A paper recently published in the International Journal for Educational and Vocational Guidance explains an approach to narrative-based careers counselling originating from a systems theory framework through ‘three levels of story crafting questions’.
In the article, the authors talk about the role of the careers counsellor in helping the client to develop their disconnected stories into a more coherent narrative that can provide a sense of meaning and identity which enables the client to construct possible future narratives. They suggest doing this through ‘offering a reflective space, deep listening for clues in client stories, constructing brief story crafting responses founded in the clues that invite clients to tell further stories, identifying and making explicit the themes and patterns embedded in client stories, using themes and patterns to connect and provide a sense of coherence to previously disconnected stories, and using themes and patterns as the “nucleus” of future stories’
They describe a practitioner’s story crafting responses as a way of exploring the different levels of a client’s career stories by focusing on ‘recursive process constructs’ (No, I have no idea what that means either!), namely Connectedness, Reflection, Meaning Making, Learning and Agency. They give examples of typical questions at each level. I have copied some of them below (with a bit of modification in places).
Level 1: information about content and experience
At this level the practitioner is encouraging the client to provide more detail about the story: the sequence of events, the context, etc.
- Connectedness: What else did you do there?
- Reflection: What was most satisfying?
- Meaning making: Was there anything similar about those experiences?
- Learning: What skills or knowledge did you use there?
- Agency: What did you do to get yourself to that point?
Level 2: connectedness and subjective experience
Questions at this level invite the client to consider the connections between their individual experiences and the various influences in their stories.
- Connectedness: Where else in your life has this been relevant?
- Reflection: How do you interpret that experience?
- Meaning making: How would you explain that?
- Learning: What have you learnt about yourself as a result?
- Agency: What does it say about what you are capable of?
Level 3: identification of themes and patterns
At this level, questions are aimed at helping the client to articulate important themes and patterns from their past narratives and to formulate coherent self-definitions that can form the basis of a constructed future narrative.
- Connectedness: Are there any common themes running through the experiences you have described?
- Reflection: What do you think will be most significant for you in moving forward?
- Meaning making: What will be the essential components of any future options for you?
- Learning: How does your understanding of your past make you view your future?
- Agency: How could you move this story forward?
These levels have some similarities to the Zones of Impact.
Although this paper contains more useful structure than many of the articles on the narrative approach that I have read, I’m still left with the sense that it is taking a number of things that practitioners already do quite naturally and trumpeting them as new and amazing discoveries (See Telling tales), hiding the common sense behind a veil of incomprehensible jargon in the process. It’s the same old story!
McMahon, M. & Watson, M. (2012). Story crafting: strategies for facilitating narrative career counselling International Journal for Educational and Vocational Guidance. DOI: 10.1007/s10775-012-9228-5
For other posts on narrative approaches see:
- Mine! All mine!
- Time travel
- Are you following the script?
- What might have been
- Losing the plot
- Narrative techniques in reflective practice
- The alternative self
See also the Using Narrative handout.