Narrative therapy is a social constructive philosophical approach to psychotherapy that has been developed to help clients deconstruct their negative and self-defeating life stories while rebuilding healthy and positive life stories through the use of various techniques. This paper will discuss the leading figures, some concepts and techniques, ethics, some similarities and dissimilarities of other theories compared to Narrative therapy.
This paper will also address my personal integration of faith regarding the theory of Narrative therapy. Part One: The roots of family therapy emerged out of individual therapy in 1950 when they realized that it was necessary to look at outside influences on the individual to help understand and treat their presenting problem (Slough, p, 2). Psychotherapy then expanded to include group approaches further enriching communication and relationships. In 1960, systemic changes began to include social and political ideals from where “distinct schools of family therapy’ developed in 1970 (Slough, p. ). Going forward, changes in philosophy furthered political and societal horizons toward constructivism and social constructionist (Slough, p. ). “Constructivism suggests that there is no single reality only different perspective of the same situation, which is influenced by a person personality, situation, and experiences “(Slough, p. 2). “Social constructionist builds upon that perspective and includes social and cultural views which shapes the individuals meaning and affects their behaviors, interactions, and emotional responses” (Slough, p. 2).
These changes over time have helped to evolve the therapist role from the “expert’ to the collaborator. From here, the emphasis and role of language and communication was implemented y the Milan systemic school which suggests that the two can shape our identity due to our societal interactions (Slough, p. 2). Both combined, language and social constructionist has helped bridge family therapy and narrative approaches leading to the development of Narrative Therapy (NT). Michael White and David Postpone where the main creators of Narrative Therapy (NT) (Morocco, 2009, p. 493).
Michael White is from Australia and David Postpone is from New Zealand (Mudpack, 2009, p. 493). Michael and Postpone were both social workers by training and work more with family therapy than individual therapy’ (Morocco, 2009, p. 493). After crossing paths, White and Postpone realized a common interest that they had in anthropology and set it as their basis for family therapy (Morocco, 2009, p. 493). NT is a postmodern social constructive philosophical approach to psychotherapy. As Goldenberg and Goldenberg 3) suggest, NT is characterized as “postindustrial and deconstruction” (p. 97). NT shifts from the more traditional theories and is seen as a non-blaming approach to counseling and community work where the client is the expert in their own lives. The NT process takes a look at the clients past, present, and future. NT can be used universally with various interventions, client’s types, and settings. For example; it can be used in individual, couples, group, or family therapy. According to Immerse (1999), NT can be used with different types of grief therapy.
NT can be used with clients who have experienced traumas such as rape and abuse (Whitney, 2012). NT is useful for all different age groups. Stern (2011) used NT while she was working in a nursing home to help the residents deal with issues such as death. NT is very effective with children as well. Porter (2006) and Ramey (2009) show success with NT to help with problems faced during adolescents. Various fields of practice also have been incorporating the process of NT such as the medical field according to Shapiro (2002).
It helps the patient to deal with their medical conditions. Ethically, NT like other theoretical practices must also adhere to the standards set by the American Counseling Association (AC) and the International Association of Marriage and Family Counselors (IAMBIC). Since the first principle declared by any code of ethics is to do no additional harm to the client; it will be necessary for the therapist to advise the clients of NT practices since it tends to be separate from traditional theories.
In addition, because NT deals with “difficult issues and storytelling; the therapist must respect the client’s boundaries and the confidentiality of the family and its narratives, inform the family that each family member’s territory and emotional grounding is Just as important, and should identify the primary client at times of dysfunction” (Miller, 2009, p. 157, 158). A main key concept of NT is that the problem a client presents with is viewed separate from the client.
The problem is not the person; it is something the person has. Therefore, the goal of NT is to change the effects resulting from the problem ND not the person themselves. To do this, NT uses the technique of exterminating the problem. To externalities the problem, the problem is first given a name and then it is explored and applied to the clients believes, values, behaviors, and ideals that has formed the clients identity. The negative aspects of these areas get rewritten into the new story.
The process of exterminating the problem allows the client to see their problem separate from themselves so they can better address it while at the same time encouraging the client to rely on their own set of skills to make changes to the problems that exist in their daily lives. Over all, the client learns to make sense of their life and how their assumptions influence them and their world around them. During NT, the role of the therapist is to be a collaborator with the client and together they thicken the narrative stories.
The therapist listens to the client’s story, searches for unique outcomes, uses the process of questioning, and assists the client to separate the self from the problem so the new story can be created. Within the whole story of our life, there are little stories that we create. Stories consist of events, sequence, time, and a plot (Morgan, 2000). As humans, we like to analyze and make ensue of our world; therefore, creating our life stories (Morgan, 2000). In NT, Morocco provides and explains several deterrent types tot stories that we create.
There are five types of stories which are called the dominant story, the alternate story, the cultural discourse, the, problem-saturated story, and the preferred story (Morocco, 2009, p. 496). The dominant stories are considered thick and stand out over others and are the ones that we hold as our worldviews and form our identity. The alternate stories are considered thin and are hidden by the dominant story. Thick stories are elaborate and rich while thin stories contain few vents and details.
The stories that we create construct our meaning of life that we see as truths and are developed from our cultures, social, and political experiences. These stories are named cultural discourse. The problem-saturated story that the client is struggling with is also considered the dominant story at that time of therapy because it is the issue. The preferred story is derived from the alternate story and developed using unique outcomes. The problem-saturated story keeps the client from being open to interpreting different meanings and assumptions of their life and their self so that they can move reward.
Since the problem-saturated story is so thick it does not go away easily and needs to be deconstructed. The client becomes so focused on the problem they cannot see past the existing problem; it is almost like having tunnel vision. Deconstructing is a process in NT that is used to help the client move forward by first using the exterminating process to give identity to the problem and then analyzing the underlying cultural truths that were created and ultimately influenced the problem. Deconstruction helps the client to see that there is more than one meaning or assumption to fit any event or experience.
Several other techniques and processes that are used in the NT theory are: relative influence questioning, visualization, mapping, unique outcomes, constructing alternate stories, outsider witness practices, taking it back practices, and written artifacts (Morocco, 2009, p. 497-508). Questioning is a major part throughout the whole NT process and is works with deconstruction and exterminating the problem. If the client has a good imagination, visualization is another way for the client to externalities the problem. Mapping is a set of questions that will help identify the effects of the problem.
The process of unique outcomes helps the client to open up the mind and search for instances not related to the problem but will indicate “when the problem did not defeat them” (Goldenberg & Goldenberg, 2013, p. 406). Once the client has been freed from the problem-saturated story, alternate stories can start to be created. The alternate stores become the preferred story and reconstructed by giving them details and retelling the story multiple times. This thickens the plot and keeps the client focused on creating the new story instead of the regressing back or recreating the problem-saturated story.
If the client has a good imagination, visualization is another way for the client to externalities the problem. The outsider technique further thickens the preferred story but inviting other persons into the sessions to retell the story multiple times while fine-tuning the preferred story as they go. The person invited into the session is usually relevant to the client. The taking it back practice is where the client is given the opportunity to pay it forward and brings light to the client and the therapist that there has been growth from the NT process.
Finally, the written artifacts technique involves writing deters to help reinforce, celebrate, and summarize what is going on throughout the process. There are several different types of letters which are: summary letters, letters of invitation, redundancy letters, discharge letters, and letters of prediction (Goldenberg & Goldenberg, 2013, p. 409). In addition, there are letters that are sent out to terminate therapy which are explained by Lend (2012). They are the initiation letter, the preparation letter, the participation letter, the emancipation letter, and the commemoration letter.
These letters are use to transition the client room therapy to their new functioning life story. Compared to NT, there are several other leading types of theories such as: psychodrama, experiential-humanistic, transliteration, structural, strategic, Milan systemic, behavioral/cognitive, social constructionist, and psycho-educational (Goldenberg & Goldenberg, 2013). The differences between them are many such as: the role of the therapist, the techniques, procedures, intervention methods, actions, and the goals vary. There are a few similarities that apply between them such as: the assessments procedures, structure, and therapist style.
Goldenberg and Goldenberg (2013) examine other various other leading models. Briefly described, the Psychodrama models focuses more on the unconscious processes because they are what manifests in a person’s current behavior and relationships. The “Transliteration models learns more toward how our current family patterns, alliances, and boundaries are embedded in unresolved issues from family origins” (p. 167). The “Experiential-humanistic models address emotional engagement, self-growth, and self determination through present day experiences, encounter, confrontation, intuition, spontaneity, and action” (p. 67). The Structural Therapy model is geared at creating a transformational change in the “now’. It does not take into consideration a person’s insight, feelings, or beliefs from the past. The “Strategic models prefer more directive or task oriented interventions over understanding the meaning of symptoms” (p. 167). The “Milan-systemic model questions family belief systems that include thoughts, beliefs, and the meaning of attached behaviors” (p. 167). The Behavior and Cognitive-Behavioral models are geared at changing behavior patterns and how what we feel is connected to our thoughts.
Changing the thoughts changes the behaviors. Psycho-educational models looks into what causes problems, symptoms, or disabilities in family members rather than looking at the family as the source of the difficulty and maximizing functioning within the family. Psychoanalytic theory is based on verbally expressing the patient’s feelings, desires, and thoughts so that the therapist can determine the client’s inner unconscious conflicts. The NT model proposes that identity is co- created by the relationship that we have along with history and culture.
Other then the differences between these types of theory used is the fact that some are older ND some are more recently developed. The older theories have well established structures, ethics, and professional codes where as the newer one will not. Part Two: My personal worldview of family is that it comprises a cultural and social system that has a hierarchy in structure that includes rules, boundaries, and power. There are different types of family structures and regulations within them. My understanding of pathology is that it is the study and diagnosis of the cause, process, development, and consequences tot a disease.
Pathology applies to some sort tot a dysfunction of a person whether medically or psychologically. Religiously, it can mean that there is dysfunction between the self and God, such as committing sin. Goldenberg and Goldenberg (2013) mention that “when a family runs into difficulty, one can assume that it is operating within a dysfunctional structure” (p. 280). My beliefs are that pathology and family are intertwined and affect one another. Family members can cause dysfunction within the structure and vice versa; the dysfunction can affect family members.
Combined, a “dysfunctional family by definition has failed to fulfill its purpose of nurturing the growth of its members” (Goldenberg amp; Goldenberg, 2013, p. 281). My thought about cure is the relief or removal off dysfunction or disease from within a person. If the cure is not possible then maintaining and coping with the problem may be attainable. In curing a dysfunction or disease other aspects have to be taken into consideration such as the individuals social and outside influences. From a Christian perspective in comparison to NT, you can see that the Bible also utilizes stories to convey deeper levels of truth.
The integration of principles and techniques in Psychotherapy has similar features to religion. There are practitioners from all schools of psychotherapy that seem to employ integration and an eclecticism of theoretical components to many approaches; however, spiritual counseling should be done only when commonly agreement upon. When incorporating spirituality, the counselor needs to be considerate and careful when working with a person from different cultures and to do so by developing ones own awareness, boundaries, and limitations.
My view is a philosophical and eclectic spiritual beliefs system created on my own versus one set of religious beliefs. Some of my beliefs are reincarnation, that we ring knowledge with us from a past life to use in this life, and that our life is a story made of little stories within it. I also believe that even though we are within family, culture, and societal confinements we are all individuals and on our own spiritual journey. I believe who we are in the present time has been built up according to our past and our surrounding experiences which includes our family, culture, and social networks.
Our lives have been influenced in so many different ways. In learning about NT, I found myself attracted to the theory because it is a more modern approach to therapy and it holds some of my experiences, beliefs, and worldviews. It does not seem restricted to structure, it is freeing, universal, and it includes the past, present, and the future. Amongst other reasons, all of which I feel is important in a therapeutic approach. Personally in comparison to NT, I find when I come upon a problem; I tend to ask respected others for their thoughts to see if there are different angles to the situation.
I try to find as many angles and outcomes to deal with the problem before making the choice or addressing it. I always look ahead to see what the outcome might be with certain actions. I tend to do this because like NT suggests, it is very difficult to see other angles when you are the one dealing with the problem- saturated story. The saturated story is so thick that you cannot see around it. In addition, while you are dealing with the problem or dysfunction your under stress and may have feelings of anxiety.
The process of exterminating the problem alleviates the stress or telling tot anxiety so that there is a clearer view tot the problem. Also helps clients to utilize their own knowledge and skills without seeking out and asking multiple people for their thoughts on the situation. This helps to build inference in the self to make the right choices going forward. NT allows the client to challenge themselves in coming up with different angles in finding a solution to their own problems. In addition, and as mentioned above, we try to make sense of everything that goes on in our lives, at least I do.
Until I come too conclusion or figure it out, I mottle it over and over in my head and heart until I find the reason. The conclusion that we come to may be an incorrect one. From a personal experience, I have definitely been wrong in some situations but have learned from my mistakes and have corrected it. NT provides insight into our limitations and strengths as a person and an individual. When we come to the realization and interpret an event or experience; that becomes the worldview that we hold. Outside influences can also contribute to this worldview and dysfunction.
When the experience or situation presents itself again then we are stuck and it can cause dysfunction. NT helps to change the incorrect interpretations of our experiences and events. I also love reading and learning about true life stories which coincides with my beliefs of our ultimate life story. Since I do not practice therapy as of yet, I try to meet ewe people along my travels and find out about them and bits of their story. Therefore, I like the fact that NT utilizes the narrative story approach in exterminating and has a strong emphasis in deconstruction the problem.
A few other things that I like about NT are that it provides insight to our own limitations and strengths. NT frees clients from cultural forces and it helps them to expand their limits. It recognizes individuals as separate identifies within groups. I believe although we are within a family structure we are all on our own spiritual Journey. Our society, family, ND outside influences create our worldviews about the way life should be. Additionally, I like the fact that the counselor works with the client as a collaborator and not as he expert.
Conclusion Narrative therapy is a constructivist approach where the therapist and the client work collaboratively together to deconstruct the problem-saturated stories and recreate the preferred stories. It utilized storytelling and exterminating the problem. It corrects the realities that we have improperly constructed over time. It is a universal, fun, freeing process that empowers the client to strengthen their skills. NT areas down dominant discourses adopted from social and cultural influences. It allows the client to be an individual while being able to function properly with others and in society.
Although NT is not considered to be a traditional theory, ethical guidelines still apply. Because it is universal, I believe that NT would work well other techniques and with integrating spiritual processes providing that the client is approving. Over all I find NT to be a great tool for helping clients with Just about any dysfunction and I hope to utilize this process when I am able to practice.