Re-Authoring Your Life Using Narrative Therapy

What's the story you would rather be telling yourself and living your life by?.

Narrative Therapy is a constructivist form of psychotherapy that was developed by Michael White from Australia, and David Epston from New Zealand. It is used throughout the world with children, families and adults.

The Narrative Therapy Approach

Narrative therapy is an approach to therapy that is empowering to the client. It emphasizes a collaboration between therapist and client and unlike many other forms of therapy, is nonpathologizing.

Much like in Solution Focused Therapy, clients are considered to be the experts of their own lives. 

Problems are viewed as separate from people. By objectifying problems that people experience, the narrative therapist can help clients get a distance from their problem and change how it is viewed. The skills, strengths and resources of a client are emphasized and utilized to manage problems in their lives.

Narrative therapists also take into consideration the full context of people's lives, which includes key factors such as race, social class, sexual orientation, among other dimensions of diversity.

Narrative Therapy Techniques

One major technique used in narrative therapy is known as "externalizing the problem." By separating a problem from a person, it becomes less threatening. If a child, for example, is struggling with depression, the therapist would not subscribe to the mentality that the child is depressed.

Rather, the therapist would help re-frame the situation in a way that empowers the child and views depression as a problem in his life. 

Especially with children, giving the problem a personality and an image can be very powerful. The therapist may ask the child to give the depression a name, and list the way it interferes with his life.

Having conversations which emphasize the separation and personification of a problem helps reestablish a healthier and more desired identity for the client. The child no longer considers himself as depressed, but as someone who has wrestled with the monster of depression and is learning to conquer it.

Narrative therapy concerns itself with the stories of people's lives. By telling one's story, and looking closely at it with a trusted therapist, the client is empowered to create the space for new stories collaboratively with the therapist. The therapist can help the client identify any "preferred" stories that might exist, which gives clients the opportunity to truly re-author their lives. The therapist also listens for clues that demonstrate alternative stories might exist in the client's life, apart from whatever problem-saturated story has been told and re-told.

How can you re-author your life using the principles of narrative therapy

One way you can start to re-author your life using narrative therapy is by changing your perspective on whatever problems you are facing.

Start with one of your problems and practice externalizing it. Always remember that you are not the problem in your life, but the problem is. Take a step back from it and you will be in a better place to handle it.

Couples who are experiencing relationship problems can do this too. The highly effective form of couples therapy, Emotionally Focused Therapy, utilizes the narrative approach of externalizing the problem, which is often a destructive negative pattern that has emerged between two partners. When they can step back from the negative pattern and view the pattern as the problem, as opposed to each other, they are in a better place to do the work of the couples therapy.

Because we can all get in our own way from time to time, it can often be difficult to see outside of ourselves and our stories. Speaking with a skilled narrative therapist can be extremely beneficial in helping you not only externalize whatever problems you are facing, but live a preferred story and re-author your life to reflect your more desired reality.

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