Stories are at the center of our lives, from the stories we tell that make up our personal mythology to the stories we invent from our wounding that we project onto the world. Our stories are a vital part of compounding our successes as well as healing our wounds. Through rewriting our stories, we construct new meanings, release shame, and become free to engage with the world as it is in the present, rather than carrying around and reliving the past.
According to narrative therapy, our stories or narratives serve as our partial and subjective autobiography, a highly selective version of our past and present that can provide us insight into how we process information, our strengths, and our opportunities to step into greater freedom. Often this subjective narrative is born out of trauma and pain and can become the focus of our identity and can begin to dictate the way we engage with others relationally as well as the way we see ourselves.
Our narratives can be empowering and allow us to achieve seemingly impossible feats, or they can be limiting, creating self-fulfilling prophecies and repeating patterns of pain.
When our stories are limiting and painful, our goal is to revisit the narrative to uncover elements of the story that have been left out so that we can begin to identify a new narrative. Together, we uncover hidden skills, strengths, and resiliency that may have been previously unrecognized. Sometimes it is as simple as understanding the strength and resiliency that exists as we survive lives of pain and loss.
In the process of narrative therapy, we will concentrate on the effects of the problem presented rather than its causes. Our goal is locate an alternate story, one that is true and reveals the unacknowledged courage and gifts beneath the suffering.
THE NARRATIVE BACKGROUND
Narrative therapy evolved in the 1980s out of the thinking and practice of Michael White, an Australian, and David Epston, a New Zealander, two social workers who approached the practice of psychotherapy with the idea that the individual’s response to her own experience makes her, not the therapist, the expert.
Narrative therapy assumes that the problem itself is the problem: in other words, the client is not the problem, and that the stories that are told constitute the subjective truth of a life’s experience.
The approach is centered on separating people from their problems. “When did social anxiety first enter your life,” is a typical introductory question. This separates the client from the problem: you are not your anxiety. The question is directed towards locating the arc of the individual’s story with compassion and acceptance.
In this formulation, respect for the client always shapes the narrative therapy process. We help you author a new story that reveals your inner unsung hero.
We are meaning making machines and changing our narratives leads to changes in our behavior and insight into our lives. Our stories are based on our experiences, and these in turn help us find our voice. That voice and story are how we uncover the truth of who we are.
THE NARRATIVE PROCESS
We as therapists embark with the client on identifying dominant themes within your narratives. Through “externalization,” we help you distance yourself from your problems, and in the process differentiate yourself from the story as you deconstruct it.
This opens the door to helping you change the narrative and sketch in an alternate story. The new story serves two purposes: It helps cultivate self-worth, it restructures past experiences, and it helps us break repeating patterns and step into new stories and possibilities.
We focus on finding an alternate story, a reauthoring that is true to your experience.
The effort is always to change the story and its meaning. This is achieved through role play, dramatization, journaling, among other techniques. Some therapists write letters and poems to the client. You may write about your own experience as well or, utilizing psychodrama, act it out. If you’re really bold, you might even call together friends and family to introduce you and your new story.
We all are bound together by our stories and we look forward to helping you reshape your narrative to live in a way that is more empowered, peaceful, and joyful.