This section of the Dulwich Centre website is dedicated to providing information about the evidence-base for narrative practices. Over time, we hope that this repository will be a place that people can turn to access information about the evidence base in relation to narrative practices. We also hope it will be a place to foster debate, dialogue, and discussion about the politics and possibilities of researching narrative practice.

Inviting your contributions

In order to ensure that this repository remains up-to-date, we will be relying on your contributions! Whenever you come across relevant research about narrative therapy and community work practice, please let us know. Thanks! You can email us c/o


  1. Evidence for the effectiveness of narrative therapy
  2. Researching narrative therapy - how does it work?
  3. Current research projects
  4. Discussions about narrative therapy and research
  5. Evidence of cultural resonance - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander contributions
  6. Further questions


Evidence for the effectiveness of narrative therapy

There is a significant and ever-increasing amount of evidence for the effectiveness for narrative therapy practices. Here we present a summary of the research literature on narrative therapy, including some evidence-based studies.

The Evaluation of Undercover Anti-Bullying Teams

Lambie, I., Murray, C., Krynen, A., Price, M., & Johnston, E. (2013). The Evaluation of Undercover Anti-Bullying Teams. (Report). Auckland: Ministry of Education, Te Tāhuhu o Te Mātauranga.


Bullying is a significant societal problem in schools, having serious implications for both victims and perpetrators. While there have been many interventions developed to try and combat bullying in schools, many of these interventions are not formally evaluated. The current study evaluated an anti-bullying intervention that adopts a restorative approach that uses peer-led Undercover Anti-bullying Teams (UABTs) to combat bullying in the classroom. To evaluate this approach, the current study implemented the use of a pre- test/post-test experimental design in additional to qualitative interview data. The results suggest that following the intervention, there was a significant reduction in victimisation and a significant increase in students’ perceptions of personal support from other students in the class. Additionally, a number of themes emerged to suggest feelings of “inclusion” and “social support” were helpful to reduce distress for victims, and to help them feel more confident in the classroom. Additionally, the central elements of “autonomy” and “teamwork” that are inherent in the UABT intervention were helpful for team members in supporting the bullying victim and reducing bullying in the classroom.

Recipe of Life: A Relational Narrative Approach in Therapy With Persons Living With Chronic Pain

Esther Oi Wah Chow and Doris Yuen Hung Fok

Chow, E. O. W., & Fok, D. Y. H. (2020). Recipe of Life: A Relational Narrative Approach in Therapy With Persons Living With Chronic Pain. Research on Social Work Practice30(3), 320-329.

This paper reports on the use of a culturally resonant adaptation to a narrative therapy methodology with older adults in Hong Kong diagnosed with chronic pain. The metaphor of ‘spiritual seasoning of life’ was applied throughout six group-based sessions that followed narrative therapy maps. Three themes illuminating significant life enhancements were generated from subsequent participant interviews: Rediscovery of Personal Capabilities, Validation of Preferred Identity and Fusion of Spiritual Seasoning of Life. The authors conclude that narrative therapy was shown to be an applicable and effective approach for people living with chronic pain.

Narrative Group Intervention to reconstruct Meaning of Life among Stroke Survivors: A Randomized Clinical Trial Study

Esther OW Chow

Chow, E. O. (2018). Narrative Group Intervention to reconstruct Meaning of Life among Stroke Survivors: A Randomized Clinical Trial Study. Neuropsychiatry, 08(04). doi:10.4172/neuropsychiatry.1000450

This study evaluated a narrative therapy meaning-making approach in relation to stroke survival. Following a series of conversations that focussed on deconstructing dominant life stories, externalising problem-saturated experience, and re-authoring identity, participants reported sustained improvements across a range of outcome measures. Stroke knowledge, mastery, self-esteem, hope, meaning in life, and life satisfaction were all demonstrated to have increased, whereas experiences of depression had decreased. The authors conclude that the indicated effects for self-concepts and improved meaning in life were sufficiently encouraging to suggest narrative therapy may be a viable option for facilitating stroke recovery.

An unexpected visitor and a sword play: a randomized controlled trial of collective narrative therapy groups for primary carers of people with schizophrenia

De-Hui Ruth Zhou, Yu-Lung Marcus Chiu, Tak-Lam William Lo, Wai-Fan Alison Lo, Siu-Sing Wong, Chi Hoi Tom Leung, Chui-Kam Yu, Yuk Sing Geoffrey Chang & Kwok-Leung Luk

Journal of Mental Health, published online 15 Jul 2020

DOI: 10.1080/09638237.2020.1793123

Situated in the Hong Kong context, this study utilises a methodology commonly associated with evidence-based practice to determine the helpfulness of collective narrative therapy groups for family members of someone living with schizophrenia. Until now, local programs to support family members have largely focussed on imparting skills and knowledge in caregiving. By way of an alternative, this article provides in replicable detail an account of steps taken to engage with creative metaphors and culturally-specific adaptations to narrative practice that centre the skills and knowledge family members already have. The authors conclude that the practice implications of their study point to the helpfulness of a narrative stance for eliciting stories about existing knowledge, the significance of attending to the uniqueness of culture and context, and the benefits of exploring preferred identity stories for family members with caring responsibilities.

The effectiveness of narrative therapy with children's social and emotional skill development: an empirical study of 813 problem-solving stories

Marie-Nathalie Beaudoin, Meredith Moersch and Benjamin S. Evare

Journal of Systemic Therapies, Vol. 35, No. 3, 2016, pp. 42–59

This article examines the effectiveness of narrative therapy in boosting 8- to 10-year-old children’s social and emotional skills in school. Data were collected from 353 children over two years, and two research assistants independently coded 813 stories. Children’s personal accounts of their attempts at solving conflicts in their daily lives were collected before and after a series of narrative conversations, and compared to stories collected during the same time interval with a control group. The control data included a set of stories from waitlisted participants and those from students assigned to only a control group. The results of the study show that children receiving narrative therapy intervention showed a significant improvement in self-awareness, self-management, social awareness/empathy, and responsible decision making when compared to their own first stories and the stories from children in the control group. Improvement in relationship skills was present in both cohorts but was significant only for the second year. There was no significant gender difference. Narrative therapy practices such as externalizing and re-authoring can significantly contribute to the development of children’s social and emotional skills. Implications of these results are discussed for all forms of therapeutic interventions, regardless of theoretical orientation.

Towards co-composing an evidence base: the narrative therapy re-visiting project

Karen Young and Scot Cooper (2008)
Journal of Systemic Therapies, Vol. 27, No. 1, 2008, pp. 67–83

Click here for the entire article

In this article, we will report on the Narrative Therapy Re-Visiting Project. Narrative ways of thinking shape research in ways that strive to center the voice of the therapy participant. We will present qualitative research findings that bring to the forefront the personal thoughts of the participants about what was meaningful and useful in therapeutic conversations. This contribution moves away from solely interpreted understandings of professionals and toward co-composed understandings between professionals and therapy participants. In a follow-up meeting, persons who have come to us for single session therapy/consultation, return to re-visit videotape of the earlier session.

All of the sessions took place in a walk-in clinic and in single session consultations; therefore the feedback is about narrative practice in a single session encounter. The authors systematically document the participants’ accounts and descriptions of meaningful moments and experiences of the therapeutic process using qualitative methodology and attempt to discern from them themes and implications for therapeutic practice.

Family therapy and soiling: An audit of externalizing and other approaches

Evril Silver, Alison Williams, Fiona Worthington, and Nicola Phillips (1998)
Journal of Family Therapy, 20, 413–422.

This is a retrospective audit of the therapy outcome of 108 children with soiling and their families. Fifty-four children were treated by externalizing and 54 comparison children and families were treated by the usual methods in the same clinic. The results from the externalizing group were better and compared favourably with standards derived from previous studies of soiling. Externalizing was rated as much more helpful by parents at follow-up.

Process and outcome of narrative therapy for major depressive disorder in adults: Narrative reflexivity, working alliance and improved symptom and inter-personal outcomes

Lynette Vromans (2008) [PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology]

The research aim, to investigate the process and outcome of narrative therapy, comprised theoretical and empirical objectives. The first objective was to articulate a theoretical synthesis of narrative theory, research, and practice. The process of narrative reflexivity was identified as a theoretical construct linking narrative theory with narrative research and practice. The second objective was to substantiate this synthesis empirically by examining narrative therapy processes, specifically narrative reflexivity and the therapeutic alliance, and their relation to therapy outcomes. The third objective was to support the proposed synthesis of theory, research, and practice and provide quantitative evidence for the utility of narrative therapy, by evaluating depressive symptom and inter-personal relatedness outcomes through analyses of statistical significance, clinical significance, and benchmarking …

To support this theoretical synthesis, a process-outcome trial evaluated eight-sessions of narrative therapy for 47 adults with major depressive disorder. Dependent process variables were narrative reflexivity (assessed at Sessions 1 and 8) and therapeutic alliance (assessed at Sessions 1, 3, and 8). Primary dependent outcome variables were depressive symptoms and inter-personal relatedness. Primary analyses assessed therapy outcome at pre-therapy, post-therapy, and three-month follow-up and utilized a benchmarking strategy to the evaluate pre-therapy to post-therapy and post-therapy to follow-up gains, effect size and pre-therapy to post-therapy clinical significance … The clinical trial provided empirical support for the utility of narrative therapy in improving depressive symptoms and inter-personal relatedness from pre-therapy to post-therapy: the magnitude of change indicating large effect sizes (d = 1.10 to 1.36) for depressive symptoms and medium effect sizes (d = .52 to .62) for inter-personal relatedness.

Therapy was effective in reducing depressive symptoms in clients with moderate and severe pre-therapy depressive symptom severity. Improvements in depressive symptoms, but not inter-personal relatedness, were maintained three-months following therapy. The reduction in depressive symptoms and the proportion of clients who achieved clinically significant improvement (53%) in depressive symptoms at post-therapy were comparable to improvements from standard psychotherapies, reported in benchmark research. This research has implications for assisting our understanding of narrative approaches, refining strategies that will facilitate recovery from psychological disorder and providing clinicians with a broader evidence base for narrative practice … This thesis was awarded the Outstanding Doctoral Thesis award across the Queensland University of Technology Faculty of Health. Read the complete thesis here

Read examiner comments here: Examiner number 1 (pdf, 47 KB), Examiner number 2 (pdf, 15 KB).

Narrative therapy for adults with a major depressive disorder: Improved symptom and interpersonal outcomes

Lynette P. Vromans & Robert D. Schweitzer (2010)

Psychotherapy Research, 19 March 2010,
doi: 10.1080/10503301003591792

This study investigated depressive symptom and interpersonal relatedness outcomes from eight sessions of manualized narrative therapy for 47 adults with major depressive disorder. Post-therapy, depressive symptom improvement (d=1.36) and proportions of clients achieving reliable improvement (74%), movement to the functional population (61%), and clinically significant improvement (53%) were comparable to benchmark research outcomes. Post-therapy interpersonal relatedness improvement (d=.62) was less substantial than for symptoms. Three-month follow-up found maintenance of symptom, but not interpersonal gains. Benchmarking and clinical significance analyses mitigated repeated measure design limitations, providing empirical evidence to support narrative therapy for adults with major depressive disorder.

The effectiveness of narrative therapy with young people with autism

Cashin, A, Browne, G, Bradbury, J & Mulder, AM 2013
Journal of Child and Adolescent Mental Health Nursing, vol. 26, no. 1, pp. 32-41.

The aim of this pilot study was to be the first step toward empirically determining whether narrative therapy is effective in helping young people with autism who present with emotional and behavioral problems. Autism is increasingly being recognized in young people with average and above intelligence. Because of the nature of autism, these young people have difficulty navigating the challenges of school and adolescence. Narrative therapy can help them with their current difficulties and also help them develop skills to address future challenges. Narrative therapy involves working with a person to examine and edit the stories the person tells himself or herself about the world. It is designed to promote social adaptation while working on specific problems of living. This pilot intervention study used a convenience sample of 10 young people with autism (10–16 years) to evaluate the effectiveness of five 1 hr sessions of narrative therapy conducted over 10 weeks. The study used the parent-rated Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) as the primary outcome measure. Secondary outcome measures were the Kessler-10 Scale of Psychological Distress (K-10), the Beck Hopelessness Scale, and a stress biomarker, the salivary cortisol to dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) ratio.

Significant improvement in psychological distress identified through the K-10 was demonstrated. Significant improvement was identified on the Emotional Symptoms Scale of the SDQ. The cortisol:DHEA ratio was responsive and a power analysis indicated that further study is indicated with a larger sample. Narrative therapy has merit as an intervention with young people with autism. Further research is indicated.

Evaluating narrative family therapy using single-system research designs

David Besa, California Graduate School of Family Psychology (1994)
Research on Social Work Practice, 4 (3), 309–325. doi: 10.1177/104973159400400303

This study assessed the effectiveness of Narrative Therapy in reducing parent/child conflicts. Parents measured their child's progress by counting the frequency of specific behaviours during baseline and intervention phases. The practitioner-researcher used single-case methodology with a treatment package strategy, and the results were evaluated using three multiple baseline designs. Six families were treated using several Narrative Therapy techniques including externalisation, relative influence questioning, identifying unique outcomes and unique accounts, bringing forth unique re-descriptions, facilitating unique circulation, and assigning between-session tasks. Compared to baseline rates, five of six families showed improvements in parent/child conflict, ranging from an 88% to a 98% decrease in conflict. Improvements occurred only when Narrative Therapy was applied and were not observed in its absence.

Narrative therapy, eating disorders and groups: Enhancing outcomes in rural NSW

Mim Weber, Kierrynn Davis, & Lisa McPhie (2006)
Australian Social Work, 59 (4), 391–405. doi: 10.1080/03124070600985970

This paper reports on a study conducted with seven women who identified themselves as experiencing depression as well as an eating disorder and who live in a rural region of northern New South Wales. Self-referred, the women participated in a weekly group for 10 weeks, with a mixture of topics, conducted within a narrative therapy framework. A comparison of pre- and post-group tests demonstrated a reduction in depression scores and eating disorder risk. All women reported a change in daily practices, together with less self-criticism. These findings were supported by a post-group evaluation survey that revealed that externalisation of, and disengagement from, the eating disorder strongly assisted the women to make changes in their daily practices. Although preliminary and short-term, the outcomes of the present study indicate that group work conducted within a narrative therapy framework may result in positive changes for women entangled with depression and an eating disorder.

An approach to childhood stealing with evaluation of 45 cases

Fred W. Seymour & David Epston (1989)
Australian & New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy, 10 (3).

Childhood stealing is a distressing problem for families and may have wider community costs since childhood stealers often become adult criminals. This paper describes a therapeutic ‘map’ that emphasises direct engagement of the child, along with his/her family, in regarding the child from ‘stealer’ to ‘honest person’. Analysis of therapy with 45 children revealed a high level of family engagement and initial behaviour change. Furthermore, a follow-up telephone call made 6–12 months after completion of therapy sessions revealed that 80% of the children had not been stealing at all or had substantially reduced rates of stealing. This community practice, which was in part researched by Seymour and Epston, has recently been written up in some detail in ‘Community approaches – real and virtual – to stealing’ (pdf, 68 KB)  [Epston, D., & Seymour, F. (2008). In Epston, D., Down under and up over: Travels with narrative therapy, Warrington, England: AFT Publishing Limited, pp. 139–156.]

An evaluation of an intervention using Hero Books to mainstream psychosocial care and support into South African schools via the curricula

Report by Linzi Rabinowitz. Researchers: Linzi Rabinowitz and Rebecca Goldberg

Hero Books are a psychosocial support intervention developed by Jonathan Morgan (REPSSI) which are informed by narrative therapy ideas. This study presents preliminary evidence to support the contention that the mainstreaming of PSS (psychosocial support) in the South African school curriculum by means of the Hero Book is likely to produce two significant outcomes:

  • learners who have undergone the Hero Book process are more likely to perform better in the learning areas of Life Orientation and Language (Home Language and first additional Language) than learners whose educators did not use Hero Books as measured by the same  learning outcomes and assessment standards
  • learners whose educators used the Hero Book methodology to pursue academic outcomes are more likely to exhibit an improvement in their psychosocial wellbeing than learners whose educators do not use the Hero Book methodology.

A mix of quantitative and qualitative data collection and analysis supports these findings. While none of the findings are conclusive, and the study admittedly has limitations, the strongest quantitative finding is this one: 77% of learner’s academic performance as measured by an average mark for all three learning areas (Home Language, First Additional Language, and Life Orientation) improved overall for the Hero book group, as opposed to 55% in the control groups. This finding suggests that the hero book intervention might be pursued purely on its potential as a methodology to enhance academic learning outcomes, and where any improvements in the psychosocial wellbeing of learners is an added bonus of the intervention. The sample size consisted of four control groups and four intervention groups across two research sites, the Western Cape and KwaZulu Natal. There was a total of 172 learners in the control groups and 113 in the intervention groups. For full report, contact Jonathan Morgan:

An exploratory study of the effectiveness of group narrative therapy on the school behavior of girls with attention-deficit/hyperactivity symptoms

Looyeh MY, Kamali K, Shafieian R

Family Research and Development Centre, Faculty of Education, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur,

This study explored the effectiveness of group narrative therapy for improving the school behavior of a small sample of girls with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Fourteen clinics referred 9- to 11-year-old girls with a clinical diagnosis of ADHD were randomly assigned to treatment and wait-list control groups. Posttreatment ratings by teachers showed that narrative therapy had a significant effect on reducing ADHD symptoms 1 week after completion of treatment and sustained after 30 days. Arch Psychiatr Nurs. 2012 Oct;26(5):404-10. doi: 10.1016/j.apnu.2012.01.001. Epub 2012 Mar 28. 

The comparison between efficacy of narrative therapy and diet therapy on body image in women with overweight and obesity

Sommayeh Sadat MacKean *, Hossein Eskandari, Ahmad Borjali , Delaram Ghodsi    

* Msc in General Psychology, Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, Allameh Tabatabaii University, Tehran, Iran - Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, Allameh Tabatabaii University, Tehran, Iran. Tel: +98- 912- 1868311 ,

This study was carried out according to importance of body image in overweight women, and in order to compare the effect of diet therapy and narrative therapy on the body image improvement. Materials and Methods: This was a quasi experimental-interventional study. 30 overweight women were selected through randomized sampling method within women who referred to professional clinic of nutrition and diet therapy and they randomly divided to two interventions and one control group. Group 1 only received diet therapy (for 5weeks), group 2 received narrative therapy in addition to diet therapy and control group received no intervention.

Narrative therapy was a group therapy that consisted of 12 sessions and each session last 50 minutes that performed twice a week. Control group received no intervention. Weight of subjects was measured with light cloths by a Seca balance scale to the nearest 0.5 kg and their height was measured by stadio-meter to 0.5 cm. Body Mass Index was calculated by dividing weight (in kg) to squared height (in m2). Data of Body Image were gathered through Multidimensional Body-Self Relation Questionnaire. Data were analyzed by covariance analysis, Tukey and paired t test using SPSS 16 software.

Results: The mean of body image at the beginning of the study in the control group, was 135.20 and it was134.60 after the intervention. In group 1, at the beginning of the study the mean was 148.1 and after the intervention was 147.50. In group 2, at the beginning of the study the mean was 150.80 and after the intervention the result was 163.90. Data analysis showed that at the end of the study diet therapy had no significant effect on developing of body image (P>0.05). But narrative therapy was more effective than diet therapy in developing of body image in overweight women (P<0.001). ‍Conclusion: According to effect of narrative therapy on body image development, this method is more suitable than the other methods which have greater results in weight loss. Pajoohandeh Journal. 2010; 15 (5) :225-232

Narrative therapy with an adolescent who self-cuts: a case example

Elaine Hannen, Kevin Woods

Educational Psychology in Practice 01/2012; 28(2):187-214. DOI:10.1080/02667363.2012.669362

The National Institute for Clinical Excellence identifies educational psychologists as appropriate specialists to deliver interventions to promote the emotional well-being of children and families. A role for practitioner educational psychologists in providing specific therapeutic interventions has also been proposed by commentators. The present study reports an evaluative case study of a narrative therapy intervention with a young person who self-harms. The analysis of data suggests that the narrative therapy intervention was effectively implemented and resulted in attributable gains in emotional well-being, resilience and behaviour for the young person. The authors discuss the role of the educational psychologist in delivering specific therapeutic interventions within a local authority context and school-based setting. Consideration is also made of the development of the evidence base for the effectiveness of narrative therapy intervention with young people who self-harm.

Externalizing Metaphors: Anxiety and High-Functioning Autism

Everett McGuinty, MA, David Armstrong, PhD, John Nelson, MA, and Stephanie Sheeler, BA
Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing ISSN 1073-6077
Author contact:

The intent of this article is to explore the efficacy of both the literal and concrete externalization aspects within narrative therapy, and the implementation of interactive metaphors as a combined psychotherapeutic approach for decreasing anxiety with people who present with high-functioning autism. The purpose of this exploratory article is to propose the use of externalizing metaphors as a treatment modality as a potentially useful way to engage clients. Specifically, a three-step process of change is described, which allows for concretizing affective states and experiences, and makes use of visual strengths of people presenting with an autism spectrum disorder. A selective review was conducted of significant works regarding the process of change in narrative therapy, with particular emphasis on metaphors. Works were selected based on their relevance to the current paper and included both published works (searched via Psyc-INFO) and materials from narrative training sessions. Further research is needed to address the testable hypotheses resulting from the current model. This line of research would not only establish best practices in a population for which there is no broadly accepted treatment paradigm, but would also contribute to the larger fields of abnormal psychology, emotion regulation, and cognitive psychology by further elucidating the complex ways these systems interact.

'Back from the Edge’ project evaluation

Sonja Berthold (June 2006)

Funded by Relationships Australia Northern Territory

This is an independent evaluation of a narrative therapy/collective narrative practice project conducted in two Aboriginal communities in Arnhem Land – Yirrkala & Gunyangara. The project aimed to:

  • reduce suicidal thinking/behaviour/injury, self-harm and death by suicide
  • enhance resilience, respect, resourcefulness, interconnectedness, and mental health of individuals, families, and communities and to reduce prevalence of risk conditions
  • increase support available to individuals, families, and communities who have been affected by suicidal behaviours.  

The project was conducted in partnership between Dulwich Centre and Relationships Australia Northern Territory. For more information about the project, read: ‘Linking stories and initiatives: A narrative approach to working with the skills and knowledge of communities’ by David Denborough, Carolyn Koolmatrie, Djapirri Mununggirritj, Djuwalpi Marika, Wayne Dhurrkay, & Margaret Yunupingu.

The independent evaluation found:

Did this project work? Yes, this project worked because it:

  • reminded people of their strength and of their dreams
  • increased the self-esteem and confidence of individual and groups, and reinforced their ability to deal with suicide and suicidal thinking
  • created an opportunity for these communities to forge links with another Indigenous community, a link which strengthens and comforts both
  • provided an audience for the stories and passed on the responses
  • people see that their knowledge and experience is of value to others
  • the community came together to celebrate their strengths and abilities
  • ensured that local workers were linked into and supporting this process
  • left a resource that is still being used.

What was done well?

  • Good, thorough consultation with resulted in changes
  • Professional and respectful approach
  • Project tried to link in outside workers to help the project continue
  • The narrative approach was very successful and well accepted
  • Connected very strongly with key leaders in each community
  • Delivered relevant, interesting, and useful training
  • Provided  learning opportunity for Yolgnu people through ensuring local people were involved in the narrative approach
  • The team were flexible and able to respond to what was needed and have maintained a connection with the communities
  • Made sure that they left a resource for the community to use.

To read the entire evaluation, click here (pdf, 307 KB).

Narrative Therapy, Older Adults, and Group Work?: Practice, Research, and Recommendations

Jennifer Poolea, Paula Gardner, Margaret C. Flower & Carolynne Cooper
Social Work With Groups, Volume 32, Issue 4, 2009 

In this article, the authors report on a qualitative study that explored the use of narrative therapy with a diverse group of older adults dealing with mental health and substance misuse issues. Narrative therapy supports individuals to critically assess their lives and develop alternative and empowering life stories that aim to keep the problem in its place. Although the literature suggests this is a promising intervention for individuals, there is a lack of research on narrative therapy and group work. Aiming to address this gap, the authors developed and researched a narrative therapy group for older adults coping with mental health and substance misuse issues in Toronto, Canada. Taking an ethnographic approach, field notes and interviews provided rich data on how, when, and for whom, such a group could be beneficial. Findings contribute to the literature on group work, older adults, and narrative therapy.

Narrative therapy with an emotional approach for people with depression: Improved symptom and cognitive-emotional outcomes

M. Seo, H. S. Kang, Y. J. Lee, S. M. Chae.
Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing Volume 22, Issue 6, pages 379–389, August 2015 : 

Narrative therapy, which allows a person to ‘re-author’ his/her life stories by focusing on positive interpretations, and emotion-focused therapy, which enables the person to realize his/her emotions, are useful approaches in the treatment of depression. Narrative therapy with an emotional approach (NTEA) aims to create new positive life narratives that focus on alternative stories instead of negative stories. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effects of the NTEA programme on people with depression utilizing a quasi-experimental design. A total of 50 patients (experimental 24, control 26) participated in the study. The experimental group completed eight sessions of the NTEA programme. The effects of the programme were measured using a self-awareness scale, the Nowotny Hope Scale, the Positive Affect and Negative Affect Scale, and the Center for Epidemiological Studies-Depression Scale. The two groups were homogeneous. There were significant differences in hope, positive and negative emotions, and depression between the experimental and control group. The results established that NTEA can be a useful nursing intervention strategy for people with depression by focusing on positive experiences and by helping depressed patients develop a positive identity through authoring affirmative life stories.

Treating social phobia in children through group narrative therapy

Majid Yoosefi Looyeh, Khosrow Kamali, Amin Ghasemi, Phuangphet Tonawanik
The Arts in Psychotherapy,  2014,  41: 1: 16-20
DOI: 10.1016/j.aip.2013.11.005

This study applied group narrative therapy to treating symptoms of social phobia among 10–11 year old boys. The treatment group received fourteen 90-min sessions of narrative therapy twice a week. Group narrative therapy was effective in reducing symptoms of social phobia at home and school as reported by parents and teachers.

Narrative Therapy vs. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for moderate depression: Empirical evidence from a controlled clinical trial.

Lopes, Rodrigo T.: Gonçalves, Miguel M.; Machado, Paulo; Sinai, Dana; Bento, Tiago & Salgado, João.
Psychotherapy Research. Nov 2014, Vol. 24 Issue 6, p.662-674.

Systematic studies of the efficacy of Narrative Therapy (NT) for depression are sparse. Objective: To evaluate the efficacy of individual NT for moderate depression in adults compared to Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Method: Sixty-three depressed clients were assigned to either NT or CBT. The Beck Depression Inventory-II (BDI-II) and Outcome Questionnaire-45.2 (OQ-45.2) were used as outcome measures. Results: We found a significant symptomatic reduction in both treatments. Group differences favoring CBT were found on the BDI-II, but not on the OQ-45.2. Conclusions: Pre- to post-treatment effect sizes for completers in both groups were superior to benchmarked waiting-list control groups.

A pilot examination of the use of narrative therapy with individuals diagnosed with PTSD.

Erbes CR, Stillman JR, Wieling E, Bera W, Leskela J.
J Trauma Stress. 2014 Dec;27(6):730-3.
doi: 10.1002/jts.21966. Epub 2014 Nov 10.

Narrative therapy is a postmodern, collaborative therapy approach based on the elaboration of personal narratives for lived experiences. Many aspects of narrative therapy suggest it may have great potential for helping people who are negatively affected by traumatic experiences, including those diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The potential notwithstanding, narrative therapy is relatively untested in any population, and has yet to receive empirical support for treatment among survivors of trauma. A pilot investigation of the use of narrative therapy with 14 veterans with a diagnosis of PTSD (11 treatment completers) is described. Participants completed structured diagnostic interviews and self-report assessments of symptoms prior to and following 11 to 12 sessions of narrative therapy. After treatment, 3 of 11 treatment completers no longer met criteria for PTSD and 7 of 11 had clinically significant decreases in PTSD symptoms as measured by the Clinician Administered PTSD Scale. Pre- to posttreatment effect sizes on outcomes ranged from 0.57 to 0.88. These preliminary results, in conjunction with low rates of treatment dropout (21.4%) and a high level of reported satisfaction with the treatment, suggest that further study of narrative therapy is warranted as a potential alternative to existing treatments for PTSD.

Developing our cultural strengths: Using the 'Tree of Life' strength-based, narrative therapy intervention in schools, to enhance self-esteem, cultural understanding and to challenge racism.


Mala German
Educational & Child Psychology. Dec2013, Vol. 30 Issue 4, p75-99

This paper evaluates the use of the 'Tree of Life' (ToL) intervention with a class of 29 Year 5 pupils (aged 9 and 10-years-old) in a primary school in North London. This was an exploratory study to see if ToL could be adapted to a mainstream education setting and could be used as a whole class intervention. This paper examines the effectiveness of ToL in enhancing the pupils' self-esteem and in developing their understanding of their own culture and that of their peers. Findings from semi-structured interviews, preand post-intervention, were used to explore the pupils' baseline knowledge of their own family and cultural background and in their understanding of key concepts such as 'culture', 'ethnicity', and 'racism.' Qualitative analysis was applied to identify key themes emerging from these interviews. Results from quantitative analysis found a significant improvement in the pupil's self-concept post-intervention. The pupils also reported positive improvements in cultural understanding of themselves and other class members whilst some reported a reduction in racist behaviour. This paper concludes with a discussion of the limitations of the study and advocates that EPs become more involved in utilising strength-based interventions in developing cultural understanding and community cohesion

Indian Women’s Experience of a Narrative Intervention Using Art And Writing


Margaret L. Keeling, L. Reece Nielson
Contemporary Family Therapy, September 2005, Volume 27, Issue 3, pp 435-452


International and minority populations tend to underutilize mental health services, including marriage and family therapy. Models of marriage and family therapy developed in the West may reflect Western values and norms inappropriate for diverse cultural contexts. This article presents an exploratory, qualitative study of a narrative therapy approach with Asian Indian women. This study adds to the small body of narrative-based empirical studies, and has a unique focus on intercultural applications and the experience of participants. Participant experience was examined along four phenomenological dimensions. Findings indicate the suitability of narrative interventions and nontraditional treatment delivery for this population.

Introducing Narrative Practices in a Locked, Inpatient Psychiatric Unit

Lewis Mehl-Madrona, MD, PhD

The Permanente Journal/ Fall 2007/ Volume 11 No. 4

Narrative approaches to psychotherapy are becoming more prevalent throughout the world. We wondered if a narrative-oriented psychotherapy group on a locked, inpatient unit, where most of the patients were present involuntarily, could be useful. The goal would be to help involuntary patients develop a coherent story about how they got to the hospital and what happened that led to their being admitted and link that to a story about what they would do after discharge that would prevent their returning to hospital in the next year.

Conversations about absence and presence: Re-membering a loved partner in poetic form


Sarah Penwarden (2018) [PhD thesis, University of Waikato]


A key concern for therapists is how therapeutic change occurs, and what particular elements of therapy lead towards change. This project investigated how one approach in narrative therapy—rescued speech poetry—might enhance another therapeutic approach, re-membering conversations. Re-membering conversations nurture connections between a bereaved person and a loved person who has died. These conversations actively weave the stories of the lost loved one back into the life of the bereaved person, so that the loved one’s values and legacies continue to resound. This research explored how a literary approach—rescued speech poetry—potentially enhanced the nearness and contribution of a loved one, through capturing stories in a poetic form.

Researching narrative therapy - how does it work? 

On the right track: Client experience of narrative therapy

O’Connor, T., Meakes, E., Pickering, M., & Schuman, M. (1997)

Contemporary Family Therapy. 19(4), 479-495.

Click here to download the article

This article presents an ethnographic research on eight families' experience of narrative therapy and discusses six major themes found in the interviews including externalizing conversation, developing the alternate story, personal agency, reflecting/consulting teams, building a wider audience, and the helpful and unhelpful aspects of the therapy. The findings and the notation that families found the therapy to be very effective are also included.

Exploring the Potential of Constructionist Therapy: Deaf Clients, Hearing Therapists and a Reflecting Team

Munro, L., Knox, M., & Lowe, R (2008)

Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education 13:3

Click here to download the article

This article explores the use of constructionist therapy with a reflecting team of hearing therapists seeing deaf clients. Using findings from two in-depth interviews, post-session reflections and a review of the literature, we propose that this model has the potential to cater to the diversity of the lived experiences of deaf people and also to address issues of power and tensions between medical, social, and cultural models of deafness. The interviews found there was real value in sharing multiple perspectives between the reflecting team of hearing therapists and these deaf clients. In addition, the clients reported feeling safe and comfortable with this model of counseling. Other information that emerged from the interviews supports previous findings regarding consistency in interpreting and the importance of hearing therapists having an understanding of the distinctions between Deaf and hearing worlds. As the first investigation of its kind in Australia, this article provides a map for therapists to incorporate reflecting teams with interpreters, deaf clients, and hearing therapists. The value of this article also lies in providing a much needed platform for future research into counseling outcomes and the efficacy of this constructionist model of therapy.

Witnessing stories: Definitional Ceremonies in Narrative Therapy with adults who stutter

Margaret M. Leahy,Mary O’Dwyer, Fiona Ryan
In press Journal of Fluency Disorders (2012), doi:10.1016/j.jfludis.2012.03.001

Narrative therapy (White & Epston, 1990) was developed as an approach to counselling, as a response to the power relations that influence people’s lives. Its use with people who stutter has been documented. A basic tenet of narrative therapy is that the dominant problem-saturated narrative is challenged by externalizing the problem, in due course facilitating development of an alternative narrative. Within this process, the definitional ceremony involving outsider witnesses is a key procedure used to influence change. This paper describes definitional ceremonies, and their application within a narrative approach to therapy for stuttering. The analysis of a specific definitional ceremony is presented, leading to an exploration of identity as a public and social achievement. A definitional ceremony involving a woman who stutters and family members was recorded and analysed using two methods: interpretative phenomenological analysis and Heideggerian hermeneutic phenomenological analysis. Details of the clinical application of definitional ceremonies with this client are described. Results from both methods of analysis were found to be similar. Notable results include the fact that the stuttering per se was not presented as the problem; rather, the impact of stuttering, especially the experience of bullying, was a dominant theme. This paper shows how definitional ceremonies can open opportunities for clients to present themselves in a preferred way, forming the basis for a new story and revised identity. Emerging themes can be identified for reflection and discussion with the client for therapeutic benefit. Educational objectives: (1) to describe and explain to readers the process of narrative therapy, with special attention to the use of definitional ceremonies; (2) to provide detail regarding the clinical processes involved with a specific definitional ceremony with one client; (3) to have the reader appreciate the specific importance of involving outsider witnesses in the therapy process; (4) to discuss the outcomes of the use of this particular definitional ceremony.

What is narrative therapy and what is it not? The usefulness of Q methodology to explore accounts of White and Epston's (1990) approach to narrative therapy

Wallis, J., Burns, J. and Capdevila, R. , Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, n/a. doi: 10.1002/cpp.723

Externalizing questions: A microanalytic look at their use in narrative therapy

Strong, T. (2008). The International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, (Issue 3), 59-71. 

This paper examines the narrative therapy practice of asking and answering externalisation questions. It looks at some of theoretical and clinical literature related to the use of these questions and then turns a micro-dynamic look at some examples of how such questions were asked and answered in the course of therapeutic dialogue. The focus is on learning from these analyses to  enhance therapists’ ability to engage clients in collaborative and resourceful externalising conversations.

A Sequential Analysis of Externalizing in Narrative Therapy with Children

Heather L. Ramey, Donato Tarulli, Jan C. Frijters, Lianne Fisher
Contemp Fam Ther (2009) 31:262–279DOI 10.1007/s10591-009-9095-5

Externalizing, or separating the person from his/her problem-saturated story, isa central approach in narrative therapy. Michael White, one of the therapy’s founders,lately revised his map of the externalizing process in therapy according to Vygotskian theory. In this study we sought to determine whether White’s proposed process was evidentin therapy sessions. Sequential analysis indicated that therapists scaffolded children’s responses according to White’s map, and therapists’ and children’s utterances tended to advance across the levels of the map over the course of a session, indicating that White’s model of narrative therapy matched the therapy’s empirical process.

Change in group psychotherapy: understandings from narrative therapy / Mudança em psicoterapia de grupo: reflexões a partir da terapia narrativa

CARRIJO, Rafael Santos  and  RASERA, Emerson Fernando. Psicologia Clínica [online]. 2010, vol.22, n.1, pp. 125-140. ISSN 0103-5665.

This case study aims to understand the change process of a person in group psychotherapy, from a narrative perspective. Participant observation and an analysis of the notes of twelve sessions of a short-term group allowed us to investigate episodes and therapeutic interventions that had contributed to the construction of a narrative in which the person self-described as more autonomous, surpassing the previous narrative saturated by the problem. It was observed that narrative resources such as, the identification of unique outcomes, externalizing the problem and the reinforcement of confrontational narratives have helped to construct new meanings through the creation of a dialogical space in the group context. In spite of the fertility of the use of narrative proposals in the group field, our reflections pointed out some challenges to be faced in this approach.

Innovative Moments and Change in Narrative Therapy

Marlene Matos, Anita Santos, Miguel Gonçalves and Carla Martins 
(2008) Psychotherapy Research,

Narrative therapy suggests that change happens by paying close attention in therapy to ‘‘unique outcomes,’’ which are narrative details outside the main story (White & Epston, 1990). In this exploratory study, unique outcomes were analyzed in five good-outcome and five poor-outcome psychotherapy cases using the Innovative Moments Coding System (Gonc¸alves, Matos, & Santos, 2008). Across 127 sessions, innovative moments were coded in terms of salience and type. In accordance with the theory, results suggest that innovative moments are important to therapeutic change. Poor- and good-outcome groups have a global difference in the salience of the innovative moments. In addition, results suggest that two particular types of innovative moments are needed in narrative therapy for therapeutic change to take place: re-conceptualization and new experiences. Implications for future research using this model of analysis are discussed.

Narrative Therapy and the Nature Of “Innovative Moments” in the Construction of Change

Miguel M. Gonçalves, Marlene Matos & Anita Santos, University of Minho, Portugal

In the narrative metaphor of psychotherapy, clients transform themselves by changing their life stories. According to White and Epston (1990), the construction of change occurs from the expansion of unique outcomes—or innovative moments, as we prefer to call them—that is, the development of episodes outside the problem-saturated narrative. Unique outcomes operate as exceptions to the rule (i.e., to the problem-saturated story) that can be changed to a new rule (i.e., a new narrative). We suggest that some forms of unique outcomes can operate as shadow voices (Gustafson, 1992) of the problem-saturated story, allowing a temporary release from the problem, but facilitating a return to it. In our view, there is a particular type of unique outcome—reconceptualization—that facilitates sustained change. This kind of innovation facilitates the emergence of a meta-level perspective about the change process itself and, in turn, enables the active positioning of the person as an author of the new narrative.

Decentering therapy: textual analysis of a narrative therapy session

Kogan SM, Gale JE. Fam Process. 1997 Jun;36(2):101-26.

Postmodern models of therapy stress the participation of the clinician in a nonhierarchical, non-objectifying role, and highlight the therapist's embeddedness in the same processes of social construction as are the individual and the family. While much theory has been published in recent years, the actual conduct of a therapy session derived from the premises of postmodernism remains unclear. We investigated how a postmodern therapist manages talk in an actual session. We used textual analysis to examine a couples therapy session conducted by a prominent narrative therapist. Analysis of the talk led to descriptions of the couple's and therapist's agenda, and their interaction. The therapist's agenda is described in terms of "decentering" both the local unfolding narrative and its embeddedness in larger cultural stories. Five conversational practices: matching/self-disclosure, reciprocal editing, turn management to deobjectify, expansion questions, and reversals are examined. These practices inform the deployment of a decentering agenda in this specific text.

Dialectics and transformations in liminality: the use of narrative therapy groups with terminal cancer patients in Hong Kong


Siu Wai Lit
China Journal of Social Work, Volume 8, Issue 2, 2015, pp. 122-135 DOI: 10.1080/17525098.2015.1039171


The rich literature about death and dying, the use of narrative analysis, and the extensive study of liminality in the field of medicine and the social sciences provide valuable insights into the experience of end-of-life care. However, the study of the transformation(s) in liminality, especially with regard to people suffering from terminal cancer, is still limited. Based on use of a narrative therapy group with people suffering from terminal cancer, this paper explores how the use of double-listening technique in narrative therapy groups, through the seeking of the dialectical experiences of the group members, facilitates transformations in liminality. The facilitation of the ‘transformative power’ of liminality is important because entering into the ‘transformative space’ of the liminality of patients with terminal cancer not only helps the social workers and other helping professions better understand the ambiguous experience of ‘knowing and not knowing’ and ‘acting and not acting’, but also extends the possibilities and alternatives in making sense of the dialectics (e.g., so weak and yet so strong, so little and yet so great, etc.) of the patients' narratives.

Current research projects

The Team of Life: A narrative approach to building resilience in UK school children

Vicky Eames, Catherine Shippen & Helen Sharp (2016)

Click here to see the whole article

Concern about children and young people’s mental health is high on the UK national agenda. Access to specialist Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) is perceived as problematic due to high thresholds, clinic-based service delivery and associated stigma. Schools and youth work contexts present alternative and more accessible settings for early intervention and preventative work aimed at promoting positive mental health. The Team of Life is a narrative group methodology with sporting metaphors, which encourages young people to recognise the strength and resilience in their life teams. The approach has been used within diverse contexts internationally, for example with former child soldiers in Uganda, young men from refugee backgrounds and young people in Australian schools. Innovative partnership work between health and education has led to the implementation of the Team of Life in a UK school and the development of a manualised Team of Life Programme. We now report findings from pilot work evaluating feasibility and outcomes for the programme within a UK secondary school setting. Quantitative findings include significant positive change in Goal Based Outcomes as well as significant reductions in emotional and behaviour difficulties measured by the Child Behaviour Checklist. Qualitative thematic analysis of participant feedback indicates benefits relating to the experience of ‘shared understanding’, ‘confidence’, ‘peer support’ and the ‘positive impact of sport’. Further research is planned to evaluate the effectiveness on a larger scale. This pilot study was undertaken as part of CAMHS Extended Schools work. Potential for collaboration between clinical and education psychology colleagues in relation to the promotion of positive mental health in schools is discussed. Keywords: narrative; resilience; mental health; schools; partnership.

Narrative Therapy Intervention Project for Patients with Diabetes and Depression

Brian. L. Lewis, Ph.D., ABPP,  VA Medical Center, Salem, Virginia, USA

Dr. Brian Lewis received a research grant from the Shine-A-Light Narrative Therapy Research Fund to conduct this study at the University of Miami beginning in 2011. The stated goal of this research fund is to “facilitate rigorous research on narrative approaches to individual, family and community psychological practice (as developed by … Michael White)”. The research study was started at the University of Miami but has since been transferred to the VA Medical Center in Salem, Virginia when Dr. Lewis changed professional positions. The purpose of this research project is to test the effectiveness of an innovative 8-10 session “semi-manualized” narrative therapy intervention in assisting patients with Type-2 diabetes to make healthy lifestyle adjustments known to have an impact on diabetes management and to improve quality of life (QoL). Outcomes of interest include: improvement in depression/QoL; change in diet, exercise, and medication adherence; and ultimate reduction in blood glucose levels. The study is small (N=20) but involves a randomized control design utilizing both qualitative and quantitative methodology, with the goal of developing preliminary data to justify a larger RCT study in the future to demonstrate its effectiveness as a true evidence-based intervention. The VA is considered an excellent location for this research because of the large percentage of veterans who are currently diagnosed with diabetes and because of the potential for future multi-site collaboration on a larger study. The current study is projected to be completed by June, 2014.

The Tree of Life: Narrative approach to responding to vulnerable children

David Denborough (Dulwich Centre) in collaboration with Joh Henley and Julie Robinson, (Flinders University)

The Tree of Life is a narrative therapy approach to responding to vulnerable children which was developed by Ncazelo Ncube (REPSSI) and David Denborough (Dulwich Centre). A research project took place recently in two primary schools in South Australia, evaluating the effectiveness of the Tree of Life with children from refugee families. The data from this project has now been generated and we are in the process of analysing it. This project is being conducted in partnership with Dr Julie Robinson, School of Psychology, Flinders University and Joh Henley (PhD candidate).

Research focused on narrative therapy and trauma

John Stillman, MSW at Kenwood Therapy Center in Minnesota, USA in collaboration with Christopher Erbes, PhD at the University of Minnesota and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, USA were among the first recipients of the Shine A Light: Narrative Therapy Research Fund. This award is geared toward continuing Michael White’s legacy through rigorous research of Narrative Therapy. Phase one of the project involves John Stillman writing narrative therapy practice guidelines for working with trauma titled, Moving narrative ideas into practice: Trauma practice guidelines (MNIIP-TPG) extracted from his book, Moving narrative ideas into practice: A handbook for study (in press) and based on Michael White’s work with trauma. Phase two of the project, which is funded by the Shine a Light Research Fund, involves a study to train therapists in applying the practice guidelines at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Minnesota, and gathering preliminary data on the effectiveness of the narrative ideas and practices captured in the practice guidelines.

The Tree of Life in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander contexts

Claire Rabaa, BSocWk. MAASW (Acc), of the Remote Area Child and Youth Mental Health in Cape York, is currently implementing the three part Tree of Life program with Indigenous students in Cape York and researching the outcomes of this. This project is using Scott Miller outcomes scale as a pre and post measure with the children.

Narratives of strengths research

The Impact of Strengths development upon performance and professional aspirations of students in the 'helping professions' is a pilot study to evaluate the usefulness of StrengthsQuestTM coaching in shaping the aspirations of students in the 'helping professions' in New Zealand and to investigate the potential usefulness of a new approach, provisionally known as 'Narratives of Strengths' to complement StrengthsQuestTM coaching. We hope to find that narrative interviews will enrich student's understanding of and relationship to their strengths and further shape their career choices. The data from the project is being analysed from December 2009 and the results will be available from mid-2010. The research is a joint project between the Social Practice and Nursing departments at UNITEC Institute of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand. If you are interested in knowing more, please contact Kay Ingamells at

Innovations in narrative therapy: Connecting training, practice and research

 Laura Béres, King’s University College, Jim Duvall, Hincks-Dellcrest Institute,

The first research project with which we were involved incorporated grounded theory and anthropological forms of exploratory research.  We generated field notes from day-long involvement one day each week for two ten-month training periods at the Hincks-Dellcrest Centre, Gail Appell Institute in Toronto, Ontario. The research team was made up of faculty from the Hincks-Dellcrest Institute and from the University of Toronto and King’s University College.  Through the review of taped interviews and field notes, inductive and deductive themes were generated in research team meetings. This research project has resulted in a contract with W.W. Norton and development of a manuscript entitled Innovations in narrative therapy: Connecting training, practice, and research. Three chapters will review new ideas about storyline structure, pivotal moments, and the circulation of language. Four practice chapters will integrate these ideas into practice examples.

Ethically-based practice: Process, pivotal moments, and effects (phase 2)

Nancy Cohen, Jim Duvall, Hincks-Dellcrest Institute, & Karen Young, 

This is a research project on which Michael White and David Epston have both consulted. This project, now in it's second phase of development, examines the process and the pivotal moments within that process of reaching those particular outcomes. Michael White was particularly interested in looking at the parallel effects on therapists working from a narrative perspective, rather than only looking at the effects on those people consulting us. Therefore, the project explores both of those aspects. This research will be taking place at R.O.C.K. in Burlington, Ontario and at Hincks-Dellcrest Centre, Gail Appell Institue in Toronto, Ontario. The research team is made up of Jim Duvall, Karen Young, Nancy Cohen and Maryam Ebrahimpour.

Discussions about narrative therapy and research

Dulwich Centre is vitally interested in the development of new methods of research that are congruent with narrative practice principles and also rigorously test/demonstrate/examine the real effects and outcomes of narrative practices. A number of practitioners/researchers are engaged with this task of developing research methods that are congruent with narrative approaches and meet conventional research standards (quantitative and qualitative). For instance, see Lynnette Vromans' thesis (listed above). The research that Dulwich Centre is currently undertaking in relation to the Tree of Life approach (in partnership with Flinders University) is also engaged in this process. It has developed ‘double-storied’ questionnaires and adapted existing reliable scales in ways that remain congruent with conventional scientific research principles.

Other papers that consider the relationship between narrative therapy and research include:

Enduring anorexia: A multi-storied counter document of living and coping with anorexia over time

Lainson, K. J. (2020). Enduring anorexia: A multi-storied counter document of living and coping with anorexia over time. (Doctoral dissertation), The University of Melbourne, Australia.


It has been well-documented that anorexia (nervosa) often endures in people’s lives, yet
very limited research attention has been given to the perspectives of adults who have lived
with its influence and effects over time. What studies do exist have engaged participation
through specialist services, potentially skewing representation, and participants’
experiences, knowledge and capabilities have tended to either go unrecorded or else are
dominated by bleak narratives and/or deficit-based portrayals written from clinical
perspectives. The Enduring anorexia project addresses these issues by inviting more
inclusive participation via social media and by employing the theoretical lens of narrative
practice. This hopeful lens centres lived experience perspectives, acknowledges personal
agency and seeks entry points into alternative storylines of preferred identity that can lead
to new possibilities and understandings.

Since social workers Michael White and David Epston first co-created narrative practice as a
respectful and non-blaming approach to counselling and community work that recognises
people as separate to problems and intentional in responding to difficulties, the field has
been characterised by innovation and diverse application. The Enduring anorexia project
extends this application, innovation and practice stance into conducting academic research
in the realms of longer-term experience of living and coping with anorexia, demonstrating
what opportunities arise as a consequence.

A two-step format of online survey and optional interview gathered stories of experience,
response, and ideas about ways forward from 96 participants across 13 countries. Their
generous and insightful contributions were thematically analysed congruently with narrative
practice’s theoretical bases of poststructuralist, feminist and critical thought. This reflexive
process generated 12 themes describing complex and multi-storied experiences of living
with anorexia over time. Some themes highlighted the capacity for anorexia’s ongoing
influence to create profound and extensive difficulties in people’s lives; accumulating
consequences for physical, psychological and social wellbeing were compounded by
multiple psychiatric and societal discourses that created obstacles and confounded
attempts at seeking support or creating change. Other themes illuminated the meaningful
ways participants engaged with their circumstances to purposively manage both their lives
and anorexia’s influence in it in order to overcome barriers, to reclaim all or part of their
lives, and to live meaningfully and consistently with their values, beliefs and hopes.
In a realm where there is considerable professional uncertainty about how best to proceed
or help, the Enduring anorexia project points to a need for:

  • professional attitudes that view people as separate from problems and privilege
    ‘insider’ over ‘expert’ perspectives;
  • therapeutic approaches that attend to the politics of experience, and double-listen
    for skills, knowledges and entry points into alternative storylines;
  • support services that are available, accessible and intentionally inclusive;
  • research lenses and directions that focus on response, inclusion, opening space for
    possibility, and reporting respectfully;
  • a re-conceptualisation of what has been considered a problem of the individual, to
    invite wider societal responses.

Throughout, narrative practice is shown to be an effective lens/tool for conducting
inclusive, non-blaming, hopeful and generative research. The Enduring anorexia project incorporates reflections on academic research processes, written from the perspective of an insider-practitioner-researcher.


The power to speak: Poetic re-presentation as an ethical aesthetic research practice for narrative therapists

Sarah Penwarden and Laurel Richardson



Narrative therapists may hold a commitment to a person speaking for and making meaning
of their own life stories – maintaining a person’s speaking rights as the primary meaning
maker of their lives. When therapists wish to research counselling practice to gain new
insights about the effects of the work, how they handle the speaking of those who
participate in their research requires ethical sensitivity. This paper considers the value to
narrative therapy practitioners of a qualitative research approach to representing
participants’ words: poetic re-presentation. Created by American sociologist Laurel
Richardson, poetic re-presentation is a research strategy that involves a researcher turning
transcripts of participants’ words into found poetry. This strategy clearly delineates
between the speaking of the participant in a research conversation and the later
representation of this speaking on the page in a researcher’s writing. As such, this approach
seeks to maintain the participant as speaking in excess of the meaning the researcher makes
of it: speaking for themselves.


Engaging men who use violence: Invitational narrative approaches

Sarah Wendt, Kate Seymour, Natalie Greenland, Fiona Buchanan, Chris Dolman

Engaging men in a conversation about change is one of the key challenges for practitioners working with men who use violence. Men who use violence often minimise or justify their violent behaviour, and they can be defensive when challenged. Engagement is the first step towards attitudinal and behavioural change.

Speaking two languages: a conversation between narrative therapy and scientific practices

David Epston, John R. Stillman & Christopher R. Erbes

Journal of Systemic Therapies, Vol. 31, No.1, 2012, pp. 74–88

Click here to download the article

Narrative therapy and research

Compiled by Dulwich Centre Publications (2004)

International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, (2), 29–36.

There are rich connections between narrative therapy and practices of research, and considering these links has been a source of creativity for many practitioners. This short piece seeks to describe how narrative therapy first began to be described as co-research, and describes some of the common research practices that are engaged with by narrative therapists. This piece also considers the powerful challenges that Indigenous researchers are making to the field of research. This paper has been collaboratively created. Marilyn O’Neill, Shona Russell, Makungu Akinyela, Helen Gremillion, David Epston, Vanessa Jackson, and Michael White all responded to the questions listed below, and David Denborough then wove their responses into a final form. To download this article, click here (pdf, 132 KB).

Repositioning traditional research: Centring clients’ accounts in the construction of professional therapy knowledges

Stephen Gaddis (2004)

International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, (2), 37–48. 

As a boy, I was subject to the ideas that therapists had about how to help me. In my experience, the ideas they used were not helpful to me and may have inadvertently created more suffering for my family and me. This experience and my interest in narrative therapy led me to want to challenge the sources that shape what therapists think is helpful for clients. One important source that constructs therapists’ ideas about therapy is research. One of my greatest concerns has to do with how traditional research practices privilege professionals’ interpretations and understanding over those of clients. I have attempted to re-consider therapy research so that its main purpose is to honour clients’ accounts of therapy. My hope is that this will enable us as therapists to be taught as much by clients as by other professionals. The research project I undertook resulted in the participants (i.e., ‘therapy clients’) reporting that their experience of the project helped them with the problems they struggled with in their lives and relationships. This was an outcome I had not anticipated but is quite exciting to consider. To download this article, click here (pdf, 164 KB).

Living a more peopled life: Definitional ceremony as inquiry into psychotherapy ‘outcomes’

By Jane Speedy (with Gina Thompson and others) (2004)

International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, (3), 43–53.

This paper raises questions about the current European and North American culture of ‘evidence-based practice’ and troubles the conventions of ‘psychotherapy outcomes’ research. Outsider-witness practices and definitional ceremonies are suggested as collaborative re-search processes that sit more congruently with narrative, post-structuralist and feminist ideas and with narrative therapy practices that may, equally, be effective ways of influencing policymakers and shaping future services. Narrative practitioners and the people consulting them are invited to contribute to an international narrative therapy outcomes re-search conversation. To download this article, click here (pdf, 180 KB).

Decentring research practice

By Andrew Tootell (2004)

International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, (3), 54–55.

This article presents a brief account of one therapist’s journey to develop a research approach that was consistent with their values and practice as a therapist. This journey led to the development of a ‘De-centred research practice’ based upon an ethic of collaboration and equity, which seeks to document the ‘local’ skills and knowledge of the research participants. To download this article, click here (pdf, 139 KB).

Working for ethical research in practice

By Kathie Crocket, Wendy Drewery, Wally McKenzie, Lorraine Smith, John Winslade (2004)

International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, (3), 61–66.

As counsellor educators, therapists, and researchers practising from social constructionist understandings within a university context, we are called frequently to think about the interrelationships between practice and research. In this paper, we suggest that as practices, research and therapy have much in common. Furthermore, we explore the possibilities that are created when both therapy and research are considered to be ethical relational practices. To download this article, click here(pdf, 169 KB).

Measuring the Narrative: The Challenge of Evidencing change in Narrative Therapy

Weatherhead, Stephen and Jones, G. J. (2008) Measuring the narrative : the challenge of evidencing change in narrative therapy. Clinical Psychology Forum, 188 (1). pp. 38-41. ISSN 0269-0144

Making Sense of Epistemological Conflict in the Evaluation of Narrative Therapy and Evidence-Based Psychotherapy

by Robbie Busch, Tom Strong & Andy Lock

This paper outlines the epistemological and theoretical formation of narrative therapy and implications for its evaluation. Two authoritative paradigms of psychotherapy evaluation have emerged in psychology since the mid- 1990s. The Clinical Division of the American Psychological Association established the empirically supported treatment (EST) movement. A more inclusive but medically emulative model of evidence based practice in psychology (EBPP) then emerged. Some therapies such as narrative therapy do not share the theoretical commitments of these paradigms. Narrative therapy is an approach that values a non-expert based, collaborative, political and contextual stance to practice that is critical of normalising practices of medical objectification and reductionism. Post-positivist theoretical influences constitute narrative therapy as a practice that values the social production and multiplicity of meaning. This paper problematises a conflictual relationship (a differend) between the evaluation of narrative therapy and evidence based psychotherapy. Firstly, it briefly outlines the EST and EBPP paradigms and their epistemology. This paper then provides an overview of some of the key epistemological and theoretical underpinnings of narrative therapy and concludes with some cautionary notes on its evaluation.

Transforming evidence: A discursive evaluation of narrative therapy case studies

Robbie Busch 
(2007). Transforming evidence: A discursive evaluation of narrative therapy case studies. The Australian Journal of Counselling Psychology, 7(2), 8-15.

A recent shift in American Psychological Association policy for what constitutes as evidence in psychotherapy has resulted in the inclusion of qualitative methodologies. Narrative therapy is a discursive therapy that is theoretically incongruent with the prevailing gold standard of experimental methodology in psychotherapy outcome evaluation. By using a discursive evaluation methodology that is congruent with narrative therapy this study of six peer-reviewed narrative therapy case articles found shifts in client positioning in the transformation from medical pathology discourses to strength-based discourses. It is concluded that five out of six case studies coherently demonstrated the effectiveness of narrative therapy with positive outcomes for clients and that a discursive evaluation has utility in producing a thick description of therapeutic outcome.

Evidence of cultural resonance – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander contributions

Over the past two decades, extensive documentation has developed in relation to how narrative approaches have been engaged with by practitioners in diverse cultural contexts in ways that fit with local cultural practices/philosophies/values. This has involved local practitioners taking the key ingredients of narrative approaches and then co-developing their own locally diverse practices that fit for their local context. This evidence of cultural resonance and adaptability and the histories of cross-cultural partnership is valued highly here at Dulwich Centre. Examples of this documentation of cultural resonance within Indigenous Australia include:

‘Reclaiming our stories, Reclaiming our lives’

An initiative of the Aboriginal Health Council of South Australia (1995)

Dulwich Centre Newsletter, (1).

This publication documents a partnership between the Aboriginal Health Council of South Australia and Dulwich Centre in responding to Aboriginal families in South Australia who had experienced the loss of a family member due to death in custody. This publication describes a form of narrative community gathering that was developed through this cross-cultural partnership.

Part One of this document is called 'Aboriginal deaths in custody: Placing counselling in a social justice framework'. It includes a section describing ‘narrative therapy and its role in the project’. We will include an extract here:

At Camp Coorong, several things were identified by Aboriginal people as particularly helpful:

  • Naming injustice
    Aboriginal people were able to identify the 'dominant story', which was about personal guilt and inadequacy, and rename it as injustice and oppression. The freedom to use words 'murder’ and 'racism', and to publicly name their experiences of injustice, was experienced as profoundly freeing.
  • Listening teams
    The practice of using 'listening teams' in which members of the counselling team formed an audience to Aboriginal people’s stories, and then reflected upon what they had heard. A number of Aboriginal people commented that hearing their own stories reflected back in this way enabled them to see themselves differently, and to reclaim a pride in who they were. It also allowed them to recognise the remarkable strengths that they had demonstrated in surviving in the face of so much injustice.
  • Caring and sharing
    The emphasis placed on 'caring and sharing' and the building of community connections was identified as being central to Aboriginal ways. As one participant said about the listening groups, 'This reclaims the strengths of Aboriginal culture. Aboriginal culture has always had this. This has reiterated it, rejuvenated it. This is going on every day really around people’s kitchen tables – so all you are doing now is going much wider and getting back to our culture'.
  • The 'journey' metaphor
    The narrative approach makes considerable use of the 'journey' metaphor. Moving from dominant stories about one’s life to preferred stories is like making a journey from one identity to another. The provision of metaphoric 'maps' of the sorts of experiences, feelings and pitfalls that can happen on this journey by other people who have already made it, can play an important part in enabling people to more forward in their lives  … A number of Aboriginal people commented on the usefulness of the journey metaphor. (pp. 19–20).

To order the Reclaiming our stories, reclaiming our lives journal/report, click here.

For more information about the Reclaiming Our Stories, Reclaiming Our Lives project, contact Dulwich Centre

Telling our stories in ways that make us stronger

by Barbara Wingard & Jane Lester

Dulwich Centre Publications (2001)

This book includes descriptions of how the narrative therapy concept of externalising conversations has been taken up and used within Aboriginal communities to respond to issues of diabetes and grief. This includes within both urban and remote Aboriginal communities. It also includes a section on ‘Working together: towards culturally appropriate services’. Barbara Wingard is a descendant of the Kuarna People and worked as an Aboriginal Health workers for 24 years. Jane Lester is a descendant of the Yankunytjatjara/Antakarinya People from Central Australia and works in Adelaide as a consultant on various Indigenous projects.

To order Telling our stories in ways that make us strongerclick here.

Yia Marra: Good stories that make spirits strong From the people of Ntaria/Hermannsburg & Creating storylines: What is it about these stories that ‘make spirits strong’? And how did these stories come to be?

by David Denborough, Barbara Wingard, and Cheryl White

Dulwich Centre Foundation (2009)

 This document and CD is the result of a collective narrative project within the community of Ntaria/Hermannsburg. This involved telling and documenting special stories that ‘keep spirits strong’. It also involved linking the stories of the people of Ntaria with communities in Port Augusta and Arnhem Land. The documentation includes descriptions of what this process has meant to the people of Ntaria:

‘It makes us proud to know that our stories are now helping other people. We know that other people also go through a lot of things, and it’s good to know that our stories are now touching other people’s hearts … Now our stories are traveling. They have touched people in different countries. We really liked the stories that came back to us from different places. They are sharing their stories and somehow our story has got bigger.

Now we are bringing the old people’s stories forwards. These are important stories that were given to us. They are stories of our history. We are carrying them. Sometimes the stories might not be our own, someone else may have told them – but we are all carrying them. We are all bringing the stories forward now. The stories may be small. Or they may be stories from the past that have remained untold. All these stories bring pride. We are proud to bring the old people with us. And the stories are getting stronger now.

Now we need to thank the people who first shared their stories with us – the people of Port Augusta and Arnhem Land. We would like to thank then very much for sharing their words with us, for opening their hearts to us. Their stories came first … We had lost so many in our families, especially in the big car accident and the whole community felt sad. We’d lost loved ones and we were all in sadness. We didn’t have anyone to tell our stories to until their stories came. We heard their stories and they touched our hearts. Then we decided to do our story. We wanted to share our story with them and with other communities. A few people started doing their stories and then it grew bigger. Now our stories have gone all over. It was really generous of those people in Port Augusts to tell us about how they were dealing with so many losses. Please pass our thanks onto them.’

For more information about the Yia Marra project, click here.

Finding hidden stories of strength and skills: Using the Tree of Life with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children

DVD Dulwich Centre Foundation (2009) 

The Tree of Life narrative approach to working with vulnerable children is being used in creative and effective ways by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers and community members. This DVD features a range of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers describing their use of the Tree of Life approach. For more information about this DVD, click here.

‘These stories are like a healing, like a medicine …’

The special skills and knowledge of the Aboriginal communities of Port Augusta, Yirrkala, & Gunyangara (Ski Beach) (2006)

This collection of stories was the result of a narrative therapy/collective narrative practice project conducted in two Aboriginal communities in Arnhem Land – Yirrkala & Gunyangara. The project was initiated in response to recent suicides in the community. For more information about the project, click here. This collection of stories articulates the power and possibility of narrative practice in the sharing of stories of skills and knowledges between communities: 

We have been feeling for our community, but our hearts are for all people. We would like to share these words with others, with the wider world. We would like you to know about what is happening here. We would like to exchange ideas with other communities. We must not hide ourselves. We must openly share ourselves. We are alive and our words must travel, they must go on journeys, further and further to enable people to see us’,

- Djerrknu (Eunice) Marika, Senior Elder at Yirrkala (p. 3).

Even though the distance is far, the spirits have become one. We are joined. Your words and our words are matching. Our two spirits from north and south are sitting around the fire. Their spirits have come to agreement. Our two spirits are shaking hands, sharing knowledge. We have been lost in the darkness and need to find the place where the water is. Wherever there is water, we know that there is also the sounds of frogs. When we hear this, the frog leads us to the streams, to where water is running. We have been lost in darkness, looking for a way to survive. These stories are like the call of the frog. We can’t see the frog in darkness but the sound tells us that the water is there, the future is there. We must follow the sound of the frog. We must follow these stories to where they will lead us’,

- Djuwalpi Marika, Senior Elder at Yirrkala (p. 50). 

Further readings about narrative practice and cultural resonance

 For further discussion about narrative practice, cultural resonance, considerations of cultural appropriateness, and de-colonisation, see:

Akinyela, M. (2002). De-colonizing our lives: Divining a post-colonial therapyInternational Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, (2), 32–43.

Arulampalam, S., Perera, L., de Mel, S., White, C., & Denborough, D. (2005). Avoiding psychological colonisation: Stories from Sri Lanka – responding to the tsunami. In Denborough, D. (Ed.), Trauma: Narrative responses to traumatic experience (pp. 87–102). Adelaide, Australia: Dulwich Centre Publications.

Rojas, R., Montgomery, P., & Tovar, J. (1999). Reflections on language, power, culture and spirituality: Our experiences of the conference. In Dulwich Centre Publications (Eds.), Narrative therapy and community work: A conference collection (pp. 173–177). Adelaide, Australia: Dulwich Centre Publications.

Waldegrave, C., Tamasese, K., Tuhaka, F., & Campbell, W. (2003). Just Therapy – a journey: A collection of papers from the Just Therapy Team, New Zealand. Adelaide, Australia: Dulwich Centre Publications.

Yuen, A., & White, C. (2007). Conversations about gender, culture, violence & narrative practice: Stories of hope and complexity from women of many cultures. Adelaide, Australia: Dulwich Centre Publications.

Further questions

As we continue to accumulate and develop differing forms of research and evidence in relation to narrative practice, there are many questions we are keen to consider:

  • How can research processes contribute to an ever-increasing originality and diversity of practice?
  • How can research contribute to the development of culturally diverse, culturally appropriate and continually adaptable forms of narrative practice?
  • How can forms of research / evidence-gathering be congruent with local cultural traditions of knowledge-making?
  • How can forms of research / evidence-gathering be congruent with the ethics and principles of narrative practice
  • How can research processes contribute to de-colonisation?

We would welcome your input on any of these questions. We would also welcome your reflections on any aspect of the material listed on this site. Please contact us c/o


This repository, ‘Research, evidence, and narrative practice’, was compiled by David Denborough on behalf of Dulwich Centre Publications, November 2009. It was revised in August 2015

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