Michael White (psychotherapist)

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Michael White
Michael White photo.jpg
Michael White, October 2006; photograph by Jill Freedman
Born29 December 1948
Died4 April 2008(2008-04-04) (aged 59)
Occupation(s)family therapist, author

Michael White (29 December 1948 – 4 April 2008)[1] was an Australian social worker and family therapist. He is known as the founder of narrative therapy, and for his significant contribution to psychotherapy and family therapy, which have been a source of techniques adopted by other approaches.


Michael Kingsley White was born and raised in Adelaide, South Australia. His first professional job was as a probation and welfare worker. He earned an undergraduate social work degree from the University of South Australia in 1979 and worked as a psychiatric social worker at the Adelaide Children's Hospital. He founded the Dulwich Centre in 1983 and began a private practice as a family therapist. He continued to be associated with Dulwich Centre until his death.

White was a practicing social worker and co-director of the Dulwich Centre[2] in Adelaide, South Australia, and was author of several books of importance in the field of family therapy and narrative therapy.

In January 2008, White set up the Adelaide Narrative Therapy Centre[3] to provide counselling services and training workshops relevant to work with individuals, couples, families, groups and communities and to provide a context for exploring recent developments relevant to narrative practice."[4]

Michael White was also particularly known for his work with children and Indigenous Aboriginal communities, as well as with schizophrenia, anorexia/bulimia, men's violence, and trauma.

He received the following awards, honours, invitations:

  • International Fellow, American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy
  • Masters Interview, American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy Conference, San Francisco, 1989.
  • Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, John F. Kennedy University, Orinda, California.
  • Distinguished Contribution to Family Therapy Theory & Practice Award, American Family Therapy Academy, 1999.[5]



While early influences included those of systems theory and cybernetics (Gregory Bateson),[6] White's main work drew on a wide range of sources, including literary theory (Jerome Bruner), cultural anthropology (Clifford Geertz, Barbara Myerhoff, Victor Turner), non-structuralist psychology (William James, Lev Vygotsky) and French critical / post-structuralist philosophy (Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault).[7]

Theoretical and practice innovations[edit]

Key therapeutic ideas developed by White include 'externalizing the problem',[8] commonly summarised as 'the person is not the problem, the problem is the problem'; 're-authoring' the dominant stories of people's lives; and the idea of 'double-listening' to accounts of trauma: not only the accounts of trauma itself, but how people have responded to trauma.

Key practices of narrative therapy and 'maps' of narrative practice include:

  • The statement of position map / externalising conversations map
  • Re-authoring conversations
  • Re-membering conversations
  • Definitional ceremonies
  • Scaffolding conversations
  • The absent but implicit
  • Responding to personal failure conversations[9]


  • 1989. Literate Means to Therapeutic Ends. With David Epston. Adelaide: Dulwich Centre Publications.
  • 1990. Narrative Means to Therapeutic Ends. With David Epston. (WW Norton & Company, New York).
  • 1995. Re-Authoring Lives: Interviews and Essays. Adelaide, South Australia: Dulwich Centre Publications. ISBN 0-646-22735-1
  • 1995. Narratives of Therapists' Lives. Adelaide, South Australia: Dulwich Centre Publications.
  • 2000. Reflections on Narrative Practice. Adelaide, South Australia: Dulwich Centre Publications.
  • 2004. Narrative Practice and Exotic Lives: Resurrecting diversity in everyday life. Adelaide, South Australia: Dulwich Centre Publications.
  • 1992. Experience, Contradiction, Narrative and Imagination: Selected papers of David Epston & Michael White, 1989-1991. With David Epston. Adelaide, South Australia: Dulwich Centre Publications.
  • 2006. Narrative Therapy with Children and their Families. With Alice Morgan. Adelaide, South Australia: Dulwich Centre Publications.
  • 2007. Maps of Narrative Practice. (WW Norton & Company, New York)
  • 2011. Narrative Practice: Continuing the conversations. (WW Norton & Company, New York)

Michael White's books have also been published in Danish, Spanish, Japanese, Swedish, Italian, German, Chinese, Finnish, French and Portuguese.

Magazine articles and radio features[edit]


  1. ^ Pearce, Jeremy (28 April 2008). "Michael White, 59, Dies; Used Stories as Therapy". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 February 2010.
  2. ^ Dulwich Centre
  3. ^ Dulwich Centre Email News, January 2008 Issue # 25
  4. ^ Adelaide Narrative Therapy Centre Archived 6 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ AFTA Awards page Accessed 6 May 2008. Archived 20 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ White, M. & Epston, D. (1990). Narrative Means to Therapeutic Ends, pp. 1-2.
  7. ^ White, M. (2007). Maps of Narrative Practice. (New York: W.W. Norton)
  8. ^ Narrative Means to Therapeutic Ends, pp. 54-56.
  9. ^ Narrative Means to Therapeutic Ends; Maps of Narrative Practice; White, M. (2000). Reflections on Narrative Practice Adelaide, South Australia: Dulwich Centre Publications

External links[edit]