Narrative therapy: challenges and communities of practice

Susanna Chamberlain

in Discursive Perspectives in Therapeutic Practice

Published on behalf of Oxford University Press

Published in print April 2012 | ISBN: 9780199592753
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754715 | DOI:

Series: International Perspectives in Philosophy & Psychiatry

Narrative therapy: challenges and communities of practice

Show Summary Details


What I have tried to show in this chapter is that narrative therapy emerged at a time when there was an undercurrent of dissatisfaction with the standard psychiatric approaches towards mental illness and personal problems. In the late 1970s, family therapy flourished as it attempted to incorporate the individual within a broader context, and as it dealt with problems as concerning the whole family, rather than focusing upon the individual as the entire limit of his own experience. The Whites and the Epstons engaged with the political ideas of the era, became engaged in the family therapy field, and began to correspond with their separate innovations, in the process influencing each other, and ultimately a whole field of endeavour.

The postmodern writings of theorists such as Foucault provided both a language with which to describe and analyse the practices that had proved effective in the therapy arena, and as support for the stance of challenge of the dominant orders, the hegemonies of everyday life, which became a significant part of both the therapy and the community work. Whether the oppressive regime was one of gender, race, heterosexual dominance, or ableism, each was to be challenged and deconstructed. More than this, alternatives were to be discovered and co-created in a practice Epston referred to as co-research, where client and therapist entered into a collaboration in developing alternatives stories and preferred lives.

The counselling practices included a wide range of innovative and useful techniques, ranging from a repertoire of incisive and interrogative questions to the encouragement of creative expressions. The central concept that the ‘person's not the problem, the problem's the problem’ enabled the ‘externalizing of the problem’, to the extent that the problem itself could be interviewed, its motives and gains discovered, and the person could choose whether to remain recruited by the externalized problem or not.

Drawing from a range of anthropologists, White and Epston developed a number of concepts: Bateson provided the inspiration for double descriptions, Geertz offered the ideas of thick and thin descriptions, Myerhoff indicated the possibilities of re-membering persons within communities (1982, 1986), Vygotsky showed that learning theory could be incorporated into therapy (1986), and Bruner provided the language of landscapes which became developed into ways of mapping aspects of life and meaning.

What is particularly interesting in the community approaches is that every one of the innovations that narrative therapy developed over the years is utilized in ways that lead to practices which form the basis for the community to address problems and find alternative ways of being. The documents of identity, the letters and certificates once confined to the family, individual, or therapy room, now find a place within a community arena. The reflecting team which enables a group of caseworkers to come together, sharing their differing perspective on and with the client in therapy, becomes an opportunity for some parts of a community to listen and respond to a particular group. The maps which serve the purpose of locating an individual within their own landscapes of action and experience here help to develop a clear picture for the community to come together with a new picture of itself.

Narrative therapy is the result of a number of collaborations over the last three decades—collaborations between Epston and White to provide the early and continuing development of key ideas, between Michael and Cheryl White in disseminating and facilitating the work being done in the field, between a huge range of teachers and therapists with each other, and more importantly with their clients and communities.

Chapter.  9973 words. 

Subjects: Psychiatry

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.