Narrative Therapy: A Summary

by Misha on 11/24/2013

Michael White and David Epston founded narrative therapy with the 1990 publication of their book, Narrative Means to Therapeutic Ends. In this post, I will summarize their book and describe the premise and processes of narrative therapy.


In working with families, White and Epston (1990) observe that, when asked to describe their reasons for seeking therapy, family members present a “problem-saturated” story of family life (p. 39). This problem-saturated story internalizes problems within the character of a specific family member or relationship and therefore eliminates family members’ personal responsibility for supporting problems in their behavior and beliefs. White and Epston claim that this problem-saturated story is the dominant narrative of family life, ascribing meaning to experiences and determining interaction within relationships at the cost of marginalizing alternative narratives. The purpose of narrative therapy is to help persons recognize and separate themselves from oppressive dominant narratives through an interactive creative process that enhances personal agency, leading to the creation and performance of preferred alternative narratives.


White & Epston (1990) propose externalization as the mechanism by which persons can separate themselves from problem-saturated descriptions of their lives and relationships. They define externalization as “an approach to therapy that encourages persons to objectify and, at times, to personify the problems that they experience as oppressive (p. 38). Externalization occurs in the creation of a significant object or persona that serves to represent a problem. This can take the form of a verbal or written description, an image, or any other product of a self-expressive medium. Through externalization, persons  can liberate themselves from the problem. The problem no longer dwell within their identity, but rather exists outside of themselves as a distinct entity. The person is free to act autonomously, no longer fused with the problem. Consequently, “the problem becomes the problem, and then the person’s relationship with the problem becomes the problem” (p. 40).

To encourage the process of externalization, White and Epston (1990) propose two sets of “relative influence questions” (p. 42). Relative influence questions assist persons in becoming more aware of a problem by describing their relationship to the problem. The first set of questions encourages persons to “map the influence” of the problem in their lives and relationships. These questions broaden the problem’s sphere of influence to span the behavioral, emotional, physical, interactional, and attitudinal domains of the whole family system, rather than the inherent nature a single person or relationship. The second set of relevant influence questions encourages persons to map their own influence and the influence of their relationships on the “life” of the problem. Personal agency is enhanced with this set of questions, as persons reveal their own roles in supporting the problem. From answering these relevant influence questions, a map is created that defines the structure of the dominant narrative and the requirements for the problem’s survival. Within this map, the persons and problem are “linked in a relation of dependence” (p. 63), with the problem influencing persons and relationships, and persons and relationships influencing the problem.

Just as a map of a region fails to represent every detail of that region’s geography, White and Epston (1990) assume that the map of a dominant narrative fails to represent a person’s lived experience in its entirety. Vital aspects that contradict the dominant narrative are left out, and White and Epston refer to these vital aspects as “unique outcomes” (p. 15). Persons are encouraged to identify unique outcomes through a “selective process” in which persons “prune” from their experiences those events that contradict the dominant narrative (p. 11). Unique outcomes can be historical (found by reviewing the past), current (found by analyzing therapy sessions), or future (found by imagining possible scenarios). These events are expanded and enriched by further investigative questioning from the therapist. From a thorough examination of unique outcomes, persons are able to identify personal resources, or skills they have employed to defy the problem.

Unique outcomes and personal resources form the base for the generation of preferred alternative narratives (White & Epston, 1990). They provide examples of moments when the problem’s supports were eliminated and the problem’s structure broke down. Because the problem and persons are linked in a relation of dependence, it can be said that the problem is dependent upon the persons for its survival. If the persons can alter their influence in the same manner as their unique outcomes, then they can stop supporting the problem, and the problem will cease to exist. By deconstructing the oppressive dominant narrative in this way, the path is cleared for the construction of a preferred alternative narrative. Meanings of experiences and relationships are revised, and the resulting description contrasts markedly with the description of the relationship between persons and problem initially derived from mapping relative influence. This new description informs the performance of the preferred alternative narrative, with persons acting out new roles and new meanings within their identities and relationships. These new roles and meanings are validated and encouraged by this public performance, and the preferred alternative narrative is further established.


White, M. & Epston, D. (1990). Narrative means to therapeutic ends. New York, NY: W. W.  Norton & Company.

No Comments

Free Audio and Imaging Software

by Misha on 09/17/2013

Social media therapy integrates audio and visual communication with textual exchanges. Below is a list of free online resources for audio and imaging software. My vision for the Virtual Counseling Clinic is to embed audio and imaging software into the website itself, so that therapists and clients can communicate in a variety of modes within one seamless platform. In the meanwhile, users can download and utilize these free online resources to create projects that can then be shared online.

Image Search/Stock Photography

Google Images







Sketchbook Express

3D Drawing/Modeling


Video Editing

Microsoft Movie Maker

Music Editing


2D and 3D Imaging in Time


No Comments

Social Media Therapy in Counseling

by Misha on 09/17/2013

Social media therapy is a form of expressive arts therapy that uses the act of creating user-generated content within as a means of fostering human insight, development, and healing. It is a postmodern approach  that posits the notion that virtual reality is the result of social construction. It is an integrative model that combines aspects of art therapydrama therapymusic therapywriting therapysolution-focused therapycollaborative therapy, and narrative therapy and situates them within the interpersonal sphere of the public domain. Within social media therapy, therapists and clients engage in synchronous or asynchronous dialogue by way audio, visual, and textual exchanges in a shared, virtual space. The result is a digital story that is published online to serve therapeutic ends.

No Comments

Narrative Therapy and Social Media: A Case

by Misha on 09/16/2013

With the 1990 publication of their book, Narrative Means to Therapeutic Ends, Michael White and David Epston founded narrative therapy, a social constructionist approach to family psychotherapy based on the deconstruction of problematic dominant narratives and the construction of preferred alternative narratives. In their own practice, White and Epston (1990) employed verbal communication and letter-writing as key tools in supporting the processes of narrative therapy. Since then, a variety of expressive arts media have been employed to meet these ends (Dunne, 1993). In more recent years, there has been a move to employ online technologies for conducting narrative therapy. This has taken shape in Murphy and Mitchell’s (1998) “therap-e-mail” and Collie’s (1998) computer-supported distance art therapy program. However, these online applications are somewhat dated, employing low bandwidth tools and failing to capitalize on the 21st century Web 2.0 technology of social media.

Dominant narratives present themselves within social media just as in real-world families and communities. They present themselves within singular threads (Christian, 2005) and throughout entire websites (Davis, 2012; Kelly, Fealy, & Watson, 2012; Wen-Ying, Hunt, Folkers & Augustson, 2011). These dominant narratives are “collectively constructed and individually articulated” (Davis, 2012, p. 319), and encapsulate “both favorable and derogatory identities” (Kelly et al., 2012, p. 1804). If dominant narratives present themselves within social media, then a case can be made for the application of narrative therapy to social media, so that users and communities can separate themselves from problematic dominant narratives in favor of the creation and performance of preferred alternative narratives.


Christian, A. (2005). Contesting the myth of the ‘wicked stepmother’: Narrative analysis of an online stepfamily support group. Western Journal of Communication69(1), 27-47.

Collie, K. (1998). Art therapy on-line: A participatory action study of distance counselling issues. Master’s thesis, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.

Davis, J. L. (2012). Narrative constructions of a ruptured self: Stories of transability on Sociological Perspectives55(2), 319-340.

Dunne, P. (1993). The narrative therapist and the arts. Los Angeles, CA: Possibilities Press.

Kelly, J., Fealy, G. M., & Watson, R. (2012). The image of you: Constructing nursing identities in YouTube. Journal of Advanced Nursing68(8), 1804-1813.

Murphy, L. J., & Mitchell, D. L. (1998). When writing helps to heal: E-mail as therapy. British Journal of Guidance & Counselling26(1), 21-32.

Wen-Ying, S. C., Hunt, Y., Folkers, A., & Augustson, E. (2011). Cancer survivorship in the age of YouTube and social media: A narrative analysis. Journal of Medical Internet Research13(1), e7.

White, M., & Epston, D. (1990). Narrative means to therapeutic ends. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.

No Comments

Web Counseling 2.0

by Misha on 09/6/2013

Counseling is moving online, but there is no established model with which to inform its practice. Mental health professionals are treating online counseling as a form of distance counseling, applying real world models to virtual world encounters without regard for the unique properties of the web. They are using the internet as a tool for communication (email, instant messaginginternet phonevideoconferencing) rather than a space for content generation. Most existing online counseling websites fail to utilize the 21st century Web 2.0 technology of social media.

The accumulation of user-generated content within social media is a virtual manifestation of social construction, as users around the world unite to form online communities that create culture through the exchange of audio, visual, and textual information. Just as the numerous realities formed through social construction comprise the imagined worlds of human social existence and activity, so too do they comprise the virtual worlds of human social existence and activity. If social media is to be employed as a means for conducting online counseling, then social constructionist models (solution-focused therapynarrative therapy, collaborative therapy) should be applied, as the content of the theory complements the form of the medium.

Therefore, I propose the creation of a social media platform designated for online therapy, whereby therapists and clients can collaborate as equal members within virtual communities to construct the narratives of therapy. This is my vision for the Virtual Counseling Clinic.

No Comments