Narrative Therapy

Narrative Therapy

Michael White (1948-2008) and David Epston (1944-) are the originators of what they came to call “Narrative Therapy and Community Work”.

As humans we are story-makers. We use stories all the time to make sense of our world. Narrative Therapy is interested in the way these stories, and the conclusions we draw from them, either open up or close down opportunities for us to be the way we want to be in the world. A story is a series of events that unfold over time, according to a theme. If the theme of a story is resourcefulness and overcoming difficulties in creative ways, then the story supports and encourages further resourcefulness. If a story has become “problem saturated” it will likely be offering a limiting conclusion about our identity. For example, events over many years may be strung together to conclude, “I am useless”. A person is likely to seek therapy when narratives with problematic conclusions have become dominant in their lives. Their lives have become captured by stories that have life-limiting conclusions.

If there are narratives with life-limiting conclusions in your life, are you happy with them? If you are seeking therapy it is likely to be because you are uncomfortable with the influence of such stories in your life. The story’s conclusions about what kind of a person you are no longer sit comfortably with you…. You have a sense that things could be different – that there is more to you than the “thin” conclusions of this story.

How Narrative Therapy helps

Narrative Therapy helps find events in the past and present that do not agree with the theme of the familiar, dominant story. This involves slowly uncovering instances of “unique outcomes”, where things turned out differently. These can often be linked together into a counter-plot, which suggests a different conclusion about the person you are. The aim of Narrative Therapy is to find expression for a person’s preferred identity. This preferred identity leads to different life choices in the present and the future.

Narrative Therapy is concerned with listening for non-dominant stories, both in our personal lives and in our wider culture. As such it takes a stand with oppressed, marginalised and disenfranchised identities. It is interested in making visible the mechanisms of power. Since power can be used unfairly even in therapy, Narrative Therapy takes the view that a therapist should be transparent about the choices they are making. So a narrative therapist will consult the client about their preferred direction in therapy, for example by asking, “How is this conversation going for you? Are we talking about the things we should be talking about?”

My training in Narrative Therapy

I attended workshops by Michael White in London when he made trips over from Australia.
I studied Narrative Therapy at Bristol University and was awarded an MSc in 2010.
I had a period of supervision with Hugh Fox of the Institute of Narrative Therapy.

Recommended reading

Introducing Narrative Therapy. Cheryl White and David Denborough (eds) 1998.
What is Narrative Therapy. An easy to read introduction. Alice Morgan 2000.
Maps of Narrative Practice. Michael White 2007.
Narrative Enquiry and Psychotherapy. Jane Speedy 2008.