A stair of questions: A scaffolding of the maps of narrative practice

By Geir Lundby, Norway

Loving the idea of making a scaffold of questions to help people to move from the ‘known and familiar’ to ‘what is possible to know’, my students and I found the ‘scaffolding map’ rather tricky and difficult to use in real conversations. Some of us also found it hard to really get a grip of the distance metaphor.

So, we set ourselves the task to see if we could make it a bit simpler for training purposes, by using the existing maps of narrative practice within the scaffolding map. What we ended up with might be called a scaffolding of the maps of narrative practice. Only, it didn’t really look like a scaffold any more – it turned out to look more like a staircase.

What is possible to know

What might stop you from taking them?
What new steps or possibilities in near future?
What about commitments?
some values involved?
What hopes or dreams?
What purpose or intention was behind the step?
Re-authoring               How did you prepare yourself?
Tell me story to help me understand?
Re-membering      Who would be surprised/not surprised?
Justify the evaluation
Evaluate the effects
Mapping the effects on life and relationships
Naming the event (specific, experience-near)
Positive, negative, or a bit of both
Event, initiative, or a step

What’s already known

This staircase is an image of the basic structure of all narrative practice, whether we work with something problematic, painful or effects of trauma, or we talk about something preferred that people experience as good or positive in their lives.

If it is a specific problem we are talking about, we will rarely move higher up the ‘stairs’ than to the justification of the evaluation. To justify their statement of position to the problem, people will often start to talk about what is really important to their lives, and how the problem is interfering with the hopes, dreams, and values they have for their lives. When this happens, it will often be a good idea to move back down to the first step, and ask about actions, initiatives, or stories that can make these hopes, dreams, or values more visible to us.

If it is a preferred event we get to hear about, a step or an initiative which can be seen as a unique outcome or exception, we might want to walk with people all the way to the top of the ‘stairs’. The one condition required is that the person we are talking with is engaged and really interested in learning as much as possible of what the event can tell us.

However, in live conversations (unlike training) we very often get sidetracked at some point. We might hear a little story about some small step a person has taken. This step is subsequently characterised as a positive step, and given a name by this person. We might also hear a little bit about the effects, and the possible future effects, this step have had (or might have) on the person’s life and relationships to important others. Then we might hear that the story about this step is not something totally new and unexpected, and that others who know this person would not have been surprised to hear this story. This information might take the conversation away from the vertical ‘plane’, and back into the person’s history, either as a re-membering conversation about the person who would not have been surprised, or as a re-authoring conversation about the earlier actions the person are referring to saying that the step was not something totally unique.

My point is that ‘live conversations’ don’t adapt very well to any pre-made blueprint or pre-made questionnaires, they seem to live their own lives. So, to my mind, it is never important for the therapist or the worker to follow all the steps of the stairs from bottom to top around one specific theme. It’s in no way ‘wrong’ to move up or down, or sideways; backwards or forwards in time. On the contrary, that is what usually happens. The point of the ‘stairs’ is to try to make sense of some basic structures of narrative practice in one image, and mainly for training purposes.

My students here in Norway have been actively involved with this ‘scaffolding of the maps of narrative practice’, and seem to have found the image very useful for their daily practice. I recently presented it also for the advanced group of practitioners in Ramallah, Palestine, and they seemed to find it interesting and useful for their learning.

Geir Lundby Geir Lundby is a highly-regarded Norwegian social worker and family therapist who was first introduced to Michael White’s work through Karl Tomm, in 1988. The following year, he met Michael White and Cheryl White when they came to Norway for the first time. Since then, Geir has practiced and taught narrative therapy extensively in Norway and internationally. His first book, Historier og terapi (Oslo: Tano Aschehoug, 1998) was highly influential in introducing narrative ideas to Norwegian practitioners. He can be contacted c/o geir.lundby@r-bup.no

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