The Narrative approach was founded on and grew from the construction of respectful practices with people in counselling and therapy. Created and documented by Michael White and David Epston more than 30 years ago, the Narrative practices and work were born out of a need to interact with therapy clients in a respectful and collaborative way. Most of these clients were rendered voiceless, labelled with conditions that they were not asked to describe or name in their own words, even though they were living with these experiences every day.
Now the work engages in transformational ways with teams, organisations and communities, as a new generation of trained narrative practitioners brings these ideas into the mainstream.
The Narrative approach begins with the idea that a word opens a world. How we speak and the story we tell shapes who we are. This means that we can create an alternative future by shifting the stories we hold to be true. As a society we are enslaved and trapped by the problem stories that we tell ourselves and one another. Not only are we used to having these problem stories around, we also have a relationship with them that sets limits on what is possible for us and our institutions. There are assumptions and beliefs that we take for granted and they mysteriously start to dominate our lives and invite us to become mere docile bodies. Examples of these assumptions are the dominant belief in the scarcity of life, the competitive nature of mankind, the inevitability of war, and the belief that only certain elites are authorized to “know” and declare what is true.
These taken-for-granted assumptions give us more of what we have and do not produce anything new. The power of these dominant problem stories is that they hide their history, influence and impact on our lives as we shrug our shoulders and tell our friends, “This is just the way it is.” This commitment to the way things are and our ignorance of the powerful effects of these stories are causing so much suffering and hopelessness and yet we have grown accustomed to this way of being.
The Narrative work helps us realise how weary we have become of these stories. It asks profound questions about them. These questions give us a peek into a possible future that we never thought likely, and a whole new dance with the story takes its first step into becoming. The Narrative approach invites us as human beings into the possibility of re-authoring our lives and organisational stories in ways that speak to and of our humanity. Setting ourselves up as authors goes beyond merely thinking in a new way about our lives; it invites us to take up the pen or the brush and start writing or painting our lives and systems in preferred ways of being in this world.
The Narrative work confronts us with our freedom and invites us to live a life where our participation in the world really matters. The work creates distance from these stories that we call dominant problem-saturated narratives. We give the problem narrative a name. We explore the history of the story as well as how we influence and are influenced by the narrative. We examine how the taken-for-granted ideas and beliefs in a particular society inform and sustain the problem narrative. The work continually looks for moments and relationships in our history where that problem narrative was not true, was not the whole truth or was not present. Those different moments and relationships become the seeds for exploring the alternative narrative. We then give this alternative narrative a name. We further explore the ideas, beliefs, skills, gifts and community that can support this alternative narrative.
The Narrative approach seeks to address and confront us with our relationship to freedom and authorship, as it invites us to live a life where our participation in our stories and in the world really matters. As we re-write the narratives we once held to be the truth – and the only truth – about our lives, we shift the future of our own lives and the communities we form part of.
The Narrative work invites participants into the transformative Narrative process that opens the possibility of becoming agents and authors of our lives as we live into an alternative future and story about God, world, work, community, neighbour and self.
Infinite stars from which to make a pattern
Patterning a story
that is ours to make.
Even across vast distance
we connect the space between.
The inward story
and the outer pattern
in our transformation