An Audience to Reflect Preferred Stories

When I was in primary school, a small number of other students and I were put in a room where the school counsellor spoke to us. At the time, I didn’t understand what a counsellor was and I didn’t realise that he was more than simply interested in us. Were we the “problem” children? I don’t know. I don’t remember being a problem, but I do remember the conversations and changes that happened over the following weeks.

The discussions we had as a group allowed us to reflect individually and we also had the benefits of an audience. We listened to each other and perhaps related to the challenges of the others in the group – I don’t remember if this was the case, but could imagine it was. What I do remember is that we encouraged and re-enforced for each other our stated goals and aspirations. I also found myself being more outgoing with other students. My outgoing nature that was nurtured in this group became a source of many friendships and of positive study and work environments during the years that followed. I was able to create a new, preferred identity.

The founder of Narrative Therapy, Michael White, noted the significance of these group interactions, observed during his years of working with children, stating:

As with the development of many other narrative practices, it was in my consultations with children that I first explored the contribution of the audience or the outsider-witness group to the authentication of the alternative and preferred identity claims that are routinely derived in narrative conversations. It was in this work with children that I became conscious of the extent to which it is the therapist’s business to arrange therapy as a context for ceremonies of redefinition – to arrange social areas in which there are opportunities for people to step into alternative and preferred identity claims and to perform them, and in which these claims can be acknowledged by an appropriate audience. (p 8)

White, M. (2000). Reflections on narrative practice. Adelaide, South Australia: Dulwich Centre Publications.

From less formal group settings – including family therapy – White was able to explore and eventually develop more formal definitional ceremonies. These ceremonies became central to Narrative Therapy.

For some issues, individual counselling sessions are ideal, but for many others, group work can provide an optimum environment in which clients can have opportunities to perform preferred narratives, trialling the fit of new stories in front of those considered peers. Group responses can provide feedback that encourages or suggests other perspectives – giving the therapy client responses which might suggest how narrative changes would be accepted more broadly.

This is not a one-way street. Others watching and taking part can themselves be encouraged to make desired change, can be inspired by the bravery of others and can develop greater empathy and insights into the lives of others.

In case it is not obvious, I enjoy facilitating group work! Perhaps this might be a therapy environment you want to consider when you need assistance?

That your evolving narratives will bring you strength and joy!

Lee Jordan, MBA, MEd, MCouns
Lee Jordan, MBA, MEd, MCouns