Series: Live Workshop Developing Questions Series #1 with Hosts Stephen Madigan and David Nylund

About this Session

Me-Rock-in-SA-croppedVSNT faculty hosts Stephen Madigan and David Nylund discuss Jerome Bruner’s huge influence on Michael White’s ideas on story, narrative structure and narrative therapy questions. The quickie workshop involves watching Michael’s 8minute discussion on stories and how landscape of action and landscape of identity questions are central to narrative therapy practice.


Stephen Madigan MSW, PhD


Stephen Madigan is an award-winning narrative therapist and best-selling author of Narrative Therapy – theory and practice (2011, 2019 and – 3rd Edition published in 2023). He is the Director of the Vancouver School for Narrative Therapy, content creator for, invented the new practice of narrative therapy-informed Relational Interviewing with couple relationships, and wrote…

David Nylund MSW, PhD


David Nylund MSW, PhD has been a practicing narrative therapist for 27 years. In depth study of narrative therapy theory and post-structuralism led him towards completing a PhD in Cultural Studies with an emphasis on feminist and queer theory at the University of California at Davis (whose faculty included Judith Butler). David is now a full…


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Comments (13)

  1. VSNT says:

    Hi David: Watching and discussing Bruner and Michael’s work could be a bit of fun (: Catch up with you in the morning on Zoom at 8:30am. I’ll bring the coffee.

  2. Evangelos Rentas says:

    Hi Stephen and David from Greece.
    It could be very difficult time for me to be there at your presentation, although i will will try a lot.
    Is there any possibility to have a video copy or something? Just a question
    Also my english arenot very good so i need time tovunderstand all this very interesting themes. So looking back at the video againa and again good be more usuful for me?
    Thanks a lot

    1. VSNT says:

      Good Morning Evangelos: for those members that cannot attend the session live you will find the todays discussion on Jerome Bruner’s influence on Michael White’s and narrative therapy practice on the site within about 24 hours. Thanks.

      1. Sheila Carroll says:

        Thank you. Am watching for it.

        1. VSNT says:

          Hi Sheila: the conversation is up. Enjoy!

  3. Robert Korth says:

    I believe I have a very clear overall grasp of what we are doing in Narrative Therapy – working with people to reconstruct their problem realities into more preferred realities. This is not easy. I find Bruner’s idea of resistance helpful in this task – both for the people who are reconstructing their realities, but also for therapists – those assisting. Everyone seems to be asking – partly – what is getting in the way of this person taking another path? We know there is something or they would already be doing something different – there would be no resistance. Similarly, we are always asking ourselves – how can I improve my questioning? We know there is something or we would already be asking those better questions. We don’t ask the questions we really wish we had asked because we are prevented from asking them. Wanting to move too quickly, perhaps, or wanting the client to move in a particular direction, or some other reason. We know there are better ways to ask questions because we see Michael White doing it all the time. I personally find this constant quest to improve our work of great value. It not only makes us better at what we are doing as therapists, it keeps us from taking anything for granted and keeps us fresh and flexible in the work – alert and curious.

    1. VSNT says:

      Hi Robert. Happy to have you with us . . . The idea of ‘resistance’ has a long history in psychotherapy that in many ways is directed at the uncooperative ‘patient’. I prefer Bateson’s theories on the idea of ‘restraints’.
      In a nutshell, Bateson’s thinking about restraints was as follows:
      • Events, persons, ideas, and so on, travel their course of action not because they have to (or are born to) but because they are restrained from taking any other course of action.
      Michael interpreted Bateson’s idea on restraint this way:
      • Restraints take various forms and include the network of presuppositions, premises, and expectations that make up the family members map of the world, and this establishes rules for the selection of information about perceived objects or events, thus contributing to sensory limitations.
      Bateson’s theoretical position of restraint led Michael to categorically realize:
      •Any therapeutic story about a person that did not involve a theory of restraints would inevitably end up being a statement that pathologized the person/ family/couple/group.

  4. brig wood says:

    Where the heck to feelings fit in these two maps – especially emotions (insofar as not all feelings are strictly emotions). if one feels guilty, or suffers ‘anxiety’, are these more like a) ‘events’, happenings that occur at particular places and times etc, ie something we establish from ‘landscape of action’ questions, and from which we may then infer, via landscape of identity questions the various desires, qualities and values that these expressions signify (eg one’s anxiety signifies one’s determination (i.e, a desire) to be perfect at dancing, just as ‘the act’ of refusal to attend the dance exam may signify this)? b) or are they regarded as ‘examples’ of desires etc that we infer from the action that made us eg guilty, anxious (eg from the action of refusing to attend the daance exam, we infer john’s anxiety as an example of his desire, intention, values etc)? (c) or does it simply depend on the context in terms of how it appears in the question? d) or am i simply missing the point entirely?


  5. VSNT says:

    Hello Brig. We were discussing what it was that drew Michael White to Jerome Bruner’s work specific to narrative structure and the text analogy was something like this: in arguing that persons cannot have direct knowledge of the world – that it is not possible for persons to have an appreciation of objective reality – social scientists proposed that all knowing requires that persons interpret their experience of the world. And any act of interpretation requires the ascription of meaning. And there is a cultural and relational politic to this meaning making.

    The text analogy proposes that this meaning making is derived through the “storying” of experience; that it is the stories that persons have about their lives that determines the meaning they ascribe to their experience. The plotting of experiences of events into stories (the landscapes of action and identity) is necessary in order for persons to make sense of their lives – to provide them with a sense of coherence and continuity – and is relied upon for the achievement of a sense of purpose.

    Not only do the stories that persons have about their lives determine the meaning that they ascribe to experience, but these stories also determine which aspects of lived experience are selected out for the ascription of meaning. As Bruner (1986) argues, it is not possible for narratives to encompass the full richness of our lived experience. Bruner writes…. ‘life experience is richer than discourse. Narrative structures organize and give meaning to experience. but there are always feelings and lived experience not fully encompassed by the dominant story. (p.l43)

    In that it is the stories that persons have about their lives that determines both the ascription of meaning to experience and the selection of those aspects of experience that are to be given expression then it follows that these stories are constitutive or shaping of persons’ lives.

    The lives and relationships of persons evolve as they live through or perform these stories.

  6. brig wood says:

    Thanks for that
    In the middle of this ved you mention the possibility of doing something on note taking. Not sure what others think but I’d be ‘very’ keen to watch that. Obviously just ignore this If you already have presented on this later on somewhere in the next two vids of this series, I’m yet to watch them.

    1. VSNT says:

      Thanks Brig: we will doing a whole Live session discussion on therapeutic note taking in the near future.

  7. Maureen Boettcher says:

    Catching up on the series this week. As always with VNS the discussion was thought provoking and expanded my thinking about formulating questions, their importance in tracking the counter narrative /unique outcomes and most importantly how to build on this in the service of the client and their future action. I would be most interested in more about varied the uses of note taking.

    Thanks much Stephen, David and the rest fo the participants

    1. VSNT says:

      Hi Maureen. The VSNT faculty all take session notes differently and we fully intend to spend at least one session going through these methods and the reasons why. Cheers!


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