Four Narrative Therapy Techniques That Can Change Your Perception Of Self
By: Jessica Anderson
Updated May 11, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Whitney White, MS. CMHC, NCC., LPC
Narrative therapy is a method of mental health treatment that separates a person from their problems. It helps people to rely on their internal skills and use emotional tools to lessen the troubles in their lives. The idea is that our life is a long story and that we give our lives meaning through the little stories that exist within them: the vignettes that take place inside the larger story. Narrative therapy believes that storytelling is compelling and that through telling stories of our lives, we discover the meaning of our life. We do this by calling ourselves the "narrator" of our own lives. Sometimes the story has repetitive themes. When you see a narrative therapist, they can help you recognize specific recurring ideas in your life. You don't have to keep engaging in the same patterns anymore. That's where narrative therapy can help. It's time for you to change the story of your life and re-write it.
How Narrative Therapy Developed
The approach of narrative therapy was developed by Michael White and David Epston, who were therapists from New Zealand. They believed that it was essential to see people as separate from their issues. Narrative therapy came about in the 1980s, and the idea was that it was supposed to be a kind of treatment that was non-blaming and non-pathological. White and Epston made it extremely clear that they didn't want clients to be viewed as a problem or viewed as though there was something "wrong" with them; people aren't broken, and they can change the story of their lives. They wanted to make sure that people weren't labeled as defective and that they were empowered to take control over their lives and how they handle the issues within them.
The Three Components Of Narrative Therapy
A person who enters narrative therapy will receive respect from their therapist. They're there to work through their problems, but they aren't a problem. Sometimes people struggle with viewing themselves as "broken" or "messed up." One of the best parts of narrative therapy is that you're working hard to respect yourself and detach those negative perceptions of you from your being. Your therapist helps you with positively viewing yourself by recognizing you as a human being. Everyone goes through hard times, and that doesn't make you defective, it means you're human.
When things go wrong, it's easy to blame others. But that behavior doesn't help you. In narrative therapy, the client doesn't get blamed for their problems, nor do they place blame on other people. They recognize the stories within their lives and focus on acknowledging their story and working actively to change maladaptive thoughts and behaviors. Blaming isn't helpful because it focuses on a person rather than the problem. Rather than placing blame on a person, narrative therapy helps the client focus on the problem itself. They can look at the issues and start to find alternative ways to handle them. You tell your therapist what the problem is, and if you're frustrated that you can't seem to solve it, that's okay. But they're going to show you that blaming doesn't work. It only makes the problem feel more insurmountable.
3. The Client Is The Expert
In many other kinds of therapy, the client comes to the therapist seeking guidance. They view their counselor as an expert in the field. Therapists are human beings. They have an education in psychology, but they also have flaws and make mistakes. A significant aspect of narrative therapy is that the client gets to be an expert. You know the story of your life. You can tell it because you've lived it. What a narrative therapist does is help illustrate what could be painful patterns. As the writer of your story, you get to make the final decisions. Much like person-centered therapy, in narrative therapy, the therapist doesn't view themselves as an authority figure or as though they're above the client in any way. It's a collaborative process in which the client gets to know who they are. They're telling their story, and the therapist is guiding them along the way while helping and supporting them through the process.
The foundation of narrative therapy is that reality is a social construct and our interactions with other people influence what we see as "real." people interpret their interactions with others, and that's their perception of reality. There's no singular reality; your perception is your reality and what may be true for one person won't necessarily be real for someone else. There's no objective reality. Instead, it's subjective. Narrative therapy sets forth the idea that we can make sense of our lives by telling our stories.
How Narrative Therapy Helps
By focusing on the lived experiences and stories within a person's life, narrative therapy separates an individual from their problems. It also helps people see that they can at any time re-navigate their story. It shows that their story is always evolving and changing and that they're the author of that story. A trained narrative therapist helps people to be curious and explore different elements of their story. They help clients challenge themselves and see that they can change; that even in situations where a person doesn't have full control, the individual can still choose how they handle it.
Four Narrative Therapy Techniques
Many narrative therapy techniques help people learn to take control of their lives and their stories. Here are four common narrative therapy techniques that can help you change your perception of self and see yourself as separate from your problems:
- Developing your narrative
You might be aware of how your story is going, or you may feel clueless as to why certain things have happened to you in your life. When you go to narrative therapy, your therapist is there to help you figure out what the nature of your story is and how to get you on the right track to telling it. One thing that a narrative therapist will help you do is to collect information to understand your story and find your voice. Some people don't know that there are repetitive stories within their lives, but a narrative therapist will help a client see that repetition and help them to identify those dominant themes that may be impacting them negatively. A therapist will then empower the client by showing them that they can re-steer the common, recurring problems that they're experiencing so that they can live a more happy, healthy, and productive life.
You are not your problems. You are a human being who is moving through life, writing your journey as you go. You might struggle with specific issues, but you are not the challenges that you meet. The concept of distancing yourself from the problems you experience is called "externalization." When you're putting together a story, it's important to differentiate yourself from the problem within it so that you don't fuse the two: you're not your problems. Externalization helps you view issues from an objective, non-judgmental point of view. Once you create that distance between yourself and your problems, you see that change is possible and that you're in control and able to heal.
Sometimes, people become anxious or overwhelmed when taking in their story. They might feel that it's too big or too much to tackle all at once, and they might feel lost in their story. If you're trying to look at everything in your life at once, that will probably make you feel anxious, or maybe even powerless. The good news is that you don't have to tackle every single problem in your life at once. When you're in narrative therapy, you can break down the pieces of your story using deconstruction. Deconstructing the story and looking at it in smaller parts makes the process far less overwhelming and allows an individual to see that they can impact change in their life.
Your story doesn't have to end one way. You're not the victim of fate. You have the choice to have to change the narrative. Narrative therapy helps you understand how many options you have in your life and how much you can change your life based on how you write your story. A narrative therapist can show a client that there are alternative endings or ways that you can change your story; it's like a choose-your-own-adventure book, but in therapy. Life is a long book, and you've got a lot to say. Your therapist is ready to hear your story and help you determine where it goes.
Finding A Narrative Therapist
Are you ready to continue writing your life story? If the answer is "yes," then it's time to find a therapist who can help. Whether you decide to work with someone in your neighborhood or online, you can find a provider that practices narrative therapy. The therapists at BetterHelp are here to help you see that you aren't your problems and that you can take charge of your life at any time. You can see reviews of BetterHelp counselors below, from people experiencing different issues and life challenges.
"I have come a long way. With the help of Alexis, I have accomplished things I thought I'd never do. I am glad I did this, it has benefited me so much. With the guidance and encouragement of Alexis, I am more confident in myself and I see a clear path to success and happiness. I have learned to control myself and not doubt myself. It is hard to let go but I know I will be fine and if I need she will still be here for me. Thank you Alexis you have truly helped me change my life. I am so grateful. I wish you the best!"
"In the short span of 9 months, Shonnie has become like one of my best friends. At first, I was skeptical of doing therapy since I'm very "psychologically healthy". A few challenges in my personal life lead me to try therapy for a month. Now I consider it an important part of my growth as a businessman and leader within my community. Thank you Shonnie for being so helpful during the recent difficulties; I am very lucky to have found you!"
If the details of Narrative Therapy shared in this article pique your interest or seem like they could be beneficial in your life, consider giving the technique a try. Find a counselor to help you tell the story of your life in a way that is free of judgment and blame. Remember that life challenges are normal, they are not your fault, and they can be improved. You can move forward to live a happy and healthy life, and Narrative Therapy can be a strong tool to help you get there. Take the first step today.