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 540 Comments

  1. Robyn

    The narrative metaphor invites us to examine our natural tendency to story and make meaning of our lives, events and experiences. It equalises the therapeutic relationship and places the person at the centre as expert, with the counsellor a compassionate and curious co-explorer. I feel that our stories are often self-authored ‘on the run’, re-actively, unconsciously, or absorbed and internalised over-time from our families and other contexts. Exploring alternative interpretations and stories, and developing thicker, richer and more layered interpretations can be empowering and liberating. I find the prospect of facilitating clients in this compassionate creativity, or re-creativity, is truly exciting and inspiring.
    Robyn, Gold Coast

  2. dokgregory@yahoo.com

    Hello. I am Erik from Boston, MA, USA. I am very much enjoying this online program. When you think about it, everything is story. Human beings are story-telling creatures and it is through these narratives that we come to understand the world around us; who we are; how we are; what we value; and how we support or denigrate the well-being of others.

    I find that when someone comes to see me in private practice, it is often because of a story that is broken or no-longer working for that person. In part, our work is to re-story a narrative.

  3. kpostel@gmail.com

    I work in hospice, grief, and loss as a social worker/counselor. The power of storytelling, both to make sense of our grief and to find meaning and a way through, is foundational to being human. Narrative therapy in this way makes room for the re-storying of our losses. It makes room for the re-storying of death, even. When we can find an alternative story within facing death, that is so hugely powerful and transformational.

  4. enotman

    I’m Emma, from Melbourne, Australia.
    To me the narrative metaphor is about helping people find meaning through the stories of various experiences in their lives. It is looking at the whole person, rather than the small part of their life the person is openly sharing.
    As a teacher, we are often privileged with students or families wanting to share stories with us. I need to take the time to really listen to these stories and ask genuine questions. If we look past the thin descriptions and thin conclusions presented to us and listen to and question the young person with genuine curiosity, then we as teachers and the young person can be introduced to different possibilities and hope.
    I found Chimamanda Adichie talk very powerful. We are often provided with a negative narrative for minority groups and need to question those narratives which are often presented in the news, books, etc. I think this is becoming more clear as various international movements over the past few years have rejected the single story previously presented.

  5. Jennifer BY

    Hi I’m jennifer from Toronto.
    I really appreciated the dot exercise. It challenged me to think outside the usual box we think inside. I also was encouraged by the TED talk as we must not always rely on single stories.

  6. Jacob

    I really loved learning about the 7 articles, especially because they’ve given language to some things that I do in my own practice. I found Article 6 “Everyone has the right to have their skills and knowledge of survival respected, honored and acknowledged.” to be the most profound as I have often had conversations with my colleagues about the ways that we develop survival skills and how to allow clients the space to recognize the skills that they have learned and then assign them as functional or dysfunctional and either embracing them or doing work to unwind them from the rest of their lives.

  7. Samantha Wynter

    Samantha W Toronto Ontario

    I learned about the idea of Narrative practice through my partner who is learning different modalities. The main idea that has resonated in this chapter is that everyone has a story that is told relating to an experience and that story is comprised of a themes that accrue over time. Each story cannot express all experiences and through this modality we can bring attention to many other experiences that may not fit the theme, or make sense. This creates a way for individuals to add more experiences to their story so the single- story narrative can be challenged.

  8. Glauce

    I`m a Brazilian psychologist, currently working as educator and counsellor in Adelaide, Australia. Chimamanda Adichie TED talk is one of the most inspiring I`ve ever watched. Acknowledging the existence of multi-stories of people`s lives seems to me the most effective way of fighting stigma, stereotyping and prejudice, in both our personal lives and professional practice.

  9. Alana Lewis

    Alana Lewis from San Diego, CA.

    What I liked about the Dot Exercise video is the visual it gave. It showed me how there could be multiple threads that tell a story, but when you connect to other dots, there are many threads. From an existential standpoint, it made me see that reality can be viewed as a tapestry, the full story of who you are is a blanket, not just a thread. It is made up of many points of view that you hold but maybe also the stories and threads other people hold of you. But you get the best sense of what you are by standing back and seeing the whole thing in perspective.

    I also appreciated the viewpoint of Chimamanda Adichie in her TED talk video, given what is happening in terms of civil rights currently in my country. It is important that we don’t get a single story about race and minority experiences. I hope this story will help me as a white social worker, to be better for my clients who experience racism.

  10. Shelly

    Hi I’m Shelly from Adelaide
    I loved the dot diagram as a visual tool. I think the thin line can tangle itself into a ball of stuck. This approach is expansive, creative, empowering and liberating. It can’t be unseen. This is a great introduction to Narrative therapy. Thank you. I thought the charter was powerful because it acknowledges the strength required to survive trauma and is clear that people respond and protest. These are important stories to explore.
    As I have just dipped my toe in the Narrative Therapy lake, I think I will be on the look out for thin lines and alternative threads to enquire about.

  11. Julie

    Hi Julie from regional Victoria,
    For me narrative metaphor provides a reminder and a way to see a person beyond just a presenting problem, it invites curiosity and the asking of questions to explore beyond one problematic issue. This provides the opportunity to focus on building connections and contextualising experiences and people, whereas before I have looked at situations devoid of their context which can lead to a narrow or ‘thin’ understanding of a story. I am most excited about the richness that this approach can bring to my work and the appreciation of diversity and complexity that it allows.

  12. Anita

    Hi this is Anita from Singapore. This was such a powerful introduction to Narrative therapy. The Narrative metaphor is in a sense listening with the “third ear” for the stories that are untold and forgotten, that need to be brought out and nourished into a rich capsule of the client’s resources and strengths that empower them to make new stories, and meanings of old and new experiences.
    As a Solution Focused practioner I can see how the two approaches are aligned In their shared belief of their client’s abilities. Trying to understand client’s stories will change the nature of the conversation and help the therapist to co-create the preferred future that is rich in detail, purpose and meaning.

  13. sjwalker

    Wow, this was a big start for me. I am a teacher, not a social worker or therapist. I spend a great deal of time getting to know students, the changing social structures within the school and the social dynamics of the youths that I work with both as a community and individually. In my position I think that the narrative metaphor is a practice that would allow students to discuss their concerns or hardships more openly, without fear of negative impact. It highlights the importance of the story we tell of ourselves and the power it can weld. Chimamanda Adichie expresses how dangerous and misleading a single story can be, one that youths are so very good at telling themselves. This practice allows opportunities to gather more information, build new meaning and then consider renewed pathways that young people can take ownership and control of for themselves.

    To be able to think about stories in this way, opens opportunities to develop strong positive relationships with the students, as it creates authentic communication allows empathy and compassion to develop and builds trust with the students, which can be a critical factor in assisting them on their journey. There is a focus on positive education or strength based learning in my school and this would link into these focuses as the narrative would allow students to acknowledge when they have operated at their best, shown strengths such as perseverance or overcome different levels of adversity. I feel that this practice has the potential to celebrate our youth, acknowledge their struggles, seek justice (a high priority with the age group I work with), and look to the future in a positive way. – This is my comment from starting the course back in 2018. Going over the first chapter again I would also add that the examples of dots really resonated with me as people all too easily select points in their lives that support the narrative they are letting themselves. They forget that there are many other points in their lives that are valid and meaningful and that can change their whole perspective.

  14. jguest

    Our lives are made up of many stories that make us who we are. I was particularly enchanted by Chimamanda Adichie’s comment, “when we reject the idea that there is a single story, when we realize that there is never a single story… we regain a kind of paradise.” A multi-stranded story reminds us of what is true and who we are. We are not defined by a particular set of circumstances or by the one traumatic experience that occurred. Others often decide to write our stories for us but it is only we ourselves that can determine them. This gives us agency to determine a new way forward.

  15. Louise

    I find the Narrative Metaphor is a way of listening to other areas of the ‘story’ that has/is taking place and allowing it to make more of an appearance in the ‘factual storyline’ that is being presented. There are other angles, other ways that the person is viewed, skills and resources they have developed which can be emphasised and ‘shine a light on’ to allow investigation and discussion from a curiosity starting point to allow growth and understanding.

  16. Rebecca

    Hi I’m Rebecca from Singapore.

    I’ve always been interesting in life story interview technique when I was a social work student. To me the Narrative Metaphor is about recognising and accepting that a person life is multi-storied, in his or her own context e.g. culture, socio-economic background. I especially find that “curiosity” is of great importance but often overlooked in our life, in education, learning, creativity.

    Thinking about stories in this way has affected me this past week as I questioned my own ethnicity. I’m a Chinese but never truly felt like one because of the strong western culture media influence. These past few days, I’ve been asking myself, “Why do I seem to prefer western educators, western stories more so than asian ones?” even to the extent of thinking that they are better than the latter. Is it truly that they’re better or perhaps I’ve been to stuck in ONE story? I wish to listen to an alternative story now, the story of Asia, or perhaps start with Southeast Asia.

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