Narrative therapy is a respectful, non-blaming approach to psychological therapy. It centres people as the experts in their own lives. It views problems as separate from people and assumes people have many skills, competencies, beliefs, values, commitments and abilities that will assist them to change their relationship with problems in their lives. It is a way of working that considers the broader context of people’s lives particularly in the various dimensions of diversity including class, race, gender, sexual orientation and ability.
Stories in a ‘narrative therapy’ context are made up of events, linked by a theme, occurring over time and according to a plot. A story emerges as certain events are privileged and selected out over other events as more important or true. As the story takes shape, it invites the teller to further select only certain information while other events become neglected and thus the same story is continually told. These stories both describe and shape people’s perspectives on their lives, histories and futures. Often by the time a person has come to therapy the stories they have for themselves and their lives have more often than not become completely dominated by problems. These narratives have been referred to as ‘problem-saturated’ stories, which can also become ‘identity stories’. Such identity stories can invite a powerful negative influence in the way people see their lives and capabilities.
Narrative-informed therapists work alongside people in resisting the effects and influences of problem stories and deficit descriptions. In therapeutic conversations this involves listening and looking for clues to knowledges and skills that run counter to the problem-saturated story. Often to be discovered are what begin as thin traces to subordinated stories of intentions, hopes, commitments, values, desires and dreams. With curiosity and exploration these preferred stories and accounts of people’s lives become thickened and richly described.
Thus within a narrative framework, the focus is not on ‘experts’ solving problems. It is on people co-discovering through conversations, the hopeful, preferred, and previously unrecognized and hidden possibilities contained within themselves and unseen story-lines. Narrative-informed therapists therefore collaborate with people in ‘re-authoring’ the stories of their lives.
What can I expect if I receive narrative-informed therapy
Your therapist may:
- Invite you to reflect on the influence of the problem(s) on your life, and the influence that you have over the problem(s)
- Ask about your preferences for the therapy, your life, and the future
- Ask questions that invite you to notice things you do and your intentions that seem to be counter to the problem(s)
- Explore with you in details times when things have been going better
- Invite you to reflect on cultural and political discourses that may be influencing the problem(s) and how you respond to it
- Think with you about valued relationships in your life, both past and present, human or otherwise
- With your agreement, invite key people to witness and celebrate emerging, preferred identity stories