalise, especially for children and young people who had been labelled and were now living in a self-fulfilled prophecy type bubble. I still feel a sense of wonder when a problem or narrative shifts because a person has had the space to think about a problem in a different way.

    I also use externalising language in the reports I write, for example rather than saying X was angry I tend to write X experienced anger when…the word experienced shifts it to an externalised narrative as it is happening to X rather than being within them. I also write therapeutic/narrative letters to the young people I have worked with using externalising as a reminder to them (and a prompt to others) about the different ways we can frame the ‘problem’.

    I try to use externalising as much as I can and I think I have started to use it without thinking about it so may not always conscious reflect on what I am doing and the effect it might be having. I think this mirrors the quite hectic work life I have at the moment and reminds me I need to be more thoughtful in my work. I know this approach helps me and I get a feeling of wonder when I use externalising and can sense of shift in people’s ways of thinking about a problem.

    Externalising fits with my social constructionist way of thinking that there is always more than one way of viewing something dependent on the person and the tools (language) they have to understand and describe something. Externalising helps people develop different tools to think and face a problem.

    Thank you so much for this course. I have thoroughly enjoyed it and have gone back to all the chapters to re-read and will again I am sure as different ideas and elements come out in every read.

    I wish I could come over to Australia and visit The Dulwich Centre – maybe one day 🙂

  29. Sincere apologies for all the auto-correct typos in the above response.

  30. One particular idea about Narrative practice that has always resonated with me is the idea of being non-judgemental and the idea of externalizing. I say this in the same sentence, because I consider the two concepts as overlapping and having many intersections. As a novice therapist, with hardly a year’s experience at hand, and having been in traduced to Narrative Practice during my post-graduate course, I was privileged to have begun applying these practices in therapy.

    While the concepts have already been named by Narrative Therapy, I particularly am attracted to the idea of using language as a tool to put these concepts to practice. And so, I would call this ‘Non-judgemental and externalizing language’. As a therapist and educator, I have often seen how language can be a tool to put to practice the principles and ideas one believes in. For e.g. I have often seen schools who believe in the idea of holistic learning and inclusion indiscriminately label students and at time use the doctor’s clinical diagnosis as the only marker of the child’s identity. It presents to me a clear dissonance in belief and practice. I therefore try and ensure that the language I use promotes externalizing and a non-judgemental stance, in therapy and in conversations otherwise.

    I noticed this idea during my undergraduate course when we discussed concepts of stigma and discrimination in our cultural context. I was only later during the course that I could reference these to concepts within narrative practice. It was my daily experiences and my initial work in outpatient and inpatient settings at government hospitals that made me realize the significance of the same.

    I have been incorporating the use of externalizing language in my conversations with students, parents and teachers at the school where I work in the capacity of a school psychologist. One particular instance that reminds me of this practice was a reflection session I conducted with teachers of the High School. After an incident of bullying in the school and after addressing the situation at different systemic levels, I realized that students and teachers alike were beginning to view the students who engaged in bullying as a certain kind and the tag ‘bully’ was used indiscriminately to imply certain characteristics, behaviours and traits. The students had received a new identity of a ‘bully’. While I did not want to trivialize the situation or minimize the actions, I wanted to address this particular viewpoint. In the reflection session, while we discussed the concept of bullying and the people involved and their positions, I also assisted the group to explore the possibility of viewing different other characteristics of those who were termed as ‘bullies’. The person and ‘The Bully’ were presented as two separate entities and the group discussed the possible actions that ‘The Bully’ was probably getting the person to engage in.

    The above exercise and discussion, led us to explore the idea that different circumstances, past experiences and the cultural context influence the actions that constitute bullying and that these situations make the person engage in these actions. That the person is not the problem.

    The teachers and my colleagues described feeling surprised and that the discussion was eye-opening. They expressed being able to relate this t experiences in their own lives and how certain behaviours that they have seen as problems that are innate could be seen as being external to them. Some of them expressed feeling a sense of empathy toward themselves.

    I liked being party of this session because it made me feel like I was taking a non-judgemental stance yet ensuring that each one engages in a process of exploration. At times, I did see myself taking the position of an expert and on reflection now, I do feel that I could have and still can work on that.

    It did suit me because I have practised it for a while and also because in my personal life I have always been made to view problems as being something that is not within.

    This is just one practice. I have also enjoyed and learnt a lot through the use of narrative documentation like letters as well as the stance of curiosity. Here’s to the journey of narrative practice! 🙂

    Lamia B., Mumbai, India

  31. I think about collaborative representation and I believe it evokes a sense of respect, transparency, care and collaboration. I first noticed the opposite feelings in response to writing case notes. I felt a deep sense of care and respect for a particular client and felt uncomfortable writing negative things about her in a case note, and at another time, in writing positive things, felt remiss that I had this story about her–but she didn’t. She had copies of treatment plans.

    I think I try to be very genuine in my practice, and intentionally look for feelings of care, love, strengths in the client. I do not direct sessions, I invite clients to self-author. When I feel that I am carrying out these values, I feel good about my practice, and I believe the clients feel good about the therapist-client relationship (not decentered I know) and about their therapy, as well as their sense of agency/competency/welbeing.

    I don’t believe that writing case notes as I have been fits with my values and I plan to incorporate using letters more and more. I have learned a great deal and believe I will be a better therapist as a result of this course. Thank you!

  32. As a counselling student I haven’t been set loose on the public yet. I have found in this course several tools that I would like to use when I am practising.

    Also I found tools that I was able to bring to my own life. Externalising is such a great method of viewing difficulties, and I intend practising placing my own problems outside of myself.

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