About this blog

I'm a Marriage and Family Therapist and my primary theoretical orientation is Narrative Therapy. I find the ideas of narrative therapy and the conversations that develop with my clients to be so rich, so life-giving, and at the same time so practical, that I wanted to find a way to share those ideas with others outside the walls of the therapy office. I hope you enjoy reading, and find some value in these posts. Please note that this blog is not intended to provide therapy nor to be a substitute for therapy.

Popular Posts

Career Reset

What’s next?
Where do I go from here?
How do I get unstuck?
What are my options?
Which one should I pursue?

If you’ve ever faced a career dilemma you can probably relate to these questions. There may be too many options, or not enough, or just no obvious front-runner: hence the stuckness.

My conversations with clients have helped me develop a framework for moving away from the stuckness, toward something meaningful and satisfying. I call it a “career reset.” (A quick note: These conversations are not only about work; they’re also about how to spend time during retirement, or where to volunteer, or how to define and move toward a life that feels more meaningful, at any age.)

In those “career reset” conversations I’ve noticed three themes that stand out as we’re trying to understand the stuckness and define a career path. I think of them as three needs for moving toward a meaningful career.

Describing my Work with Couples

Recently, a client in couple’s therapy, who was obviously struggling with our work, asked me about the purpose of therapy and how it works. I thought it was a good question, and, surprisingly, one that I had been asked directly only a handful of times in my many years of working with couples. With his wife also in the therapy session, the three of us discussed his questions, but it was a brief conversation and left me wanting to give a more complete response. That led me to begin thinking more about how I would describe what actually happens in couples therapy and how I would capture that in writing. Below is my attempt to do so.

I think of this as a draft that will continue to be re-written and updated through time. Having articulated these ideas, having put them on paper, lets me step back and consider them from a little distance.

Metaphors - Part 1

Metaphors help us make vivid, colorful comparisons. They capture complexity in just one word, or a few. And the metaphors we carry around in our heads lead us down certain paths rather than others when we’re trying to think about our problems. They guide us toward certain ideas or beliefs about ourselves, and keep other ideas or beliefs hidden from view.

This article is about two metaphors we might use to understand ourselves when dealing with problems: the mining metaphor and the bookshelf metaphor.

Metaphors - Part 2


In Parts 2 and 3 of this article I want to illustrate the mining and bookshelf metaphors by revisiting
Dave and his dealings with grumpiness (from one my first entries in this blog). You may recall that Dave struggled with grumpiness in the evenings at home with his wife and two kids. He described grumpiness as a fog settling over his house and we identified the effects of the fog on Dave and his family (increased tension, distance, feeling “on edge,” a sense of heaviness and sadness).

Our conversation eventually helped Dave to name his preference: He preferred to be happy, upbeat, and pleasant rather than grumpy.

Metaphors - Part 3


Instead of arranging the different ideas about Dave’s grumpiness in a hierarchy, with one key underlying cause, in the bookshelf metaphor the ideas or explanations are arranged side-by-side, like books. Below are the items from the layers of the mining metaphor, now shifted 90 degrees to become books on a bookshelf, with slight name changes to move from “causes” to book titles:

Agreeing to Stop - Part 1

The will and ability to stop, to pause, or to take a break, stands out for me as one of the best achievements made by the couples I work with in therapy. This is Part 1 of a two-part piece on one couple’s work to interrupt a destructive pattern and opt, instead, for a preferred story of their relationship.

I was working recently with a married couple who were frequently stuck in a downward spiral of painful accusations, criticism, counter-criticism, frustration, and anger. At the end of such spirals the couple would feel overcome by a sense of themselves as being “incompatible,” “just too different,” or “not a good fit from the start.” At the bottom of the spiral they would be completely saturated by “our relationship is bad” stories, and by that point they would have a lot of evidence to support their conclusions. Thoughts of divorce would soon follow, as would feelings of loss, fear, and powerlessness. Through the years, with every new occurrence of this painful cycle, the couple would become more convinced that the downward spiral, with its defensiveness and recriminations was the “true” story of their relationship. More and more the good times were dismissed as uncharacteristic and irrelevant, and were even used against one another in the couple’s arguments. 

Agreeing to Stop - Part 2

The will and ability to stop, to pause, or to take a break, stands out for me as one of the best achievements made by the couples I work with in therapy. 

This is Part 2 of a two-part piece on a couple’s work to interrupt a destructive pattern and opt, instead, for a preferred story of their relationship. *** 

Part 1 of this two-part piece described how a married couple agreed to change a longstanding pattern by stopping a destructive, downward spiral of arguing and hostility before it took them down one more time. Instead, they developed the ability to pause or take a break and resume the discussion when they could be calm and compassionate with one another. Their ability to start taking these steps had begun to restore their hope in their relationship and allow the positive, loving, and caring qualities of their relationship to be more on display. In Part 1 I framed their agreement to stop as an act of standing up for their preferred story of their relationship. In Part 2 I want to return to this couple and describe in more detail the steps they took to get to the place where they were able to agree to stop, and stick with it.

Building Preferences

Like water that gushes forth when the floodgates are opened, the thing I find most exciting about the naming of a preference is the energy the name can unleash. Sometimes, though, in my therapy work, my excitement is not shared by the people I work with – at least not initially. I’m moving downstream and they’re stuck behind the dam.
  • They may still be held in the problem’s grip and skeptical that the naming of a preference could make much difference in their lives.
  • They may have “settled in” or “come to terms” with the problem and decided to “make the most” of their situation.
  • They may dismiss preferences as mere fantasies, wishes, or unrealistic dreams.
  • They may feel daunted by the many factors that make the problem seem like an irresistible force.
  • Maybe they’ve already been working at this for so long that they’re sure they’ve tried everything.
  • And they may feel stuck because they don’t know where the path can go after a preference is named.

But the naming of a preference is only an initial step.

Building Preferences – Being Less Grumpy

As promised in my last entry on Building Preferences, here’s an example of building a preference. The preference is for Dave, who has been struggling for several months with what he’s come to call his “grumpiness” at home. We’ll walk with Dave through the process of building a preference. Although Dave is fictitious, the dialogue that follows is based on many therapy conversations. 

1. Naming your preference. Dave is clear only about what he doesn’t want – the problem that is causing such a negative feeling for him and a disheartening spirit at home with his wife and two kids: grumpiness. At first he states his preference as:
  • “I’d prefer to be less grumpy.”

Naming Preferences

It’s a basic tenet of narrative therapy that problems are tricky buggers. They take over our lives, drain our energy, and erase our imaginations. They can convince us that they are the truth, the whole truth, and that they are more real than any of the paltry solutions we might come up with. So they’re not only tricky, they’re greedy too. And the people I work with in therapy usually show up to my office with some serious suffering from these problems. They’ve often had the life, energy, and optimism sucked out of them by problems. 

But as daunting as these problems often feel for me and the people I work with, my spirits are usually buoyed by my confidence in people’s ability to identify and work toward their preferences, despite the efforts of problems to keep them down. So even in the midst of people’s considerable pain and suffering, I remain curious about what they prefer for their lives and why it matters to them. 

Anger Issues for a Single Father

“Anger issues” is how Ben explained why he was in my office looking for help. Ben’s wife had passed away four years earlier, leaving him to raise their two sons on his own. Lately, he said, he had become “very short” and “lacked patience” with his teenage sons. He connected his current difficulties to a much longer term “problem with anger” and was eager to get a better understanding of his anger and develop some strategies for dealing with it. 

In our first session he named his preference for how he’d like to handle difficult, frustrating situations with his sons: with “patience,” taking “time out” before responding, and seeking to “understand the situation better before judging.” Ben connected these preferences to skills he was already using at work – being calm, listening, asking for an explanation, and explaining his own perspective – and by identifying them, the skills seemed to become more accessible to him as a father.

Change is Always Happening

In 2008 I had the privilege, along with about 200 others, of being with Michael White in San Diego for a conference on Narrative Therapy. Sadly, it was the last time we would get to be with Michael, as his heart failed that night and he passed away later that week (you can read more about his remarkable work and its effects on people around the world, here).

Michael was inspiring that day as he talked about the ideas and practices that comprise the familiar core of the narrative approach and as he shared the cutting edge of his own thinking about narrative.

Forgiveness - Moving on from Hurt

Thomas had an affair. 

Gina has embarrassed Carlos in front of their closest friends.

LuAnn learned that Raymond wasn’t completely honest with her about the cost of a recent purchase. 

Royce looks on several years of marriage in which he’s felt prohibited from pursuing his interests.

Renee finally has a “voice” in her marriage, but is realizing how much resentment she’s built up for not feeling “seen” or “heard” for over 20 years.

Many of the couples I work with have experienced some painful incident that keeps them from “moving on” with their relationship. In therapy these couples often say, “We want to move on, but we don’t know how to get beyond this. How do we put this behind us?” 

Taking Life Back From Exploding

I'm very pleased to have my partner in therapy and marriage, Michelle, contribute the piece below. It describes her playful narrative work with an 8-year old named "Amy," including parts of the book that Michelle and Amy wrote together to help Amy and others find alternatives to Exploding.
 -- Kurt 

By Michelle Naden 

The following is an account of my meetings with a very vivacious and tender 8 year old. I’ll call her Amy so that her privacy is honored. 

Amy is the oldest of three girls. They live with their mom and dad who are among the most loving of parents I have met. Too, they are playful and helpfully engaged in their children’s lives. But even with such good things going for her, life has been difficult for Amy. She felt challenged by some significant changes in her young life and by the complications of her relationships. Before coming to see me she had lost a good neighborhood friend after a painful struggle between their families. She hated school and didn’t want to go. 

Returning to Hot Conversations

How do you have a conversation that helps you better understand and address the complexities and difficult patterns of your relationship when those same complexities and patterns can jump up and derail the conversation at any time? Further, how do you have such a difficult conversation when life interrupts you every time you get started?


In an earlier piece I wrote about a couple who developed their ability to STOP when a difficult-but-familiar pattern was threatening to take their marriage down a painful, destructive path.

Name the Game

I loved recess in elementary school. It was all about playing games for me, and the games usually involved a bouncy red rubber ball.

Between my 2nd-grade and 5th-grade years the volleyball-sized red rubber ball was the only piece of equipment needed for several of the games that occupied most of my recesses. With it we’d play games called two-square, one-square, dodge ball, and kickball. In a pinch, the red rubber ball could also be used as a basketball or soccer ball or to play three-flies-up.

Because it could be used for many purposes, just being in possession of the red rubber ball on the playground at the beginning of recess did not give a clear indication of the game to be played. Unlike a football or basketball, which mostly spoke for themselves, your intentions with the red rubber ball had to be announced, in words or actions. You had to “name the game.”

Narrating Intentions

How can couples break away from those familiar conversations that get stuck in point-and-counterpoint, accusation and defense? Conversations where the content is lost to a frustrating, confusing process? 

One answer might be found at the movies, in the voice of the narrator: that disembodied voice that speaks from outside the movie or on top of its action, that helps set the historical context, explains a key plot point, or conveys thoughts that would otherwise be only “in the head” of a character. 

The voice of the narrator came to mind recently when working with a married couple, Maria and George, who were frustrated by a regularly occurring conversation that would lead to nowhere but misunderstanding, defensiveness and distance.

Quick Note - An Anniversary

Hi friends and faithful readers.  You may have noticed that I haven't posted in a while.  Alas, life has conspired against my finding much time to write.  But I didn't want to lose any good will I may have gained with you, so I wanted to send this little note to say that I'm working on some more pieces and aim to have the next one posted by the end of the month. 

I'm pleased to say that I just passed the one-year anniversary of my first post.  I started this blog as a vehicle for writing about some of the interesting things I get to experience as a narrative therapist.  Writing in such a public forum has been important to me as it's required that I think about my writing from the perspective of others: people real and imagined, known and unknown, critical, skeptical, open, curious, or just having stumbled in.  The main benefit to me, in addition to trying to imagine the many responses a given piece may elicit, has been that by "going public" I "get to" face the challenge of working on a piece -- revising, refining, throwing out and starting over -- until I feel good about having others read it.  So, thank you.  The fact that you're reading, and that some of you are even responding, questioning and engaging the ideas, is very helpful to me, and makes this whole process extremely satisfying.

Pausing at Suffering

Therapy is about many things. And it is often about suffering.

…People loving each other but suffering because they can’t seem to make their relationships work better. 

…People knowing what they want but suffering because they keep encountering obstacles, sometimes the same ones over and over and over. 

…People not knowing what they want but suffering because they’re sure there’s something “better than this.” 

…People suffering because their actions and choices have hurt others and yet they’re hurt themselves, by those same people, and there’s no clear way out. 

…People suffering because there’s too much risk, too much vulnerability between where they are and where they want to be.

Travel Tools for Couples (a guest post for Bearleader Chronicle)

My good friends at Bearleader Chronicle asked me to write about how couples can make the most of their vacation time to build their sense of closeness and intimacy. The first post of my three-part series is available on their site. In it I explore a series of questions that can help a couple enrich their experience and build memories and closeness by paying attention to some of the often-overlooked aspects of their time away. Here's an excerpt:

"You’re on vacation in Paris with your beloved partner. You just walked into Sainte-Chapelle and are overcome with the beauty of the stained glass in the sunlight. Your emotions are powerful and somewhat surprising, and you’re flooded with memories from long ago.

"What do you do with your experience? Do you talk about it with your partner? Is he or she interested? How much do you say? And should you say anything about the surprisingly deep emotions and the powerful memories, which, as far as you can tell, are not directly related to the stained glass?"

You can read more by going to the Bearleader Chronicle site. While you're there, have a look around at the fabulous photography and the articles on unique places to eat and stay, and things to do, around the world.