Narrative Therapy: 5 Interesting Techniques Used by Narrative Therapists

Psychotherapy1 is a form of treatment or therapy that helps people manage their emotional and mental health problems. It is also known as talk therapy. There are various forms of psychotherapy available, one of them being narrative therapy.

It is a psychological therapy that seeks to bring about a positive change in one’s mental health by making adjustments to the stories a person tells about their life. It views the person as a human being separate from their problems.

Personal experiences eventually become stories and people give meaning to these stories which helps them to eventually shape their identity. Narrative therapy utilizes the power of these stories to help clients and patients regain a sense of purpose in life.2

1. When Was Narrative Therapy Developed?

During the 1970s – 1980s, Australian social workers Michael White and David Epston, a family therapist from New Zealand together developed narrative therapy.

Influenced by the works of Michael Foucault, narrative therapy is a part of a broader movement within philosophy, social sciences, and humanities. It gained popularity in the United States of America during the 1990s.

Narrative therapy techniques were developed to be non-pathologizing based on three approaches:

1.1. Narrative Therapy Approaches Clients Respectfully

The patients or the clients are treated as brave persons who need to be praised for the fact that they decided to stand up for themselves and get help. Narrative therapists do not view their clients as deficient or lacking individuals.

1.2. Clients Are Not Blamed for Their Problems

The patients are not held accountable for how they are feeling and neither is the blame assigned to another person. Narrative therapy views the person’s mental health problems as something that is separate from the person.

1.3. The Clients Are Experts in Their Own Lives

Even though the client and the therapist are viewed as equal individuals in narrative therapy, it is the client that has vast knowledge about their own life. Hence, this form of therapy is meant to be a collaboration between the narrative therapist and the client through exploration and that will allow change to take place.

Narrative therapy appears to help with a number of different conditions in a variety of settings. Evidence has been found in the treatment of people with anxiety and depression who were treated with narrative therapy techniques. People experienced a decrease in their depressive symptoms.3

Another study was conducted where it was found that narrative therapy helped children to develop empathy, decision-making, and social skills. Marital satisfaction among women was also shown to increase with the aid of narrative therapy.

This form of therapy is a specialized form of counselling technique.

Trained narrative therapists can be found all over the world, even on online platforms. The skills required to initiate the process of interaction between the clients and the narrative therapists already exist in the person, while some others might take more time to learn these skills before applying.

2. 5 Types of Techniques Used by Narrative Therapists

There are a number of techniques used in narrative therapy. The following methods mentioned below are the most common procedures used in this form of therapy.

2.1. Forming a Narrative

For a narrative therapist, their job during a session is to help the client tell their story in their own words. The philosophy behind narrative therapy states that “storytelling” allows the person to observe and detect meaning and purpose in their lives.

This technique also refers to “re-authoring” or “storytelling” where the client comes up with a completely new story out of the alterations made to it with the help of their imagination.

The same event can be reinterpreted and told in different ways as alternative stories because individuals interpret experiences in discrete ways.

2.2. Externalization

In the narrative practice, this method allows the client to view their problems and behaviours as something that is external, instead of perceiving them as something that is unchangeable about themselves.

Though this technique is easier to describe, it has immense potential to boost self-confidence and identity.

Externalization generates the idea that it is much easier to change certain behaviours than to transform characteristics and essential personality traits.

For example; if a person tends to get angry easily or is considered to be an angry person, then they must change an aspect about themselves in order to address the situation.

But, if the person is someone who behaves aggressively and gets angry quickly, then the situations and behaviours surrounding the problem need to be altered.

It might come off as something that is challenging initially. Thus, the first step in narrative therapy is to make sure the client comprehends that it is important not to place too much importance on labels that are assigned by themselves.

By stressing the importance of viewing oneself as a separate entity, the client will feel empowered and gain a greater sense of control over their identity.

2.3. The Technique of Deconstruction

The problem is where the narrative therapist tries to reduce the severity of the client’s problems, making it easier to understand the problem as a whole. Difficulties that show up in our lives can be confusing, and may also feel unsolvable, but it is never truly unsolvable.

To understand what deconstruction is, let us look at the following example; two grown adults in a long-term relationship are going through a turbulent time.

One partner is feeling frustrated with the other partner who refuses to talk or share their thoughts, ideas, and feelings with the other partner in this scenario.

With this description, there is a lack of understanding based on what the problem is. Coming up with a solution with such a description may seem to be difficult at first.

Hence, narrative therapists may ask the couple to be specific about what’s irritating them, instead of giving up completely and accepting a statement like “My spouse doesn’t accept me anymore”. Specifications contribute to a greater understanding of what’s bothering the couple, such as feelings of loneliness or loss of romance and intimacy.

One of the two people in the relationship might have fabricated a narrative where they portray themselves as the victim in this relationship instead of coming out as someone who has issues coping with feeling lonely and talking about this with their partner.

With the help of such techniques, narrative therapy seeks to comprehend the root of such problems with the help of alternate stories or narratives produced by the client. Deconstruction is a wonderful method to help clients get to the root of their frustrations and stress-inducing events in their own lives.

2.4. Unique Outcomes

It is a complex and important technique used in narrative therapy by mental health professionals. Unique outcome involves changing a person’s storyline, which includes different narrative ideas.

By using an alternative story about the person’s life, narrative therapists encourage their clients to create life-affirming stories that give them a functional and positive identity.

In narrative practices, this is not referred to as literally “thinking positively”. It is a specialized technique for clients to develop an alternative story in contrast to their dominant story. There are a number of storylines that a person could narrate, with some being more helpful than others.

2.5. Existentialism

Existentialists maintain that the world doesn’t possess any real meaning. With this idea in mind, people can create meaning based on their subjective perspectives. This is how the concept of existentialism and the practice of narrative therapy go hand in hand. As described, the narrative therapist4 helps their clients to acquire meaning and purpose in their own lives.

In the narrative process, the therapist refrains from trying to find an absolute truth that does not resonate with the patient in any form.

For more information on existentialism, the works of Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and Martin Heidegger are of utmost importance.

3. Other Types of Interventions

Even though narrative therapy is more of a dialogue exchange between the therapist and the client, there are several other interventions that could be used to accompany the routine therapy sessions.

3.1. Position Map

It refers to naming or labelling the problem first.

Then, the second step involves mapping the problem in areas such as work, school, home, and relationships.

The third step requires an evaluation of how these areas in our lives are affected by the problem.

Lastly, notes are taken of the values that show up during the thinking process to separate what is desirable and what is not.

3.2. Life Story Method

For the second method, the client only requires a pen, paper, and an exercise sheet printed out by the narrative therapist. Here, you start with a title for your “book” and then come up with 7 chapters or more that reflect the themes in your life.

The last chapter is reserved for how you describe your future to be like.

This task will assist you in organizing your thoughts and views about your life and weaving them into a coherent narrative of your own stories.

The intention is to acknowledge that what is in your memory is genuinely the past, rather than delving too deeply into individual recollections. You were shaped by it, but it didn’t have to define you. Your past has shaped you into the thoughtful and insightful person you are today.

3.3. Expressing Through Art

This approach is extremely advantageous for youngsters, but it can also provide solace and purpose for adults. We all have different ways of conveying our tales, and for endless millennia, employing the arts to do so has been a cornerstone of humanity.

Explore the various options available to you in order to take advantage of this expressive and innovative manner of telling your experiences.

3.1.1. Meditation & Journaling

Individual meditation or guided relaxation might be an efficient technique to investigate a problem. There are multiple advantages to keeping a journal. Consider a set of questions (for example, How does the situation affect you?. How did the issue get entrenched in your life?).

Alternatively, offer a description of yourself or your narrative from the problem’s perspective. This can be challenging, but it can help you gain a better grasp of the problem and how it affects many aspects of your life.

3.1.2. Drawing

You can use artistic abilities to draw or portray the impacts of the situation if you’re more interested in visualizations of the problem’s impact on your viewpoint.

In narrative therapy, we can make a metaphorical drawing, a mapping of the problem’s repercussions, or a cartoon that depicts the issue in our own lives.

If sketching seems scary, doodle abstract shapes using the colours of the feelings you’re experiencing and terms that convey your thoughts at the time.

3.1.3. Moving Around

To develop and interpret your tale, you might use the basic medium of movement and mindfulness along with narrative therapy during the separate sessions. Begin by moving normally, then allow the difficulty to impact how you move. Make a conscious effort to notice what changes when you allow the issue to gain traction.

Next, create a transition movement that starts to loosen your grip on the problem. Finally, move into a “liberation movement” to seek ways to leave the problem both symbolically and physically.

3.1.4. Visualizing the World

Consider how your life might be in a week, a month, a year, or a few years, both with this difficulty still present and in a timeline where you embrace a new route, using visualization tools.

Share your experience with a friend or therapist, or write about it in your notebook to see how this exercise helped you find new meaning or opportunities in your life.

4. Narrative Therapy & Mental Disorders

As mentioned earlier in this article, narrative therapy is useful for a number of mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, PTSD, attachment issues, marriage and couples counselling, complex grief and trauma, and acute trauma.

In addition to medications prescribed for certain types of mental disorders, the use of narrative therapy along with prescriptions plays a vital role in developing feelings of hope and positive emotions.

4.1. Depression

Negative self-talk is one of the most common symptoms found in individuals with depression.

Repetitive discouraging thought patterns tend to worsen depressive symptoms, which could be improved through narrative therapy. With the use of narrative techniques, the client’s dominant stories can be rearranged into alternative stories where they try to build a positive monologue.

4.2. PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)

A trauma or a traumatic event is something that can be experienced repeatedly and causes great distress to the person experiencing it. In narrative practice, the therapist engages in therapeutic conversations where the same events in the person’s story are made to be retold in a way that can be healing.

A preferred method to do so is by using a journal where the person can pay attention to the words being used to describe the event in detail.

Narrative therapy separates people from their trauma, which in turn helps to develop self-worth.

4.3. Marriage & Couples Counselling

Attachment problems in couples can be solved with the help of narrative therapy. It allows people to understand their roles in the relationship and take charge of their own lives.

Trying to discover different perceptions coming from everyone can lead to an increase in self-esteem, which leads to an increase in efforts to shape one’s own identity.

4.4. Attachment Issues

From the perspective of attachment issues, narrative therapy seeks to address conflict by providing a secure and client-driven environment in which the individual can relate their experience. Individuals can reconstruct a fresh narrative by realizing that their existing version of their story isn’t the final version.

Narrative therapy has branches of its own in addition to being a branch of psychotherapy itself.

5. Family Therapy: A Narrative Perspective

Early childhood trauma and neglect can have a substantial impact on attachment, development, and relationships, according to Family Attachment Narrative Therapy, which is founded on the idea that early trauma and neglect can have a considerable impact on attachment, development, and relationships.

Caregivers’ narratives are used by practitioners of the approach to address and mend the unmet needs of the child or adolescent, who feel caregivers are the most important component in the healing process.

Family Attachment Narrative Therapy is to strengthen the link between children and their parents or carers. Before beginning treatment, therapists skilled in the approach do a thorough examination to see if the family is a good fit for the method.

If the program is recommended as a therapy option, the family enters a two-week intensive treatment program that includes daily sessions. During this period, parents are taught how to create narratives and alternative stories, which are the major tools used in the narrative practice to help their child heal.

6. Sexual Identity Therapy: The Narrative Lens

Narrative therapy also diverges into narrative sexual identity therapy for individuals with sexual identity difficulties. Sexual identity therapy is a practical option for the two polarizing or factionalizing approaches of sexual reorientation therapy and gay-integrative therapy.

This model’s primary focus is on sexual identity, or the private and public acts of identification and communication regarding one’s sexual preferences, and how prevailing narratives about what sexual attractions mean to a client influence the decision to do so.

In addition to different forms of narrative therapy, there are various centres that have come up in order to spread the word about this form of therapy, and also help those in need at the same time by reaching larger crowds.

7. Yaletown Family Therapy

A narrative therapy centre headed by Dr Stephen Madigan in the city of Vancouver, British Colombia, is a place specialized in treating clients with relationship issues using narrative practices, and this centre provides training to individuals interested in using narrative therapy to solve marriage conflicts.

In his couples counselling, relationship counselling, marriage counselling, and separation and divorce counselling, Dr Madigan uses a concise narrative therapy concept. From his 15,000 hours of therapeutic experience, he has discovered that most patients only come to his counselling for 4-5 sessions or less.

Dr Madigan’s therapeutic approach is tailored to help you get the most out of your therapeutic sessions. His therapeutic contract with the pair is to end the couple’s suffering that began when they first met.

In order to book an appointment, follow the link here.

8. Dulwich Centre

The Dulwich Centre is an independent centre located in Adelaide, Australia that specializes in narrative approaches and community work. They also train social workers, involve themselves with publishing their work, support narrative therapists all around the globe, and also take part in international conferences.

For more information about their training sessions, online courses, and Dulwich Centre publications, click on the following link.

Before you begin treatment, keep in mind that narrative therapy may bring certain difficulties. It can take some time to find perfect narrative therapists.

Remember to have some mercy with yourself as you begin your healing path and seek out the therapist who is best suited for your needs. Speaking with trusted friends and family members and acting on their advice can be beneficial and encouraging.

9. Things to Consider Before Contacting a Narrative Therapist

Before you start, keep the following in mind:

9.1. Narrative Therapy Is Very In-Depth

It looks at a variety of aspects that can impact how a person’s story unfolds. Age, social level, race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual identity are all aspects to consider.

9.2. Includes Conversations About Strengths and Drawbacks

In narrative practice, a therapist will assist you in delving deeper into your dominant story, identifying ways it may be contributing to emotional discomfort, and identifying strengths that might help you address difficulties in new ways.

9.3. It Evaluates Your Judgments

People may hold many stories about themselves that others have imposed on them. Narrative therapy encourages you to reconsider these beliefs and replace them with more realistic and positive ones.

9.4. Narrative Therapy Separates People and Their Stories

While this can be challenging, the approach will help you learn to credit yourself for good decisions and great behaviour.

10. Conclusion

Michael White and David Epston, two social professionals, founded Narrative Therapy in the 1980s, believing that people’s issues and identities should be treated independently. This framework allowed for a more holistic approach to therapy, which felt more powerful for those in treatment.

White and Epston were firm advocates of not labelling oneself as the problem one is dealing with, for example, encouraging people to refer to themselves as “an individual dealing with depression” rather than “a sad individual.”

It has been deployed in a number of ways since the 1980s, but because it is an innovative approach to treatment, there is still a lot of study being done on Narrative treatment methods, strategies, and effectiveness.

According to the available literature on narrative therapy, it appears to be helpful in a variety of settings, including organizations, youngsters, grownups, and households. Furthermore, it has demonstrated efficacy in the treatment of depression, addiction, anxiety, trauma, family troubles, attachment issues, and grieving.

Narrative therapy has been found to have a wide range of good qualitative results by broadening people’s perspectives on their difficulties and motivating patients to share their tales and insights with more optimistic storylines.

If you’re interested in learning more about narrative therapy, we hope this article has sparked your interest and provided you with a starting point. Whether you’re a psychologist or other mental health specialist looking to include narrative therapy in your practice, we hope this article serves as a starting place.

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11. Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. What Is a Narrative Therapy Approach?

Narrative therapy is a method of therapy that separates a person from their problem. It encourages people to rely on their own skills to minimize problems that exist in their lives.

Q2. What Is a Narrative Therapy Example?

An example of how Narrative Therapy would help John rewrite his story is by first separating The Anxiety from John. Instead of John saying, “I have anxiety, I am a loser,” he would say, “The Anxiety tricks me to think I am a loser.” Why does Narrative Therapy do this?

Q3. What Is the Main Focus of Narrative Therapy?

Narrative therapy focuses on the client’s understanding of his or her own story and how the client’s emotions, actions, and problems fit into the context of the story.

5 Surprising Statistics About Psychotherapy In The US
Icy Health
  1. Lambert, Michael J., Allen E. Bergin, and S. L. Garfield. “The effectiveness of psychotherapy.” Encyclopedia of psychotherapy 1 (1994): 709-714. ↩︎
  2. Nygren, Björn, et al. “Resilience, sense of coherence, purpose in life and self-transcendence in relation to perceived physical and mental health among the oldest old.” Aging & mental health 9.4 (2005): 354-362. ↩︎
  3. Nolen-Hoeksema, Susan, Judith Larson, and Carla Grayson. “Explaining the gender difference in depressive symptoms.” Journal of personality and social psychology 77.5 (1999): 1061. ↩︎
  4. Madigan, Stephen. Narrative therapy. American Psychological Association, 2011. ↩︎

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Samraggee Bhattacharya

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