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 193 Comments

  1. I was struck by the presentation by Ncazelo Ncube (2013) sharing the suitcase project with those who have been refugees, immigrants and children living on the streets. The process undertaken of making the suitcase, the treasures in the suitcase, carrying the suitcase along, making a banner and certificates. I wonder how this may translate to men and women and youth transitions from the corrections environment (prisons, youth detention) back into community. Generally they leave a corrections facility with a clear plastic garbage bag yet they may have done a lot of work inside as those seeking to rehabilitate may be in the process of getting in touch with their values, skills, things they have learnt along the way, those that are important to them. Many of the questions posed during this process to the children could be adapted to therapeutic sessions with the men, women and youth so that they may create an alternate story and be more prepared for the transition and integration back into society.

  2. Hi, Kalyani again from Wellington. Many of the women who come to me for help prize confidentiality above else, so I foresee difficulties with outsider witness approach. Instead I think, documents affirming of knowledge and affirmation, especially in the handy credit-card type form might be more useful. Anyway, all this has been an eye-opener for me, used I was to thinking that the only way to feel better is to draw on my own reserves of strength and self-esteem.

  3. Hi
    I am a psychotherapist. I live and work in Bern, Switzerland. I work as a therapist with individuals of all ages. I also lead therapy groups for children and adolescent girls. The ideas in this chapter were very inspiring for me. I imagine using documents of acknowledgement, certificates and celebrations with all of my patients. I love the focus on resources, strengths and the own knowledge of the people who consult a therapist, it is a wonderful way to empower, to build self-confidence and self-esteem. I like also the idea of an outside witness. In a certain way, I feel as a therapist sometimes an outside witness, one whose role is to see the person with his/her strengths underneath all the negative believes he/she might have about her/himself, one who mirrors to people what a difference they make to the world and encourages them to acknowledge and explore their strengths. For many patients in my experience it is being seen and acknowledged for who they are and what they bring with them that is eventually healing.

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