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 narrativetherapychicago.com.

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

 


 

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 653 Comments

  1. Eleanor

    Hey, I am a recent mental health and clinical psychology graduate hoping to train as a future clinical psychologist. From this background, I think the concept of the narrative metaphor is fantastic and should be something that is touched on within psychology courses as it provides an example of how impressionable we can be when exposed to a story. This concept can allow us to develop into better practitioners as it can encourage us to look at the bigger picture of stories as oppose to only having one pinpoint to when an affective disorder or thin conclusion originates from. It highlights the complexity of the issues that both ourselves and others experience. I wasn’t aware of this concept before exploring this course but I already feel as if I could apply concepts from this chapter into a professional setting by encouraging others to build a tapestry of stories to help create meaning and ambitions within an individuals life.

  2. Elena

    Hi everyone,
    I am a Master of Social Work student exploring the field of narrative therapy as I acknowledge the importance of allowing clients the space to discuss their experiences. I believe that the narrative metaphor would be a useful approach to incorporate into my practice to assist clients to break from thin conclusions and to thicken their stories. I especially love that this approach can be selected for all target populations, and that it has potential to be effect for young children as well as the elderly.

  3. Kiki

    Hi! I am currently a Master’s candidate in psychotherapy/counselling. I have always been interested in telling stories. I think there’s something so beautiful in assisting someone to tell their stories. I hope to work with clients and allow them the space to tell their stories but to also work in creating thick descriptions to broaden their view of their own story. I’m from Ontario, Canada.

  4. abhikmukherjee88@gmail.com

    Hi, I’m Abhik Mukherjee from Kolkata , India.. i am a counselor and I listen to fascinating stories of people every day. During my session I often see that the client and the family members often create different meanings of the same story which often leads to a conflict.. The single story can be perceived differently by different people. A narrative metaphor can bring a better understanding and help resolve such conflicts as it would help in understanding and exploring the clients stories with a new perspective.

  5. christine@waggingdog.com.au

    HI my name is Chris and I am excited about exploring the metaphor of narrative. because I am also an artist I cant help thinking about those early conversations and story telling with the client as being like making quick sketches of a fleeting glimpse of some ‘otherness’ you start to hear and see in the client. As the alternate story builds and thickens so does the sketch – hopefully into a rich, vibrant portrait that reflects their story

  6. Marie

    Hi Julie.

    My name is Marie. I am from Surrey, BC. Canada. Growing up as a child, I remember how the older people gather the younger children and share stories with us. We did not have television back then, but listening to those stories feels like watching televisions. Storytelling time in my culture fascinates me as there was so much to learn about what happen in people’s lives but also how to cope with challenges. Listening to the older people tell stories about their lives and what they experienced, I learn a few importance tips on how to approach life challenges. Through storytelling people have the opportunity to create meaning to what they experience.
    I am a recent graduate from a counselling program. I would like to learn more about narrative therapy. What amazes me is that two people can have the same experience but each person comes away with different stories. What I am interested to learn about, is how do we/people develop these stories?

  7. Amanda

    Hi I train and support early childhood educators. They have often had a negative view of themselves as a result of not achieving particularly well at school. While on our one year course they often grow considerably in terms of confidence as well as skills because they are able to achieve well, doing what they enjoy. The narrative metaphor would be useful especially in terms of thickening their stories and enabling them to see that they are more than their academic challenges. In addition in recent years I have seen many more students with anxiety even before Covid. It is important for people to reflect on and develop many multi layered stories to enable them to continue to challenge themselves in life

  8. Julie Morgan

    Hi, I’m Julie from the south coast of New South Wales in Australia. I have always been fascinated by the stories that people tell about their lives. I am studying counselling at the moment and want to learn more about narrative therapy. The narrative metaphor highlights that people create meaning from stories they create that are based on some, but not all, of their experiences. A dominant story emerges but it is often “thin” and leads to incomplete meaning being derived. While it is important to listen to this story to understand where the person is now in their lives, the narrative metaphor encourages us to recognise that this story is only part of the picture of a person’s life. We listen for aspects of the person’s life that do not fit with the dominant story and when we identify these, work collaboratively with them to explore and develop these other stories. This leads to the development of multi-stranded stories which adds new perspective and new meaning to their lives.

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