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 395 Comments

  1. Hi, I’m Marta from Melbourne.
    I found the narrative metaphor empowering, people are invited to thicken their stories and look at their own strengths and connections.
    I liked this chart of articles, particularly articles 2,3 and 7. Society tends to individualise experiences and I found these articles as a reminder that people have the right to tell their stories and include others in their healing process, and also make meaning by reaching to others.

    1. I love this idea of each individual having multiple stories. As practitioners, I think we can forget that each individual has a lot to offer. I think we can get stuck into the problem oriented thinking with our client’s if we are not careful.

  2. Hi, I’m Jenny and I work in mental health in Geelong. What impacted me most was the idea that reducing the impression of someone to a previously held narrow view was not giving people and their experiences the respect they deserve. I have always understood that people are much more than the illness they experience, but this has made it so much clearer an more impotant.

  3. Hello,
    I’m Alice. I’m a social worker and domestic violence counsellor in Sydney (currently).
    I love this charter of rights. It’s a beautiful foundation for narrative practice, and something I would consider giving to my clients in certain circumstances.
    I resonated with all of the points…but article 5 really made me reflect on how trauma responses can be reframed as a protest of injustice. I love this reframe, particularly in situations where those trauma responses may be “maladaptive”. This is a beautiful way to look at these behaviours, both as a professional, and with clients.
    Narrative therapy is the main framework I use with clients, and I am constantly blown away by the power that comes in people telling their stories.

  4. Hi. I’m Nina from Adelaide, Australia. One of the things I find attractive about the narrative therapy is the notion that life is a journey, always open to change and possibilities – as such, many paths are taken (or not taken). I really like the idea that people are not the problem, the problem is the problem. For me, this means that people are not stuck on the one path, instead they can make choices about new directions, and can re-author their story. This is powerful. We are not defined by who we are now, but have the possibility of making change, thickening our stories and becoming people we wish to be. This is not a linear process (I loved the dot video – a helpful visual representation) and the multi-storied approach offered by narrative therapy assists people to see their lives as more than a single story.
    For me, narrative conversations offer hope. Regardless of where I find myself, I am more than I realise I am. I am not a single linear being. I exist in a multi-layered and multi-storied context. As a person and a therapist, I can grab this hope and re-author my narrative, and assist others in doing the same. I really value and appreciate this.

  5. Hello
    My name is Boris. I am an educator based in Sydney, Australia. The Narrative Metaphor is a simple but powerful method which places the story-teller at the centre of the action. By allowing space for the emergence of stories outside the thread of the problem narrative the story-teller reclaims the rights to a holistic frame upon which to weave liberating truths. I believe education as a complex system has been constructed from master narratives that constrict the full scope of learning experience. The Narrative Metaphor challenges these dominant models by connecting us to the uncertainty, wonder and the challenges of being human. We are all learners who can only benefit from re-telling our own stories.

  6. The Narrative Metaphor is a powerful tool as it is supporting people to transfer the lived experiences to something new, which can give a whole new concept of life. It opens up new possibilities for the future.
    When we externalise our challenging situations they look different to the way they are felt on the inside. This gives a new perspective and by ‘looking’ at the plot and taking in all the other stories (dots) that is related to the plot, the person begins to see new ways and possibilities.
    I find the ‘Dot Exercise’ is a great illustration of how stories in a person’s life inter-mingle and how everything has an effect on the whole in some way. It is also a helpful picture to have in the back of the mind, when listening to peoples stories.
    This has made me think about the way I listen when I have conversations with people, who tell me about their life. I imagine I will have the Dot illustration popping in and out of my consciousness in those situations.
    The new possibility for me is that I can now ‘see’ a story unfold and along its way I will keep a mental note about the ‘dots’ which can be explored as well in order to bring the bigger picture out.
    I found this chapter very useful, Thank you.

  7. Hi, I’m an SLT from the UK.
    I find the narrative metaphor very empowering as it opens up the possibility of seeing myself in different ways than those I’ve traditionally told myself, as well as the option o freeing others through a different lens. As an SLT, this is a really helpful metaphor for helping clients see themselves and their lives in different ways that may bring them more confidence and hope. I’m looking forward to finding out more about how to use this metaphor practically.

  8. Hi, I’m Catherine and I’m a Clinical Psychologist from Liverpool in England. I find the narrative metaphor very useful to use with clients, and find that many people find the message that they are not a problem empowering. I have found it empowering myself too, when thinking about the narrative I have about myself!
    This chapter makes me feel curious about the origins of someone’s narrative, and how far back and ingrained it can be. For example, someone from a BAME background may have a narrative based on this. Someone who identifies as female might have a perception of themselves based on the narrative around what this means, wherever they are from….and so on. I am particularly interested in how power and privilege operate in peoples’ lives and can affect the experience of distress. I also found myself thinking about the narrative around someone in a team, for example that someone is “difficult to work with”, how this limits the perspective about a person and how they respond, and then how I might thicken other stories held by team members.

  9. Hello, I am Lindy from Australia. Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this program. I am a former counsellor that has more recently been working in biography and life writing practices. Story is present in all that I do, and by extension healing is also present. Narrative metaphor provides an important bridge between writing and therapy. Every story told can be rewritten many ways, and with outcomes that enhance the living experience of being human. I feel a certain AHA moment in the concept of the multi-story. Something I have felt but not able to articulate with such clarity. It is both exciting and helpful to embrace the nuance and layers in story and understand it from this context. Writing personal story is, for me, an essential element of being human, with the power to transform. It’s very exciting to bring these aspects together and see NT bring greater insight to my own writing and what I support others to write.

  10. Hi, I’m Qianwen. I’m a MSW student in Sydney. The Narrative Therapy Charter of Story-Telling Rights part sounds so inspiring. I always believe that the goal of therapy should never be to help people adjust to oppression or injustice. The focus of social context of narrative is absolutely crucial in the therapy.

  11. Hi there – I’m Meghan, a licensed marriage and family therapist in East Tennessee (US). One of my therapeutic specialties is grief and I have found narrative therapy to be a wonderful lens for clients to experience themselves through after a loss. In this first chapter, I most enjoyed the conversation with Barbara Brooks and Michael White, specifically Michael’s view of “catharsis” as transformation rather than purging.

  12. Hello everyone, my name is Caleb!
    I’m pursing an MA in mental health counseling at Asbury Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. I myself am a writer who loves stories. I’m always impacted by stories told by people. Today I get to see clients who tell me stories of how they got where they were and where they’re trying to get. I’ve always been interested in Narrative Therapy and I want to increase my knowledge and education in how to apply it in my life.
    I know one of the hardest struggles I have is falling for the one story trap. I look at someone and I automatically place them in a certain story plot without realizing what’s going on behind the story they’re presenting. I want to continue developing my sense of finding the person in the midst of the story and help them see the parts of the story.
    One thing I thought was really awesome was hearing that justice and healing are connected. Healing is found in justice and justice is found in healing. The latter part of the phrase really struck me. The idea of finding justice in being healed. Reminds me of when a client feels heard, understood, and respected by a counselor. There’s something about the justice in having your story heard and respected. It means you as a person, with your own thoughts and feelings, are valued and honored. I can’t wait to continue learning about Narrative Therapy! Thank you for putting this up for us to watch!

  13. Hi Eileen here, Thank you to the Dulwich Centre for providing this free course. The content is engaging and left me curious for more knowledge. I am a BA student in Creative Writing with minors in behavioural science and human rights. Narrative metaphor made me think about how stories are privileged as an individual, as a community and as families. As a Maori woman I related strongly to the ‘single story’ concept presented by Chimamanda Adichie. It has always been an honour and a privilege to listen to my family and friends stories and so I hope that through this amazing course and my studies I can be a part of someone else’s journey of discovering their own alternative stories. Nga mihi

  14. Hi, my name is Natja
    I am a psychology student from Belarus, Minsk.
    For me narrative therapy is a great possibility of diving into a person`s reality and constructing his life through the dimensions and areas of life he would chose to use and to live in. I see the power of narrative methafor in the everyday life, in my own development as a future therapist.
    I believe in the power of words that make our brain to work in a certain way. Our stories are like affirmations for the future life and our inner emotional state.
    That is an amazing world which we are able to create by ourselves

  15. Hello I’m Francesca from London working as a therapist with children and young people as well as couples and individuals. I found the dot exercise very illuminating- simple and clear. So much of my work seems to be about being with a multiplicity of stories and voices. Children have an endless capacity to tell and retell and reimagine stories. I am delighted to have found this resource.

  16. Hello,
    I am Inna. I’m from Russia. As a family psychologist I’m so interested in Narrative practice. It inspires me.

  17. Hi all, I’m Áine. I’m Irish living in the USA. I’m not a therapist, but have a huge interest and lead workshops in writing for health and self-care. I also work in healthcare communications. I took this course because, as a writing teacher, I feel that we have to be mindful of ethical issues such as past trauma histories and that issue of who owns the story. I love this course and feel lucky to have found it.

  18. Hello Everyone,
    Greetings from Bangalore, Indian. I’m a clinical psychologist and a professor, I have started the mental health and well-being centre at my university and work with youth. Thanks to Dulwich centre to provide this coruse free of cost, I find using the narrative metaphor extremely useful while working with youth. The idea that all of us have multiple storied hidden within us and that once we start acknowledging their presence a whole world of opportunity open up in front of us.
    Looking forward to the future lessons.
    Thanks a ton.

  19. Hi, I’m Riley
    As a new MSW graduate in Canada, I’m inspired by this new perspective of Narrative Therapy. While we learned about this topic in both my bachelor’s and master’s degree, I have not yet heard it described outside of a very traditional, clinical perspective. When I think of this narrative metaphor what first comes to mind is the concept of memories which are a big part of what makes up our stories. I consider that although time is linear, our recollection often is not. We carry various associations and meaning in the form of memories, but often lose others. I feel like in many ways this is indicative of the narrative metaphor. We are pulling meaning from our lives and constantly forming these associations to formulate more meaning as to who we are and what each event means to us. Our memories and interpretations are also incredibly unique and personal.
    i think that considering stories in this way makes it possible to recognize the importance of taking ownership of one’s own story and the inherently limited view of each individual, both of their own story and those of others. It’s a reminder that we ascribe meaning to all experience and often attempt to ascribe meanings to others’ by adding our own stories and conclusions. It’s an interesting perspective on praxis and reflecting on how I, as a therapist, ascribe conclusions and meanings to my clients.

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