“Why” Questions in Narrative Therapy

“Why” questions are used in Narrative Therapy, but many other therapeutic interventions either prohibit them or strongly urge therapists not to use this form of questions. Regarding their use, Michael White, the co-founder of Narrative Therapy stated:

I strongly believe in the resurrection of “why” questions in therapeutic conversations. * * * These “why” questions open space for people to give voice to and further develop intentional understandings about life and about what they accord value to in life. * * * People are defined by their purposes in life, and the defining of this aspiration and this account of what is accorded value constituted a conclusion about Peter’s [client able to determine things he valued in relation to a unique outcome] identity that contradicted the known and familiar negative conclusions that were associated with the dominant storyline of his life. (p 241)

White saw “why” questions as a way to get the client to consider what was important to him or her and they also served to help the therapist (in this case Michael) to understand in what the client placed value. Understanding what the client values helps the therapist in efforts to look at the significance of unique outcomes on the development of alternate narratives to counteract the dominant, trouble-saturated narratives for which the client has sought therapy.


Why did you decide to do this thing that was so out of character [discussing unique outcome]?

Why do you think this event was significant for you?

Why would you attempt this again [discussing unique outcome]?

In Narrative Therapy, the client is the expert in his or her story. The therapist is there to facilitate change, not to drive it. White suggested the therapist walked behind the client on this journey, being there for assistance, but not blocking the way in front and not at the client’s side (as the client understands better what is happening and drives change). The therapist asks “why” to help the client understand his or her motives and to enlighten the therapist.

Why would we want to avoid questions that put clients in charge of changing their narratives?

[White, M. (2007). Maps of narrative practice. W W Norton & Co.]