I was first introduced to Narrative Therapy in graduate school and its beliefs and core values resonated strongly with my own. I was fortunate to attend a workshop with one of its founders, the late Michael White during which he shared several video recordings of his own therapy sessions with clients. I was in awe! He made therapy look easy as he simply appeared to sit down to have a conversation with a friend. One such conversation stands out for me. Michael sat down to talk with a prison inmate. It was their first meeting and it was not far into their conversation that the client gained a new insight into his own experience. He began to view himself with compassion rather than disdain. He wept. Many of us who were watching also wept as we witnessed the moment of insight, the moment of change.
Narrative therapy began its evolution when two marriage and family therapists, Michael White of Australia and David Epston of New Zealand, met. Their shared intellect, interest and passion for their work, inspired conversations and research into ways to relieve human suffering. Their passion and spirit is captured in this quote;
“One of the aspects associated with this work that is of central importance to us is the spirit of adventure. We aim to preserve this spirit, and know that if we accomplish this our work will continue to evolve in ways that are enriching to our lives, and to the lives of those persons who seek our help” (White & Epston, 1992, p. 9).
* Narrative therapy views the client as the expert in his own life and thereby has control over the course of therapy. The therapist guides from behind, listens with genuine curiosity to the client’s story, offers observations, provides validation through witnessing, is non-judgmental and compassionate.
* Narrative therapy believes the client is not the problem, rather the problem is the problem. The problem is externalized.
* The consequence of the separation of client from the problem results in the client not being defined by any diagnosis that might have been assigned.
* Narrative therapy encourages connection and believes a sense of belonging and community is vital to emotional well-being.
* Social justice is a central component of the ongoing development of Narrative practices.
Narrative techniques can be used for a wide range of problems, including those that are associated with Anxiety, Depression, Trauma, Grief and Loss, Life Transitions, ADHD, adoption, self doubt, self harm, domestic violence, rape and more.
Narrative therapists begin their journey with their clients by listening to their story. The goal is to develop a more hopeful and positive narrative through helping clients identify their values, clarify what is important to them, bring awareness to their own strengths and to highlight unique outcomes - themes that run counter to the central problem laden story. There is a framework to guide these conversations and also a number of tools that can be used to thicken the re-authored story and give it more power in the person’s life. Narrative therapists are encouraged to be creative in their work, responding to each client’s unique experience.
Research data is being gathered world wide to provide scientific evidence to support Narrative Therapy becoming an evidence-based practice.
In summary, Narrative Therapy is based in story telling and the re-authoring of people’s lives. The introductory paragraph, which outlined the insights gained by a client, provided the foundation to re-author and develop a new story line. Michael White often used maps as metaphors and wrote in his introduction to Maps of Narrative Practice, page 5;-
‘Maps like these shape a therapeutic inquiry in which people suddenly find themselves interested in novel understandings of the events of their lives, curious about aspects of their lives that have been forsaken, fascinated with neglected territories of their identities, and, at times, awed by their own response to predicament of their existence’.
Narrative Therapy continues to evolve in wondrous ways, bringing meaning to and enriching the lives of thousands of people around the world.
White, M. & Epston, D. (1992) Introduction. Experience, contradiction, narrative & imagination: Selected papers of David Epston & Michael White, 1989-19.
White, M. (2007) Maps of Narrative Practice. W.W. Norton & Company, New York & London
White, C. (2009). Where did it all begin? Reflections on the collaborative work of Michael White and David Epston. Context Magazine Issue 105 October 2009