Narrative therapy is a method of mental health treatment that may help separate a person from their personal challenges or enable individuals to take control of their own lives.
This therapeutic process may assist people in relying on their internal skills and emotional tools to overcome life's difficulties. The idea behind narrative therapy seeks to convey that our life is a collection of life stories, and we can give our lives meaning through the little narrative structures within them — the vignettes that unfold within a person's larger story.
By narrating your life story and embracing non-blaming and non-pathological principles, you could experience growth in ways you might not have thought possible.
Narrative Therapy Techniques & Interventions
Narrative Therapy History
The narrative therapy approach was developed by Michael White and David Epston, therapists from New Zealand. Michael White and David Epston believed that seeing people as separate from their issues could be essential to treating mental health concerns.
Narrative therapy, developed as a non-blaming and non-pathological treatment by White and Epston, seeks to ensure that clients are not viewed as problematic or with something wrong with them. They believed that people aren't broken and can change their own life stories or explore alternative story paths within their experiences.
The founders aimed to emphasize the benefits of narrative therapy by ensuring that therapists weren't labeling individuals as defective. Instead, they wanted those who sought their help to feel empowered to take control over their own lives and the way they tackle the many stories and challenges that confront them.
The Three Components Of Narrative Therapy
The founders of narrative therapy came up with three primary components for therapists to focus on.
Respect is a fundamental aspect of a narrative therapy session, where the therapist treats the person with dignity. They may attend therapy sessions to work through their problematic story, but they themselves aren't the problem.
Individuals sometimes struggle with viewing themselves as “broken” or “messed up.” Narrative therapy seeks to help individuals respect themselves and detach from negative perceptions. Your therapist may help you view yourself positively by recognizing that everyone can experience different stories and go through hard times, which doesn't make you defective. It means you're human.
When things go wrong, it may feel overwhelming and easy to blame others or ourselves. However, doing so may delay personal development.
In narrative therapy, a client doesn't get blamed for their problems, nor do they place blame on other people. They may explore events and discuss aspects of their life stories, learning to recognize alternative and dominant narratives within their lives, and actively work to change maladaptive thoughts and behaviors.
Narrative therapy can show an individual that blaming may not be helpful because it focuses on a person's story rather than a problem. When one can identify their own stories they may also recognize themselves as individuals with their own meaning within a story.
The Client As The Expert
In many types of therapy, the client may come to the therapist seeking guidance. We often view our counselors as more intelligent or capable than ourselves. Narrative therapy focuses on the fact that therapists are human beings, too. They have an education in psychology, but they also have flaws and make mistakes as humans.
Narrative therapists may help illustrate what could be painful patterns or unhealthy beliefs in your dominant story. However, as the writer of your own story, you make the final decisions.
Much like person-centered therapy and systemic therapies, in narrative therapy, the narrative therapists may not view themselves as an authority figure or feel better than the client in any way. The therapy session may be a collaborative process in which the client can explore events, get to know their core personality, and trust themselves.
In a typical session, the client may discuss aspects of their dominant story in depth, and the therapist may guide them along the way while supporting them through the process as the story gains richness. A qualified narrative therapist may help you work through the narrative ideas you have and help you remember why you started narrative therapy in the first place.
The foundation of this method may be that objective reality and memories are social constructs and our interactions with other people form a particular sequence that can influence what we see as "real."
Narrative therapists may believe there is no absolute truth; your perception is your reality, and what may be true for one person won't necessarily be accurate for someone else. Narrative therapy sets forth the idea that we can make sense of our lives by choosing how we tell our life affirming stories alongside the support of an expert.
Narrative Therapy Benefits
Narrative therapy can help individuals recognize that they have the power to navigate their stories and re-author their lives. It acknowledges that an individual's story is constantly evolving and changing and that a core personality characteristic may shape their perspective. Although a problematic story feels overwhelming to confront, narrative therapy may provide a safe space to explore and understand them.
Narrative therapy is a therapeutic approach that encourages individuals to explore their stories and experiences with curiosity and without judgment. It aims to help people recognize and challenge problematic stories that may be impacting their well-being, such as those related to mental illness or specific challenges faced by married women.
Through the process of narrative therapy, individuals may gain a greater understanding of themselves, including their sexual identity, and their unique experiences, all while recognizing that there is no universal truth. The therapy stresses that change is possible, even in situations that may seem out of a person's control. As a result, narrative therapy can be a valuable resource in addition to seeking professional medical advice and support in navigating their personal journeys.
Four Narrative Methods
Many narrative techniques may help individuals learn to take control of their lives and their stories. There are four standard narrative methods that a therapist might utilize.
Developing Your Own Story
You might be aware of how your story is going, or you may feel clueless about why certain things have happened to you. When you go to narrative therapy, your therapist may support you in figuring out the nature of your story and how to get you on the right track to telling it.
Some people may not know there are repetitive stories within their lives. In that case, narrative practice can help clients identify dominant themes that may impact them. A therapist may empower the client by showing them they can re-steer everyday events.
Narrative therapy may focus on helping you understand that you are not your problem. Your therapist may refer to you as a human being moving through life, writing your journey as you go. You might struggle with specific issues, but you are often not the challenges you meet.
The concept of distancing yourself from the problems you experience is called "externalization." When you're putting together a story, it may be beneficial to differentiate yourself from the problem to improve your self-esteem and take responsibility for what you can change.
Externalization may allow you to view issues objectively, non-judgmental point of view. Once you create a distance between yourself and your problems, you may see that change is possible and that you can heal.
People can sometimes become anxious or overwhelmed when taking in their stories. They might feel that their problems are "too much" to tackle all at once.
If you're trying to look at everything in your life at once, that might make you feel anxious or even powerless. However, in narrative therapy, you can deconstruct the pieces of your story.
Deconstructing the story and looking at it in smaller parts may make the process far less overwhelming and could help an individual see how they may impact change in their life.
Narrative therapy could help you understand your options and how much you can change based on how you write your story. A narrative therapist can show a client that there may be alternative endings or solutions that you haven't considered.
Finding A Narrative Counselor
Are you ready to continue writing your life story but feel you need some help getting an idea, sense, or example of how to do so? If the answer is "yes," it may be time to find a therapist to help you achieve your goals.
Many individuals find online therapy to be a productive method of treatment. Online counseling has been proven to be just as effective as in-person therapy. Narrative therapy is similarly effective in treating mental health conditions like depression.
If you're ready to reach out for support, consider an online platform such as BetterHelp, which has a variety of counselors available specializing in various types of therapy.
TakeawayNarrative therapy may help you tell the story of your life in a way that is free of judgment and blame. Your therapist might help you see that how your life has gone so far is not a reflection of who you are or who you will be. If you're ready to reach out for support for any concern, consider contacting a mental health counselor at a narrative therapy centre. Embrace the opportunity to embark on a transformative journey and remember why you started narrative therapy in the first place.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Imagine a narrative therapist working with a client. The client says she is depressed. The therapist might have this client separate her feelings of depression from her identity. So instead of saying "I'm depressed, and my life is awful," this client might say "Depression is impacting my life and making me think my day-to-day is awful, when it really isn't." This is the process of re-authoring the narrative, encouraging the patient to have more self-compassion for the challenges they might be facing in life.
Key pillars of narrative therapy include telling yourself alternative, healthier stories, confronting old and perhaps unhealthy beliefs, creating a wider sense of yourself, and encouraging new thought patterns to take shape. Mental health professionals rely on these tactics and other narrative therapy resources when working 1-on-1 with a client, helping them move past their initial perspective.
The steps include: deconstruction or unpacking a person's prevailing stories, re-authoring and bringing aspects of themselves to expand their preferred plot, and remembering conversations to find new "communities of concern."
Narrative therapy is especially helpful for finding your voice and using that new ability in a positive way. Through the sessions, the client may develop expertise in their own life experiences, allowing their own goals and values to shine through, whether for individual therapy, couples therapy, or family therapy. This re-storying of a person's lived experiences can be incredibly helpful for their overall outlook and mental health.
Narrative therapy has its roots in the well-known phrase, "the person is not the problem, the problem is the problem." In other words, a person's framing and storytelling around their past experiences can play a large role in how they view the future and their own decision making.
The narrative therapy approach sets itself apart from the rest by not seeking to fundamentally transform the client through therapy. Instead, it takes aim at the way the person views themselves and their past experiences. By re-framing the past, they will allow themselves to have space between their challenges/issues and themselves.
Narratives are authentic to you, and they are a representation of how you see yourself. As a result, narratives can be extremely powerful in building positive thinking about your own life and mental health.
A wide variety of people can benefit from this approach, including those with eating disorders, attachment issues, general anxiety or depression, grief, and many more mental health challenges.
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