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What is Narrative Therapy?
Narrative therapy is a form of counseling that incorporates one’s own values, beliefs, strengths, and experiences into the therapeutic session. By understanding the stories you tell yourself and rewriting your narrative, you find opportunities for growth, identity, and purpose to guide you through challenging times. A narrative-based therapist helps you separate yourself from the experiences that have happened to you. Rather than seeing yourself as the problem, you learn to see the problem as the problem – external to yourself. Even for clients who are coming in with a very vulnerable issue, narrative therapy can be of particular help. Narrative therapy for trauma can help you regain empowerment. If you’ve ever been made to feel less than, unappreciated, a victim, or as if your story doesn’t matter, narrative therapy may be just what you’re looking for. Designed by Michael White and David Epston in the 1980s, narrative therapy was created to be empowering and impactful. The heart of narrative therapy is the idea that we have innately unique gifts and a story that is one of a kind. No matter what issues arise, what conflicts come that need to be resolved — narrative therapy would suggest that we are equipped with special gifts which we can use to break free of the problems we’re facing.
Benefits of Narrative Therapy
Narrative therapy is a form of counseling that incorporates one’s own values, beliefs, strengths, and experiences into the therapeutic session. By understanding the stories you tell yourself and rewriting your narrative, you find opportunities for growth, identity, and purpose to guide you through challenging times.
A narrative-based therapist helps you separate yourself from the experiences that have happened to you. Rather than seeing yourself as the problem, you learn to see the problem as the problem – external to yourself.
Even for clients who are coming in with a very vulnerable issue, narrative therapy can be of particular help. Narrative therapy for trauma can help you regain empowerment.
If you’ve ever been made to feel less than, unappreciated, a victim, or as if your story doesn’t matter, narrative therapy may be just what you’re looking for.
Designed by Michael White and David Epston in the 1980s, narrative therapy was created to be empowering and impactful. The heart of narrative therapy is the idea that we have innately unique gifts and a story that is one of a kind.
No matter what issues arise, what conflicts come that need to be resolved — narrative therapy would suggest that we are equipped with special gifts which we can use to break free of the problems we’re facing.
How Does Narrative Therapy Help?
For example, survivors of sexual assault may feel that their autonomy and their very being has been violated. This can lead to a cyclic mindset that creates fear for future violent encounters. As the survivor dwells on the event and their vulnerability, they may develop a sense of powerlessness.
That’s where narrative therapy for trauma seeks to restore that lost feeling of empowerment.
Instead of staying in a victim mindset of “I have no control over everything that happens to me”, a narrative-based therapist instead points out the skills and strengths in their own story.
These strengths and skills could include:
- Interpersonal skills
- Positive character building & ‘fruits of the Spirit’: compassion, bravery, resilience, kindness, patience, self-control, gentleness, faithfulness, love, joy and peace
- Emotional expression
- Other people/support networks
- Willingness to try new things
All of these examples are positive resources that can be used by the client to grow and develop during posttraumatic growth.
No matter the story, the facts remain: everyone has an inherent gift and surrounding strengths. These gifts are the key to creating new possibilities for living.
Is Narrative Therapy for You?
Many people who benefit from narrative therapy feel as though they cannot change what happens to them. Some may feel as though their world is something that happens to them, rather than something they can change.
If you resonate with feeling like you have no control over your life, you’re in good company. This could mean that narrative therapy is a great place to start.
There are multiple ways to view a situation or tell a story. Often, we get stuck in the trap of finding evidence to support a negative conclusion and that becomes the story.
Even if you feel powerless, your narrative-based therapist can help you develop alternate stories, challenge unhealthy beliefs, and shift how you view yourself so that you feel empowered.
In fact, over time you may start to see things differently. Your outlook on the world may shift from one of fear and heaviness to one of accomplishment and excitement.
Your narrative therapist will walk you through your own story, and identify the ways you can stay in the front seat of your experience.
Just remember that your story is unmistakably unique and all your own. If you want to make a change, therapy is a great place to start.
What Does Narrative Therapy Treat?
Narrative therapy is designed for anyone seeking relief from their presenting problems and can be used across a variety of multicultural representations. Both old and young, men and women, confident and meek, those who have never had success in counseling or those who seek mental health support regularly — narrative therapy is for almost everyone.
For people facing doubts about their own abilities to cope with life, narrative therapy may be right for them.
Narrative therapy can be particularly useful for clients with these presenting problems:
- Post-traumatic stress
- Adverse life events
- Low self-esteem
- Poor body image
- Eating disorders and binge eating
- Stress management
- Relationship conflict
- Rape and sexual assault survivors
While we cannot change what happens to us, we can decide how to react to it. Will we allow it to control us? Or will we harness those positive (and negative) experiences for good?
What Should I Expect in a Narrative Counseling Session?
Narrative therapy can be a significant part of the posttraumatic growth process.
Most importantly, a narrative-based therapist will design a counseling session that instills a feeling of empowerment and resiliency.
Even though there may be difficult obstacles in the road ahead, narrative therapy seeks to show you that there is more to your story than you know.
Importantly, narrative therapy will identify your strengths, skills, and resources. These can come from your inner self (self-care, emotional expression, fighting against all odds) or they may be outside of yourself (caring friends, shoulders to lean on, mental health support, supporters of physical and spiritual health).
Whatever issues you bring to the session, your narrative-based therapist will try to bring them to light. As you express vulnerability during therapy, your therapist may highlight things you haven’t noticed before – including ways you’ve persevered in the past.
Additionally, your narrative-based therapist is likely to support your recovery and your mental health journey by creating a road map of empowerment. By identifying the ways you succeed, thrive, and have potential to grow, you may begin seeing your story in a new and positive light.
As you learn more about your own innate resources, you can see your ability to change your own experience.
Narrative Therapy FAQ's
Narrative therapy cultivates self-compassion, confidence, and courage in the face of life’s challenges.
While each session is unique to the individual and the therapist, narrative therapy has core beliefs about each person.
Narrative therapy IS:
- Affirming of the client as the expert of their story
Narrative therapy is NOT:
- Victim blaming
- Centered on the person as the problem
No matter what issues a client comes to therapy with, the core beliefs of narrative therapy suggest that their story is their own. Therefore, they are the best equipped to understand and react to their own story.
A narrative-based therapist is not inclined to be judgmental, but rather listens and identifies the strengths in a client’s own story.
Moreover, a narrative-based therapist attempts to cultivate a culture of respect in a client’s own personal worldview, so that he or she sees themselves as the capable person that they inherently are.
For a close up of narrative therapy in action, check out this video of Dr. Stephen Madigan as he describes the origins and realistic application of narrative therapy — particularly with children.
In this clip, Dr. Madigan suggests that children may particularly benefit from narrative therapy by being given an outlet to express their story without having an adult structure their own story.
Instead, they can see their own experience without having to hide it or feel that it is not their own.
Most importantly, Dr. Madigan suggests that stories can be incredibly powerful, even to the point that “we speak ourselves into meaning”.
As you give yourself permission to experience your story free of judgment, you allow yourself to see yourself through new eyes.
This is why narrative therapy can be so influential.
Instead of suggesting that the person is the problem, we find that the problem is the problem.
The clients themselves have a well of meaning, empowerment, and ability that’s just waiting to be recognized.
In narrative therapy, that well of strength is called out by the therapist.
The goal is to use narrative therapy to find strength and resiliency within a client’s own network.
Instead of feeling out of control of their own life, a narrative-based therapist will assist the client in identifying areas where they can really make a difference.
“The problem is the problem, the person is not the problem.” ~Narrative Therapy Co-Founders, Michael White & David Epston
Narrative therapy seeks to identify the strengths and skills of the individual. In couples therapy, showcasing what each person is capable of may be influential in cultivating a harmonious relationship.
Each story is unique. Therefore, what you bring to the relationship matters, and is an essential part of growing together.
Narrative therapy pulls from each person’s strengths to create a picture of how each person is an integral part of the relationship itself.
Narrative couples therapy seeks to clarify the cause of the conflict.
More accurately, the cause is not necessarily the person, but the problem itself.
The issues being brought to the table may be difficult to work through. However, that does not mean that the person involved is difficult.
Rather, narrative therapy uses each person's unique experience to develop a game plan for conflict resolution.
Incorporating skills and strengths from both parties, the couple is better prepared to make decisions that benefit the resolution of conflict and the relationship as a whole.
You are not the problem in your relationship and neither is your partner.
Viewing problems from a different lens can help both partners work together to solve problems in a more compassionate way.
A common fear in narrative therapy is the feeling that one’s own story is devoid of strengths. Perhaps you feel that you are to blame for the problems in your life.
Or you might feel powerless to combat the stressors and challenges of life.
Past experiences may have even played a role in a lacking sense of self-confidence.
Even if you feel stuck and doubt that you have the skills or resiliency to change your situation, problems, or situations, don’t let that keep you from trying narrative therapy.
Clients who feel there is nothing truly special, unique, or powerful about their own story are exactly the kind of clients who are likely to benefit from narrative therapy.
Sometimes it's hard to see the way out when you're stuck in the middle. Your therapist can provide you with a different perspective.
So be brave!
Give yourself a hand and reach out for more information on narrative therapy today.
Ready to Start Narrative Therapy?
Despite your fears or reservations about starting narrative therapy, this revolutionary treatment may be what you need to begin seeing yourself and your story with confidence.
Give us a call and ask for a narrative-based therapist to start a game plan with you towards better, more empowering conflict resolution.
Start seeing your story — and yourself — in a new light.
Get Help From a Specialist in Narrative Therapy
What Clients Are Saying
So far I have had nothing but a great experience with Jennifer Oates. I can't express how helpful she has been for me and I look forward to continuing to work with her.