Critical Thinking

In this chapter we take a look at the ways critical thinking can contribute to our practice. Narrative practices invite us to be curious about where our ideas come from and their effects. Here we look at some of the theoretical assumptions of narrative practice, ways we can strengthen our critical thinking, and how this can influence our work.



Critical does not mean destructive, but only willing to examine what we sometimes presuppose in our way of thinking, and that gets in the way of making a more livable world”

Judith Butler reference

This paper by Mary Heath begins by defining critical thinking and setting out a personal history of the author’s journey toward becoming a critical thinker. Some dimensions of critical thinking are outlined, together with questions which might allow readers to apply them to specific contexts.

Critical Thinking | Mary Heath



An invitation to talk about privilege from Salome Raheim

The relations and practices of power that influence our lives are often invisible to us. If we do not proactively look at how relations of power operate to create advantages for some and deny these advantages to others, it hinders our work as therapists and community practitioners. Without examining the operations of privilege, we are unable to see the circumstances that create constraints on other people’s lives. We are unable to appreciate their daily efforts to work and live in the context of these constraints, or to resist them.

Furthermore, we are unable to see how our lives are made easier. We think that the ease with which we are able to operate in the world is the norm and become oblivious to the fact that everybody’s life is not like our own.

What is more, unless we routinely examine the operations of power and our place within these operations, we fail to notice how we are liable to inadvertently impose our expectations, our cultural ways, our ways of thinking, on the people with whom we work. These impositions tend to diminish those who consult us, and they are destructive to the good work that we wish to accomplish.

This examination and deconstruction of the operations of privilege improves our practice as therapists and community workers. It is only when we recognise what people are up against that we can notice and invite people to richly describe their stories of resistance. It is only in examining the operations of privilege that we can become more aware of the potential for our practice to have negative consequences of inadvertently marginalising and diminishing people’s lives and subordinating their stories.

This work has a particular resonance for those of us who are from marginalised groups. Examining the operations of power and privilege renders visible the constraints upon our lives. It helps us to understand that these constraints are not due to individual deficits, group deficits, or cultural deficits. The problem is not located within us. This lessens the influence of shame and makes resistance more possible.

In the following pages, we have enclosed a range of exercises that we hope will assist in exploring these issues further.

Please open this new page to read on.. : An invitation to narrative practitioners to address privilege and dominance


Narrative Therapy and Community work are considered Postmodern and Post-structuralist in theoretical orientation. Here Leonie Thomas helps us make sense of what this might mean and focuses on a few areas of Post-structuralism while offering some answers to commonly asked questions.

Leonie Thomas Post-structuralism Reading



For Reflection

What does ‘critical thinking’ mean to you?


How might your practice be different on account of your engagement with these materials?


Do you have any stories or sayings that keep you connected to ‘critical thinking’?



Please now respond to these questions in the forum below! Please include where you are writing from (City and Country). Thanks!

This Post Has 97 Comments

  1. To me, critical thinking is means leaving my own bias at the door, and being fully engaged with the person in front of me. It is taking seriously what client is saying without judgement and finding ways to assist them that is real for them, and does not compare them to others.

    I think these materials have reminded me about the importance about poststructuralism on therapy and the impact it has had on the way people interact with each other today – especially social and community groups. Individual choice is so important and is to be valued by others.

    I was having a conversation about assisted dying with a young person just yesterday – and we were thrashing out the debate from various “sides”. The one thing that kept coming up was around allowing individuals to choose, and not have a choice thrust upon them, for example, to save the government money. Critical and respectful thinking is the key to this debate/discussion.

  2. Hello from Cyprus!
    Privileged identities. How to help school aged children explore their privileged identities? How to help children from privileged as well as oppressed groups see themselves as normal? Do social identities really matter? Who are the advantaged and who the disadvantaged children? How do we teach children that all social identities have positive qualities and that they are not good or bad because of their social identities? Differences matter and so does access to resources and possibilities. Educators job is to avoid suggesting individual blame.

  3. Critical thinking for me, is the dance of awareness between my own ‘stuff”, the client’s own ‘stuff’ and the interactions from external people, events, and structures that influence the therapy and the client. It is a continuous unlearning of beliefs and inner working models that are placed into a container for the clients time of the session.

  4. This is my favourite part of this course so far. As a social work student, I’ve done plenty of reflection on my own privileges and social locations for my study. Yes critical thinking is so vital to our personal and professional development, but what’s the next step? What does critical thinking means to my doing, being and becoming?

    I really likes the concept of transformative learning, which I feel it provides a goal for critical thinking. Here is my favourite quotes on transformative learning: ‘Transformative learning involves experiencing a deep, structural shift in the basic premises of thought, feelings and actions. It is a shift of consciousness that dramatically and irreversibly alters the way of being in the world. Such a shift involves our understanding of ourselves and our locations: our relationships with other humans and with the natural world; our understanding of relations of power in interlocking structures of class, race and gender; our body of awareness, our vision of alternative approaches to living; and our sense of possibilities for social justice and peace and personal joy’ (O’Sullivan, 2003, p.236).

  5. What does ‘critical thinking’ mean to you?

    “Critical thinking” to me means really questioning? It includes addressing where or how your thoughts have come about and what or how culture, time, emotions and community influences impact on me. The quote this section begins with: “Be curious about where our ideas come from and their effects” is a summary that fits with my thinking.
    How might your practice be different on account of your engagement with these materials?

    Being more conscious of my own white privileges when spending time to understand what the client in front of me faces, acknowledging differences and seeking to understand what it is really like in their shoes. Noticing social and cultural injustices impacts on the client, taking it away from them and as a bigger social issue.
    Do you have any stories or sayings that keep you connected to ‘critical thinking’?

    Mary Heath’s personal history aligned with my own, as I am from an Anglo-Australian family, born in the mid 60’s. Her sharing of how her curiosity lead to questioning her upbringing including how she lived in a culture, lacking reflection, a place and time in her culture traditionally known for its prejudiced and ignorance in many levels including white privileged, racism, male dominance and gender heterosexual bias are familiar to me. My childhood concerns of both my dyslexia and processing issues in school and being a Baptist Minister daughter lead to feeling like I do not fit in at home or school (Other siblings straight “a” students). This originally had a huge impact on my belief on a dominant story of “I am dumb” and “I am different”. My point of view is of no value, others know better. The loneliness and difficultly throughout childhood I now see as a great insight to connect with others, as internally I have no idea of their world and what they face daily. Initially my own created culture of “male superiority”, to “obey rather than to question” and selfless desire of” pleasing others” had the biggest influence keeping my own views quietly to myself. When studying Ethic’s 3 years ago, a light went on, beginning with Feminism and Male Privilege, this has changed me forever, it has strengthened my ‘critical thinking’ of basically everything ever since.

  6. What does ‘critical thinking’ mean to you?
    An important part of critical thinking, for me, is trying to take into account my self-knowledge – including knowledge about my background and cultural context – when assessing ideas and data.

    How might your practice be different on account of your engagement with these materials?
    I was particularly moved by Mary Heath’s points about the need to engage respectfully with oneself – to avoid putting oneself down, even in that interminable, internal conversation. So I am now more acutely aware of the need to do this for myself and also to help my clients trea themselves kindly.

    Do you have any stories or sayings that keep you connected to ‘critical thinking’?
    An Roman emporer was shown a painting of people praying to God on a ship in a storm. He was told that these people had miraculously survived the subsequent shipwreck and that this demonstrated the power of the christian God. He asked if, to balance things up, he could also see a painting of the people that had prayed to God but who had not survived the shipwreck.

  7. Caleb Mackey here from the state of Kentucky in the United States of America!
    This has probably been the most challenging topic of the training so far for me. I am a white male in a predominantly white society that’s based off of masculine tradition. I myself don’t realize how privileged I am. I also don’t always understand the struggle of others who aren’t like me because I don’t know what it’s like to be in their shoes. It humbles me to realize how blessed I am but also hurts me to see how so many others struggle trying to achieve the basics of life because they aren’t the same as me. This is one reason I love our profession. One of our goals is to advocate for others who may not be able to speak for themselves. I hope I can use the privilege I’m given in a way that can uplift others and fight for justice on behalf of those who can’t themselves. I also hope, when necessary, I can kindle the flames of hope in others to become self-advocates so they can join us in the struggle for justice!

  8. as I am social work student , I think critical thinking is all about the critical analysis of the problems , which clients bring with them to social workers. moreover ,critical thinking provides the pathway to solve the problems of clients and helps them to find best solutions of the problem. apart from it critical thinking is a skill which covers the all aspects of the problem such as its possibilities and barriers.
    Thank you.

  9. I think critical thinking is a skill with significance breadth of application – at its core is curiosity and staying curious, questioning everything around us and within us. It is difficult to stay in this learning mindset and we continually want to be the expert at so many things, feeling like we finally get it, graduate, but staying in that curious place is what will allow us to help others and grow ourselves. Thank you for the stimulating content.

  10. Hello I am Melissa Johnson from Pensacola Florida. Critical thinking is the evaluation of something with a open mind formed by evidence. Looking beyond what I may be seeing now as we as self reflection. As in this chapter it brought me from my past to my present allowing me to see the growth, thank you and I feel more confident in my work.

  11. I found this chapter very sobering as I reflect on the privilege I experience as a white middle age male from Aotearoa New Zealand. It is easy to kid myself that everyone has the same rights, immunity, benefits, favours as me, but this is not so. I view the world from a privileged lens. I can see from this my life is made easier. Critical thinking for me is about self-reflection, like I am doing now. But more importantly for me it is about being willing to examine my own values, perspective and how power is used in my case. Critical thinking to me is also being willing to look beyond the limitations of my own current understanding and thinking and be open to learn from others.

  12. Writing from London, England. The article on privilege is challenging. I am what is regarded as a “normal” person, i.e. privileged, in each way: male, white, cis-het, able. At the same time I come from a different cultural background, but that’s not visible. I look at people of all hues and shapes in pubs and cafes, as I walk around, and I think hey, this is all cool, we are all cool with each other. But black friends tell me: Mike, that’s how it looks when you are white. You don’t see the issues. You think we are just “all cool”. For us, there is a tension.

    Post structuralism and critical thinking: this sits well with me, because I call myself a Buddhist, and that to me means putting aside fixed ideas of self, dualities, and simple explanations. I cannot reject science – as a diabetic, I am kept alive by it. (A lot of insulin is now bio engineered). It works. But when applied to people, it tempts us to think in rather over simplified ways: you’re either introvert or extrovert, the “big five personality traits”, and so on. It might be a bit more complicated than that. In Buddhism, everything arises in dependence on everything else.

  13. Hi, I’m writing in from Victoria Canada. I found the structuralist/poststructualist article interesting. It struck me very much like the nature/nurture concept and I feel more confident in exploring the topic with less pressure to be right and more of an opportunity to be curious.

  14. I am from the Seattle area in the US. I believe thinking critically is necessary for all of us therapists who work with people, especially the people whose stories may be very different than our own. It is important to hear what they are saying clearly and recognize that they have the most information about themselves and create meaning from what they are sharing and allowing me to be a listener to.

  15. This module had me making many connections to what was going on in my life both past and present.
    Mary Heath’s description of growing up was very similar to my own and reminded me of some stories. I was raised Catholic, and went to Catholic school. The Catholic school was beside the public school and I assumed in my childhood that there were two types of people; The Catholics who were good and going to Heaven, and The Publics who were OK but weren’t. I always felt privileged that I was one who could have an afterlife in paradise as long as I confessed my sins every week. I also knew I was privileged because whereas the “publics” never came to our church or functions, I was able to go to the Public Library all the time!
    When I was about 7 years old, I was playing in a neighbour’s back yard and fell down and skinned my knee quite badly. The neighbour girl, who went to public school, tended to me in the most caring and loving way, very mature for only being around 7 or 8 years old herself. It was then I started having bigger ideas about our identities and what it means to belong to a certain group. Of course my friend was a good person, even a better person that I was! Why wouldn’t she go to heaven? That didn’t seem fair or right and I started questioning religion right then. I still believed in belonging to the religion I was raised in for another 10 years or so until I moved to a bigger town, met even more diverse people, and questioned even more what I had been taught to believe.
    I wonder now that we are teaching more critical thinking and independent learning in schools if this generation of students will come by it more naturally. Like Mary Heath, I grew up in a system that obliged us to obey. I was rewarded for having the “right” answer, so instead of following my own thoughts or conclusions, I aimed to please. It was more comfortable. But I was also good at drawing and painting so was encouraged to pursue art. Once I did the world of critical thinking really opened up to me.
    Teacher’s College has taught me to be reflective and to celebrate diversity and foster inclusiveness. One thing I need to work on though is collaboration and inviting in the help of others to help me realize my assumptions.

    Reading “An invitation to narrative practitioners to address privilege and dominance” reminded me of a few articles I saw in the news lately. When in the example someone was writing about how the very role of social worker and the “profession we are part of has played an extensive role in subjugation, dispossession and marginalization of indigenous people (and people of colour)” I thought immediately of this article I had just read
    How could this possibly happen, and by the very people meant to help?!

    Later on in the example response the person was reflecting about how we may assume that the person seeking counselling wants the same things out of life that we do; or that parenting programs may depict a ‘correct’ way of parenting that fits with a white middle class way of relating. On both my maternity leaves I would go to our Ontario Early Year Centers, a free drop in programs that allowed parents to play and interact with their babies and toddlers, offered free coffee and snacks and lots of ways of stimulating the children along the milestones they were meeting. I did often wonder why most of the people partaking in these free services seemed to be middle class, professional and mostly white, even though my city is 51% non white and has a large population of recent immigrants. Are the centers not reaching others so they know that they are there and available? Are they not making the centers accessible enough for non English speakers? Does what the center offer not appeal or fit with the ways of raising kids other cultures have? How can we address those things?

    When the document asked “If you see a member of your own social grouping replicating dominance, what is your immediate response?” I thought about a Facebook post I saw today from my hometown.

    What is the best way to respond when you hear/witness racist/homophobic/sexist jokes or harassment?

    -Leah, Toronto to Cairo and Back Again

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