Michael White, the co-creator of Narrative Therapy, used outsider witness registers and when I first read about these, I could see that they could be a profound experience, both for the person who has come to Narrative Therapy (the client) and for those who have previously had Narrative Therapy (former clients). Basically, after working with someone, Michael might ask the client if they were willing to help others in future, serving as “witnesses” to therapy.
As an example, say a person has come to therapy and through the session(s), it is realised that a major concern for the client is the suicide of his mother (this was an actual example Michael gave and it was powerful – I had tears on the train when I first read it). During therapy, Michael asks if he can bring in a family whose experience, while not the same, might be of help. The other family had come to Michael for therapy after the single mother of three had attempted suicide. In this example, the mother had agreed to be an outsider witness for future clients. When Michael asked if she would come and speak with the young man whose mother had suicided, she agreed, asking if she could bring her three pre-teen children, too. What followed was a powerful definitional ceremony, in which the young man told his story, then the other family (mum and children) reflected on what had been said and then client was able to comment on their reflection. What an incredible opportunity for the family to create something helpful for another from their own pain!
So, definitional ceremonies using outside witnesses not only has something to offer to the client in therapy, it also allows the former client(s) to further reflect on their own journey and further strengthen their own evolved narratives. Sometimes, the best way to help yourself is to help others.
Outsider witness registers are definitely something I am going to consider using in future Narrative Therapy!