03 Mar Narrative Therapy
Narrative therapy is a relatively young approach to therapy. It was developed in the 1980’s by Michael White, a social worker from Adelaide and David Epston, a social worker and anthropologist from New Zealand. As they were both working with families at the time, narrative therapy is considered to have grown out of the family therapy tradition.
Narrative therapy practitioners pay attention to the stories people tell about themselves and their lives. The narrative metaphor speaks to the fact that people ascribe meaning to their experiences through stories whilst also acknowledging that people’s sense of self, their relationships and life are shaped by the stories that are available to them, in a specific historical, cultural and social context.
When their stories become saturated by problems, people’s capacity to see a way out of them can be restricted. It is easy to then conflate their identity with these problems and to draw negative conclusions about who they are and their future. By taking seriously the idea that “the person is not the problem, the problem is the problem”, narrative practitioners seek to understand how the problem is affecting a person and aim to restore their agency in dealing with the problem. In addition to understandings from psychology, psychiatry, anthropology, etc. narrative therapy embraces people’s own knowledge of what it is like to live with their challenges and difficulties. Narrative practitioners often invite the people they’re meeting with to critically examine the influence of power inequalities, normative judgements and dominant discourses in society that discount certain knowledges and silence particular experiences. Narrative therapy seeks to celebrate the diverse ways people shape their lives and create meaning. Space is created to honour the knowledge and skills that people have gained through lived experiences and to value the historical and cultural connections these might have. By bringing to light alternative stories, limiting understandings are challenged and other ways of relating to the problem become visible which enables people to see options and take action that are in line with their values and hopes. People have described this non-pathologising and non-judgemental approach to significant suffering, including but not limited to experiences of hearing voices, grief, domestic violence, suicidal thoughts and trauma as deeply respectful and empowering.
Narrative therapy has proven to be helpful in a variety of settings as its ideas and practices have easily transferred to bigger contexts such as schools, prisons and remote communities to name a few. Heavily influenced by feminist thought, narrative practice has historically turned to those subjected to oppression and as such developed strong ethical commitments to attend to issues of marginalisation, to include processes of accountability and to develop partnerships. Communities across the world, from First Nations people in Australia to survivors of genocide in Rwanda, have found strong resonance in narrative practices to heal and give meaning to life.