Narrative therapy

We all have “narratives”, stories that we construct about our lives. The events around us are not quite as objective as we often like to imagine. We take information, feelings, reactions, instincts and we filter events, creating our own stories of what has happened. This active construction of “reality” is understood, analysed and utilised in Narrative Therapy.

Unlike in some therapeutic approaches where the therapist is an “expert”, the Narrative therapist realises that the client is the expert in his or her own life. By working through the narratives of a client’s life – most specifically those that are problematic for current functioning – the client and therapist are able to develop “richer” narratives, which aid the individual with conflict resolution and creating a perspective of self and the world which assist in sounder mental health. In this context, the therapist is a collaborator with the client, helping construct revised meaning.

There are a number of techniques employed in Narrative Therapy, including:

  • Helping the client to “separate” from problems, seeing that they are not the same as their problems. (This externalisation process also includes “strengths” and other more positive aspects of self, so that the client can author a more preferred narrative of self.)
  • Encouraging the client to consider life events which are not dominant in current narratives (e.g. looking for exceptions).

Narrative Therapy developed in the family therapy practices of Australian Michael White and New Zealander David Epston and is still used in relationship counselling. For some practitioners, including Epston, it is common to use not only verbal narratives, but also things such as letters, documents and other supporting objects.

Family Scripts

Family scripts are a conceptualisation which can aid therapists in working with families. The idea is that families have accustomed ways of interacting with each other and these shared stories can be woven not only into the fabric of the nuclear family, but can also take place in trans-generational contexts.

Thus, various family members take upon themselves (or have thrust upon them) certain “parts” in the play that is the life of the family. An abusive father may have himself been brutalised and then treats his son in the same way, who then takes the position of his father in this script, when he becomes a father himself.

The idea is that these scripts are unspoken and family members do not consciously know that they are acting a given part in the family drama. Attempts to change the script can cause hostile reactions from other family members, who do not want someone affecting their own roles.

Part of applying family script techniques to family counselling involves the therapist helping the family members understand their roles and coming up with improved ways of understanding and relating to each other.