Understanding Narrative Therapy

Different types of therapies are used for a variety of reasons. Some therapeutic approaches include cognitive behavioral therapy, rational emotive behavior therapy, person-centered therapy, motivational interviewing, and more. Regardless of the type of therapy, they all have the similar purposes – to ease or heal the symptoms of a disorder or issue and help people live positive and fulfilling lives.

As reported by the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 11.2 million adults aged eighteen or older had a serious mental illness in 2017. Only 7.5 million (66.7 percent of the 11.2 million adults) received treatment for their illness.

Additionally, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2016, an estimate of 48,501,000 people aged twelve and older, which is about 18 percent of people in the United States, used illicit drugs or misused prescription drugs in the past year. During 2016, only 0.8 percent, or about 2,181,000 people aged twelve and older, received treatment for their use and misuse of drugs.

When it comes to treating addiction and mental health disorder, different approaches may be used. Some form of therapeutic activity is often included in treatment programs for both conditions.

One example of this is narrative therapy. Counselors and therapists often use narrative therapy in individual and group counseling to help their clients improve their lives through viewing and separating their problems from themselves. These processes allow clients to control their problems and better understand their lives.

Clients may eliminate negativity and labels that are contributing to their destructive behaviors and patterns. Through narrative therapy, both individuals and their families may address addiction and mental health disorders that affect their daily lives and well-being.

The Principles of Narrative Therapy

David Epston and Michael White developed the narrative therapy approach. This kind of therapy is different from the methods of traditional talk therapy or psychotherapy where counselors or therapists serve as experts who conduct talking sessions with their clients and give them advice through one-on-one or group sessions.

On the other hand, narrative therapy is a collaborative effort and bond between the counselor or therapist and the client. In narrative therapy, counselors and therapists do not see themselves as experts. Instead, they are there to help position their clients as the experts of their own lives and stories.

As discussed by the American Psychological Association, the approach of narrative therapy has three objectives:

  • Spotlight people’s untold personal stories.
  • Help clients rewrite and emotionally enter their own stories.
  • Assist clients in creating new meaning for their lives from the stories that they uncover from therapy.

A major idea behind this approach is that life may be viewed as a story, with a plot, theme, settings, and characters. Like other stories, life and life events have parts such as beginnings, middles, and endings. Additionally, stories may be told and retold by various people using several different perspectives.

In narrative therapy, clients may be viewed as both the authors and the protagonists of their stories. From narrow perspectives of their lives, the individuals may switch their views to more flexible, wider, and systemic standpoints. Meanwhile, addiction, mental health disorders, or other issues that the clients are experiencing may be viewed as entirely separate entities that become the antagonists of the stories that need to be defeated.

For people suffering from disorders or issues, negative emotions and traumatic events may serve as dominant settings of their stories. When clients collaborate with therapists or counselors, they may find positive aspects that were hidden in otherwise negative storylines. By highlighting positive storylines, people may focus on resilience, hope, and a greater positive image, thus extinguishing destructive and toxic thoughts.

People sometimes focus on certain things while ignoring other events in their lives. Narrative therapy may help people determine the forces that are influencing their lives and allow them to focus on and prioritize positive aspects of their stories.

Analyzing stories may help individuals map the scenarios and factors that influence their behavior. The process provides them with objective viewpoints and the flexibility to take necessary actions and improve their lives.

The narrative therapy approach may help individuals dispel negative labels and separate themselves from them. As people live their lives, they gain experiences that shape the way they think and view the world, which may influence how they react to situations and people.

Labels are forced on people in ways that may control their lives and influence how they act. For instance, someone who was labeled as a troublemaker may believe this label and accept it. This may make it easier for the person to continue acting in a way that fulfills the expectation of the label.

Narrative therapy helps individuals separate themselves from their problems and look at them objectively. Since people often focus on the negative aspects of their lives and the emotionally charged events or situations that occurred, negativity and situations may affect their thoughts and behaviors.

People diagnosed with depression may feel that their disorder defines who they are as people. Through narrative therapy, they may separate themselves from their problems or disorders. They may learn that their problems do not define who they are. From more detached perspectives, they may objectively think and manage their issues more clearly. These new perspectives may help them view and rewrite their stories in a more positive light.

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The Method of Narrative Therapy

In the book What is Narrative Therapy?, Alice Morgan notes that therapists or counselors who participate in narrative therapy encourage their clients to interact and collaborate with them. They do this by allowing clients to direct their conversations. They may ask what the clients wish to discuss. Their preferred topics may be the reasons the clients sought assistance from the counselors or therapists.

The therapists or counselors may guide the clients to talk about positive aspects in their lives to help them recognize skills and traits that may help them address and overcome their issues.

Realizing that you are not the problem and that there are positive and productive ways to approach life and the future are two goals of the narrative therapy treatment approach.

Benefits of Narrative Therapy

Narrative theory may be a helpful method to address issues that are affecting people’s everyday life and overall well-being. Through this method, people may realize that they may

  • Control their lives.
  • Write the narratives of their lives as they please.
  • Decide how to proceed.
  • Learn what they find important and meaningful.
  • Life-Changing Experience
  • Last Trip to Rehab
  • Respectful
  • Truly Amazing
  • Much Happier Life

Some benefits to using narrative therapy include the fact that it

  • Is generally optimistic and may be used with other therapeutic approaches and treatment methods.
  • Allows individuals and families to attend narrative therapy alone, together, or both.
  • Categorizes issues and concerns as a separate and external entities. This enables individuals to view them objectively and develop more systemic and positive ways of approaching and managing them.
  • Highlights the strengths of individuals instead of their weaknesses, which may help empower them. Additionally, they may discover strengths and positive emotions within themselves that they did not recognize before.
  • Focuses on positive storylines of individuals’ lives. People may rework the negative aspects of their stories until they reach positive and preferred outcomes.
  • Gives power and control to clients. They do not have to rely on their therapists or counselors and wait for their advice.
  • Re-evaluates people’s lives through stories. Re-evaluation permits people to see situations from different angles, which may help expose things that they did not understand or failed to notice before.

How Can Narrative Therapy Be Used?

Professionals typically use narrative therapy alongside other therapies and program approaches as part of a comprehensive treatment plan that may include treatments such as medications and support groups. Depending on the clients and their situations, treatment may be conducted in an outpatient setting or in an inpatient treatment facility.

The narrative therapy approach may be used to address a wide range of disorders, including:

  • Addiction
  • Personality disorders
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Autism
  • Other mood and behavior disorders

Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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