Thinking About Narrative Practice

While looking for sources that relate to narrative practice I discovered that I was not as sure about the definition of narrative practice as I had thought I had been. However, upon reading Campillo’s conference address (2011) of her favourite narrative therapy questions I discovered some really nice clear ways of understanding narrative practice. I also realised that the bulk of the article was things I have already learnt about and I was actually fairly sure of what narrative practice was, I just needed some reassurance and Campillo’s concise way of writing gave me the simple refresh I needed. I also found that I was drawn to sources that stuck with the therapy aspect of narrative practice, even though in class we have been quite focused on professional identity and we have touched on other really interesting areas such as narrative practice in business, education and health care.

I have assumed that this is because I like to see where things come from. I like to understand the basic concepts, the basic way to ask questions or perform an interview before applying these skills to different contexts. The first person we learnt about in class was Michael White so I have found myself going back to White and those who have cited him in my attempt to understand narrative practice.

This is how I came across Campillo’s conference address (2011). She begins with a quote from Michael White and continues to use his original work to explain her own practice (Campillo, 2011). She sums up a definition of narrative practice beautifully:

                “When lived experience is organised into a story, and it is located in a sequence of events, through time according to a theme, it allows us to make sense of those experiences. Organising lived experience into stories is a meaning making skill that shapes what we do and who we are.” (Campillo, 2011, p 36)

This definition makes sense to me as it shows what we have been working towards in class and I can understand it working in both a context of therapy and a context of professional identity. Throughout Campillo’s address (2011) I was able to identify the question process used to find the absent but implicit values in client’s stories. The following is a direct quote of the guide of the types of questions used by Campillo (2011, pp 36):

  1. Questions about what inspires action
  2. Questions about the values/concepts of life implicit with these actions
  3. Questions to historicise this implicit value/concept of life
  4. Questions that form relationships between this value/concept and how the person lives their life
  5. Questions about plans of future action

These questions are very similar to the interview style we followed in class and I appreciated seeing the question types that bring talking about the absent but implicit about. I also recognised that the examples used Campillo repeating the client’s words back to them in the follow up questions (2011). For example, after a client had identified their implicit value as “love of family” Campillo reused this exact phrasing in questions such as “What difference does it make for you to recognise that the love of your family inspires you to go on?” (Campillo, 2011, pp 36)

It was at this point in my understanding of the text that I realised how much I already know about narrative practice, that I understood general concepts, definitions and processes. This led me to search for a different type of resource that looked at narrative in a different way so I could learn something new and build upon the knowledge I had already gained in class.

Doan’s article (1998) was one answer to this search. It questions whether narrative practice is fulfilling its own aims to appreciate and respect multiple voices and viewpoints. This is still focused on therapy but it builds on the definitions of narrative practice using a postmodern and social constructionism context. To begin with I could see no connection between the postmodern world and narrative therapy but Doan’s explanation of the postmodern world as a place with “… an ever increasing disenchantment with the social, religious, economic and political grand narratives” and where these same things are seen as “social constructions of reality” I was able to view narrative practice from a different perspective (Doan, 1998, pp 380). Seeing the ideas of narrative practice in this way makes sense to me as if big things are a social construction then the individual story or narrative gains importance and shapes the world as we see it.

Doan is also adept at explaining some key points of narrative practice. He talks about how the client’s voice should be privileged in the conversation as they should be in control and know more about their own lives than academic ideas (Doan, 1998). This should also prevent the client being controlled or stereotyped by what Doan calls the grand narrative (1998). The grand narrative is explained using a conversation between Native American people and white European settlers about creation stories (Doan, 1998). The Native American people see the Europeans’ story as interesting and one to be shared around but the Europeans are offended by the Native Americans’ creation story, strongly believing that their narrative can be the only narrative (Doan, 1998). The belief on only one possible narrative is what Doan refers to as the grand narrative and discusses with wariness that narrative practice may fall into this same idea that the narrative way is the best way or the only way (1998).

While this resource gave me new insights into narrative practice and how it can be explained, Doan is still focused on therapy and I wanted to broaden my search to include learn something outside of the therapy context. This led me to a piece of research centred on public health nurses in Norway. This took the form of a qualitative interview study with twenty three public health nurses whose narrative interviews were recorded and analysed using descriptive methods (Dahl & Clancy, 2016). The resource states that it is using the narratives of nurses to better form a collective identity of public health nurses in Norway in light of recent changes to their health system (Dahl & Clancy, 2016).

This type of resource what exactly what I was hoping for to see how in academic writing narrative practice works in a professional context rather than a therapy context. The importance of narrative storytelling and reflection are reinforced numerous times by Clancy and Dahl and the discussion of identity and professional identity was also extremely useful in building on what I have understood about these concepts from class discussion. There was an emphasis on the collective professional narrative of the nurses rather than the individual nurses. The researchers noted that this was to clearly identify the aims of the group and more ably build better nursing practice (Dahl & Clancy, 2016).

I found this interesting as it strongly contrasts to the ideas of narrative practice therapy that we have looked at where the single story or what Doan (1998) calls the grand narrative is something to be avoided. In this professional context, however, the idea of group reflection and critical analysis was deemed more appropriate in the broad space in which they were working (Dahl & Clancy, 2016). The researchers do note, however that it would be beneficial for the nurses to have an opportunity to come together, tell their stories to each other and critically reflect on their practice to better understand how they should operate in regards to professional demands (Dahl & Clancy, 2016).

There were other aspects of the research that were incredibly similar to how we in BCM311 use narrative practice and how it is written about in a therapy context. This included the importance of a step by step process that in this case was the prefiguration, configuration and refiguration of the narrative (Dahl & Clancy, 2016). This follows the same idea of building and deconstructing a narrative to build understanding that we have practiced in class and that I have read about in the therapy context.  Another similarity was in the way that the researchers found big ideas about the subjects of the research and then broke this down into smaller values (Dahl & Clancy, 2016). They also used direct quotes to explain these values, showing the importance of one’s own language or words in explaining and clarifying narrative (Dahl & Clancy, 2016).

I began this task without much idea of what I was writing. Coming to the end, however, I think I have attempted to build a better groundwork of ideas for myself surrounding narrative therapy, looking at different perspectives and contexts. Prior to this task my academic reading relating to narrative practice was not comprehensive, in would probably best be described as a bit of a skim read. Through this piece of writing I have rebuilt my understanding of narrative practice and pulled a few different ideas together that will hopefully make learning about narrative practice easier and more fulfilling than it already has been in the future.

Thanks for reading.


Campillo, M 2011, ‘Keys to a subjugated story: my favourite narrative therapy questions,’ The International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, vol. 1, pp. 35-39.

Doan, R 1998, ‘The King is Dead; Long Live the King: Narrative Therapy Practicing what we Preach,’ Fam Proc, vol.37, pp. 379-385.

Dahl, M & Clancy, A 2016, ‘Meanings of knowledge and identity in public health nursing in a time of transition: interpretations of public health nurses’ narratives,’ Scandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences, vol. 29, pp. 679-687.

One thought on “Thinking About Narrative Practice

  1. I”m really interested in this last source that you’ve found as I’m in the middle of pulling together some provisional ideas about narrative practice in hospital contexts. The issue of time and resourcing is critical. In understaffed public health contexts, staff are flat out just getting things done, and it’s really hard for them to make time for narrative practice which does demand some patience, and does reward repeated review. So it’s tough to imagine hospital staff being supported to find time for a process that doesn’t immediately appear to generate data.

    But hospitals in the UK in particular are becoming more alert to the idea that narrative isn’t just what forms when a patient has a grievance — the story of what went wrong. There’s now a strong understanding that narrative is what is already in process at the moment a patient arrives. So there at least is an incentive for hospitals to listen, and we’re hearing much more about “patient narrative” as a result.

    My research is focused on the fact that narrative is already in process for staff too. So treatment staff (nurses, doctors and other health professionals) bring with them the parts for many stories, and the option of forming different sequences among them. As these elements are becoming storied, right in that moment, staff and patient meet — and what happens to their encounter story is very much the process of who they were each in the process of being, through choices and values each of them was turning over in their hands right at that moment.

    Thank you so much for this excellent summary, as it’s also helped me crystallise some thoughts that I was finding it hard to form.

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