In this chapter we provide materials that briefly outline some of the important histories that continue to inform and shape narrative practices today. You will be introduced to co-founders Michael White and David Epston as well as other influential people who contributed to the development of narrative practices. We will also name some of the key practices Michael White developed over his lifetime and some of the main authors he drew upon.




In this article Cheryl White explores a history between co-founders of narrative practice Michael White and David Epston. This history features a spirit of adventure, a particular quality of partnership and a way of collaborating that influenced the development of narrative practice

Where did it all begin? | Cheryl White


Picture: Michael White & David Epston


Michael White was one of the co-founders and co-directors of Dulwich Centre and worked here from the day it opened in 1983 until his death in 2008. This extract aims to assist you in gaining a sense of the processes Michael White engaged in originating narrative practices and we invite you to consider how some of his legacies might be significant to you and your future practice.

Legacies of Michael White | David Denborough


David Epston, co-founder of narrative therapy, is widely respected for his innovative and creative work.He has introduced to the field of family therapy a range of alternative approaches including the use of leagues, archives and co-research.David lives in Auckland, New Zealand, where this conversation took place. Here in this small extract we learn about the term co-research, which he coined in the late 1970’s.

Anthropology, archives, co-research and narrative therapy | an interview with David Epston


For David Epston’s website you can visit: Narrative Approaches


In this extract we read about co-founder Michael White’s thoughts on the range of influences he drew on in the development of narrative practices

‘Family Therapy: Exploring the fields past, present and possible futures’ | An interview with Michael White

As mentioned in the readings above, Aboriginal Australian practitioners have significantly influenced the development of narrative practices. Aunty Barabara Wingard describes narrative practice as “Telling our stories in ways that make us stronger”. She also speaks about ways of listening “to people’s stories to put them more in touch with their own healing ways”. You can read more about her work here:

Aunty Barbara Wingard | Telling our Stories in ways that make us Stronger

barbara wingard

“And what of solidarity? I am thinking of a solidarity that is constructed by therapists who refuse to draw a sharp distinction between their lives and the lives of others, who refuse to marginalize those persons who seek help, by therapists who are constantly confronting the fact that if faced with the circumstances such that provide the context of troubles of others, they just might not be doing nearly as well themselves”

– Michael White

One of the important ideas that informed narrative practices from very early on was this sense of ‘solidarity’. Here  is a small excerpt from the epilogue of the book ‘Continuing the Conversations’ that illustrates how this influenced Michael White’s practice.

Continuing the Conversations | Cheryl White



For reflection… 

Which particular ideas or stories intrigued you?


Why do you think these things stood out to you?


What from these histories would you like to take with you into your future practice in some way?



Please now share your thoughts & reflections below and then continue to the next chapter! Please include where you are writing from (City and Country). Thanks! 


This Post Has 102 Comments

  1. I really enjoyed reading the interview with David Epston where he explains the concept of the ethnographic imagination.
    He describes this form of inquiry within therapy so succinctly as being “whereby you seek their versions of how they go about the living of their lives”.

  2. Hello!
    Shirin from Cleveland in the US again here.

    The story of Michael & Sam brought such a huge smile to my face! I have worked with people experiencing psychosis & have seen time & time again professionals at every level of care dismissing them, ignoring their input & even denigrating them. Offering the opportunity for genuine equality I feel sets upon the framework for such a relationship that could otherwise not be achieved, & how much more successful the work may be at that point is phenomenal!

  3. Hi from Cyprus!
    Our personal stories and how they change as we grow older. The meaning – making of our stories and how this meaning differs throughout our life cycle. I can see potential in adulthood or with clients of older age. Diffiucult to use with small children in school settings eg traumatised or abused children how to externalise trauma and incorporate it into their stories? Surely more reading needs to be done and obviously research and case studies to be reviewed.

  4. I felt very inspired by Sam dialogue. It is often seen as unprofessional In many contexts to ask the client what they think is the right answer, as we in the healthcare system are deemed the ‘experts’. the way I saw the conversation between Sam and Michael was person -centred, and drew off Sam’s strengths without an explicit verbalisation needed.

  5. Caleb Mackey from Kentucky in the United States of America!
    I really like reading the personal stories of Epston and White! I personally enjoyed the family therapy viewpoints of Epston because I too believe relationships are one of, if not the most, important aspect to an individuals health. I also enjoyed the reading of telling our stories in ways that make us stronger. I loved the externalization of grief which is another way of how one can relate to grief without being overwhelmed internally. I also agree that history is really important because it’s one of the only ways we can best prepare ourselves in the present and for the future. We also know who we are by where we’ve come from!

  6. What really stood out to me was in the article “An interview with Michael White” when he said ” There is always something else to discover”. yes he is correct though we all may think we know it all or we know the right way, we have to remember its okay to ask for help when it is necessary it is okay we are not perfect we are all human and in one way or another can relate to some or many of what clients speak of. We have to be able to have a proper understanding of people’s problems, so we can give them the best solution. Our world keeps changing therefore our education and training will always need to be refreshed, so we are able to help our clients to the best of our abilities.

  7. What really stood out to me in this module was the idea that our background is just as important as our present. Michael White spent a lot of time reading for growth and what stood out to me was his interest in furthering his practice my videotaping his sessions. This allowed for reassessment. It is crucial that as we learn, we take time to reassess our values, practices, and impact we have on particular clients.
    It is important to take into consideration the people we are working with. Noting cultural differences and understanding our own biases is important when putting clients first. We can work to accomplish best practices in narrative therapy by making stronger connections with our client’s history.

  8. Hello, from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. I so appreciated the creativity and beauty of the conversations with Auntie Barb and that Michael White had with Sam. They were real, moving conversations, felt anything but clinical, and yet were so important. The encouragement to be creative is something I appreciate about Narrative Therapy.

  9. The story of Michael and Sam really stood out to me. This example shows the influence of Foucault regarding power and knowledge and normalizing judgement. In asking the question “what do you think I should do?” it gives Sam the chance to share knowledge and be supportive. This inverts the power role of the therapist and is inherently political. As well, Barb Wingard speaks to a community and cultural understanding that fosters equality and understanding. In her article she talks about a meeting with a young man, Murray Bridge. She uses the language of “talking together under the trees” in lieu of counselling. In her worse, this created comfort and an atmosphere of sharing. There is something political in sharing in this way, especially when done with an understanding of broader social issues.
    I very much appreciated the articles that were shared in this lesson!

    Justin S
    Lekwungen and W̱SÁNEĆ territories
    Victoria, Canada

  10. This chapter really highlighted for me the gratitude I feel when working in this field. I love collaborating with clients and taking as much learning from our interactions as they do. This work is synergistic and the stories of competence for clients are also true for the therapist.

  11. Hello from Leanne in Calgary, Canada.


    I really enjoyed each of the “articles” in this module. I was particularly intrigued to learn that Michael White and David Epston had worked with/had been influenced by Karl Tomm from my home city. Up until reading this information, I had not heard of Karl Tomm. I “did the Google” and found his office is not far from my home; I also recognized some of his staff as instructors in the Master’s of Social Work program at the University of Calgary (from where I graduated in 2012 with a BSW.)

    I was also reminded of my experiences in working with Aboriginal individuals on a reserve west of Calgary when I was the Program Coordinator of Victim Services with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. There were some aboriginal officers in our detachment who suggested different ways of communicating with individuals on the reserve who had been impacted by crime. These suggestions were very simple but made a huge difference in the number of people with whom we were able to connect and to whom we could provide services.

    I was also reminded of my role as a “Family Coach” with an organization here in Calgary which works with women and their children who want to leave the sex trade. Listening to each of these women’s histories was part of our services and provided great insight to me with respect to how these women survived.


    I believe these things stood out to me because I always have (and hope I always will) consider it to be privilege to be invited into people’s lives at which is typically a very low point. I learned very quickly, as I listened to their stories, that while I personally may not have been responsible for the circumstances which led women to become involved in the sex trade, it is almost certain that some of my British ancestors were responsible for the policies or the lack of services which caused women to sell their bodies to feed themselves and their children.


    I feel very fortunate that in my current role (as a social worker with the Alzheimer Society of Calgary,) listening to and recording family histories is part of my job. I want to continue to make the time to listen to each client’s history and work to find and explore the “threads” of clients’ pasts which may have brought them to their present place.

  12. What stood out to me most while exploring this module is the idea of collaboration and collegian sharing. The very fact that I am taking this course for free to better inform my practice shows that the founders of Narrative Therapy are practicing what they preach.
    “The practice of teaching was not separate from the originating. Michael was also learning when he was teaching”. The ideas of sharing, reflecting, reviewing to generate new ideas, to build upon ideas, to connect ideas and to hold one’s self accountable is how I strive to inform my practice when I teach Positive Discipline and in my small group adolescent counselling. I am constantly learning from all those around me, there is not hierarchy. And, like my students, I also learn best when I practice. Teacher AND Learner is in my instagram bio 😉 maybe a better phrasing would be Learner AS teacher.
    When I work with students, I also think of myself as a “co-counselling” with them. I start with the premise that they are the architects of their own lives, the experts of what their values are and the goals they have on the way to achieve a life living within those values. I am here to co- research into ways the student can change their relationship with their problem and practice accessing their skills and abilities in order to be able dip into their archive of knowledge as they move into their adult lives.
    -Leah, Canadian in Cairo

  13. what particularly intrigued me was the idea surrounding connection between dominant narratives that individuals hold and social/structural aspects. It also reminded me that even the concept of family can be changed with different ideas and cultures affecting us.

    The history shows that as human beings, we are allowed to open to new narratives, not stuck in the current dominant stories. This seems to lead us to social movement seeking justice and human rights.

  14. Hello all, it is Shane again from the Okanagan Valley, in British Columbia Canada;

    The idea that most intrigued me was the emphasis by Epston & White on the importance of maintaining “a sense of adventure” with the work. I found this idea freeing as it seems to give permission for individual practitioners to continue to grow the practice of Narrative Therapy. In addition, I found it comforting as a developing practitioner as it belies the idea that the therapist must know the final destination. For me it was identifying that with each new client, and in fact each client session, we embark on a new adventure of discovery, during which both the client and therapist will experience change.

    For me it will be challenging to maintain this permission to explore, I know I will want to search for definitive answers and structures to achieve these answers. So, moving forward I want to bring into my practice the thrill of curiosity and find ways to encourage clients to see their attendance with therapy as an adventure that has goals but no defined limitations (minus the necessary ethical ones) on how to achieve those goals.

    Thanks for reading,


  15. I love how Michael refuses the dichotomy of omnipotent therapist and helpless client. How often do we have difficult days ourselves – pants falling off or otherwise – where we feel we have to hide our problems? It must be so liberating to be able to ask out clients for help, when appropriate.

  16. Hi Again.
    Cordet, UK. I was most struck by the conversations, both from Barbarah Wingard and with Sam. These conversations for me normalised the notion of narrative ‘therapy’. They took away the ‘difference’ that can make therapy itself seem so mystical – and seemed to provide honest insights into everyday lives and challenges. I was also struck by the learning cycle from the clients that Michael had worked with, and the ways in which the narrative approach seemed historically related to research methods, including anthropology. This took me back to my own research using narrative methods, and the similarities drawn, particularly in how joint analysis can be conducted, which I have recently written about. Again, I am inspired by how it appears that these are ‘informed conversations’, rather than therapy, and how the therapist themselves therefore might be just a ‘normal’ person in how they act with another.

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