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 377 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Don Gunning

    What forms of documentation might be most relevant or resonant in your context?
    I believe a letter or summary of the discussion might be most relevant for me. It would serve both as case note & solid record of the discussion for the client. It would serve as a stimulus for discussion at the next session.

    Are there particular ideas or practices you found within these materials you might draw on in your future meetings with people?
    I believe the letter is the most powerful idea I have seen, I would have some difficulty at present in organising an outsider witness & will have to develop my skills further. A letter is simple, direct & yet can be edited & flexible.

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    Ellie Firns

    Social work student, Adelaide, South Australia
    What forms of documentation might be most relevant or resonant in your context?
    I love the idea of writing a letter. It gives something concrete to come back to, and as always, the essence of a session might stay in some form of ephemeral memory after a session, but a letter will help to anchor it. The living document, what a gift! Providing examples of ways that others have overcome similar difficulties, allows for the client to make their own leaps of insight and possibility.
    Are there particular ideas or practices you found within these materials you might draw on in your future meetings with people?
    Witnessing others telling their stories and having others witness me telling my story has been really beneficial for me. Doing it with such clear therapeutic intent as laid out here is fascinating, it is affirming and a gift to the client and the participants. It allows the speaker to step into a bigger role in their life, both with the other, and for themselves.

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      lara1feinstein@hotmail.com

      Associate Therapist, California.

      What forms of documentation might be most relevant or resonant in your context?
      I work in a residential treatment center for adolescents where I am a counselor primarily assigned to developing coping skills in individual and group sessions. I think it might be useful to have participants of a group write ideas down for coping skills in response to certain obstacles and put the ideas into a hat. The participants could then draw from the hat and find out whether they might find that skill interesting or useful.
       
      Are there particular ideas or practices you found within these materials you might draw on in your future meetings with people?
      I really like the idea of journaling or presenting therapeutic skills in written form, as David Newman described. I do believe that those impacted by trauma, particularly, may have a difficult time expressing feelings via spoken word. I think journaling can be helpful for some clients so that they can clarify their thoughts in a quiet space before presenting them with the therapist, if comfortable. It allows preparation and can be used between sessions to allow the client to develop additional insights.

  3. Avatar

    Manpreet Kaur Mann

    I am a social work student, and I am studying at university of Wollongong NSW Australia.

    What forms of documentation might be most relevant or resonant in your context?
    This is very interesting chapter or step for me. I love it. I am happy to use all type of documents for in my context. However, I will give more preference to use documents of knowledge and affirmation for my context.

    Are there particular ideas or practices you found within these materials you might draw on in your future meetings with people?
    Yes of course, I like the idea of using appropriate and sensitive language with the clients rather than using hash words throughout the session. Also, I like the idea of using documents such as letters recording a session, documents of knowledge and affirmation, news documents, and documents to contribute to rites of passage. These documents are very great to motivate the clients and to help them for externalise the problem from their identity. I will use these ideas and practices in my future meetings with people.

  4. Avatar

    Sami

    My name is Sami and I’m here in a town outside of Kingston, ON, Canada.

    As someone who enjoys reading and writing, this aspect of narrative therapy really resonates with me. Personally I am able to present my thoughts better in a written form over oral, although contrary to what David Newman says, at least sometimes for me I might come across too strong in a written form. Something David said particularly caught my attention – he said the youth in his ward are “heavily pushed around by turmoil, by extreme states.” I have never heard mental health challenges be described like that, and the imagery makes me have compassion on those kids he’s working with. The living documents he spoke of were also wonderful and a great example for us (and especially in the age of Google Docs, something very realistic).

    Q1: What forms of documentation might be most relevant or resonant in your context? In my context providing 6-session brief services, the suitcase activity might not be totally appropriate. The living document example, however, might be, in that perhaps youth would be interested to read how others have struggled or overcome a similar challenge to what is pushing them around.

    Are there particular ideas or practices you found within these materials you might draw on in your future meetings with people? The suitcase activity was particularly compelling, and I would love to replicate it if/when I get the chance.

  5. Avatar

    briannajarv

    Reading through the earlier comments, I read one by Dylan: “As I read thorough the resources, however, and reflected, I was able to identify the use […] of documents such as care plans and safety plans that are given to consumers. This made me consider how useful these documents can be, but also how underutilised they are for the majority of clinicians that I work with.” This really resonates with my in my practice – we rely on these documents as “contracts” that our clients sign and agree to abide by, without ever really considering their meaningful participation or contribution to the development of these plans. As practitioners, we recognise the power of these documents but we don’t really harness this power in any creative or effective ways! I loved the suitcase metaphor – it’s such a versatile way of opening up a conversation about stories and journeys, and inviting people to share what is meaningful to them. It’s a way of trying to understand the person as a whole, and allowing their dominant stories to shift and make room for the alternative stories!

  6. Avatar

    Belinda

    I love the idea of the written documents, in endless ways of creative story sharing and holding as shown in this chapter. David Newman mentioning that people experiencing trauma often have their ‘words’ stolen really struck a chord with me. Documenting a person’s story, allowing them to be not only be the holders of useful skills and knowledges but also can carry it will them. And I’m absolutely in awe of the beauty in Shaun’s Tans’s work!

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    Rebeccah

    Wow! All of them. I work with victim/ survivors of family domestic violence and think the letters would be a good starting place for me. The thought of the outsider witnesses would also work really well I think, but at this stage it is something that I am very daunted by, but could aim for future use.

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    Dylan

    I found this chapter regarding documents to be very interesting and initially thought that this was something that I was not doing in my practice currently. As I read thorough the resources, however, and reflected, I was able to identify the use (albeit minimal and as part of mandatory documentation) of documents such as care plans and safety plans that are given to consumers. This made me consider how useful these documents can be, but also how underutilised they are for the majority of clinicians that I work with. As I develop my practice I am really keen to incorporate documents into my work as I can see how it can be very beneficial. I especially liked what David Newman discussed about his use of living documents within an inpatient setting – this to me echoed the importance of peer work as I see the living documents that have been contributed to by multiple patients as a form of peer support.

  9. Avatar

    Ilona

    I really like the idea of the suitcases as well as using documents. I have some clients who particularly resonate with writing and already write down reflections during sessions. Using documents would be a helpful for them to have something to physical to take away with them from the session. I also use art especially with younger client’s and believe doing suitcases could be a great tool to use in session.

  10. Avatar

    Sian

    I most appreciated the concept of leaving the client with a summarising letter. I work within private practice and have received feedback in the past that when I provide a small note or reminder for a client, this is almost always helpful.
    In this chapter I was reminded of the importance of connection to others and our community, and involving our communities within the therapeutic process. I would like to incorporate this concept more within my practice, perhaps through letters. I would also like to begin my own collection of documents for clients.

  11. Avatar

    TorCG

    I think using letters to record a session would be really useful for working in a school context. Often students will forget what we have talked about in previous session and the use of letters would really assist them in remembering what we had spoken about. I think the letters will resonate with the students I work with who are often not shown the regard and kindness that those letters demonstrate, particularly in some of the examples in Hugh Fox’s article.

    I think the documents of knowledge will be really helpful in my practice particularly as they enhance the safety planning that I often do with students, but in a far more positive and hope-filled manner which draw on individual strengths.

  12. Avatar
    Sammy Sahni

    Sammy Sahni. Hyderabad, India.
    As an Expressive Arts Therapy practitioner, I truly support using art with Documents. Since I plan to work in the social sector, primarily with women and youth. I can see myself using stories, poetry and art. Narratives in a suitcase, something I have worked with in groups and clients. The idea of working with outsider witnesses is something I feel will definitely help while working with younger clients.

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    angelasbell@hotmail.com

    I like the Narratives in the Suitcase. It reminds me of the strategy that I have used for clients that are anxious. I tell them to gather up the anxiety and put it in a box and then close the lid and push it under the bed. It allows time and space to reduce the anxiety and talk about it in due curse.
    The banner and letters are ones that I would encourage my clients to do and later reflect upon them and see how far they have progressed in their journey.

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    Henk Ensing

    I’m interested in creating art as documents. My art explores stances held by different individuals around contemporary social dilemmas. The art aims for social narrative therapy rather than individual therapy as discussed by David, above. His insights have influenced my art.
    You are welcome to see how D&A (Documents and Audiences) has influenced my art here
    https://minimalist-aesthetic.org/what-im-working-on-now/
    However, my stance around D&A questions whether D&A is core to the narrative approach. I see D&A as helpful, even a core element to my social-purpose art practice, yet quite separate from acknowledging legitimacy to the diverse voices and stances to which we choose to subscribe.
    Through the narrative lens, D&A can be seen to be not narrative at all, and this stance can be acknowledged as legitimate. That’s my stance, today.

  15. Avatar

    Carolyn Procter

    What forms of documentation might be most relevant or resonant in your context?
    I like the Narratives in the Suitcase, it reminds me of something similar that I do with Worry boxes for children which are kind of a living document in some ways. They can put their worries into the box, and an adult or counselor or social worker etc can go through with the child and discuss them if the child feels like sharing.

    Are there particular ideas or practices you found within these materials you might draw on in your future meetings with people?
    I do like the idea of a living document or “blog” where clients can create letters to themselves say what has helped them in the past for anyone to read in the future and to learn from.

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