Beginning to use narrative practices

Posted by on Jun 24, 2015 in Uncategorised | 34 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 again – Leanne from Calgary, Canada here.

    I have loved the notion that “the person is not the problem; the problem is the problem.” I work with family and friends of individuals who have some form of dementia diagnosis; we often hear some variation of the following from clients: “Oh, I don’t think he has dementia; he just needs to focus more, listen better, get more sleep, etc…..” My colleagues and I usually provide some form of explanation such as “the brain is an organ and when someone has dementia, their brain is going into organ failure.”

    I will probably continue to use the above statements but I believe I will take this conversation one step further and gently suggest that dementia is the problem, and that stronger focus or listening efforts or more sleep may not be a solution to this problem.

    WHAT WOULD YOU CALL THE PRINCIPLE OR IDEA? GIVE IT A NAME. SAY SOMETHING ABOUT IT ….YOUR UNDERSTANDINGS OF IT, IN YOUR OWN WORDS. This is a tough one; “the problem is the problem” says it so beautifully!! The only thing that comes to mind is something like: “the person with the diagnosis probably wishes that he/she didn’t have to give up driving, can no longer use the stove on their own, doesn’t recognize his/her grandchildren, etc.”

    With respect to my role as the coordinator for support groups, I have started asking individuals (who are interested in joining one of our groups), “What is happening for your at this point in time? Why are your interested in a support group now?” The replies I receive indicate that this is an important question; individuals either start to cry (which is completely understandable; we simply stay on the line with them and say something like, “It’s OK to let go; I will be with you for as long as you need.”) or they can point to a specific event or a conversation they have had with another professional/family member/friend. This conversation is often the catalyst that causes them to reach out to our office.

    I think these actions are important in my role because many of these caregivers have never been asked what has been happening for them; when they meet with other professionals (typically doctors, nurses, Home Care Case Managers, etc.,) these caregivers are TOLD what they need to do and when to do it. Our agency may be one of the few places which ASKS the caregiver what is going on for them. We also often remind caregivers “You are the expert on the person for whom you are caring.”


    When speaking to a caregiver for the first time and after listening to their story, I often say something like: “Wow, you certainly do have a lot going on at present. Do you have an idea or a sense of what is the most important thing for you or the thing which you would like to address first in our work together?”


    Again, it has been my experience that clients often are taken aback that a professional has asked for their input rather than simply telling them what to do. I have found that the majority of clients, after a sentence or two, can tell me which thing(s) they want to address first.

    When clients say something like, “Oh, I have no idea,” I give them one or two options for handling this question: I suggest I call them back/they call me back at an agreed upon time; I also advise that they can contact me by email if that would be more convenient for them.

    2. YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT YOURSELF? I am so very happy to be able to provide choice to clients who rarely have choices in their situation.

    3. THE OTHER PEOPLE WHO WERE WITH YOU? When our agency has practicum students who observe these meetings or telephone conversations/email, they are usually quite pleased to learn that we do all we can to provide choices to our clients.

    4. YOUR HOPES OR PLANS? I really like how this principle of Narrative Therapy dovetails with the social work tenet of “meeting the client where they are.” I have found working with a client is much more helpful/therapeutic when the client feels like they are an active participant and that I am not simply “telling them what to do.”

    5 AND 6. YOUR FEELINGS? WHAT WAS THIS LIKE FOR YOU? DID YOU LIKE IT OR NOT? There are times that I feel a bit awkward or frightened that the client will not contact me again for any number of reasons which may or may not have something to do with me/our conversation. While there are times when I do have second thoughts about what I said/how I said it, I firmly believe that allowing clients to be the “experts” and decide when/if they want to contact our agency again is the best method of practice at present.


    I believe that the use of this principle suits me in over 95% of the conversations I have with clients. Please see my previous comments with respect to my reasons for giving this evaluation.
    This has been an exceptionally helpful course. I join with others in thanking the Dulwich Centre for providing this resource to, seemingly, the world!!

  2. 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.

  3. 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

  4. 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!

  5. 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!!

  6. 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!

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. (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.

  13. 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.

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