John Stillman, USA


There appears to be a growing interest in narrative ideas, which is exciting to me. And I am particularly excited about the innovations I see from practitioners.

I was recently in Vietnam meeting with social workers working with a community living in a garbage dump. I wondered what I could possibly offer that might be of assistance. I kept a mind of curiosity and openness while carrying with me the ideas that Michael White introduced to me. I found myself meeting with a core group of community leaders. The social workers did not have any agenda for me other than wanting to see how I might carry on a conversation with them. I started with a question of what they saw as important about their role and then focused on what made their work successful. In this conversation, the group developed an identity document, something that they can refer to that will keep them focused on their beliefs and values. They spoke of unity, friendship, strength, and many other things.

At the meeting were three other social workers attending the training from a different agency working with homeless youth. I asked one of the social workers what resonated to him about this document. He expressed that it was quite meaningful and that he could see using some of the ideas in his work. With permission, he took the list and will implement these principles in his practice. This appeared to be important to the core leaders, as their history has been such that they have not been counted in Vietnamese society and have no rights without identity documents. The idea that their list could be of use to another appeared to emphasise the importance of what they are doing as a community as well as having something tangible to offer.

The meeting also offered the opportunity to honour the relationship the social workers have with the community. They supported these identity statements as they spoke of the strength of the community. One of the social workers expressed that friendship was important to her work with the community. Another social worker spoke about the abilities of the community that she has witnessed. The relationship between social workers was constructed as well as mutual respect and partnership between them.

The feedback I received from the social workers was that while the community leaders were answering questions, they were resolving existing problems and opening up in ways they have not done so before. I am continually surprised about how well the narrative ideas resonate in so many different contexts.


One development that stands out is in the area of research. I am very excited as more research is being done on narrative ideas and practices. Locally, I am involved in a project that is starting by establishing practice guidelines for narrative therapy and then studying whether these guidelines can both be implemented in practice and gathering preliminary results as to their effectiveness. These guidelines extract seven principles from Michael White’s writing on narrative ideas and their application to working with people who are dealing with the effects of trauma. Emphasis has been placed on the principle level of the ideas rather than focusing solely on practice. The reason for this is that it will help to situate the ideas at principle level and will reduce the risk of narrative ideas being distilled into a set of tools. The hope is that this research will lead to larger studies as the practice guidelines and the fidelity of the practice guidelines are established.

At workshops, people continue to ask how narrative is supported by research, as this is an important criteria for agencies to adopt therapy practices. The hope is that this research and other projects establish a base of support for narrative ideas that will allow agencies to promote these practices.


An additional wish is that narrative ideas do not become a set of tools, but continue to deconstruct themselves, carrying on the philosophy that supports them. There is a real need to continue to develop the ideas both on a philosophical level as well as a practice level. If the developments only occur on a practice level, there is a hazard that narrative will become a set of truth statements, which people will try and replicate. The beauty of the ideas is that they are centred on the statements of the people who are being interviewed, and the ideas are metaphors that help the interviewer ask curious questions. This positioning supports the honouring and respect toward others that for me, is the most important aspect of Michael White’s contribution.

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