How Can You Benefit From Narrative Therapy?

Updated March 05, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Avia James

Many types of therapy can help with different problems, and one such type of therapy that we will be discussing today is narrative therapy, which is a relatively new form of therapy that has quite a few interesting aspects to it. What is it? How can you benefit from it? Let's find out.


What Is Narrative Therapy?

Narrative therapy first came to fruition during the 1970s - 1980s. Its founders are Michael White from Australia and David Epston from New Zealand. Because it's a newer form of therapy, many people don't know much about it.

According to narrative therapy, people are not their problems. People are separate from their problems and are not defined by them. The idea is that people can use their own skills to solve their problems.

As the name implies, there is a narrative aspect to narrative therapy. The client tends to be the narrator, taking their problems and forming them into stories. This does make sense because, in a way, the events in our lives can be equated to stories. People use their life stories all the time, either as a way to entertain themselves or others or as a way to cope. We shall go further on as to what it means.

The Techniques Of Narrative Therapy

Narrative therapy looks at people and realizes that some people can tell stories and have the skills needed to change their own lives. To do this, they need to separate themselves from their problems. This allows the therapist to externalize one's problem, which, in turn, makes deepening understanding rather easier. By turning the problem into a story, people become less defensive, which makes exploration of the problem and the possible solution(s) less challenging and intimidating. Let's look at some of the techniques used by a narrative therapist.


The first goal of narrative therapy is to let people look at their problems and objectify them. Instead of the problem being something that is intangible, the problem is viewed as something that is more concrete and less abstract.



The therapist may take those problems and frame them. Our stories are part of a bigger picture, and often, these stories will be looked at through the lens of a larger societal context. If someone has a problem with another person, the other person's story may be brought into context as well.

Other Stories

Another lesson in narrative therapy is that other stories can be told. Besides the stories of other people, which help humanize them and allow for empathy, the therapist may ask the client how they would like their own story to end, or what an alternative storyline they would prefer to have to better fit their needs.

What Narrative Therapy Strives To Be

The goal of narrative therapy is not transformation. Instead, the goal is to take a problem and modify its effects to ones the person can handle. By separating people from their problems, this practice becomes a lot easier. Narrative therapy helps people look at their concerns and realize that they can overcome them or not be affected by them as much as they used to.


Let's take PTSD for example. Often, post-traumatic stress is used as a way to protect oneself from the emotions a traumatic experience may trigger. Long-term, however, PTSD can create serious problems and compromise one's mental health to a high degree. With narrative therapy, one can take the traumatic experience and transform it so that it doesn't affect him as intensely. This can help the individual become more compassionate toward oneself. Compassion is important and necessary for a change to occur.

This is known as post-traumatic growth. Post-traumatic growth means that positive changes can happen after experiencing a traumatic event if properly addressed.

Narrative therapy can also help the individual consider the context in which the situation occurred. This may include the political and cultural climate can as well as one's social status. This can help the individuals view their problem in a more accurate light.

When Narrative Therapy Is Used

Many people can benefit from narrative therapy individually, but narrative therapy can be applied to families and couples, as well. Odds are, people who share a problem (as in the case of family and couples counseling) have different sides to the same problem story, therefore, narrative therapy helps by considering and combining the different stories into one. This, in turn, helps families and couples agree on one story and move on.

For example, when a couple fights, they have two sides to their story. In both stories, one is the hero, and the other is the antagonist. In truth, it usually lies somewhere in the middle, where both are at fault. Narrative therapy can help the couple realize that there is an objective answer. By being more objective, this can help the couple try to find a solution rather than fighting over who is on the right.

The Problems With Narrative Therapy

Narrative therapy can be an effective tool for people who are dealing with their problems, but it does have a few criticisms that are worth mentioning.

First, narrators can be unreliable, especially when the person telling it is the client. The client may pick the narrative they are most comfortable with and put themselves in the best light possible.

Another problem with narrative therapy is the lack of scientific evidence. Not enough studies have been conducted to assess its validity.

That being said, narrative therapy can be useful, especially for the creative of us. It can help individuals tell a story that is more conducive to healthy life and put things into the right perspective.

In Conclusion

You are the writer of your own story. And while you can only control certain things, addressing those in a healthy way can positively change the outcomes of your story. If you're stuck in a problem, narrative therapy can allow you to look at that problem externally. You can imagine a story where the problem isn't there or has been resolved. Once you do that, you can make the steps you need to resolve the problem, as those become clearer when the problem is viewed in isolation.


Seek Help!

There are varied ways you can use to deal with your problems. One way is by seeking help from a mental health professional. A counselor can help you come up with solutions to the problems you are facing. Problems can be manifested in different forms, and can be external or internal.

By seeking help, you're admitting you have a problem you want to address and resolve, and there is no shame in that.

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