Notes From A Workshop at the 2011 Adelaide Narrative Therapy and Community Work Conference

David Epston


Two versions at odds with one another; they are in relationship in that the counter-version/counter-plot(s) depend for its very ‘life’ on the Problem’s version/plots(s) it contradicts. Each version is a rival for the meaning to be made out of events in anyone’s life. There is a ‘fierce’ contest to see which reading will prevail ‘for the time being’. Prevalence does not guarantee that it will endure. At times the rivalry rages between that which is familiar, well known, untroubling or in no way confusing and that which is novel, adventurous, thrilling but forbidding and unknown. You can ask these sets of queries of each competing version (i) what does it select out? what does it leave in? and, (ii) the real effects of reading your experience through this version compared to reading through the counter-version. Huspek refers to such rivalries as ‘duelling’, implying thrust and counter-thrust, attach and parry, feint and counter-feint. We now enter into enquiries at these points which are recurring as to how the questions we ask increase the reach of meaning or ‘fit’. And furthermore how to bring together and couple the event into the counter-version by means of emplotment.

The version/counter-version will turn or twist at points of ‘agon’, where the very meaning of things is agonized over. Here we speak of ‘turning points’, ‘points of departure’.

  • Accordingly we ask ourselves – does this version embrace or reject this? Is so, by what means?
  • If it fits comfortably in x, how does y reject it? How does either version read it into an emplotted event?
  • If a version almost embraces it, does such a version have to be expanded upon it to comfortably ‘fit’?
  • How does the counterplot take this report up and make it over into something ‘eventful’?
  • By the same token, how is this report either rejected by or even antagonistic to the Problem’s Version?




  • Before y, what would have been the likely outcome of y?
  • What would have likely happened?
  • Before y, what would you have predicated the Problem would have talked you into?
  • How would you have forecasted the Problem would have had you conduct yourself?
  • From what you have told me, I would have presumed/supposed/guessed that the Problem x …….. Can you appreciate why I am finding it so difficult to understand the fact that y ……..?
  • If you had total faith (If you believed absolutely) that the Problem knew the ‘truth’ about you and nothing but the ‘truth’,
  • Or – If the Problem had forced you to surrender your mind and soul to it, are you finding the fact that y ………… contradictory? confusing? If so, have you, in any way, called the Problem (x) into question?


  • Say the Problem had reduced you into its servitude, how likely would y have been?
  • Say the Problem had you at its mercy, how likely would y have been?


  • Here the two histories (x,y) are matched up so they can become contestable.
  • Given the Problem’s opposition to you since ?, what was behind your resistance to x?
  • Your refusal to go along with x to the extent/degree you so obviously have? How did you form your vision of y?


What do you suppose x predicts for your future? By the same token what would you guess y predicts for your future?

What ‘future’ (the future predicted by x or the future predicted by y):

  1. Do you aspire to?
  2. Is more in line with your hopes and dreams?
  3. Is closer to your desires?
  4. Approximates your purposes in living your life?


  • Say you could turn the clock back – which of course you can’t – if you had had y available to you when x prevailed, do you think things would have turned out differently in any way, than they did?
  • If we could turn y into the wisdom of hindsight, would x have fared so well against y in that incident …….?
  • How would x have fared against y on that occasion when ……..?


  • If you were to hand over all responsibility for your life to x, what kind of life would it lead you to lead?
  • By the same token, how would you lead your life guiding by y?
  • Which ‘life’ would be more in line with your moral vision (or view) of what it means to lead a good life or be a good person?
  • Which ‘life’ would the people in your life wish for you? Wish for their relationship with you?
  • Which ‘life’ would more likely afford you the peace you told me you are seeking for your life?
  • Tell me, if x were to continue to led your life after the same fashion, how do you see your life passing?
  • Tell me, if you were to lead your life according to y, how do you see your life passing?
  • When you look back over how x has lead your life, how do you compare that ‘life’ with the ‘life’ you have embarked upon according to y?

As odd as it may seem, the two versions (the Problem’s version and the counter-version) are brought face-to-face in a ‘duel’ for meaning which results in one at least prevailing. The attempt here is to make such a contest overt in a kind of ‘making up your mind’. However, it is unlikely that a Problem’s version, with a long history, will not persist as a ‘shadow’ of the counter-version. The Problem’s Version is contested in a ‘fierce’ and rivalrous engagement for meaning. The Problem’s Version will not just fade away and disappear by denying or overlooking it.

In the face of x, on this occasion, you did y. Help me understand how you consider this took place? How this became possible for you to achieve?


Given x, what is the significance to you that y…………. ? (or given x, how much does it matter to you that y …………. ?)

Given x, what significance would you have me accord the fact that y ………….?

If your mother knew everything about x, what might she now say (or how might she now respond) if she knew everything you have just told me about y?


  • Do you find that y doesn’t ‘fit’ into (or with) x (as well as it used to)?
  • What sense are you making of that?
  • How are you understanding this?
  • How might we understand this?
  • Help me comprehend this! For me, y just does not fit into/with x?
  • Do you find trying to fit y into x is something like trying to hammer a round block into a square hole?

The foundational statements or conditions of the Problem’s Version are persistently undermined until finally it gives way. Unrelenting and at times persistent questioning ‘chips away’ at such foundations. The contest is premised on the contradictions between the predictable (or ‘promised’) and the real effects of the Problem. At first such contradictions are rivalrous, dueling with each other. Questions are asked that overview/oversee the very attack and defense, thrust and parry rather than having the person ‘looking up’ to the Problem. Such people stand on an ethical -moral platform, often referred to as ‘preferences’. The counter-version allows for another reading to rival the Problem’s versions of the very same events. One reading is juxtaposed to the other, with the effects of each brought face to face along with the ‘purposes’ of each as they play themselves out in real life. Every opportunity is taken to set one version against the other.

The therapist is in general contradictious so that the counter-version preys upon subverts and hopefully ruptures the Problem’s version by a rival claimant, another telling of events. Such contradictions are drawn as distinctively and poignantly eloquent as is possible. In Matra Robertson’s terms, the “under-meanings” rise up and subordinate the super-meanings and for all concerned, matters seem turned upside down. One is obliged to choose sides. To be a rival claimant, legitimacy, authenticity and credibility are required.

  • Can you tell me the story of how your life would have led you if ………….?
  • What future do you think that ‘life’ would have predicted?
  • What now became possible for you to do (say, be, feel) that may have been very unlikely under the guidance of your other ‘life’?
  • Did this new ‘;life’ come as a surprise to you or did you anticipate it?
  • How did you come to know yourself as ‘new’?
  • Do you keep this new ‘self’ to your-self or have you shown it off to others?
  • Who was the first person to welcome the ‘new’ you?
  • Was there anyone who seemed unwilling to acknowledge the ‘newness’ of you?
  • In taking up this new ‘life’, did you set anything aside? Was that intentional or did it just fade away with disuse?
  • How did you respond to these ‘doubting Thomases’?
  • Did their doubts make you call your-self into question?
  • If so, how did you answer such questions?
  • How did you manage at this stage to keep your ‘new self’ going in the face of the ‘doubting Thomases’?
  • Did your new ‘you’ gravitate towards new people?
  • Did they welcome you without any reservations?
  • Did your new ‘self’ have to leave some others behind?
  • Was that bittersweet to do?


  • ‘Gap’ or ‘Vacancy’
  • What would have been predicable?
  • If I had asked you the same question some time ago, what would you predict your answer would have been?
  • Much cannot be accounted for here in my opinion. Could I ask you some questions to satisfy your curiosity as well as mine?
  • What ideas do you have to account for x when it was predictable that y …………?
  • Do you mind if I speculate a bit here? I am wondering if its possible that y may have ………..?

Questions for the Meeting with John, aged 10 and his Mother, Mary April, 11th, 2000

  1. If I were you, I wouldn’t want to meet an old guy like myself whom you’ve never met before through THE PROBLEM. Do you mind if I meet you through your mother’s love and appreciation of you?
  2. Mary, what would you have me know about John that either brings tears of joy to your eyes or makes your heart swell with pride? John, is it okay for your mum to tell me about your talents and special abilities?
  3. John, are you surprised by any of these interesting things I’m learning about you?
  4. John, I know you are pretty serious right now. Do you think as times go by, you may be on the verge of what your mum refers to as your “wicked sense of humour”? Or do you think I’ll have to wait until next time until you show me this quality of yours so I can enjoy it along with your mum?
  5. Mary, I doubt you would have prepared for such enquiries. Would you like some more time to consider your thoughts?
  6. Mary, if you were to sum all this up in one story that would be worth a thousand words, what story comes to your mind?
  7. John, what do you call these ‘creatures’ your mother is referring to?
  8. Mary, why do these ‘creatures’ amaze you?
  9. Mary, do you consider that you have a knowledge of the history of art and contemporary art?
  10.  Mary, would you have me understand that John’s images to your knowledge are utterly original?
  11. John, do you consider yourself to be an ‘original’ kind of person or a ‘copy-book’ kind of person?
  12. Mary, what do you call this practice of his?
  13. John, can you imagine of world of your own?
  14. John, how do you go about entering into a world of your own?
  15. Mary, can you observe John entering into a world of his own?
  16. Mary, is there anyone you know who has the remarkably capacity of going along with John into a world of his own? Have you ever asked her how she does this?
  17. Mary, how do you bring John back into the everyday world?
  18. Mary/John, how long would you say it takes to bring him back/to get back into the everyday world?
  19. John, can you tell us exactly how you go about that?
  20. John, can your IMAGINATION at times run away with you?
  21. John, can you tell me how FEAR would frighten you into running into your mum’s bed when you were seven or eight?
  22. John, I know you told me that you just stopped because your mother’s partner moved in with her but from my experience, that cannot explain your courage. Do you mind if I ask you some more questions about your courage?
  23. John, can you tell me about your anti-fear practices? After all Fear just doesn’t run away or disappear all by itself, does it?
  24. John, how many courage practices do you have? Did you know before we got talking that you had so many of them?
  25. John, what kind of books have courage in them? Are ‘courage books’?
  26. John, when Fear wakes you up out of a deep sleep and tries to frighten you half to death, how do you use the Pokemons for bravery’s sake?
  27. John, do you play friendly games with the Pokemons?
  28. John, does your courage come to the fore when you have ‘battles’? Why is that?
  29. John, when you “get drowsy” and just “go back to sleep”, were you aware you had yet again put Fear out of your mind?
  30. John, before we got talking today, had you realized you had such a strong and courageous mind?
  31. John, did Fear try to have you believe it controlled your mind?
  32. John, how exactly do you think Pokemon-play brings forth your courage?
  33. John, do you think Fear, in a manner of speaking, likes the fact that you can put it out of your mind at will?
  34. John, if these two anti-fear practices weren’t enough, did you come up with a third for good measure?
  35. John, is this as effective as anti-fear practices one and two?
  36. John, what exactly do you “lay there and think about”?
  37. John, of all the three anti-fear practices, in your opinion, what seems to work the best in terms of anti-fear and courage?
  38. John, I know you are able but are you ready to put FEAR out of your mind and replace it with your COURAGE?
  39. Mary, if John found himself in need of a bit a courage top-up, would you be willing to transfuse some of your courage into him?
  40. Mary, do you have any doubt that you have a little more than you need for yourself? This is a bit like a blood transfusion. Most people have more of it than they need and for that reason can donate blood.
  41. Mary, when you close your eyes, can you call up in your memory an experience of overcoming a fear of your own in your past? After all, everyone has to overcome a Fear of two along the way of their growing up or even everyday life?
  42. John, can you feel it there yet?(touching him on his elbow)
  43. John, what does your mother’s courage feel like transfusing into your body?
  44. Mary, are you surprised considering that most people describe FEAR as chilling or cold?
  45. John, has your mother’s courage reached your heart yet? Well it’s downhill all the way now. How long will it take to get right into your toes(pinching his barefooted toe)
  46. John and Mary, do you think it is possible to do another person’s courage for them?
  47. Mary and John, since you can’t, are you happy with sharing your courage around by means of transfusion?
  48. John, do you have ideas where you might like to apply your COURAGE and anti-fear practices against FEAR?
  49. John, what do you know now about yourself that you didn’t know before?
  50. John, just out of interest, which do you prefer- COURAGE or FEAR? Would you say you are like most people in preferring COURAGE?
  51. John, next time we meet, can we tape-record how you overcame your FEARS and put COURAGE in their place?
  52. Mary and John, who do you think should be informed about John, his COURAGE, and his BRAVERY-PRACTICES?
  53. John, would you be willing for other boys and girls whose lives are being made miserable and closed in and shrunk to be able to learn from you?
  54. Mary, do you have any concerns that if John were to practice his bravery and take advantage of your transfusions that he could become fearless?