40 Questions to ask Clients in Narrative Therapy

If you are a clinician who is interested in learning more about therapeutic approaches that are outside of the “go-to” methods, narrative therapy would be a great topic for you to look into. Narrative therapy can be used with clients who have a range of presenting concerns including anxiety, depression, trauma, anger, and difficulties with emotion regulation. While narrative therapy does not talk specifically about mental health diagnoses, it can be an effective approach for clients who may not have been as responsive to other therapeutic approaches. Keep reading to learn 40 questions to ask clients in Narrative Therapy sessions.

The development of narrative therapy was impacted by a number of professionals including Michael White, David Epston, Gregory Bateson, and Michael Foucault. Narrative therapy has some distinct differences when compared to other forms of psychotherapy. As an example, the therapist is considered a consultant within the therapeutic alliance and an expert in narrative therapy. This means that clients are viewed as the experts of their own life and stories.

Narrative clinicians believe that current problems and distress in a client’s life are the result of oppressed stories that the client has experienced in their life. Clinicians work to gain an understanding of their client’s stories and experiences so that they can help them as they reauthor their stories.

In narrative therapy, clinicians are known to encourage clients, facilitate exploration, suggest exercises, offer new perspectives, and ask for feedback from the client. Clinicians may choose to use skills including empathy, summarizing, and paraphrasing. 

View all of our Narrative Therapy Worksheets

Getting Ready for Your First Narrative Therapy Session with a New Client

Meeting with a new client, for many, means that time needs to be spent completing the appropriate paperwork. While this may feel tedious, it is important that our client and their experience is our focus during our time with them so that they feel as though we are there to support them.

Taking time to organize yourself before meeting with a new client can help reduce the pressure and stress that may be present for you before your upcoming session. Reviewing paperwork that your client completed prior to their session can help you develop an understanding of what led to them reaching out for help, which can help you decide which areas would be the most important to focus on compared to others.

Reviewing paperwork that you are expected to complete at the conclusion of your session can be informative as well. If you have completed the expected paperwork a number of times, you may already be aware of the questions that you need to ask in order to complete the appropriate documentation.

Lastly, it is important to take care of yourself in between clients. As counselors, we are entrusted with the stories and experiences of our clients. As human beings, we are impacted by the things that we hear. Taking a few deep breaths, engaging in a short meditation, journaling, or listening to music in between sessions can help us process our own emotions and thoughts so that we are able to be fully present with our next client. Common Narrative Therapy Questions to Ask Clients in Therapy Sessions

Final Thoughts On Asking the Right Questions in Narrative Therapy

Narrative therapy recognizes that each of us carries stories from our past that impact our lives. The client’s stories are accepted and believed by clinicians who are working within the narrative therapy framework. It is important that counselors explore stories that may not be as significant, or as impactful as others.

Narrative therapy questions can be used to explore a client’s stories. Examples of questions to ask in narrative therapy include:

  1. For today’s session, can you create a story for your life from the perspective of someone you care about? This could be a family member, partner, or friend. (You can then explore the differences between how they shared their story compared to their story from a different perspective)
  2. After a client has finished sharing their story, a narrative therapy question can include- How might your story continue if it didn’t end? What do you feel the future would look like if you were to continue.
  3. You may find it relevant to explore parts of the client’s story that were touched upon, but not explained. Questions to ask in narrative therapy for this situation could include- I noticed you touched upon (insert detail), could we go back and explore that a bit more?
  4. If your client has shared a story where they are unable to overcome or manage a challenge, a narrative therapy question that would be appropriate would be How might you tell this story if you were able to overcome the challenge or difficulty you experienced?
  5. If you were to give that emotion visual characteristics, what would it look like?
  6. Can you share the story of your life?
  7. After asking question 6, you can ask your client if there are any alternative ways that they can describe themselves.
  8. What are the different chapters in your life?
  9. Is there anything you wish you could change about your story?
  10. How would you describe the impact that this challenge has on your life?
  11. How do you feel this concern impacts your ability to manage your responsibilities?
  12. How does this challenge impact those you care for?
  13. Have you accepted that this challenge is a part of your life or is there another option for you?
  14. Do you feel you’ve used all your skills and support while experiencing this difficulty?
  15. Can you share how you feel when you have moments when this concern is not on your mind?
  16. Do you have any hobbies, interests, or coping skills that provide you with some moments of relief?
  17. Can you describe your experience during those moments of relief? What are you thinking, feeling, and doing?
  18. What do you think a close friend would say to you regarding how you responded to that situation? Would they show you compassion and kindness, or would they be harsh and disappointed?
  19. Can you describe a time when you were able to overcome a challenging situation?
  20. Reflecting back to a time when you were able to overcome a challenge, how can that experience help you with your current challenge?
  21. What values do you hold with importance? Using a worksheet, such as the Identifying Core Values Worksheet can help explore values that are important to your client.
  22. The Tree of Life is a common narrative therapy exercise that can be used to explore different areas of a client’s life. This Tree of Life Worksheet developed by TherapyByPro provides narrative therapy questions by exploring various aspects of your client’s life.
  23. On a scale of 1-10 regarding difficulty, how would you rate the current problem you are facing
  24. After asking question 22, you can ask your client what it would take to move their answer one number less on the scale.
  25. How do your relationships support or increase the difficulty of your current problem?
  26. Can you describe yourself, outside of the current problem you are facing?
  27. What steps can you take to move toward your preferred future?
  28. Can you describe your ideal self in your preferred future?
  29. If your current concern would speak, what would it say about the skills you have used to try and overcome it?
  30. Can you describe a time in your life when you were not experiencing difficulties? What was different in your life at that time, compared to your current experience?
  31. What are some coping skills that have been helpful for you in the past?
  32. Are there any self-care practices that have helped you manage your mental health in the past that you can reincorporate into your life?
  33. What are some of the strengths that have helped you succeed in the past?
  34. On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your resiliency? Can you help me understand the thinking behind your rating?
  35. Can you think of any assumptions or beliefs that you are holding that allow your current problem or challenge to maintain its hold on you?
  36. How do you feel your cultural background is influencing your current challenge?
  37. How do you feel your past experiences have shaped your life as it is today?
  38. Are there any significant experiences or events from your past that have influenced your perception or belief in yourself to cope with the challenge at hand?
  39. What have you learned about yourself since you began experiencing this challenge?
  40. What can help you stay committed to changes that work towards living your preferred life?

Final Thoughts on Asking the Right Questions in Narrative Therapy

Thank you for taking the time to read our list of 40 questions to ask in Narrative Therapy. Asking the appropriate narrative therapy questions in your sessions can have a significant impact on the progression of your time with your client. Narrative therapy questions can be used to explore topics that your client hasn’t looked into yet, and can help your client see their present concern from a different perspective.

If you are interested in learning more about narrative therapy, we encourage you to look into Continuing Education credits and other training opportunities. Once you have learned more about narrative therapy and developed the necessary skills, you can begin applying your new knowledge to your clinical work. 

TherapyByPro is an online mental health directory that connects mental health pros with clients in need. If you’re a mental health professional, you can Join our community and add your practice listing here. We have assessments, practice forms, and worksheet templates mental health professionals can use to streamline their practice. View all of our mental health worksheets here.

View all of our Narrative Therapy Worksheets

Kayla Loibl, MA, LMHC
Author: Kayla Loibl, MA, LMHC

Kayla is a Mental Health Counselor who earned her degree from Niagara University in Lewiston, New York. She has provided psychotherapy in a residential treatment program and an outpatient addiction treatment facility in New York as well as an inpatient addiction rehab in Ontario, Canada. She has experience working with individuals living with a variety of mental health concerns including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and trauma.

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