I first came across narrative therapy on my first course in solution-focused brief therapy, in 1995, and it has interested me ever since. In 2014 and 2015 I trained at Levels 1 and 2 with the Institute of Narrative Therapy, and I am discovering its useful applications for both individual and collective practices.
Influence on solution-focused practice
As I say in my book, Solution-Focused Practice, narrative ideas already are applied within solution-focused practice, as developed at BRIEF in particular. Bill O’Hanlon once said that the difference between solution-focused therapy and narrative therapy is that, in the former, the therapist responds to an achievement by asking “How did you do that?” while in the latter, the therapist asks “Who are you to have done that?”
BRIEF highlights this difference between doing and being by referring to the former as strategy questions and the latter as identity questions, and many solution-focused therapists, including myself, use them both in their solution-focused practice - into which we are actually integrating some narrative therapy.
Outsider witness practice
My interest in narrative therapy was revitalised in 2012 when I attended the Narrative Responses to Trauma conference in Ramallah, Palestine. While there, I acted as an 'outsider witness’ along with several other international therapists, to the story of a Palestinian refugee family as told to their Palestinian narrative therapist. Outsider witness practices are a powerful means of strengthening people’s preferred stories about themselves, through finding witnesses to them, who share how they are affected by these stories in their turn. I am finding this practice a powerful means of consolidating change.
Narrative therapists make great use of documents, and the chapter 'A Storied Therapy’ in Narrative Means to Therapeutic Ends, by Michael White and David Epston, is one of my favourite reads in the whole of the therapy literature. It is full of examples of letters to clients and important people in their lives, which help in telling and reinforcing new stories about them.
Hugh Fox has written an excellent article on the use of therapeutic documents.
During my narrative therapy training, Hugh Fox said that before Michael White, one of the founders of narrative therapy, decided to use the narrative metaphor, he had contemplated calling the approach ‘Linking Lives Therapy’, and having trained in it I can see why.
The use of outsider witnesses and documents in particular help to make connections between people, and I believe that narrative practices can play a role in the collective, community approaches discussed elsewhere on this website.