The Narrative Metaphor

In this chapter we examine how stories are an important frame through which we make meaning of our lives. In each reading and video provided we invite you to be on the lookout for the multi-stories of people’s lives rather than a single story.

Photo: Shaun Tan: Eric (with permission)


This dot exercise from Jill Freedman and Gene Combs was animated by Will Sherwin to help you visualise the Narrative Therapy concept of ‘multi-storied lives’.


For more from Jill and Gene you can go to

For more from Will Sherwin and Bay Area Narrative Therapy Resource, trainings and radio shows you can go to



Novelist Chimamanda Adichie warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding. In ‘The Danger of a Single Story’ she speaks about how our lives and our cultures are composed of many overlapping stories.



We have included here an extract from Alice Morgan’s influential and highly popular text in which she provides a brief introduction to the narrative metaphor

What is Narrative Therapy – An Easy to Read Introduction | Alice Morgan



In this short extract Michael White’s speaks about the possibilities that the narrative metaphor opened up in his therapeutic work, what attracted him to the narrative metaphor and offers an example of how the narrative metaphor shapes therapeutic conversations.

The narrative metaphor in family therapy | an interview with Michael White


What is the narrative of our lives – and can we influence the way our story is told? Michael White and Barbara Brooks, a memoir writer, join producer Gretchen Miller in conversation on ABC Radio National and online. Michael and Barbara joined Gretchen Miller to talk about the grand narratives of our lives and how much influence we have over the way our story unfolds

The Power of Storytelling


This (draft) Charter proposes a framework for considering storytelling rights. We hope it will spark discussions about the rights of people who have experienced trauma/social suffering in relation to how their stories are told and received.

Narrative Therapy (Draft) Charter of Story-Telling Rights by David Denborough

Article 1  Everyone has the right to define their experiences and problems in their own words and terms.

Article 2  Everyone has the right for their life to be understood in the context of what they have been through and in the context of their relationships with others.

Article 3  Everyone has the right to invite others who are important to them to be involved in the process of reclaiming their life from the effects of trauma.

Article 4 Everyone has the right to be free from having problems caused by trauma and injustice located inside them, internally, as if there is some deficit in them. The person is not the problem, the problem is the problem.

Article 5 Everyone has the right for their responses to trauma to be acknowledged. No one is a passive recipient of trauma. People always respond. People always protest injustice.

Article 6  Everyone has the right to have their skills and knowledges of survival respected, honoured and acknowledged.

Article 7  Everyone has the right to know and experience that what they have learnt through hardship can make a contribution to others in similar situations.



Photo: Shaun Tan: Eric

For Reflection 


How would you describe the narrative metaphor?


What might thinking about stories in this way make possible for you?



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 410 Comments

  1. Hi there – I am a Scottish/Australian (dual-national) living on the NSW Central Coast. I have always been a writer as long as I can remember and I am now a published author/ writer and healer with my own practice. I was so inspired by novelist Chimamanda Adichielt and I saw a way to combine all my modalities into something i truly love – and is of real value to those who need to identify their story – so they can see the additional (positive/healing)stories that run alongside. i write an article on this on my website to support the idea that one story is not the whole story – so not only do we not become defined by our story – but we can find healing parallel to that story –

  2. Hi, I’m Leslie from Winnipeg Manitoba, Canada where today it is -25*C today. I’m a social worker by education and a child and adolescent therapist by job title. I decided to do this course because after many years in the field I’m struggling with a few young adult clients to help them express their stories beyond the trauma’s that they have experienced, and the manners in which those experiences are dictating their present lives.

  3. Hi I am Grace from Malaysia. I am doing a Master of Professional Counseling at Monash University Malaysia, and am particularly attracted to narrative therapy. It is incredibly amazing to see how people’s life can be impacted and altered by storytelling. I am very looking forwards to learning more about the philosophical underpinnings and techniques of narrative therapy. And thanks for making this course available to the public!

  4. I am a student in a Masters of Professional counseling in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (US). I have worked informally for over 25 years as a spiritual counselor for members of my congregation. In my formal studies, I have come to see how people tell the stories of their lives and how, in so many ways they are “thin descriptions.” These thin descriptions are limiting to them. In my practicum experience, I encountered a woman who has been suffering for over 50 years with the effects of trauma she experienced as a child. She is looking for the “one therapy” that will “fix” her. I asked her “What would happen if you are not really broken? If you don’t NEED to be fixed?” That understanding – that the story she has told herself for all these years may be able to be adjusted to validate her rather than change her was so shocking to her, yet yielded a freedom she had not yet experienced.

  5. I’m from South Australia, studying a Master of Social Work, and I found this chapter very inspiring. I believe this will be so powerful working with people as a way of building richness to their descriptions of themselves and others, as well as helping me to not be drawn into summing them up according to their dominant story. I am aware, too, of how often I try to define myself according to one story, trying to work out which one I belong to, rather than seeing I can belong to them all! It’s beautiful to picture the dots and see that we are all so much more rich and complex than the way we often describe ourselves. Thank you for this generous course.

  6. Hello,
    I am a spiritual care practitioner at a hospital in Toronto. Many patients see their illness as the dominant story in their lives and often feel that their illness has taken over their identity. Many of the people I visit with have so many stories to share if given the opportunity to do so and feel listened to. I feel that learning Narrative Therapy will assist in my work to assist others to tap into their inner experiences.

  7. Hi all, I am Ana from South Australia. I work as a School Psychologist and became aware of Narrative Therapy via a colleague at work. Many families and students that I work with hold dominant stories about their child’s disability, which is carried out by the family, school and community. The concept of the single story is strong and multiple stories are often not described. Creating multiple stories for the families and child could be quite powerful to move the story away from one of disability to ability and a different sense of identity about who the child is.

  8. Hello, I am writing from New York where I work as a co-occurring therapist. I am also a photojournalist who practices Photovoice as a way to problem solve within marginalized communities. I believe the clients I work with Will benefit from narrative therapy and assist them in changing the stereotypical narrative they have come to believe that they are addicted and criminals. I am grateful to use this personally as well and look forward to this course. -Arleen

  9. Hello everybody. I am Veronika from Slovak republic. I am working as social counselor and social worker in Counseling centre. Thank you for this free course. For me narrative metaphor means bigger perspective view of client´s life, not just problems. We all are working with data and informations, but institution wants from us diagnosis, cases and evaluation. But narrative methapor is like never ending, working process with client. Its opening bigger space for interview, is as a tool for change, as the center of change. I really like it, because its more free way for clients how to think about their problems. Not pushing them in cognitive understanding. Thanx for this valuable material.

  10. Hi, I am Belinda from Victoria, Australia. For the past 10yrs I have been supporting women & children who are homeless. One thing I love about my job is the diversity of the women I get to work with and the privilege I have of hearing & becoming apart of their stories & journeys. I am always fascinated & intrigued to hear of their experiences, perspectives & interpretations as they are all so unique & individual. The telling of one’s story can be so incredibly powerful not only for the individual but for the listener/s. I am not a therapist but a social worker however as trust & rapport is built with the women, they so openly confide in me, I listen intently always keeping in mind there are many more facets to the story. I like to think I take away something from each woman who speaks to me for I gain so much knowledge & inspiration that motivates me beyond belief. This training really resonates with the work that I do and have no doubt will add further depth & influence in how I respond to the women. So thank you for this opportunity.

  11. Hi there! I’m Nassia from Nicosia, Cyprus. I am a full-time school psychologist and a trainee systemic family therapist. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to do this free online course. Storytelling and the use of metaphors are closely tied. We understand and experience one kind of thing in terms of another, we compare something to something else and I think that this is the essence of metaphors. I guess that the more we use metaphors, the less visible they are in our stories. It would be interesting to me to start paying attention and begin to understand my own metaphors in school settings and train myself to hear my clients’ metaphors and stories. Intersting videos and reading material. Thank you.

    1. How would you describe the narrative metaphor?
      This is my second time going through this course, and I am struck by the idea of narrative metaphor as a way to access strengths; to build multiple pictures of a situation; to play with the information available to a person and to move outside the traditional linear frame into more creative ways of exploring and enriching what we know about ourselves, our families, and our communities.

      What might thinking about stories in this way make possible for you?
      On a personal level, this is always inspiring and it makes me want to review the stories I tell about people in my family or even about myself.
      On a professional level, the use of narrative metaphor could be useful in our “transformation journey”: we are told to transform the organization, but we are not sure how to do that. If we could work with various narratives about our transformation, then perhaps we could achieve some of that “catharsis” in which people are able to be moved and to engage differently with each other, their teams, and their organization.
      I am writing in Paris, France, where I work in HR and as a coach.

  12. Hi Merlissa I too was inspired by Chimamanda Adichielt, telling multiple stories is not only powerful and a great way to learn more about a person’s history and life story it also breaks down stereotypes and encourages deep listening. I agree it is important to create an open mind and single stories are incomplete.

  13. Hi, I am Merlissa from the Netherlands. I came in contact with Narrative Therapy through a placement at a Equine Assisted Therapy program in Australia. The program combines troubled horses and narrative therapy. During my placement, and now as an employee, I don’t have to go in depth with narrative therapy. But I want to know more about it as I think it’s a powerfull tool to help people manage problems in their lifes. For me, creating multiple stories helps to create a more open mind. As Novelist Chimamanda AdichieIt said that single stories do not show everything about a person and they are incomplete, it made me curious about the other stories, what are they and what are their meanings?

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