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 602 Comments

  1. tomsu

    I like the idea that the Narrative approach sees the client as the expert on their own stories and how the therapist takes a position of curiosity and of asking questions to which they really don’t know the answer. Working towards richer descriptions of a person’s story helps them to explore new preferred narratives. The metaphor of the different roads the client can explore is powerful. I’m from Mosselbay in South Africa

  2. Rhian Holmes

    The article about the power of story telling made me feel very excited about undertaking the Narrative Therapy course. The stories we tell about ourselves have a huge impact on our beliefs and perceptions of events, and changing those stories or providing alternative stories can change those beliefs and perceptions. We can all feel stuck, without realising we carry certain stories around with us. Narrative therapy seems to foster change and widen horizons.
    Rhian Holmes, Wales, UK

  3. Sara

    I enrolled in this course to expand my knowledge about narrative theory and practice. I work in a the disability sector and of my roles is family counselling and listen to the person with disabilities, families and therapist and try to connect the dots. I think this course will help me significantly in my field

  4. Shannon

    Chimamanda’s talk about the importance of not restricting people to a singular story has resonated deeply with me. I work with young people from a range of diverse cultural backgrounds in Western Sydney, and I find that their processes of navigating individual and collective identity so often engages with stereotypes that they are committed to working against. Today’s lesson has encouraged me to renegotiate how I engage with young people from these communities, especially in navigating between the two worlds they inhabit, their strengths, and how these strength-based realities can become thicker descriptions of their lives. From my experience in working with these groups, singular stories are very often told about them, yet there is so much resilience and fortitude present within these individuals and communities. The narrative metaphor is a tool that can be used to draw these precious treasures out – thank you for this content!

    Shannon from Sydney, Australia

  5. Rodrigo Gonzalez

    The Narrative approach to working with people and their stories is the most respectful in every extension of the word, the idea that each one of us has the right to claim, tell, and re tell our own stories on our particular way, is both a very genuine way of engaging with peoples lives, and also a very empowering idea for any one that has felt unheard.

  6. Tammy Smith

    I am very excited to study narrative practices more in-depth in this community with other like-minded folks who treasure the healing potential of recognizing the importance of the stories we tell ourselves and others. I am inspired by the notion that one of the premises of narrative practice includes empowering others to recognize that they are experts on their life stories. Stories are temporal as well as thematic. Narrative practice encourages us to explore the meanings of the way we interpret ourselves and others. It is also important that we don’t overlook the broader cultural implications of storytelling. The use of a single story can be dehumanizing.

    I am a licensee clinical social worker in the New York Area of the United States of America.

  7. EdaUtku

    I liked the metaphor of a tapestry and how connecting the dots between many events in a person’s life gives us a more realistic picture than just one thread or dominant narrative.

    I enjoyed Novelist Chimamanda Adichie reflections on how having many stories gives us a balanced and fairer picture. This made me think that we need to hear more voices in our society to realise harmony.

    I resonate with the problem being the problem and that people aren’t the problem. As a writer, I seek out personal stories and hope that writing them down and having others write down and reflect will help us empathise and expand our narratives to weave a more harmonious society here in Australia, my chosen homeland. I am Turkish-American but though not yet an Australian citizen, call myself Australian.

    Eda Utku, Sydney, Australia (via Istanbul, Izmir, DC)

  8. Gamze Geray

    It is very exciting to start this unbelievable well-prepared course with rich learning materials. I have an advanced diploma in clinical hypnotherapy and psychotherapy with counselling. I am a writer too, deeply engaged in literature. It is refreshing to discover multiple perspectives in multiple stories. Narrative has always a powerful connection to human psychology. Mutual understanding, a broader perspective in life, compassion and empathy can prevent dangers of a single story. Listening to the Novelist Chimamanda Adichie reminded me about the importance of re-authoring our own stories and helping others to notice similar perspectives.
    Gamze Geray/ Dubai United Arab Emirates

  9. Zeinab

    I would describe narrative metaphor as giving meaning to parts of a person’s life that are missing in a problem saturated story that would, in other words, lead to the development of an enriched alternative story.
    Thinking of stories in this way will open up possibilities of different conversations that centre all the events in a person’s life and not just the ones that reinforce the dominant problem saturated story. Furthermore, the client is central to meaning-making in narrative practice and as a therapist am only playing a guiding and supporting role in their journey.
    Melbourne, Australia.

  10. Shonelle

    Thank you for the introduction into narrative therapy. In reflecting the idea of stories being ‘squeezed out’ was of interest to me in thinking about how some of the people I work with view themselves and the stories about themselves they may have lost along the way. I have found it useful to think about ways to remain curious about alternative stories in people’s lives.
    Shonelle central Victoria

  11. Sarah

    Narrative practice allows us to tell our story and find ways to make meaning and sense of our story. These stories shape us as a person and makes us who we are, even the stories that may not be true or helpful. By re-authoring our story we can find a new dot to connect to our main plot that we follow all our lives.

  12. jackie.turner

    Narrative therapy is a way for people to explore and communicate their stories. To question and re-evaluate themes to deepen and add detail to their stories and maybe shift the focus or meaning of the story for them and so the story may be re-storied.
    I feel it is a helpful tool for enabling clients to forge a better understanding of themselves and help with low self-esteem. It also offers a sense that stories and plots can change course and that by understanding our stories better can enable us to feel more in control of our selves and our lives.

    Listening to Micheal White talk about thin stories and how to make them into thicker or more detailed and complex stories really struck a chord with me. It made me think that sometimes living with the thin plot can be tiring and that it can take a lot of energy and bravery to be able to explore a plot or theme to expand it and alter the context in which we see it.
    For me personally I can see how with certain aspects of my own story this has been the case and how new experiences throughout life can continue to act as reinforcement of seeing a story in a certain way.
    By re storying it can open up new possibilities and perspectives.

  13. Natalie Poole

    This is great so far, thank you. I can see the idea of multiple narratives is going to support one of my own inquiries on ‘truth’ – and does it even exist?!

  14. Diana Tan

    Often people draw from their own problem-saturated stories and then align with the scripts that may contain signs of weaknesses, disabilities, dysfunctions or inadequacies (Morgan, 2000). These so-called “thin conclusions” may be the bane of psychological issues such as low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety. Re-authoring stories with more “richly description” scripts can provide that impetus to be freed from the influence of problematic stories.

  15. Prillycat

    I found the lovely lady talk absolutely fascinating.

  16. Kim Leebody

    Narrative practice is a way of enabling people whom we meet to tell their story, the practice involves acknowledging the story that they bring, but using curiosity and wonder; supporting the person or persons to talk about other perspectives and additional ideas. Deconstructing the problem gives us an opportunity to look for new meaning and this process can support the re-storying or finding alternatives to the dominant ideas. When a dominant story is given multiple meanings, it frees the person from their fixed beliefs and opens up a world of possibilities.

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