A lot of people are curious what “narrative therapy” is and what it might be like to work with a narrative therapist. Below are five aspects of the narrative worldview that are extremely valuable to my practice with clients.
- People are not the problem. Problems are problems. Therefore separate people from problems.
In our day-to-day lives, it is easy to mistake problems as being “inside” us. However, by seeing a problem as separate from one’s self, there is space to look at a relationship to a problem and to how a problem is influenced by external situations, contexts, causes and conditions. From outside a problem, it’s easier to get a better handle on it.
- People tend to be much more interesting, intelligent, competent, and skillful than they believe they are when influenced by problem-saturated stories.
Being under the grip of a problem can cast pretty big shadows on many skills and unique abilities in people and relationships. It is my job to expose these false shadows and to look for the competencies that might be temporarily forgotten. In turn, each person I work with ends up being a person I will never forget—one full of rich stories, intentions, values, hopes, and possibilities.
- Stories establish how we make sense of the world and how we make meaning in the world.
When there’s a problem, that problem can sometimes lead to a dominant story we tell ourselves, one that can repeat over time and across circumstances, creating a rut in our lives. These “problem-saturated stories” can take center stage while other preferred stories—adding richness, complexity, and value—get left in the dust. Narrative practices seek out important (and possibly forgotten) moments, stories, and relationships to give them the attention they deserve. In this sense, I partner with you to help you “re-author” your own life.
- People are the experts of their own lives—not therapists, psychoanalysts, nor any other person with some professional education, license, or degree.
You know yourself better than anyone else knows you. People often come to therapy because they are looking for new approaches, tools, strategies, and ways to make meaning of their life. I am skilled at helping you to navigate a way towards gaining a new perspective and, if wanted, in utilizing strategies and tools that have worked with others. The way I share tools and strategies is from horizontal sharing—from one person’s experience to another, not top down—from a professional’s opinion to a person.
- Dominant stories and ideas about our selves and relationships are always influenced by culturally and historically implicit ideas, some we might not want to stand behind.
Non-pathologizing narrative practices are more influenced by Foucault, Derrida, and narrative theories than by Freud or other mainstream psychological thinkers. Narrative therapists have been trained to investigate problematic normative ideas about relationships, identities, families and communities, and how meaning, legitimacy, and value get created and erased. One of my deepest intentions for my practice is to integrate my work with both cultural humility and inquisitiveness.
Since this is just one version of what narrative therapy is, here are more versions written by other narrative therapists or centers I greatly respect (listed by location): Chicago; Boston; Adelaide, Australia; and Toronto.
*I am grateful to the following people of whom I continue to learn about narrative practices: Michael White, David Epston, Jill Freedman, Gene Combs, Julia Wallace, Shoshana Simons, and Will Sherwin.*