A New Genre of a Narrative Therapy Approach to the Problems of Young People and their Families/Communities

David Epston: Workshop Notes 2009


Let us imagine Jack has a problem and is wondering the following:

  1. What story might the problem tell me about who I am and how I arrived at this account of myself?
  2. If I were fundamentally faithful to the story the problem has told me, what sort of future would it predict for me? Who might I become according to the plot of this life story?
  3. How will such a problem shape how i experience himself, others, my ‘nature’, and my actions in such a (problem-saturated) story?
  4. How will the problem tell me to act towards myself and others?
  5. What story might such a problem tell me about the ‘nature’ of my abilities, talents and personal qualities and how they are to be expressed (if, in fact, such expression is permitted at all)?
  6. How does what the problem is getting up to in your life matter to you?

Let us imagine jack’s parents, family and community consider that Jack has the self-same problem and are wondering the following:

  1. How is this problem in Jack’s life? How did it get there in the first place? And what story is the problem telling him about himself?
  2. Has the problem(and the story is has to tell) begun to take the lead in Jack’s life? Or is it, in fact, already leading Jack’s life?
  3. What does such a problem tell everyone about Jack . . . the kind of person he is? Of what he is capable or incapable? Should he be trusted or distrusted with some responsibility for ‘meeting’ such a problem? Or should others ‘meet’ it on his behalf.
  4. What kind of future does the story such a problem tells predict for Jack?
  5. How does what the problem is getting up to in Jack’s life matter to him?


Bringing the problem in to ‘play’ with the young person and his/her family/community by ‘introducing’ him/her to the problem: the authority/status/prestige of the problem is challenged when it is formally ‘introduced’ to the young person (his/her family, community, ethnicity and allegiances.

  1. What do you think the problem should know (be informed) about you?
  2. What do you want to tell the problem about yourself (that the problem very likely doesn’t have a clue about)?
  3. What do you think the problem would be well advised to know about who it is messing with (including their family, community, ethnicity, and allegiances)?
  4. Do you think the problem thinks you are just a ‘run of the mill’ kid rather than being either such a ‘good kid’ or a kid with so many ‘wonderfulnesses’?
  5. Do you think the problem should be warned about you (your family, community, ethnicity and allegiances) before it invests any more of its time and energy in your case?
  6. Do you guess all your ‘wonderfulnesses’ could pull the carpet out from under the problem’s feet?
  7. If the problem was well informed of all your ‘wonderfulnesses’, do you suspect any of the following:
    • that it might seek an early retirement,
    • that it might go out of this business and seek something entirely different,
    • emigrate to Australia,
    • or just get lost?


Knowledge near/knowledge far: home advantage by playing on your own home ground

Some metaphorical ways of bringing the ‘wonderfulnesses’ in relationship to the Problem so these matters are ‘knowledge near’ rather than ‘knowledge far’: they all suggest an intimate relationship with the Problem with the young person representing his/her own ‘wonderfulnesses’ (although they can turn to their family, etc. if their modesty renders them too shy at first).

  • ‘put against the Problem’
  • ‘engage the Problem with’
  • ‘meet the problem with’
  • ‘take on the Problem with’
  • ‘(en)counter the Problem with’
  • ‘contest the Problem about’
  • ‘argue with the Problem about’
  • ‘teach the Problem a lesson about’
  • ‘give the Problem as good as you’ve gotten’
  • ‘put the Problem right about you as it obviously has got you wrong’
  • ‘turn the tables on the Problem’
  • ‘get the Problem on the same hymn page as you are’
  • ‘trick the Problem with because up until now it looks like the Problem has been having a treat at your expense’
  • ‘have your way with the Problem because up until now it looks like the Problem has been having its way with you’



Transition 1/2

From characteristics/descriptions to practices of everyday life (and then represented as an insider knowledges): These are provided in response to the queries integral to the ritual of the conferral of respect worthiness (rather than blame or shame-worthiness) and the restoration of dignity. This is initiated by an unusual proposal of the therapist’s:

  1. Directed to the young person: “As you know, I talked to your mum over the phone for a few minutes about the problem that is bothering you and your mum. But I didn’t set much store and I am not sure I remember that much about it. But if I were you, I wouldn’t want to meet a stranger my age through a problem if I were you. Can you teach me what is so wonderful about you that you might consider putting against the problem, whatever the problem turns out to be when we get around to it?
  2. ‘If you would find that in any way odd or uncomfortable, can I have your permission to ask your mum what is so wonderful about you so I can meet you through her loving eyes?
  3. To Mother: “What is there about your daughter that proves to you that you have been and are a wonderful mother?╙ To Father: “When you are having a beer with your mates and it’s your turn to brag about your daughter, what do you brag about? What is there about your daughter that proves some of your dreams for her are coming true before the problem made you have second thoughts about that?╙

Undertaken by seeking to have commentators (usually family members) tell ‘stories’ about such characteristics/descriptions:

  1. Can you give an example of that? Can you tell me an instance of that? An episode of that?
  2. These are followed by genealogical queries such as:
    • Did s/he lick that off the grass or do you suspect s/he got it from either of you or the families (community, ethnicity or allegiances) you come from?
    • Legacies: Did you inherit that or learn it from watching your mum do whatever she did when her going got tough when your dad was laid up with a broken leg? Genealogical queries relate to predecessors or provenance (place of origin) or family, matrilineal or patrilineal legacies … e.g.. Does this run in the women in the family you come from? or the men?
    • Reverse legacies: To parents: Seeing your daughter deal with with learning problems at school, has that inspired you to take on anything you might not have without her inspiration? Watching how she lives her life, has that taught you in any way, shape or form to go about living your life differently than you would have otherwise? By these genealogical enquiries, the young person is genealogically linked to her family, predecessors, the traditions of their community, ethnicity or allegiances. Still, the young person is the spearhead of any genealogical web of relationship/ attributes/traditions. This restores the dignity of the ancestors (see Boom Margriet).
  3. If you could tell me one story that would be worth 1000 words,what story about his/her ‘independent mindedness’ (or ‘creativity’ or ‘he’s not a quitter’) would really give me the gist of it? (Or I would really get what you mean when you say ‘he’s not a quitter’.. I’d really get it!)

Transition 2/3

Cutting the problem down to the size/style/ knowledges of the young person(and his/her family, community, ethnicity, and allegiances): The generic problem is continually smuggled in to the conversation by way of very playful, cheeky or even impudent enquiries and anticipated responses to the conjectured engagement with the generic problem.

Some examples: Here the question speculates as to the generic problem’s likely response to being informed of the young person’s wonderfulnesses (and those of his/her family, community, ethnicity or allegiances)

Do you think the fact that you are not a quitter might upset the problem if it knew the truth about you?

If the problem found out it was dealing with a non-quitter … a kid who just doesn’t give up no matter what, do you guess it would leave you alone and take up with some other kid your age who was more likely to give in?

If the problem knew you and your family were All Black supporters and they were planning to get you an All Black jersey to wear when the going gets tough for you, do you wonder if you would intimidate the problem?

If the problem were to learn that your family were Liverpool supporters and had been for 4 generations and they started singing all together – ‘You will never walk alone’, do you think that would that give the problem would have second thoughts about bothering you as it has up until now?

What do you think would happen if the problem found out you tackled like a fox terrier? Would it head off on the wing when it sees you coming defending?

What if someone told the problem that you were a ten year old who made up his own mind about things, do you think the problem might give up trying to make up your mind for you?

Transition 3/4

By now, the problem has been well and truly cut down to the young person’s

size/style/knowledges and can be either spontaneously brought up by the young person or by an unprepossessing enquiry: ‘By the way, (name) what is the problem from your point of view? Or what do you call this problem?