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  •  November 18, 2018
     5:00 pm - 6:10 pm
Sunday November 18, 2018, 5 pm New York Time

Virtue Inquiries at the End of Life

In this Collab Salon I would like to share with you a practice I call a “virtue inquiry”. A virtue inquiry is an inquiry a counsellor undertakes with a person or persons that listens for and researches virtues that are valued by the person or persons the counsellor is meeting with.   Virtue inquires draw on ideas and practices developed by David Epston including “getting to know the person ahead of the problem”, “researching moral character” and “wonderfulness inquiries” with children (see Epston, 2004; Epston & Marsten, 2010; Marsten, Epston & Markham, 2016). They also build from a paper by Eve Lipchik (1988) called “Interviewing with a constructive ear” that had an influence on my early practice. Virtue inquiries take place with adults or young adults and so flow differently from “wonderfulness inquiries” (see chapter 2 in Marsten, Epston & Markham, 2016).

I meet with people who are living with a life ending illness and their families in my role as a counsellor working for hospice. Virtue inquiries are a significant part of the conversations I have each week with the people I meet with. In this salon I would like to share and discuss with you:

  • How I use virtue inquiries and more of what I understand them to involve.
  • Three examples of virtue inquiries which illustrate how restoring a person’s dignity and sense of their own worth can have powerful effects in very challenging situations.

Please see the first chapter of the story “Deciding to die” for an example of a virtue inquiry that I used to step into a therapeutic conversation. The full version of this story will be published in the book I am co-authoring however if anyone would like a copy I am happy to send it out.  Another brief example is on pages 67-70 of the story “A loss of faith” in my paper “Deconstructing denial: Stories of Narrative Therapy with people who are dying and their families” (Pilkington, 2017).


Sasha McAllum Pilkington is a counsellor at Hospice North Shore in Auckland, New Zealand. She first met David Epston in 1986 when he agreed to be her supervisor while she was working for a mental health service in Auckland. Sasha then undertook training with David and Johnella Bird and has been learning and practising Narrative Therapy ever since. In recent years Sasha has developed a passion for writing stories that illustrate narrative practice (see Pilkington, 2014, 2016, 2017) and is now writing a book with co-authors Arthur Frank and David Epston illustrating Narrative Therapy in palliative care.


Recording of November 2018 Collab Salon

Materials to Review

Please review Sasha’s most recently published article:


Epston, D. (2004). Joel, can you help me to train Amber to be a guard dog? <em>Journal of Brief Therapy, 3</em>, 92-106.

Epston, D. &amp; Marsten, D. (2010). ‘What doesn’t the problem know about your son or daughter?’: Providing the conditions for the restoration of a family’s dignity. <em>The International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work,</em> <em>1</em>, 30-36.

Lipchik, E. (1988). Interviewing with a constructive ear. Dulwich Centre Newsletter, 2, p. 3-7.

Marsten D., Epston, D. &amp; Markham L. (2016). Narrative Therapy in Wonderland: Connecting with Children’s Imaginative Know-how. Norton.