What is narrative therapy?
Narrative therapy is a respectful, non-blaming approach to therapy which centres us as the experts in our own lives.
Narrative therapy views problems as separate from people. It assumes that we have many skills, beliefs, values and abilities that can support us in changing our relationship to the problems in our lives.
In a ‘narrative therapy’ context, our stories are made up of events, linked by a theme, occurring over time. A story begins to emerge as certain events are selected over other events as either more important or sometimes, as the truth. As the story takes shape, we select certain information, while other events become neglected. And so, over time, the same story can get told, over and over again.
These stories shape our perspectives on our lives and can end up impacting our future too.
Often by the time a person has come to therapy these stories they have for themselves – and their lives – have become completely dominated by their problems. These narratives are referred to as ‘problem-saturated’ stories, which can also become ‘identity stories’.
Our identity stories can end up having a powerful negative influence over the way we see ourselves, our lives and our capabilities.
Your narrative therapist will work with you to help you resist the effects and influences of these problem stories and deficit descriptions. This involves listening and looking out for clues that run counter to the story. Often, what we begin to discover are 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 more richly described.
The focus is not on ‘experts’ solving problems. It is on people co-discovering – through conversations – the hopeful, preferred, and previously unrecognised hidden possibilities contained within themselves.
Like this, narrative-informed therapists collaborate with people in ‘re-authoring’ the stories of their lives.
What happens in narrative therapy?
Your therapist may:
- Invite you to reflect on the influence of the problem(s) on your life, and also 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 the things you do – and your intentions – that seem to be counter to the problem(s)
- Help you explore times when things have been going better for you
- Invite you to reflect on cultural and political discourses that may be influencing the problem(s) and how you respond to them
- Help you consider the valued relationships in your life, both past and present
- With your agreement, invite key people to witness and celebrate emerging, preferred identity stories
Frequently asked questions
While narrative therapy can be a valuable approach for all kinds of different difficulties it tends to be particularly popular when working with children, older people and grief. Narrative therapy differs to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) in the sense that it takes an exploratory, strengths-based approach rather than a structured, goal-orientated one.