Q: What is narrative therapy?
A: Narrative is a postmodern, collaborative, and non-pathologizing therapy. It recognizes the client as the expert in the room and focuses on what narrative therapists call the client’s “insider knowledge”. Narrative therapy looks at the stories that we tell ourselves about ourselves and how these stories impact our well-being. A core tenant of narrative therapy is that the person is not the problem the problem is the problem. In a process called externalization the narrative therapist seeks to separate the problem from the client, this is done to help reduce the client’s experience of shame and helplessness. The problem then becomes “recast” as separate character in the client’s story. The idea is that problems are more manageable and easier to face when they are taken out of the person. The therapist assists the client in understanding how the problem has played out and impacted the client and their functioning. Through curious and non-leading questions the therapist helps the client identify times at which they have overcome the problem. These exceptions to the problem reveal something about the client’s strengths, competencies, and values. Once the therapist has found an opening into these alternative parts of the client’s identity the therapist assists the client in reauthoring their story so that it reflects their values and beliefs.
Q: What form of training and/or schooling is needed in order to practice narrative therapy?
A: There is no formal training needed to practice narrative therapy however there are courses offered by the Vancouver School of Narrative Therapy. Other training materials such as articles, webinars, and video clips can be found on websites such as the dulwichcentre.com. A few books that have been very helpful to me are Maps of Narrative Practice by Michael White, this book is great in teaching narratives basic techniques. Playful Approaches to Serious Problems is great training tool for those looking to apply narrative work with children. Another book called Biting the Hand that Starves You shows how narrative therapy can be used with eating disorders. One of the authors of this book, Ali Borden sometimes offers trainings in how to use narrative therapy in working with eating disorders at her office in Los Angeles.
Q: When is narrative therapy used in treatment? Symptoms? Age treated?
A: There is no specific age or category of symptoms that narrative therapy claims to work best for. Narrative therapy can be used for all ages and in treating a variety of mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, behavioral disorders, and eating disorders. In my work I have particularly enjoyed using narrative therapy with depression and anxiety. These are two disorders that are great to externalize to give the client some breathing room from their effects. I have found that anxiety and depression are two pervasive problems that take up occupancy in a client’s life and greatly impact their relationships, self regard, and functioning. I also particularly enjoy using narrative therapy in grief work. Michael White one of the founders of narrative therapy proposed the Saying Hullo Again metaphor in helping those stricken with grief. This metaphor is different from the more conventional letting go metaphor that is often used in grief work. This technique helps the client reclaim forgotten pieces of their identity that became lost to them upon the death of their loved one. Lastly, although I enjoy using narrative with all ages I find that it works particularly well with teens. Teenagers seem to like externalizing the problems in their life and taking action against them. Common externalized problems with teens are peer pressure, perfectionism, irritability, impulsivity, stress, shame, and sadness.
Q: How long must you treat a client using narrative therapy before they can see results?
A: There is no specific time that client’s can expect results. I believe it depends on the person and the pervasiveness of the problem that they are up against.
Q: What do you feel are some misconceptions about narrative therapy?
A: The largest misconception I hear about narrative therapy is that it is simply about listening to the client tell their story. There are so many more considerations and techniques used in this theory that create powerful and meaningful interactions in the therapy process.
Q: How long have you used narrative therapy in your treatment with clients?
A: I have been using narrative therapy since I started my practicum training in graduate school 5 years ago. My first therapy experience came from the Pepperdine University Community Counseling Center where my supervisors trained my colleagues and I in narrative therapy. I attended weekly trainings for approximately 3 years where I learned about narrative therapies’ philosophical origins, founders, techniques, and treatments.
By: Alix Sanchez, IMFT