Narrative Therapy

narrative-reflect

Narrative therapy can be used for individuals, couples, or families. In a couple or family setting, the technique of externalizing problems sets the stage for creating positive interactions and transforming negative communication or responses into more accepting, nonjudgmental, and meaningful exchanges. Seeing a problem objectively helps couples and families to reconnect with the heart of their relationship and address the ways in which the problem has challenged that core strength.

Narrative Therapy Techniques

Practitioners of narrative therapy believe that simply telling one’s story of a problem is a form of action toward change. Narrative therapists help to objectify problems, frame them within a larger sociocultural context, and make room for other stories. Together, therapist and client identify and build upon “alternative” or “preferred” storylines that exist beyond the problem story; these provide contrast to the problem, reflect a person’s true nature, and offer opportunities to rewrite one’s story. In this way, people move from what is known (the problem story) to what is as of yet unknown.

The therapist also helps people to see what is “absent but implicit” in the presentation of a problem. By exploring the impact of the problem, it is possible to identify what is truly important and valuable to a person in a broader context, beyond the problem. This can help a person identify a common thread to connect his or her actions and choices throughout life. In other words, all the “other” experiences and values from life are “absent but implicit” as people navigate new terrain. This process can help a person better understand his or her experience of life and gain personal agency for addressing problem scenarios in the future.

Resources

  • The Dulwich Centre: Established by Michael White and David Epston, The Dulwich Centre provides information, workshops, and trainings

References:

Morgan, Alice. (n.d.). What Is Narrative Therapy? Retrieved from http://www.dulwichcentre.com.au/what-is-narrative-therapy.html

Day-to-day Work of Narrative Therapy 

In the day-to-day work of narrative therapy, we:

  • Start by seeking to join people in their particular experiential worlds (not by educating them about ours).
  • Listen to what they say as stories: not “facts” or clues to deep meaning or symptoms to diagnose, etc.
  • Try to understand the stories through which people are currently organizing their lives and what they find problematic about those stories.
  • Strive to perceive people as separate from their problems.
  • This tends to unpack and unmask problem-supporting stories and discourses.  (This process is an important part of “deconstruction.”)
  • Listen for openings (exceptions, unique outcomes) in problematic stories.
  • Expand openings by asking questions that invite people to retell and re-experience the openings so that they become rich, thick narratives whose meanings may be able to overshadow the meanings of the problematic stories.
  • Collaborate, through the use of reflecting teams, letters, documents, and communities of concern, in the circulation of the preferred stories so that they have an audience.

Chris Behan  Aileen Cheshire; Gene Combs, David Epston, Jill Freedman,  Dorothea Lewis, Marilyn O’Neill, Wally McKenzie, Peggy Sax and Gaye Stockell all compiled a handout for participants about narrative therapy in practice:

In the day-to-day work of narrative therapy, we:

  • Start by meeting people where they are.
  • Listen to what they say as stories: not “facts” or clues to deep meaning or symptoms to diagnose, etc.
  • Listen to develop an understanding of the stories through which people are currently organizing their lives and what they find problematic in those stories.
  • Regard people as separate from their problems. This helps to unpack and unmask problem-supporting stories and discourses.  (This process is an important part of “deconstruction.”)
  • Collaboratively identify values and scales in people’s cultures that support or encourage the problematic aspects of people’s life narratives.
  • Listen for initiatives or events that wouldn’t be predicted by problematic stories.
  • Ask questions that invite the telling and retelling of these initiatives and events so that they become expanded into rich, thick narratives that reflect people’s preferred identities and projects.
  • Collaborate, through the use of outsider witness groups, letters, documents, and communities of concern, in the circulation of the preferred stories.

Gene Combs, Jill Freedman, Narrative in action, What is narrative therapy?

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