What is Narrative Therapy and why is it important?
Narrative therapy is an approach to counselling that uses narrative or story-telling as a metaphor for understanding how individuals come to experience and understand problems that affect their lives, and as a device or vehicle for developing alternative understandings, experiences and actions.
Problems of life that arise from a variety of causes are understood as being maintained and worsened by ‘problem-saturated self-stories’ (Payne, 2000). When problem saturated self stories become entrenched a young person’s identity may become overwhelmed by negative identity conclusions (e.g. ‘trouble-maker’, ‘weakling’, ‘stupid’ and ‘useless’). In Narrative Therapy the practitioner works collaboratively with the young person or family to challenge these dominant problem-saturated stories and re-author alternative stories that break from the influence of the problems and establish a preferred identity.
The connection between identity and action is prominent in the theoretical rationale for Narrative Therapy. The reasoning goes that when a person has a chance to stand in their preferred identity story, and when that story is experienced as rich and real, they can more easily see what action they wish to take in their life. The main work of narrative practice involves ‘thickening’ preferred stories of identity (Russell & Carey, 2002). Relationship with others adds another critical dimension, because identities are understood as socially constructed in the course of our relationships membering: Responding to commonly asked questions (Russell & Carey, 2002).
When should it be used?
Narrative therapy type interventions are appropriate when a young person is being held back from positive change by negative self beliefs that are suppressing his or her self efficacy or ability to take positive action. Narrative approaches are also particularly well suited to working with clients who have been traumatised or abused and are struggling to move on from this experience. Young people who are interested in, or open to, talking about their past experience are more likely to engage well with narrative interventions. For clients who are not oriented to talk-based counselling, opportunities to challenge problem-saturated narratives can be generated when workers interact with young people during activities, particularly challenging new activities that yield opportunities to discover previously neglected aspects of identity.