Narrative Therapy

Updated November 21, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Narrative therapy is a method of mental health treatment that may help separate a person from their challenges or allow individuals to take control of themselves. 

This therapy method may help people rely on their internal skills and emotional tools to recover from life's troubles. The idea behind this therapy method is often that our life is a long story and that we can give our lives meaning through the little narrative structures within them — the vignettes that take place inside a person's larger story.

By narrating your life story and relying on non-blaming and non-pathological principles, you could grow in ways you might not have thought possible. 

Does Narrative Therapy Sound Right For You?

Narrative Therapy Techniques & Interventions

A narrative therapist may help you recognize specific recurring ideas in your life. They might also help you rewrite specific patterns so that you no longer see yourself as a simple result of circumstance but rather as a force for change, overcoming challenges, and moving forward to a better future.

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 was developed to be a treatment that was non-blaming and non-pathological. White and Epston stated they didn't want clients of narrative therapists to be viewed as a problem or as though there was something "wrong" with them. They believed that people aren't broken and that they can change the story of their lives or identify alternative stories in their lives.

The founders of narrative therapy wanted to ensure that narrative therapists weren't labeling people as defective and that those who came to see them were empowered to take control over their lives and how they handle the issues 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

A person who enters narrative therapy will often receive respect from their therapist. They may enter the session to work through their problems, but they themselves aren't a problem.

Individuals sometimes struggle with viewing themselves as "broken" or "messed up." Narrative therapy aims to help individuals respect themselves and detach negative perceptions. Your therapist may help you view yourself positively by recognizing that everyone can go through hard times, which doesn't make you defective. It means you're human.

Non-Blaming

When things go wrong, it may feel 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 learn to recognize alternative and dominant stories 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 can focus on a person rather than a problem. When one can identify alternative stories, they may also recognize themselves as individuals 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. 

While narrative therapy involves talking to a therapist and having therapeutic conversations, a significant aspect of narrative therapy is that the client gets to be "the expert." As the client, you know the story of your life. You can tell it because you've lived it. 

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 get to know who they are and trust themselves.

In a typical session, the client may tell 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 are seeking treatment in the first place.  

The foundation of this method may be that 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 singular reality; 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 stories alongside the support of an expert.  

Narrative Therapy Benefits 

By focusing on the lived experiences and stories within a person's life, narrative therapy may separate an individual from their challenges and unhelpful stories or problems. Narrative therapy also helps people see that they can re-navigate their stories. It shows that their story is constantly evolving and changing and that they're the author. 

A trained narrative therapist may help people be curious and explore different elements of their story, even their problematic stories. They can help clients challenge themselves and see that change could be possible, even in a situation where a person doesn't have complete control. 

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. 

Externalization

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.

Deconstruction

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.

Outcomes

Narrative therapy may teach you that your story doesn't have to end one way. You're not helpless in the face of fate. You can often change the narrative, even with struggles. 

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. 

Does Narrative Therapy Sound Right For You?

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. 

Takeaway

Narrative 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.

For Additional Help & Support With Your Concerns

Speak with a Licensed Therapist
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.