May 16, 2014: Marija Welton

Marija Welton

Marija Welton

Hi, i have a few moments and thought I would bring this topic up and see if anyone else has done this an what their experiences with it are., i have been doing some internalized other interviews with couples and on one occasion a few months ago I thought I would try interviewing the internalized problem. I got the idea from Charlie Laing’s video that was part of the intro to narrative course I was lucky to ‘test pilot’ last year. I chose to do it with a client who had had a 20 year relationship with depression so I knew she would be very familiar with depression and it’s various operations in her life and able to examine it closely to ascertain what sustains it, what strengthens it, what weakens it, what (who)it’s sidekicks are, etc. we had a revealing hour and a half interview of depression (my client was answering for depression from it’s “i” position (not role play) and we managed to unmask how secrecy was an important overriding condition of its success but hubris caused it to expose itself to us!

The interview was A totally engaging one for both my client and me. i followed it up with a therapeutic letter (who’s paying for all this? It seems insurance only meets part of the cost the rest was my donation but it was a great learning experience.) it had big ramifications for the client’s marriage at this point. As depression has receded under its rock her voice of protest has grown-there appears to be an inverse relationship here. Our work is far from done and we are tackling some big issues in the relationship now but it has been amazing how exposing depression in this way freed things up for this woman. I am considering doing an interview of addiction with another client who has had a lengthy relationship with it.

Any reflections/experience with this type of “externalization” by interview of the problem?
Thanks for the reminder about interviewing the problem. It's such an engaging and playful way to externalize a problem. I've also used a similar exercise when teaching narrative therapy to a group.

Peggy Sax

Peggy Sax

I first learned about this possibility in working with couples from Sallyann Roth & David Epston….and then Michael White wrote up the exercise (adapted to a group context) in his workshop notes.

Hey, I just looked on and then Dulwich Centre and was delighted to easily find the articles. Our system is working!

Framework for a White/Epston type interview by Sallyann Roth & David Epston (<a href="" target="_blank">Click here</a>)

<a href="" target="_blank">Click here</a> another paper by David Epston: A Format of Questions for an Alternative Version of a Problem’s Relationship to a Couple’s Relationship.' Here David explores an alternative – love's version of the relationship.

And…the Externalizing conversations exercise is at the beginning of Michael white's workshop notes <a href="" target="_blank">here.</a>

Marija, keep us posed about what emerges next in this work with the couple, now that you are together exposing depression, and if/when you externalize other problems – like addiction- with others. What kind of alternative story will this freeing up make way for? What are you noticing?

Anyone else have experiences here?

Marija: May 23, 2014
Marija Welton

Marija Welton

Thanks for the links. I am familiar with all these articles except for the one on love’s view of the relationship, this was new to me.
Re interviewing the client’s internalized problem to externalize it and really to expose it and its operations in their lives, this is not something I have found in the narrative literature (I mean addressing it specifically re doing this with clients)and it seems to me that there are some relevant issues. Charlie Lang commented that he does this with clients that are very familiar with the problem-I think this is important. It is the familiarity that might allow the person to recognize the problem’s operations in a way that someone new to the problem might not notice. For example, with the lady I did the interview of depression with, she had a 20 year history with depression. In the interview, after I greeted depression and thanked it for letting me interview it, depression told me it was reluctant to do this and was only doing it under duress because it was reluctant “to be found out”. This allowed me to expose how secrecy was important to its success in its operations and why. I am not sure this would have “slipped out” with someone new to the problem. This makes me think that preparing for such an interview would be important, beginning with externalization as a way to invite the person to start to view the problem new eyes and only moving to an interview of the problem once the groundwork was done. Otherwise, I suspect the person might flounder, trying to understand the questions as related to something internal to them not as addressed to the problem about its operations in their lives.
On the other hand, I wonder if I am simply reacting to working in isolation (private practice with no team available) and being more tentative than I really need to be.

By the way, with this particular client, as her dissatisfaction with the marriage became the foreground issue, once depression was “in its box”, as she says, we went on to look at “disrespect” and its effects on the couple’s interactions and the marriage which eventually led to uncovering the underlying belief that each partner had brought into the relationship and was the guiding principal of their interactions: I can and must change you to fit my image of how you should be. Once this was uncovered we had some very difficult conversations re the future of the relationship and I suggested that she try to look for evidence of what she would like to stay the same about her husband. I think I can incorporate the notion of love’s view of the relationship here but suspect all the caveats mentioned in the article will be rolled out ruling it out. I fear we are on the edge of a crisis requiring a decision about the future of the relationship. When you push depression into the background the voice of protest emerges and the effect can be very destabilizing. The dilemma to be solved is, is it looking at the marriage with “depression’s eyes” making it seem so unsatisfying or has depression worked as an enabler in this relationship which has been experienced as unsatisfying to my client for many years.

Would love feedback on both the issue if interviewing problems with clients and the dilemma of depression as enabler or as underminer.

Peggy: May 27, 2014
Peggy Sax

Peggy Sax

Hi Marija,
I’ve just reread your post with morning coffee. It’s even more intriguing the second time. First of all – I so appreciate this glimpse at your work, and your invitation to join you in holding/inquiring into the emergent dilemmas.

re interviewing the problem. I appreciate the care you give to preparation

In the interview, after I greeted depression and thanked it for letting me interview it, depression told me it was reluctant to do this and was only doing it under duress because it was reluctant “to be found out”. This allowed me to expose how secrecy was important to its success in its operations and why.

Exposing a tenacious problem is such painstaking methodical work -so different in scope from a single “investigative reporter” exercise. I am reminded of my understanding of the difference between preparing for a sprint and for a marathon. This also reminds me of anti-anorexia/anti-bulimia, the book “Biting the hand that starves you, and David Epston’s term “extreme externalization” which I believe he reserves for life and death situations.

Externalization can be quite potent, don’t you think? Its sobering for me to think of the effects, and to remember our responsibility even when with the best of intentions. How do we minimize also stirring up lots of backlash/critical voices, as the problem voice strikes back? What if -with care- this approach can speed up the therapy to get to the primary question for the couple (should I stay or leave)? How do we position ourselves when we find ourselves then in the face of a full-blown marital crisis? What are our responsibilities as a couple’s counselor in relations to the dilemma of depression – to stabilize, enable or undermine? Very thought provoking questions, Marija!

beginning with externalization as a way to invite the person to start to view the problem new eyes and only moving to an interview of the problem once the groundwork was done. Otherwise, I suspect the person might flounder, trying to understand the questions as related to something internal to them not as addressed to the problem about its operations in their lives.

Your focus on preparation reminds me of something a massage therapist once told me. I had asked him about his familiarity with a massage therapy approach done by a local body worker that frequently brings up a lot of emotion and body memory. He told me he knew this technique (where to touch and how) – and how this was actually a relatively easy response to evoke. However, he said it is a potent technique, not to be used indiscriminately – only for specific situations, done with care and preparation. Do you think interviewing a problem is similar?

When you push depression into the background the voice of protest emerges and the effect can be very destabilizing. The dilemma to be solved is, is it looking at the marriage with “depression’s eyes” making it seem so unsatisfying or has depression worked as an enabler in this relationship which has been experienced as unsatisfying to my client for many years.

Ah, I recognize this dilemma in couples work. These conversations can really jiggle the foundation and assumptions. Now what? Will they find their way to new possibilities or is this the beginning of an ending? I wish I knew the answer. I can only say looking back, I could not have predicted which couples make it into a new chapter, and which ones decide to split. I do believe in hanging in their with them, and often slowing down to create space to absorb and digest such important unfoldings.

Make sense? What do others think? who else works with couples? Marija, am I hearing what you want to say and ask? If not, keep asking. I want to pay attention,to learn from what you are saying, and to join you in this inquiry.


Marija: May 30, 2014

Marija Welton

Marija Welton

Thanks for your comments Peggy & yes you are right on the mark about the issues for me. I think preparation is really important – I tend to prepare questions situation specifically and then use them as a general map to follow, always open to explore what the problems exposes to me. For instance, in this case the problem told me it came into her life at age 12 and with further questions re what attracted the problem and what tactics it used it became clear that it had a helpmate in shame in a young girl reaching puberty growing up in a strict, religious household. this opened up a whole area of questioning that was very fruitful but I had not expected to go in that direction (like a short side-trip to a viewpoint in the middle of a hike a hike).
Where to go next? I do feel very responsible and conscious of the possibility of producing a crisis by pressing the issues in the relationship. however, I have a plan and that is to “raise the dilemma” with my client (I seem to remember an Aussie voice saying something like this once…). My recent reading of a book called How Proust Can Change Your Life (Alain de Boitton)has also reminded me of the value of staying with an experience and looking at all aspects of it closely rather than galloping through. I think we will spend time putting this dilemma under the microscope along with all the ramifications of each of the horns of the dilemma- client willing, of course.
Sarah: May 30, 2015
Sarah Hughes

Sarah Hughes

HI Peggy and Marija,

Hello!! Good to read this conversation and be inspired. I have done that kind of externalizing interview and find it very interesting and illuminating to everyone most of the time. I do use it sparingly but I am not curious about what makes me think to use it or to not? what factors do I consider?
Last time I used it I interviewed Alcohol with a man. He discovered that Alcohol had some tricks that he had not realized. ANd I am not sure it would have come out in any other way. He said he really felt like he had access to inside information from that position.

This conversation is timely as I am meeting with a couple later this afternoon and I was thinking that and Internalized Other Interview would be good. Now after reading David’s article about Love’s version vs the Problem’s version – I have some new ideas. I am thinking about combining these two ideas but do not want to get too convoluted. I know in interviewing one person as the other it can sometimes get convoluted and make people’s brain hurt as they try to answer questions about themselves as the other. I wonder about the brain gymnastics of answering a question from the Problem’s point of view as the other. Hmmmm….I think I need a coffee before I can consider this – and I am not really a coffee drinker!

Thanks for the stimulation!

Marija: May 30, 2015
Hey Sarah! Nice to hear your voice too! I want to respond to your comment about brain gymnastics and confusion when doing these internalized other and internalized problem interviews- something Karl suggested and which I have found really helpful is to address the physical person by the name of the internalized person or problem you are interviewing. so, I start out by saying “Hello depression, thank you for coming to speak with me today. How is this experience for you so far? Depression what was your reaction when you were invited in to speak with me?” Then, I repeat the name each time I look at the physical person and ask the question of depression, as in “depression, how long have you been present in (Marilyn’s) life?” I find this helps to keep us both oriented.
I must add that in doing internalized other interviews I stay with direct questions, no gossip questions, nor what do you think s/he thinks, type of questions- that is just too confusing. So I look at John’s face and say, Anne, what is it you appreciate about John? He answers as Ann. Does this help?

Re the notion of using Epston’s idea of love’description of the relationship. I spent along time discussing the “horns of the dilemma” of whether depression was working to enable her in the relationship (working for her) or to poison the relationship and so keep her in it’s clutches (working for itself). We began to expose how depression was actually destroying the relationship (by bringing to the fore all the terrible interpretations of the things husband was doing). I then moved on to what if Love had it’s way on the relationship, what would it say about what husband was doing. It was a “show stopper”. i had this amazing experience of watching a person come to a critical realization that began the process of turning things around. This work is so awe inspiring.

This another example of one of those situations when I look at the work I have done (so far) and am amazed at how many people contributed to it with their wonderful ideas- and they have no idea they were doing all this recently! The most recent contributer was Bruce Chatwin who described in a book how, when he was a child, his aunt drew him a picture of Napoleon as simply a bi-horned hat with atop a headless tick figure. This image kept floating around until I started to recognize that I was in a dilemma that needed to be raised in this case, Marcel Proust kept me focused on the details which led to wonderful exposition of how problem like depression can invade a relationship – leading to White & Epston (and viki Dickerson) and on to Love’s descrition and Epston, again. The internalized other/problem came from Tomm and Laing (C not RD but didn’t RD start the ball rolling by positing that there are other ways of viewing mental illness?). Wow, what a mix!

Sarah: May 31, 2014
Sarah Hughes

Sarah Hughes

Wowowoweee so much I want to respond to. I think I will go backwards as I read that last bit and it got my imagination going!! I love that image and all that it connects too! Yes, isn’t it incredible to trace the ideas and connections. So lovely that bi-horned image you gave me.

I had a conversation with a client yesterday that this reminds me of – she gave me some perennials from her garden and we talked about where she got each one and what it meant to give them to me. I talked about the rhizomes metaphor and my thoughts about the ethics of accepting this from her. We both talked about how we carry thoughts and ideas from each other into the world and now have this tangible connection through flowers. She was witnessed by the study group at one point and she hold Peggy in her heart and garden. It all felt so rich and connecting. anyway – your lovely description of connections ad how they carry on reminded me of this….

Thank you also for sharing your show stopper!! What a great story. Hmmm very helpful to hear.

Yes, thanks for your comments on how to avoid confusion. I do use the repeated the name idea. I do think I might sometimes have confusing questions of too many back and forths. I guess this is gossip – I hadn’t thought of it that way. I am going to think about this some more as I do tend to go there and wonder if there is another route?

K must run. I have a class tonight of art therapy blended with narrative ideas. I am excited about this.
Lovely to be in conversation!

Larry Zucker: June 2, 2014
larryHi Marija, Peggy, and Sarah,

Mind if I hop into this wonderful conversation?

I wrestle with all the questions being raised, and I feel like I’ve grown up on many of the voices cited so far, and love to be in conversations with others who trace these roots.

I do a fair amount of internalized other interviewing in my work with couples, and I think your suggestions, Mariija, after Karl, are spot-on. Addressing the problem by it’s name, and abandoning “what do you think s/he thinks” questions—however much I love such questions in straight-forward interviewing, really helps me help them stay within the framework of the conversation. And these conversations sometimes do produce wonderful shifts.

Peggy, I love your referring to the massage therapist who uses certain techniques very sparingly. I’m reminded of the story Tom Andersen tells in his book on reflecting teams re his studying with a physiotherapist who would apply enough pressure to literally bring forth an in-breath, an “inspiration,” and watch carefully for the breath stopping, which she likened to a defending, where the person locks up to hang on to their existing sense of themselves. So we ARE here to destabilize, but not too much. We must watch the breath, literally and figuratively.

And Peggy, thanks for reconnecting me to David’s piece on Love’s Version. In it he said it was only 1/8th baked…I’d love to hear his current thinking. He was careful to point out that he avoids this line of inquiry altogether if the couple doesn’t share some history of Love’s Version, which made sense to me. Yet I worry about inadvertently amplifying romanticized discourses about love. Because an externalization of the problem destabilizes, like you’re describing, Marija, I only want to risk that if I feel that the three of us have a decent conversation going about their preferred versions of the relationship, past, present, and future. (Similar to how I’m always a bit worried if an externalizing conversation about a problem is becoming more interesting than the reauthorizing conversation that it is meant to make room for.) And here I’m very influenced by Johnella Bird, as prior to these externalizing conversations I’m wanting to have had conversations about their evolving relational intentions during the course of this relationship, before this relationship, or even comparing their relational intentions to those of their parents, grandparents, literary figures, etc. There are so many good reasons for creating and sustaining relationships, and they change and evolve all the time, so I want to be interested in Security’s version of the relationship, or Adventure’s version, or Companionship’s version, or Support for Each Person’s Individual Purposes version, etc. When couples start to understand that I’m asking about what they want the relationship to be FOR, not what they want it to be LIKE, the conversation can become quite wonderful.

I look forward to being a part of this and other conversations in the Forum. Best to you all!


Sarah: June 3, 2014
Sarah Hughes

Sarah Hughes

This conversation has been very useful for me today. I read Larry’s posting and then re- read marija’s and it was so helpful to hold these ideas in the back of my brain today.

Larry – I had similar thoughts when reading David’s ideas as I liked what he was saying but also worried about idea of love being limited. Expanding thinking around this helped me have a conversation with a couple around Respect’s lens. They felt, as they are trying to reconnect after an affair, that Respect was lost and Battlemode and Helplessness had taken over. I am just rereading what you said about FOR vs LIKE and I like that. i see how I can maybe help develop this more in the next conversation.

i felt really lost in my own helplessness until RESPECT got externalized and filled out a bit more. I also h them both feel RESPECT as a body sensation as he especially tended to be very intellectual and I think this was an important piece of the externalizing process for this particular couple. She had talked about her intuition and felt sense of things.

This conversation also got me thinking about a tape I once had of johnella Bird talking about working with couples. I lent it out years ago and it never came back. I wonder about it quite often as I feel there is something there I need to hear again. Does anyone know what I am talking about? Have you heard that tape? Do you know where i can find it?

So tired as I had eight sessions today. Too many for a day and I hope i am still making sense.

Marija: June 3, 2014
Marija Welton

Marija Welton

Hi Larry, Sarah, Peggy and anyone else listening in…
Sarah, my age is telling on me, I could not manage 8 sessions in one day and keep my mind straight- I have even gotten into the habit of warning clients when making appointments that the earlier they see me in the day the fresher I’ll be and they’ll most likely get ‘more bang for their buck.’ Being in private practice gives one freedoms one never imagined.

Larry your comments have been thought provoking. I guess I have never thought of externalizing conversations as holding more sway than the reauthoring conversation- perhaps I would hope that if this was evolving in a conversation that I might notice and recognize it as one of the problem’s tactics for keeping the therapy stuck and preventing the client and myself from moving on to, or not noticing, the accompanying stories of how the person has escaped/outsmarted the problem at times – if there are none, I might point out that right now it was inviting us to co-operate with it by becoming solely interested in it, possibly trying to blind us to alternate stories, and, that we have exposed this tactic and how did we, together, manage to do this? What implications that might have for their future relationship with the problem?

Thank you for the wonderful idea of asking about what the couple envisions the relationship being “for” rather than “like”. Lovely upending of the expected. I already have plans for this, as relationships do have purposes and sometimes, for some people, other than what we might assume or what popular culture propagates.

Re the love’s description of the relationship. I agree with the idea that we must be aware that there might not be a history of this in a relationship but I also think about arranged marriages and how the couple can grow love in a relationship- the conditions must be conducive though. I had a client who scoffed at the notion of “love’s description of the relationship”- this was someone with whom I had been exploring disrespect and it’s effects on the marriage she was in. I wondered aloud if this thought of love’s description as “corny” was another of disrespect’s efforts to keep us stuck in it’s description of the relationship. I then asked my client if she was willing to challenge disrespect for a bit and to consider “if love had a description of …(a particular interaction she had described between herself and her husband in very disrespectful terms) how did she think it would describe the interaction?” We had quite an illuminating conversation wherein my client produced 2 alternating views of the relationship (a bifurcation!)- one was direspect’s the other love’s. Needless to say, I drew 2 columns on the page and took dictation…..We uncovered many exceptions to disrespect’s view- it was almost like giving the alternate a name and simply allowing the possibility of it’s existence allowed it to come forth from it’s hiding place. This reminds me of Myerhoff’s notions that we speak our identities but we must perform them too- perhaps speaking love’s existence in the relationshiip, finding evidence for it in the past, will allow for it’s further development in the future by performance? (This construction pleases me – must look for more evidence…)
I am really enjoying this conversation, btw.

Peggy: June 4, 2014
This is such a wonderful conversation. Does it make sense to you for me to start a special interest topic on Working with Couples? We could then easily find “Interviewing problems” and other couples-related conversations/topics in the future.

Hey I think this conversation might also be a great prep for Larry’s course, Escaping Blame: Helping Couples Develop Account-Ability. Have you seen the description? I spent a few days in April visiting Larry in L.A., which included some concentrated time working on developing the materials. It’s so much fun, working with you, Larry. And…I can vouch for this course…it’s going to be fabulous.

I wonder how we might lean into a Couples Special interest group? Could we test pilot materials with you?

With eager anticipation,

Larry: June 4, 2014
larryHi all,

Thanks, Peggy, for promoting my course! At the same time, I’m completely enjoying this conversation. And yes, I think Working With Couples could benefit from having its own interest topic, and it would be a great place to pilot ideas and materials.

Regarding distinguishing what relationships are FOR rather than LIKE, credit to Johnella. I’m not sure exactly which tape of hers you’re referring to, but all of her DVDs are available on her website,

Marija, you mentioned arranged marriages, that clearly rest on other foundations than romantic ones about love. And probably still constitute most of the worlds marriages. That fact frequently comes up when I’m having conversations with couples about their marriage, and about whether love is “found” or “built.” I’ve just had a very moving experience of working with a Hasidic young man as he approached his marriage to a woman he’d met some three months previously. Coming from a much more individualistic and romantic-love tradition myself, what stood out to me is how much support and wise counsel he’d received from the community of respected elders as he moves into creating a loving marriage.


Peggy: June 6, 2014
Peggy Sax

Peggy Sax

Great story, Larry, about discoveries on creating a loving marriage from built rather than found perspective. I want to invite friends in India (narrative therapists who also come from the tradition of arranged marriage) to join in. When I have visited them, I too am struck by the availability of wide counsel from respected elders toward creating loving marriage.