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.