What is “Narrative Therapy”?

What is “Narrative Therapy”?

If you are interested to know what informs my counselling work, here are some of “academic” ideas I have studied.

Narrative Therapy is the term used for an approach to counselling that is based on an ethical orientation and a range of practices developed through the application of understandings from social science, social theory, philosophy, cultural studies, social psychology, anthropology, and sociology.  
The approach is orientated by a post-modern, social constructionist world view and organized around the metaphor of “narrative”.  
People come to hold meanings about events, words, and experiences made up from what they have been taught, what society “says”, and the messages that surround them. These meanings become stories about identity, “truth”, and one’s existence in the world.

Narrative practices grew out of work done initially in the family therapy arena, first by Michael White of Australia and David Epston of New Zealand and have increasingly been taken up and developed by therapists around the world.

From this paradigm come some unique ways of talking. It offers a different form of language around issues and opens the possibility for unique conversations that are characterised by curiosity and an open, collaborative enquiry.  A regular feature of narrative conversations is the use of externalising language.
This form of language is a grammatical shift in which problems are referred to in the third person as if they were objects operating as free agents in the world (problems have a life of their own) seeking to entangle us in their web (to influence the stories we hold, our identity and our actions).
Externalising separates the person from “the problem” and, with the space created, offers the possibility to step more fully into preferred ways of being. They can also more readily, and without blame, explore the relationship or connection they have with “the problem” and be held accountable for that. 

“Narrative approaches to counselling centre people as the experts in their own lives and views problems as separate from people. Narrative approaches assume that people have many skills, competencies, beliefs, values, commitments, and abilities that will assist them to reduce the influence of problems in their lives. The word ‘narrative’ refers to the emphasis that is placed upon the stories of people’s lives and the differences that can be made through particular tellings and retellings of these stories. Narrative approaches involve ways of understanding the stories of people’s lives, and ways of re-authoring these stories in collaboration between the therapist and the people whose lives are being discussed. It is a way of working that is interested in history, the broader context that is affecting people’s lives, and the ethics or politics of this work.”
Alice Morgan

(For an easy-to-read introduction to narrative therapy, Alice Morgan’s book “What is narrative therapy?” is a fine place to start. Click here to get to Dulwich Centre Publications.) 

 “Narrative approaches to counselling invite clients to begin a journey of co-exploration in search of talents and abilities that are hidden or veiled by a life problem… The narrative therapist draws on his/her own patient and thoughtful persistence to help the client rediscover the remnants of favoured experiences in his/her life. In some instances, these experiences will open up avenues by which clients can bypass the problems that have stalled them on their journey. In other instances, they may be the cornerstones with which persons seeking respite from their pain reconstruct their lives”
Narrative Therapy in Practice: The Archaeology of Hope.  Monk, G., Winslade, J., Crocket, K, Epston, D. (eds). 1996. Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco.

For more about Narrative Therapy click on Links to see other websites and resources.