What is Narrative therapy?

This blog post will explore what Narrative therapy is.

We will also explore the stages of narrative therapy, the techniques used, the efficacy, and general criticism of this school of psychotherapy.

What is Narrative therapy?

Narrative therapy is a form of therapy that was developed by Michael White and David Epston in the 1980s.

This form of therapy seeks to understand the personal narratives that are held by an individual which proves to be problematic. 

The process of therapy starts by externalising the problem, separating the individual from the problem and then redeveloping an alternate more optimistic and hopeful narrative about themselves and their lives. 

This form of therapy highlights an individual’s own skills and sense of purpose to guide them through challenges and believes that each client is an individual who has agency and dignity. 


They view people who come to narrative therapy as people who are courageous and brave in their ability to identify their own challenges and work through it. 

It is a non-blaming form of therapy that does not view clients as the problem, and avoids blame on any of the individuals in therapy. 

Narrative therapy views the client as the expert of their lives and believes that only the client  knows their one life intimately and has the skills and knowledge to address their problems. 

The foundation of this therapeutic process is the process by which they invite clients to take a perspective that may feel foreign and new to them and bring about a seperation between people and their problems. 

The goal of narrative therapy is to help people experience their lives in new perspectives so that it opens the clients up to new possibilities and help create new meaning. 

What are the stages of Narrative therapy?

The stages in the process of narrative therapy are as follows:

Deconstructing problematic stories. 

This stage involves naming the problem and tracing the history and development of the problem. 

This step involves working on a mutually agreed upon name for the problem by personifying the problem. 

This stage also involves exploring the effects of the problem of life on the individual and also exploring exceptions when the problem does not arise.  There are also efforts to explore how the individual affects the problem.

Re-authoring problematic stories.

In this stage, the clients are encouraged to bring forward different outcomes to their problems based on their abilities. 

Here the client is invited to explore the situation and problem from different perspectives and explore when the client was not dominated by the problem but rather they dominated the problem with their own skills and capabilities. 

This is done by highlighting aspects of their experiences and identities that might not have been regarded in their past such as their characteristic traits. 

At this stage, an alternative story that is more optimistic and hopeful is also identified and built upon by developing action strategis to apply past victories into the future and present. 

Here, effort is made to help reinforce the fact that the client is capable in manya aspects by exploring other evidence in their life experiences where they did prove so. 

Explore what the client, based on this new story and new identity or narrative, believes will happen to them in the future related to the issue in more positive perspectives. 

Remembering conversations. 

Finally, there are certain rituals that are done by the therapist and both therapist and client in the celebrating process such as writing letters to clients.

Here, effort is made to help the client live this new narrative outside the session by finding an audience where they can apply this new narrative. 

Letters are also written that details the entire therapeutic process- their success and milestones in therapy, where the client can read back on at a later date, so as to help them become reinspired if needed. 

There is also effort made for clients to reach out and engage with community and social support networks where they can apply their new learning and live out their new narraitve. 

What are the techniques used in Narrative therapy?

The various techniques used in narrative therapy include:

Questions

Most of the techniques that are used in narrative therapy are explored and established through questions in the dialogue between client and therapist.

The question is to generate the story and the experience rather than to gather information so as to determine what direction to take the process and what elements to work on. 

Putting together a story

This particular technique involves viewing the life experiences of the client as their story told in their own words based on how they experienced it and what meaning they made out of these experiences. 

Externalisation

This particular technique is to help the client remove themselves from the problem and tackle the problem from an objective standpoint while also removing all blame and shame. 

The goal is to change the view or perspective of the client from “I am the problem” to “I have a problem” and thus, reduce the overpowering role of the problem in their lives with the help of externalising conversations. 

By going this, the client can become empowered to tackle the problem by building on various skills and thus assert control. 

Deconstruction

This technique involves removing all the additional problems that are surrounding the problem and instead getting to the core of the problem. 

When the client is able to see what the problem is, the therapist and the client can start to build skills necessary to confront the problem or take actionable steps to resolve smaller challenges around the main issue. 

Unique Outcomes

This technique helps people to view the positives of their life experience by exploring the times when there were successes based on their own action and their own choices related to the problem. 

Existentialism

Narrative therapy employs the questions and skills surrounding existentialism to encourage individuals to make their own meaning rather than stick to absolute “truths” based on their negative experiences. 

What is the role of the therapist?

The narrative therapist is to act as a facilitator and help the client construct their story line and explore how the problem affects them and what they are doing to reduce the impact of the problem through the use of questions. 

The narrative therapist does not take the stance of the expert but rather views the client as the expert of their lives and is more so a curious audience present to help clients build their unhelpful narrative into a more positive and helpful one. 

What is the efficacy of Narrative therapy?

According to Clarke for verywell mind,  other applications of narrative therapy find this form of intervention to be effective for cases that involve:

  • Attachment issues
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Eating disorders
  • Grief
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

What are the criticisms of Narrative therapy?

When it comes to the criticisms of narrative therapy, like all other forms of psychotherapy, there are plenty. 

The major criticism of narrative therapy is on how much influence the therapist has on the client’s world view or perspective. 

There is reason to believe, according to critics, that narrative therapy is an open arena from therapist baise since the therapist aids in helping individuals develop their perspectives and their new narrative. 

There is reason for concern that there is a possibility that the values and attitudes of the therapist might influence the healing of the clients and the narrative that they build which is why objectivity must be highly maintained which might be subjected to human error. 

There have been criticisms made that Narrative therapy is too much focused on isolating itself as a practice and its rejection of other techniques used by other traditions has also been called out. 

Another criticism is that narrative family therapy can never be considered in the ranks of family therapy because of its rejection of the systemic view of families. 

There is a lack of empirical quantitative and not just qualitative research related to the efficacy of narrative therapy for the various claims it makes on the effectiveness or efficacy of the form of therapy on various issues brought about by the client. 

Conclusion

This blog post has explored what Narrative therapy is.

We have also explored the stages of narrative therapy, the techniques used, the efficacy, and general criticism of this school of psychotherapy.

FAQ related to Narrative therapy

What is narrative therapy best for?

Narrative therapy is best for situations where people feel out of control or feel like they are at loss of their own lives, that they have no power over themselves and what kind of life they live. 

This becomes extremely helpful for family, individuals, children, couples etc who are struggling with everyday problems, mental disorders like depression and anxiety as well as PTSD. 

What is narrative therapy based on?

Narrative  therapy is based on the idea that people, based on their expreces, create a narrative of their own lives and themselves which impact how they live in the present. 

The therapeutic process works to change their narrative to more helpful and positive ones to empower people to live based on the narrative they choose for themselves. 

What is the narrative approach?

Narrative approach to research is based on understanding the life of a person and the meaning the person gives to their life experiences. 

What is mapping in narrative therapy?

Mapping is the process in which the client and the therapist tries to understand the influence or effect the problem has on their life as well as the effect they have on the problem so as to understand a more clear perspective of the problem. 

Is narrative therapy good for anxiety?

Studies have found that there is some positive impact of narrative therapy on anxiety symptoms as well as depression. 

Is narrative therapy a psychotherapist?

Narrative therapy is not a psychotherapist but it’s a form of psychotherapy.

This form of therapy seeks to understand the personal narratives that are held by an individual which proves to be problematic. 

The process of therapy starts by externalising the problem, separating the individual from the problem and then redeveloping an alternate more optimistic and hopeful narrative about themselves and their lives. 

References

Ackerman. C. 19 Narrative Therapy Techniques, Interventions + Worksheets [PDF]. PostivePsychlogy.  Retrieved on 21st January 2022. https://positivepsychology.com/narrative-therapy/

Clarke, J. What is Narrative Therapy. Verywell well.  Retrieved on 21st January 2022. https://www.verywellmind.com/narrative-therapy-4172956#effectiveness

Shapiro, Johanna & Ross, Valerie. (2002). Applications of narrative theory and therapy to the practice of family medicine. Family medicine. 34. 96-100.

Vinney.C. What Is Narrative Therapy? Definition and Techniques. ThoughtCo. Retrieved on 21st January 2022. https://www.thoughtco.com/narrative-therapy-4769048

Hayward, Mark. (2003). Critiques of Narrative Therapy: A Personal Response. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy. 24. 10.1002/j.1467-8438.2003.tb00558.x. 

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