Framework for a White/Epston Type Interview

Framework for a White/Epston type interview

Sallyann Roth and David Epston


This summary is based on and extended from “The process of questioning: A therapy of literary merit.” In The Selected Papers of Michael White, Dulwich Centre Publications, 1989



  • Externalising establishes a context where people experience themselves as separate from the problem. That is, separate from problem-saturated descriptions that have encompassed or have become” their identities. It changes persons’ relationship to problems, and shifts the conversation to a focus on the relationship between the person and the problem instead of a focus on a problem-person.
  • The problem is seen as the problem; the person or relationship in question is not seen as the problem.
  • Externalising the problem counteracts the effects of labelling.
  • Externalising enables people to work together to defeat or resist problems.
  • It reduces guilt and blame.


  • That is: How does the problem affect the person(s)?
  • Helps to mutually develop an understanding of the experience-near problem-saturated story.
  • Crucial to take enough time to develop this, for persons to feel their experience is”known” and for them to “know it” in a way that offers them a different, more detailed perspective on the problem’s effects on their lives.
  • A broad mapping at this stage opens multiple opportunities for exploring unique outcomes later. It also gives a rich sampling of people’s language habits around the problem.
  • How does busyness feature in your work life? In your life beyond work? Your relationships?
  • When it is is having it’s way with you, what happpens to your dreams for the future?
  • Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the way the busyness is “wrecking my relationship” and leaving you no time for friends?


  • Through this process people begin to see themselves as authors — or at least co-author’s of their own stories. They begin to move toward a greater sense of agency in their lives.

Unique outcome questions

  • These questions invite people to notice actions and intentions that contradict the dominant story. These can pre-date the session, occur within the session itself, or might happen in the future.
  • Given over-responsibility’s encouragement of busyness, have there been any times when you have been able to rebel against it and satisfy some other of your desires? Did this bring you delight or pleasure?
  • (If there have not been such times) Have there been times that you have thought — even for a moment — that you might step out of busyness’s forced march?
  • Did you give busyness the slip to come here and indulge yourself in the luxury of this conversation?
  • Can you imagine a time in the future that you might defy busyness and give yourself a break.

Unique account questions

Conversations develop more fully following the identification of unique outcomes. How can these become features in a preferred alternative story?

  • Unique account questions invite people to make sense of exceptions that may have not even registered as significant, and to hold them as part of an emerging coherent narrative.
  • They employ a grammar of agency
  • They locate any unique outcome in its historical frame; any unique outcome is linked in some coherent way to a history of struggle/protest/resistance to oppression by the problem or an altered relationship with the problem.
  • How were you able to defy it’s prescriptions?
  • Given everything that busyness has got going for it, how did you protest against its pushing you around?
  • How might you stand up to busyness’s pressure to get you busy again, to refuse its requirements of you?
  • Was it easier than you thought, doing what you did?
  • Could your coming here be considered a form of disobedience?

Unique Redescription Questions

These invite people to develop meaning from the unique accounts they have identified as they re-describe themselves, others, and their relationships.

  • What does this tell you about yourself that you otherwise would not have known?
  • By affording yourself some delight, do you think in any way that you are becoming a more delightful person? Of all the people in your life, who might confirm this newly developing picture of you? Who might have noticed this ? Who would support this new development

Unique possibility questions

Next step questions. These invite people to speculate about the personal and relational futures that derive from their unique accounts and unique redescriptions.

  • Where do you think you will go next now that you have embarked upon self-delight? Is this a direction you see yourself taking in the days/ weeks/years to come? Do you think it is likely that this might revive your flagging relationship, restore your friendships, or renew your vitality?

n.b. this can lead back to unique redescription questions.

Unique circulation questions

Circulation. The inclusion of others in the newly developing story is essential to anchoring and continuing the development of the alternative story.

  • Is there any one your would like to tell about this new direction you are taking?
  • Who would you guess would be pleased to learn about this? Would you be willing to put them in the picture?

 Experience of experience questions

These questions invite people to be an audience to their own story, by seeing themselves, in their unique accounts, through the eyes of others.

  • What do you think I am appreciating about you as I hear how you have been leaving busyness behind and taken up with self-delight?
  • What do you think that this indicates to Judy ( best woman freind) about the significance of the steps you have taken in your new direction.

Questions which historicize unique outcomes

These are an essential type of experience of experience questions. aamThey serve to develop the nascent alternative story, to establish it as having a memorable history, and to increase the likelihood of its being carried forward into the future. The responses to these produce “histories of the alternative present” ( White (1993) Gilligan & Price (Eds.) Therapeutic Conversations Norton.

  • Of all the people who have known you over the years, who would be least suprised that you have been able to take this step?
  • Of the people who knew you as you were growing up, who would have been most likely to predict that……..?

Following this a whole series of questions can be asked about the historical context.

What would X have seen you doing that would have encouraged him or her to predict that you would be able to take this step? What qualities would X have credited you with that would have led him or her to not be surprised that you have been able to ….?

These are the main classes of questions described according to their purpose and temporality. However, many other formats for the construction of questions are available to this work. Once you grasp the format and the conceptual frame for developing questions, past, present or future unique account questions, unique redescription questions etc. that are connected to the experience and affect of the persons will be easy to develop and will seem “natural” to the interviewer and the context.

Preference questions

These are asked all through the interview. It is important to intersperse many of the above questions with preference questions so as to allow persons to evaluate their responses. This should inflluence the therapist’s further questions and check against the therapist’s preferences overtaking the clients’ preferences.

  • Is this your preference or not? Do you see it as a good or a bad thing for you? Do you consider this to your advantage and to the disadvantage of the problem or to the problem’s advantage and to your disadvantage?


Consulting your consultants questions *

These serve to shift the status of a person from “client” to “consultant,” a person who, due to experience, has special knowledge to make available to other struggling with similar issues.

  • Given your expertise is the life-devouring ways of busyness what have you learned about its practices that you might want to warn others about?
  • As a veteran of busynesss and all that that has meant to you, what counter-practices of self-delight would you recommend to those in the service of business.


* Epston, D. & White M. (1992) Consulting your consultants: The documentation of alternative knowledges. In Epston, D. & White, M. Experience, Contradiction, Narrative and Imagination. Dulwich Centre Publications, Adelaide.
© copyright 1995 David Epston & Sallyann Roth
Framework for a White/Epston Type Interview