Narrative therapy is a form of therapy that is based on the idea that people are the storytellers of their own lives and that by changing the way they tell their stories, they can also change the way they perceive themselves and the world around them. In this article, we will explore in depth what narrative therapy is, how it works, and how it can help us.

What is Narrative Therapy?

Narrative therapy is a form of therapy that focuses on the narration of personal stories and the exploration of how those stories affect a person’s life and experiences. It was developed by Australian therapist Michael White and New Zealand therapist David Epston in the 1980s. Narrative therapy is based on the idea that people construct their identities through the stories they tell about themselves and that these stories can be modified to promote change and personal growth.

Key Principles of Narrative Therapy

Narrative therapy is based on several key principles that guide the therapeutic process:

  • Externalization of the Problem: One of the central principles of narrative therapy is externalizing the issue. This involves separating the problem from the person, allowing the person to see the problem as something external to themselves and, therefore, easier to address and change.
  • Co-construction of Alternative Stories: Instead of accepting a single narrative about their lives, clients are encouraged to explore and co-create new alternative stories that may help them reinterpret their experiences in a more positive and empowering way.
  • Respect for the Client's Experience: Narrative therapy believes in respecting the client's experience and the importance of allowing people to tell their own stories in their own terms. This involves active listening, validating the client's experiences, and working collaboratively with them to find solutions that are meaningful to them.
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Why is Narrative Therapy Healing?

Narrative therapy is considered healing for several fundamental reasons that are rooted in its approach and therapeutic practices. Here are some key reasons why narrative therapy is perceived as a healing form of therapy:

1. Identity Reconstruction:

Narrative therapy allows people to reconstruct their identity by challenging dominant narratives that may be contributing to their emotional distress. By changing the way personal stories are told, clients can develop a more compassionate and empowering understanding of themselves, contributing to a renewed sense of self-esteem and self-acceptance.

2. Empowerment Promotion:

Narrative therapy promotes empowerment by focusing on the individual’s strengths and resources. Through the co-construction of new alternative stories, clients discover that they have the ability to influence the direction of their own lives and to face challenges with resilience and creativity.

3. Redefinition of Past Experiences:

By rewriting past stories from a more positive and empowering perspective, narrative therapy helps people find new meanings and lessons in their past experiences. This can lead to greater acceptance and inner peace regarding past events that may have previously caused distress or emotional pain.

4. Encouragement of Self-Reflection:

Narrative therapy encourages self-reflection by inviting individuals to examine their own stories and narratives in a more conscious and reflective manner. This process of self-exploration can lead to greater self-awareness and self-understanding, facilitating personal growth and positive change.

5. Building Meaningful Relationships:

The therapeutic relationship in narrative therapy is based on respect, empathy, and collaboration. This genuine connection between therapist and client provides a safe and supportive space where individuals can explore their personal stories and work together to find meaningful and lasting solutions.

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Applications of Narrative Therapy

Narrative therapy has been successfully used for a wide range of issues and populations, including:

  • Depression and Anxiety: Helps clients reconstruct negative narratives about themselves and find new ways to relate to their emotions.
  • Trauma: Allows trauma survivors to rewrite their stories of survival and resilience.
  • Family Conflicts: Facilitates communication and conflict resolution within families by helping members understand and redefine their relationships.
  • Identity Issues: Helps individuals explore and assert their unique identity in the face of social and cultural pressures.

Examples of Narrative Therapy Exercises

Here are some examples of tools employed in narrative therapy:

  • Self-Compassion Letters: This exercise involves the client writing a letter to themselves from a compassionate and understanding perspective. In the letter, the client can gently express their feelings, acknowledge their strengths, and remind themselves that they are worthy of love and acceptance, even in times of difficulty.
  • Strengths Family Tree: The therapist guides the client in creating a family tree that represents the strengths and resources that have been passed down through generations. The client can reflect on the strengths of their ancestors and consider how these positive qualities have influenced their own lives.
  • External Observer: The client takes on the role of an external and objective observer to examine their own experiences from an emotional distance. This can help the client gain a new perspective on their problems and separate their personal identity from the events and circumstances that have occurred in their lives.
  • Life Book Creation: The client creates a life book that includes significant moments, achievements, and experiences that have shaped their identity. By reflecting on these events and narratives, the client can identify common patterns and discover new ways to interpret their personal story.
  • Gratitude Journaling: The client keeps a gratitude journal where they record things they are grateful for each day. This exercise fosters a more positive and appreciative approach to life and helps the client recognize the good things that exist amidst challenges and difficulties.
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In conclusion, narrative therapy is a powerful tool that can help people reconstruct their life stories and find new ways to relate to their experiences. By changing the way they tell their stories, people can change the way they perceive themselves and the world around them. Whether facing depression, overcoming trauma, or navigating family conflicts, narrative therapy offers a client-centered approach that promotes meaningful and lasting personal change and growth,

Abouth the author

Verónica Sarria is a health psychologist at Sinews. She is specialized in eating disorders and obesity, working with adolescents and adults. She also treats other problems such as anxiety, depression, grief, self-esteem and interpersonal relationship problems, among others. Her orientation is cognitive behavioral but she integrates tools and techniques from other currents according to the needs of each patient, thanks to her training in mindfulness, mindful eating, attachment theory and systemic (family) therapy.

Verónica Sarria
Division of Psychology, Psychotherapy and Coaching
Verónica Sarria
Psychologist
Adults and adolescents
Languages: English, French and Spanish
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