Narrative therapy focuses on helping clients gain access to preferred story lines about their lives and identities and takes the place of previous negative and self-defeating narratives about themselves. An overview of the Social Construction Model, Narrative Therapy, is presented, as well as poststrucuralism, deconstructionism, self-narratives, cultural narratives, therapeutic conversations, ceremonies, letters and leagues in addition to several facets of narrative therapy. Personal integration of faith in this family counseling approach is also discussed.
Introduction Narrative therapy falls within the Social Construction Model. In this type of therapy, the therapist is not central to the process, but rather influential to the client. The therapist helps the client internalize and create new stories within themselves and draw new assumptions about themselves by opening themselves up to future stories. This enables the client to not focus on the negative narratives that have defined their lives, but rather on future positive stories that can re-define their lives.
To narrative therapists, the problem is the problem and the client is not the problem. Externalizing the problem is usually how therapy begins, therefore defining the problem and getting it out in the open. Narrative therapies typically are in the form of questioning to break down the problem and create alternative narratives to connect the new story line to future options. Narrative Therapy According to Daniel (2009), a central element in many forms of therapy is narrative articulation of a client’s experiences.
Goldenberg & Goldenberg (2008) state that Narrative Therapy centers on the “narrative metaphor – the idea that our sense of reality is organized and maintained through the stories by which we circulate knowledge about ourselves and the world we inhabit” (p. 365). Clients weave these stories and events throughout life to make sense of why they live their lives the way they do. Stories “about ourselves, our abilities, our competencies, our actions, our relationships, our achievements, and our failures” (p. 365) explain actions and dominant stories impact future lives.
Families frequently construct negative stories and self-defeating narratives about their lives and give justification on why they are unable to do things differently. In order for change to take place, clients need to learn to consider alternate ways of examining assumptions, values and meanings of life experiences that dominate views of themselves and their problems (Goldenberg & Goldenberg, 2008). “In short, they need to rewrite their future story lines and actively change or reshape their lives” (p. 365). The therapists join families to explore more rewarding options for living their lives.
In therapy, conversations are exchanged in a non-confrontational, non-blaming way. Clients are the experts in their own lives with skills to construct more positive stories (Goldenberg & Goldenberg, 2008). When new outlooks are explored, new ways of behaving are developed. Different meanings can be drawn from the same event. If the event is changed and broken down, and the meaning is altered, a new interpretation of the event can take place, thereby replacing an old negative view. A new story that is dominant can reshape a person’s attitudes, outlook and future behavior (Goldenberg & Goldenberg).
In a case presented by Rennie (1994), clients recollected stories of the lives through narrative therapy. “It has been argued in therapy that the main activity in therapy is the repair of the client’s life story” (Rennie, 1994, p. 234). The analysis of the study revealed that storytelling is a primary way of dealing with an inner disturbance. Clients may use a story to delay an entry when preparing to enter a disturbance. They may tell a story as a way of managing their beliefs associated with the disturbance. Once engaged in storytelling, they frequently reconnect with the disturbance whether they intend to or not.
Understanding what is going on when a client tells a story is not easy for the therapist, but there is usually more going on that is being told according to Rennie. Storytelling and narrative usage prove to be successful and useful in psychotherapy practices (Rennie, 1994). Narrative therapy emerged from postconstructuralism and deconstruction (Goldenberg & Goldenberg, 2008). “Poststructural thought rejects the notions that there is a deep structure to all phenomena and that its complexity can be broken down to its elements” (Goldenberg & Goldenberg, 2008, p. 367).
Therapy must look for deep, underlying causes, repair the flaw and not be satisfied with simply reducing or eliminating symptoms. Deconstructing old notions and replacing them with possibilities reduces the power of the stories that dominate and are filled with problems (Goldenberg & Goldenberg). The stories are given thick descriptions rather than thin descriptions and the new story of a client’s life is connected to future options. One tool that is helpful in narrative deconstruction and reconstruction is NPCS – Narrative Process Coding System (Angus & Hardtke, 2001).
It is a two-step process which enables raters to subdivide therapy session transcripts into segments and divide and characterize topic segments in terms of the narrative process codes as external/description of events, subjective/experiential description and reflective analysis of current, past and future events (Angus & Hardtke). It is a systematic and reliable method for segmenting of therapy transcripts into units for further analyses, and a useful tool for psychotherapy researchers hoping to further understand the processes which contribute to the construction and collaboration of narratives in psychotherapy (Angus & Hardtke).
Self-Narratives and Cultural Narratives In an attempt to make sense of their lives, clients arrange experiences of events over time and self-narratives become the basis for interpreting the clients’ experiences and making sense of who they are and their surroundings. “Put succinctly, it is the stories we develop about our lives that actually shape or constitute our lives” (Goldenberg & Goldenberg, 2008, p. 370). Helping clients become aware that the stories they tell themselves shape their lives is a big step in helping them realize they can form new stories for their lives and re-author their own lives (Goldenberg & Goldenberg, 2008).
Cultural stories help shape personal narratives and specify preferred ways of behaving in a culture. Narrative therapists engage clients in conversation to deconstruct cultural beliefs and practices that help the problem story perpetuate itself. Internalizing culturally based discourses leads to a self-defeating future and restricts different ways of thinking about life (Goldenberg & Goldenberg, 2008). Ethnic identities can also appear on the surface to be different to the community and culture and have little to do with the way a person is organized or may see themselves through their own narrative (Yi & Shorter-Gooden, 1999).
According to Lysaker & Lysaker (2001), when a client suffers from trauma, substance abuse, or a psychiatric disorder, he or she may have an eroded sense of self-awareness as their ability to internalize has been compromised. Personal narratives lose their power and may dissolve or become too rigid and their narratives may not be as coherent. Therapists should try to create a context for recovery in these cases by first facilitating narrative coherency. According to Omer (1997), empathetic narratives express the inner emotional logic of a client’s problem patterns.
The empathetic narrative is contrasted to the external narrative and describes the client from the outside. Therapeutic Conversations Most clients internalize problems, and the process of externalizing was developed to help the client place the problem outside of themselves and attach new meanings to their experiences. According to Richert (2003), “The person isn’t the problem. The problem is the problem” (p. 188). This helps clients recognize that they are not the same as the problem.
Therapists attempt to expose the negative story’s influence on the clients’ lives. Once it is understood as a changeable problem, new narratives can be formulated (Goldenberg & Goldenberg, 2008). Externalizing the Problem Externalizing a problem helps narrative therapists deconstruct internalized stories and problems and encourages families to unite against the verbalized problem. Therapists then offer families an opportunity to co-construct a new narrative that provides an alternate account of their lives (Goldenberg & Goldenberg, 2008).
The two processes are deconstructing and reconstructing a story that has been overshadowed by a dominant story. The family can then begin working together on the problem that has become externalized and defeat the problem together (Goldenberg & Goldenberg). Employing Therapeutic Questions “The judicious use of questions that open up new avenues for thought – rather than therapist observations or interpretations – characterizes narrative therapy” (Goldenberg & Goldenberg, 2008, p. 373). Questions are directed at what the client is experiencing and how the problem is being experienced.
Directed questions about the problem as an outside entity or thing outside of the family helps the family distance from the problem and detach from a story line that has shaped their self-view (Goldenberg & Goldenberg). Narrative therapists help families find facts about themselves that contradict earlier self-descriptions or failures or feelings of not being able to deal with the problem (Goldenberg & Goldenberg). Seeking Unique Outcomes Unique outcomes help the family explore a new story line or alternative narrative.
“They may be a plan, action, feeling, statement, quality, desire, dream, thought, belief, ability, or commitment” (Goldenberg & Goldenberg, 2008, p. 375). Narrative therapists look for ways that unique outcomes are different from the hopelessness of a situation (Goldenberg & Goldenberg). Co-constructing Alternative Stories Once the problem stories that have dominated clients’ lives are exposed they can no longer feel trapped. By strengthening the new stories by weaving them in and connecting with the lives and stories of other people, narrative therapists can assist the client in building alternative stories (Goldenberg & Goldenberg, 2008).
Therapeutic Ceremonies, Letters, and Leagues Using reflective teams or outside witness groups and definitional ceremonies help tell and retell the story. This process helps clients authenticate the preferred stories. Therapeutic letters help extend the sessions and keep clients connected (Goldenberg & Goldenberg, 2008). According to Laub & Hoffman (2002), letters may be useful in many ways by breaking impassive or repetitive patterns by confronting issues that cannot be faced otherwise. Letters are intended to validate a client’s resources and support reauthorization of a preferred life story.
Letters are an important means to therapeutic change in therapy (Laub & Hoffman, 2002). Dialectical letters add a new dimension by writing down dialogue between two therapists, parents, etc, in the form of a letter to the client. Polarized views are expressed in the letter to the client. Dialectical letters can be used in conjunction with narrative therapy (Laub & Hoffman, 2002). Community based leagues help citizens who band together to offer mutual support and build on each other’s skills (Goldenberg & Goldenberg, 2008). Personal Integration
In my practice as a Narrative Therapist, I would first try to implement the tools and guidance given by Goldenberg and Goldenberg and the other sources utilized in this paper. I would help the client externalize the problem and, therefore, remove the problem from within them. People usually are what they tell themselves they are, and they identify with events and experiences that happen in their lives that they sometimes hold on to. By deconstructing the negative narratives people think about themselves and replacing them with preferred story lines, I would help the client reconstruct their own life narratives.
While being influential in the therapy process, I would de-center myself from the therapy process by bringing the family together and having them verbalize how each of them sees a problem. When the clients are helped to create and internalize new stories, they are able to draw new assumptions about themselves and open up to future possibilities and re-author their own stories. Since post cultural thinking is a need to search for underlying truth and repair underlying structures (Goldenberg & Goldenberg, 2008), the sessions would call for attending to and overcoming self-narratives that are restrictive.
I would conduct my therapy sessions in the form of questions, first identifying the problem and how he or she feels about the problem, and formulate questions that are of a deconstructing kind. I would then help the client develop “thick” descriptions of an alternate story line about his or her future and search for unique outcomes as possible ways of developing alternative stories. Thickening the new story line and enriching it to connect it to future options would be the next step in the process.
I would help the client tell and retell his or her story and use therapeutic letters to keep the clients connected to alternative stories. As a Christian who believes in the Bible, I believe the Bible is the ultimate truth. To seek the truth has been one of the activities of mankind. Pilate asked Jesus what the truth was in John 18:37-38. This question determines values and significance in human life. Christianity is all about truth, and Jesus said John had testified the truth in John 5:33. In John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life.
” Only through the truth can God be honored, and it is impossible to reach God outside the truth. The truth Jesus was talking about was to set people free, and everyone is a slave to sin. When we are set from the old set of values and beliefs, we are free to accept new values and beliefs. As in narrative therapy, clients believe negative stories about themselves. Only when they are able to be set free from this mind set will they be able to move on and build new truths. A Christian narrative therapist can adopt methods without being a postmodernist.
Narrative therapy skills are supported by the Bible, and as long as we keep our identity as truth followers, we can proclaim the truth as Paul did. Romans 12:2 states, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will. ” We internalize the world’s concepts, views and ways, the world, others and God. Since we as Christians are to be transformed from the world, our way of deconstructing and reconstructing is in keeping with Godly instruction.
We can do this in our own lives and help the lives of our clients through the use of narrative therapy. Conclusion In summary, a definition and explanation of narrative therapy was discussed. An overview of deconstructionalism, poststructuralism, self-narratives, cultural narratives, therapeutic conversations, ceremonies, letters and leagues in addition to several facets of narrative therapy was presented. Personal integration of faith in this family counseling approach was also discussed. References Angus, L. , & Hardtke, K. (2001). Narrative processes in psychotherapy.
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