Narrative Therapy: Techniques
In part one of this series, I shared about the creators of narrative therapy and some of the basic assumptions of the theory. This second blog post will take a deeper look into the narrative therapy process as well as some of the techniques that may be used during a narrative therapy session. I believe these things can benefit readers by learning about ways that telling your story is important and what you can learn from articulating your story.
According to Payne (1), the author of Narrative Therapy: An Introduction for Counselors, the first step of narrative therapy is to allow space for the client to share the “problem-saturated” story. This story could have a negative outlook and be more focused on what’s going wrong instead of any hope for the future (1). Next, the therapist works with the client to “give a specific name or names to the problem” (1, p. 12). Being able to name the problem is the next step toward being able to see themselves outside of the problem. This process is called “externalizing” and it is an important part of narrative therapy (1, p. 13). For example, this could look like a therapist saying, “depression invaded your life, rather than, you became depressed’’ (1). The idea of naming the problem and separating yourself from it is also a technique that can be used in CBT and other therapies. It is a powerful tool to be able to see the problem separate from your identity.
Another popular technique of narrative therapy is “deconstructing” (1, p. 14). This looks like taking the client’s story, filled with dilemmas, and breaking it into smaller, more manageable problems. The client may use a journal to process “unique outcomes [and] expectations,” or to process what is talked about during sessions (2, p. 4). Deconstruction is an encouraging tool that allows the client to face small parts of the problem at a given time instead of feeling crippled by the weight of the whole problem all at once. This is very helpful for clients because tell their own story can sometimes feel overwhelming.
Another technique called “re-membering” is a way of reintegrating loved ones who have passed away or who they have lost touch with into their lives in a more productive way (3). Voght (3) shares in his article about the process of honoring those who come before and after us. This technique can give clients a different perspective for seeing their loved one’s legacy. Re-membering is different from the typical way grief is processed so that individuals can move forward. It could be helpful for those who would like to keep the memories of their loved ones close and easy to access (3). Relationships are the most important part of a human life so re-membering creates the opportunity to give appropriate recognition to how others have played valuable roles in our lives.
The next technique is allowing others outside of the therapeutic relationship to be involved in sharing the client’s rewritten stories (1). This process begins by sharing stories outside therapy sessions but shifts to an audience being invited into the therapy session to hear the story (1). The purpose of this technique is to reinforce the client’s story and not to dispute or discount it (1). This form of validation brings a sense of profound meaning not only to the client’s story, but also serves to strengthen the bond the client has with their significant relationships.
In summary, narrative therapy is a powerful way to externalize problems, deconstruct the whole story, reintegrate loved ones in a new way, and share your new story. One thing I love about narrative therapy as a whole is that it takes storytelling and uses it therapeutically. The book Transforming Fellowship by Chris Coursey has two chapters talking about the importance of telling stories. When Coursey asked God why telling stories was important, he found himself perceiving that God responded to him in the following way:
Stories paint pictures. Not only do My children internalize My gifts to them, but they also share My gifts when they tell their stories. My son used stories to share Kingdom truths and realities in ways people could understand and remember (4).
This is such a beautiful picture of why stories are important to share. Transforming Fellowship is a neurotheology book about nineteen relational brain skills that you can develop to build a more joyful community (4). It seems fitting that telling stories can be one of the ways to build joy. From my own experience, I have seen how, when people share stories of appreciation or return-to-joy stories, they are able to connect with others in a new way. In fact, I have watched individuals grow and experience greater depth in their relationships through the use of storytelling. Although the story telling techniques taught in Narrative Therapy are different from the techniques discussed in Transforming Fellowship, the fact remains that storytelling is a powerful tool in the healing process.
I believe the storytelling involved with narrative therapy gives a clear pathway for individuals to articulate their stories and share them with others. This is done in a way that brings deep healing from the past and offers much hope to move into the stories of the future. Narrative therapy is a powerful model for bringing last healing to the lives of many.
- Payne, M. (2006). Narrative Therapy an Introduction for Counsellors. Sage.
- Haugaard, C. (2016). Narrative therapy as an ethical practice. Journal of Systemic Therapies, 35(1), 1–19. https://doi.org/10.1521/jsyt.2016.35.1.1
- Voght, A. (2017). All my relations: Re-membering and Honouring Those Who Come Before and After Us. The International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, (3), 17-20. http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?qurl=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.proquest.com%2Fscholarly-journals%2Fall-my-relations-re-membering-honouring-those-who%2Fdocview%2F2100819948%2Fse-2%3Faccountid%3D12085
- Coursey, C. (2016). Transforming Fellowship. Coursey Creations, LLC.