‘The written word and narrative practice’ by David Newman

One of the defining early characterstics of what has come to be known as ‘narrative therapy’ was the creative use of documentation or the written word. We therefore thought it would be fitting to focus this second on-line Friday Afternoon Discussion with a presentation by David Newman on this topic. In this 30 minute presentation, David explores some of the anthropological ideas that inform documentation in narrative practice; offers some key principles to guide the use of the written word in narrative therapy; and provides some examples from his own therapeutic practice. We invite you to watch and then join the discussion!



Further reading:

Here is an earlier paper by David Newman describing his use of the written work within narrative therapeutic practice:

Rescuing the said from the saying of it, by David Newman

Published on January 24, 2013

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Stuart Stoddart

    Hi David, I enjoyed this video, it gave me some ideas about engaging some collaborative exchanges between people travelling a similar path – I do believe it can be generative and encouraging as it can be a lonely path. Thanks

  2. Leanne

    Hi David, Thanks for the video. I found it a really useful summary of the theory, principles and practice of using documents. I found your observation about ‘asides’ useful in thinking about how to improve my listening skills – as well as the acknowledgment that sometimes I might be surprised that these are seen as not helpful when I receive feedback. I would be interested in hearing a little about what sort of things you consider when you thinking about what form the document might take. What makes a poem more appropriate/helpful/expressive than a letter? Is it based on the type of language spoken and what that inspires? Thanks again. Leanne

    1. David Newman

      Hi Leanne,

      Thanks so much for your comment and your interesting question.

      When I consider my practice over the years I think I have chosen a document that is resonant with the people/person I am writing to. There are perhaps three options I can think of for practices that assist in resonance:
      *Sometimes this takes the form of noticing what people are drawn to (for example I see that for many young people poetic expression is resonant) or
      *Sometimes it is part of the local culture (for example with children documents can include explorations of the ‘picture book’ genre) or
      *Sometimes it is what people express their preference to be when I ask (often people say ‘could you please write a note to me in an email’ if I offer to write them some of the rescued meanings from the conversations and not for instance as a handwritten note or list that I might be about to write).

      And sometimes I have to have more creative options… Quite a few times recently in the psychiatric unit where I work part time the young people have said something like the following, ‘oi David, how’s it going? We going to do yet another letter in today’s group?’ So sometimes I know I require some more creative options!

      Thanks again for your questions Leanne.

      David N

  3. Georgios Vleioras

    Hi David and other discussants,

    First, I would like to share that I also felt uncomfortable with the quality of the video of this Friday. I am not a native speaker myself, so I would love to have the microphone closer to the speaker, so that I would hear everything that was being said.

    Second, I would like to say that what I liked most in this presentation is the idea of “linking lives”. I work mostly with individual sessions, and I always have the feeling that, hey, there are other people with such issues, so how can I get them to speak to each other? Last week, I was seeing a woman who had serious issues with her (now deceased) mother, and I suddenly thought of another woman that I see who has similar issues with her (still alive) mother. So, I asked from the first woman what she would advise the second woman. I took notes, read them back to her and then handed in them to the second woman.

    This second woman was very moved by one particular sentence of the “advice”, so moved that she asked not to discuss about it further. In the end of the session, I invited her to write down a response to the first woman. She also asked me whether I could bring them in touch with each other; I had no clue how to handle this. Any ideas?

    Third, I find the idea of writing letters very challenging. I don’t feel I can do that. What I do is that I provide to the people I see a paper with their words that I write down during the session. This leaves me with shorter notes for my files, but some of the people find this “technique” useful for them. Some others said that the power of the written words is so strong that they prefer not to take my notes with them.

    All in all, thank you for this great and inspiring presentation and discussion!

    1. David Newman

      Hi Georgios,

      Firstly sorry about the quality of the sound. We hope to fix that up in future.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments. That sounds like some interesting and moving exchanges through the written word between the two women you are meeting with. I find in those times where two people are linked in the written word I will ask both if they would like to be put in touch directly (either in person or through email or phone). I find sometimes people do and sometimes they don’t want to be put in touch directly.

      However I do think there are some complexities/dilemmas with this too. I think about what skills we can develop around the dilemmas; like for instance how can we assist the exchanges to be building of connection and preferred stories and not hijacked by the problem story or even practices of comparison? As a result of such complexities/dilemmas I think it can sometimes be useful to facilitate the exchanges, to have the written linking through the worker. Of course that is not always the case but I just wanted to add this particular dilemma.

      If you hand out written notes to clients I know that many people photocopy the notes, with the permission of the client, so they can be added to a file or re-written.

      Thanks again for your message and questions.


      David Newman

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