Documents & Audiences

Narrative practices have a rich history of creating and sharing documents and engaging audiences. Here we look at a number of different ways of doing this!

Image from Shaun Tan’s book – The Red Tree

One of the early defining characteristics of narrative therapy was the creative use of documentation or the written word.

In this video presentation, David Newman describes the ways in which he is using living documents with young people in an inpatient ward.   

Further reading:

Here is an earlier paper by David Newman describing his use of the written work within narrative therapeutic practice: Rescuing the said from the saying of it by David Newman



This paper illustrates how we can use four different categories of document. Examples of each of the following documents are offered and the author also shares some of his experiences, dilemmas and learnings in creating therapeutic documentation.

Letters recording a session

Documents of knowledge and affirmation

News documents &

Documents to contribute to rites of passage

Using Therapeutic Documents Hugh Fox 



Ncazelo Nucbe-Mlilo is a Zimbabwean psychologist and narrative therapist living and working in South Africa. Here, she introduces the ‘Narratives in the suitcase’ project which seeks to use journey metaphors and creative documentation to assist child refugees.

This work is inspired by the work of Glynis Clacherty and The Suitcase Project (see link below). It also draws upon ideas from Sherri Osborn.




In this paper we read responses to the following 8 questions.

1. What is meant by the term outsider witness?

2. Why is it important for there to be witnesses to preferred stories?

3. What is the history of these ideas and ways of working?

4. What are definitional ceremonies?

5. What sort of responses do outsider witnesses make?

6. What are some of the common hazards of outsider-witness practice and how can these be avoided? Do you have any helpful hints about these?

7. What are the different contexts in which outsider-witness work takes place?

8. What do you enjoy most about outsider-witness practices?

Marilyn O’Neill, Hugh Fox, Gaye Stockell, Anne Schober, Jeff Zimmerman, Emily Sued & Dirk Kotzé all provided material which Maggie Carey, Shona Russell compiled and which David Denborough’s editing and writing brought together in the following article.

Outsider Witness Practices Paper 




For Reflection


What forms of documentation might be most relevant or resonant in your context?


Are there particular ideas or practices you found within these materials you might draw on in your future meetings with people?



Have any of these questions got you hooked? Have you got another question you would like to pose to those joining you in this online learning? Please let us know below! Please include where you are writing from (City and Country). Thanks!

This Post Has 177 Comments

  1. Hello,
    This is Jocelyn from Paris, France. I’ll come back to the first question about documentation, but I wanted to share an “aha!” moment I had about practices, and especially the suitcase project. As part of an adult education program at my church, I sometimes lead a facilitated conversation between two parishioners, with other interested members of the parish observing and free to ask questions. My format has always been, where do you come from with your faith journey? Where are you today? And where do you think the journey is going? This is of course similar to the suitcase format. But what I suddenly understood as I listened to Ncazelo Ncube is why the speakers find my process so rich: these are generally socially comfortable people, so they are not visibly like the vulnerable children. But they find themselves giving form to their stories, holding them up to share, taking public ownership of them. Sometimes they learn something they had not yet realized. So here I have discovered something about the power that lies below the surface of my simple process.

  2. Hello!
    Thank you so much for this course!
    This is Shirin from Cleveland, US and I am so fascinated by the outside witness experience. It feels so interesting to see the power of having someone witness, then discuss what they noticed about the clients story, & then how they were transformed by hearing it. I think it may often be a barrier in non-profit settings to organize, but if it could be implemented I could see just how beneficial that could be in so many peoples experiences.

  3. Hi, I am Ana from South Australia and I am thoroughly enjoying this course. Thank you for the opportunity of this learning. This chapter is very relevant to my work as a Psychologist in schools, particularly with children who often find it difficult to describe their story. As voiced by David Newman, to use to language of others is so pertinent, almost a revelation for me, when thinking about my practice in the future and how I can adjust gathering a child’s story.

  4. Hello, it’s Nassia from Cyprus. Well, this is a very interesting unit / chapter of the free narrative therapy practice course. Outsider witnesses vs reflecting teams, community members vs groups of professionals. The idea of outsider witnesses, as a therapy practice, was developed as a means of helping people see and bear witness to their own worth, as a means for an alternative story to emerge. The difference between the reflecting groups and the outsider witnesses is that the non-professionals do not provide expert advice, they do not make interpretations; they listen and reflect on people’s stories as these stories become richer.
    Plenty of research articles on the topic to explore. So much reading to do!! I am not sure how this practice would be applicable in a school setting, though.I need to think and reflect on it more. Thank you.

  5. Many of my clients deal with anxiety’s influence in their lives and get stuck in negative self-talk loops. I love the idea of keeping a small reminder written in their own words on hand to interrupt that negative cycle.

  6. I have used documentation in equine therapy on containers with different horse feeds that were marked by the person to represent either issues they felt were preventing them doing what they wanted, or dreams that they had. The horse was given the name by them that represented something in their lives that were important or just present in their lives. The horse ate from a particular container and the person themselves was able to identify why there was a particular roadblock that was preventing them achieving what they wanted. This of course led to further work on how they might dismantle the ‘roadblock’ and gradually move forward.

  7. The forms of documentaion most relevant in my context are emails and letters. I have also used text messages with certain people. What I really enjoyed in this chapter were the various ways people document: I was particularly taken by the suitcase metaphor and practical application of this. Treasure boxes are also a way to support clients in thickening their story. I also found David Newman very helpful in breaking down ideas that are documented. I will certainly be using these ideas in my practice. Having been an outsider witness, I found that experience a really positive one. I am yet to facilitate a session, but absolutely loved the experience of particpating and watching the session unfold. The joy on the client’s face at the end of the session was truly wonderful!

  8. I love the ideas of different types of documentation. In my work within a children’s hospital, the ways of documentation could be so creative and fun (such as drawing and colouring). After all, the document is for the benefit of those who attend therapy. They are the ones who most need to know what it is that we have talked about.

  9. For me, I feel I using outsider witnesses would be particularly helpful for young women escaping domestic violence. I work with a young person who has recently left an abusive relationship and finds parts of her feeling empowered, and other parts wanting to be his friend because she feels the history and loyalty are keeping her there. Using outsider witnesses with other young people who have experienced violence may be helpful in developing alternative stories to what loyalty could mean for the young person.

    I also really love using celebrations/ rites of passage, using certificates to show clients who have been through a program the knowledge they have acquired about themselves and validating this experience through a hand held document I find helps people feel a sens of accomplishment

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