Narrative therapy is a type of therapy that was developed by Michael White and David Epston. It focuses on narrative. Therapists ask questions to produce vivid descriptions of life events. The primary focus of narrative therapy is people’s expressions of their experiences. This process allows people to give meaning to the things that happen in their lives. It gives them framework to consider their relationship with their problems. Narrative therapy has been used to treat previously unmanageable cases of anorexia nervosa, ADHD, schizophrenia, and many other problems.
Narrative Therapy: Concepts
The main concept behind narrative therapy is that are identities are shaped by our stories; the way we conceptualize the things that happen to us. When we describe a problem, we also let the therapist know what influences our problems and our ideas. Also, putting a problem into a story distances us from the problem. A common refrain in narrative therapy is “The person is not the problem, the problem is the problem.” Distance from a problem can make it easier to solve.
Narrative Therapy: Method
In narrative therapy, a person’s beliefs, skills, and knowledge help them overcome their problems. The therapist acts like an investigative reporter; gathering information from the client and then presenting them logically. This process helps the person undergoing narrative therapy to externalize their problems and evaluate them. Generally, the stories that have the most problems, which are “problem-saturated”, tend to dominate in early narrative therapy. These dominant stories tend to shape a person’s identity, according to proponents of narrative therapy.
This process can also help identify exceptions to the problem’s influence. Even though the problem that may be very severe, there are still parts of the person which haven’t been destroyed by it. Through this process, narrative therapy can uncover a person’s resilient belief systems and lead to a change.
Sometimes in narrative therapy, the therapist will use an outsider witness. These are people who are friends of the client or old clients who have experience with the same problem. They generally have some knowledge of the problem at hand. These people are called in to sit and listen in on a session. Afterwards, the therapist will ask them what stood out to them in what they just heard. Often having an outsider in the room can be very beneficial. These witnesses can relate their own experience or point out a part of the narrative that may have gone unnoticed.
Narrative Therapy: Criticism
Some criticisms of narrative therapy include that it seems to align with the theory that there are no absolute truths. Critics think that this type of thinking can lead to moral relativism. Also, practitioners of narrative therapy have been very critical of other types of therapy, and put themselves above practitioners of other types of therapy.
Narrative therapy is also criticized for the lack of proof for many of its claimed benefits. Critics say that there is no empirical evidence that proves that narrative therapy is actually effective, and more studies need to be done.