An Outline of the Basic Concepts of Narrative Therapy
Michael white and David Epston are best known for their use of narrative in therapy. According to white individuals construct the meaning of life in interpretive stories which are then treated as truth. Adopting a postmodern, narrative, social constructionist view sheds light on how power knowledge and truth are negotiated in families and other social and cultural contexts. Key concepts Focus narrative therapy involves adopting a shift in focus from most traditional theories.
Therapists listen respectfully to clients stories to search for times in the clients lives where they were resourceful, use questions as a way to engage clients, avoid diagnosing and labeling clients, assisting clients in mapping the influence a problem has had on their lives and to assist the client in separating themselves from the dominant stories they have internalized so that creation of new stories can occur. The role of stories the stories we live our lives by shape our reality in that they construct and constitute what we see, feel and do.
Clients tend to be the victors or heroes of their own stories and the therapist is privileged to be a part of this unfolding process. Listening with an open mind All social constructionist theories place an emphasis on listening to clients without judgment or blame, affirming and valuing them. Therapists can encourage their clients to reconsider absolutist judgments by moving toward seeing both “good” and “bad” elements in situations.
Narrative therapists aim to help clients create new meaning from the stories clients share. As the client tells their story the therapist is able to listen for opportunities where the client was able to overcome difficulties in the past thus highlighting the clients own strengths. One of the therapist’s roles is to remind the client that they are able to capable of managing and overcoming the problems they face even when the client is not able to see this.
Another important role the narrative therapist undertakes is to separate the problem from the client by listening and responding. Narrative therapists do not assume an expert stance and clients are the primary interpreters of their own experiences, thus the process of change can be facilitated but not directed by the therapist. The therapeutic process There are several steps in the therapeutic process but it is important to remember that they do not follow a linear progression. Create a mutually acceptable name for the problem with the client •Personify the problem and attribute oppressive intentions and tactics to it •Investigate how the problem has been disrupting or discouraging the client •Invite the client to see his or her story from a different perspective •Discover moments when the client wasn’t dominated by the problem
•Find historical evidence that the client was able to overcome problems in the past •As the client to speculate about what kind of future could be expected from this new competent person who is emerging from the newly constructed story •Find or create an audience for perceiving and supporting the new story It is more realistic to consider events happening in a cyclical progression containing the following elements; •Move problem stories toward externalized descriptions of problems •Map the effects of a problem on the individual •Listen to signs of strength and competence in an individual’s problem saturated stories •Build a new story of competence and document these achievements Therapy goals a general goal of narrative therapy is to invite the client to describe their experience in new and fresh language.
In doing this the client explores new possibilities and enables clients to develop new meanings for problematic thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Narrative therapy almost always includes an awareness of the impact of various aspects of the dominant culture on human life. Therapists function and role Act as active facilitators. The concepts of care, interest, respectful curiosity, openness, empathy, contact and even fascination are seen as relational necessity. A main task of the therapist is to help clients construct a preferred story. White and Epston both start with an exploration of the client in relation to the presenting problem. From there they would ttempt to separate the client from the problem and in doing so objectify the problem as external to the client.
Therapist adopts a not knowing attitude through language choice and avoids diagnosis and pathologising. There are no set formulas or recipes for the practice of narrative therapy. The process will vary with each client because each person (and their stories) is unique. The therapeutic relationship great importance is placed on the qualities the therapist beings to the therapy venture. Some of the qualities considered essential to narrative therapy include: •Optimism •Respect •Curiosity •Persistence •Valuing the clients knowledge •Real power sharing dialogue •Collaboration •Compassion •Reflection •Discovery
Clients are often stuck in a pattern of living a problem saturated story that does not work. The therapist aims at providing support and optimism in order to create perspective however due to the ‘not-expert’ stance it is the clients responsibility to generate new possibilities and actualize them. Application: therapeutic techniques and procedures the application is more dependent on therapist’s attitudes or perspectives than on techniques. In order to create the warm and caring relationship needed the therapist must employ new strategies and approaches with each client as a recipe would leave the client feeling like they are not part of the conversation.
Narrative therapists use questions to generate experience rather than to gather information. The aim of the questioning is to progressively discover or construct the clients experience so that the therapist has a sense of what direction to pursue. Questions are always asked from a position of respect and openness. Narrative therapists use questions to attempt to engage people in deconstructing problem saturated stories, identifying preferred directions and creating alternative stories that support these directions. Externalization and deconstruction narrative therapists differ from many traditional therapists in believing that the person is not the problem, the problem is the problem.
Living within problem saturated lives can leave people feeling extremely negative. Therapists help clients in the deconstruction of problematic stories by disassembling the stories and searching for and creating alternative endings. Externalization is one process for deconstructing the power of a narrative. This is where the person is separated from the problem. When clients experience the problem as outside of themselves they can develop a relationship with the problem, for example calling someone an alcoholic or saying that alcohol has invaded someone’s life. This creates hope and allows the client to challenge specific story lines such as self blame.
This method (externalizing conversations) is particularly useful when people have diagnosis and labels that have disempowered them. The process of externalizing has two phases 1- to map the influence of the problem on the person’s life and 2 to map the influence of the person’s life back on the problem. Mapping the influence of a problem offers a great deal of information and helps clients to feel less shameful and blamed. The job of the therapist is to help the client trace the problem from when it started until present day. Here it is important for therapists to identify instances when the problem did not completely dominate a client’s life.