The purpose of this section is to provide examples of the types questions that create space for new stories in narrative therapy. Freedman and Combs constructed a framework of questions to help families recognise the opportunity for an alternate story when this had been difficult for them. Below is an adaptation from Miller’s Counselling Skills for Social Work (2012).
Enabling Openings: the first task is “thinning the plot, thickening the counterplot,” (Freedman and Combs, 1996), listening for openings, exceptions or unique outcomes that can be broadened into alternative stories. However if in active listening no exceptions are observed, this question might enable the possibility: Can you describe the last time you managed to get free of the problem for a couple of minutes? Then, what was the first thing you noticed in those few minutes? What was the next thing …?”
Linking Openings with Preferred Experience: the detail of this small exception to a problem could be built on by a further question: Would you like more minutes like these in your life?
Moving from Openings to Alternative Story Development: the family could then become experientially involved by asking for details: What were each of you thinking/feeling/doing/wishing/imagining during those few minutes?
Broadening the Viewpoint: to enrich the detail of emotional involvement and cognitive perception of the exception or unique outcome: What might your friend have noticed about you if she had met up with you in those few minutes?
Exploring Landscapes of Action: using “how” questions, families can be enabled to understand the actions they took that led to the unique outcome: How did you achieve that? or how did Tim help you with that?
Exploring Landscapes of Consciousness: ‘meaning questions’ can help families reflect on their hopes, aspirations, values, beliefs, learning and implications of action about a unique outcome: What have you learned about what you can manage from those few minutes?
Linking with the Exceptions in the Past: questions that link with past exceptions can reinforce a family’s capacity for repeating this outcome again: Tell me about times when you have managed to achieve a similar few minutes in the past?
Linking Exceptions from the Past with the Present: by such means, families will have significantly broadened their narrow problem-saturated story, to alternative stories involving increased hope and capacity: When you think about those times in the past when you have achieved this, how might this alter your view of the problem now?
Linking Exceptions from the Past with the Future: by this means, an essential last step, to expand a service- user’s view of not only their capacity in the present but also how the future might be different: “Thinking about this now, what do you expect to do next?
Therapeutic Letters: White and Epston (1990) suggested the use of therapeutic letters, sent to families after a session to document their alternate story development, intended to strengthen subjugated aspects of life and development and further reinforce their capacity for alternative stories:
Dear David and Mandy
I have been thinking a lot about our conversation this week, especially how together you got the better of Anxiety, by joining your best efforts together.
I am looking forward to hearing more about that next time.