What is Narrative Therapy? Overview, Facts, and Fictions

by Taylor Bennett | Aug 1, 2017 | Counseling, Counseling News | 1 Comment


We all have a story. Our experiences and our sufferings, our views and our roles—one in the same and drastically different. We all experience joy and sadness. We suffer from losing loved ones and our way in life. We have our beliefs and take our opinionated stances. We make up the teachers, the doctors, the mothers, the brothers, the leaders, the artists, the good and the evil of the world. And we’re intrigued by this. We’re intrigued by our neighbor’s and our teacher’s and our butcher’s stories. We’re intrigued by Harry Potter’s, Cinderella’s, and Huckleberry Finn’s stories. Most importantly, we’re intrigued by the narratives our own lives take on and may one day become.

This love that we have for stories and story-telling is exactly why narrative therapy may be so effective. We’re taught at a young age how to use stories to express our feelings, to entertain, and to share experiences. We use them to gather our thoughts, to find purpose, and to understand our very selves. Narrative therapists capitalize on this great understanding of and knack for story-telling that we have, in order to help us confront a given problem and come out with a stronger sense of self.

Narrative Therapy Techniques

The purpose of narrative therapy is to separate an individual from the problems he or she may be facing, which encourages and allows the individual to externalize their issues instead of keeping them inside. It was developed in order to distance one from their problematic or destructive self. The following are commonly used narrative therapy techniques:

Talking about one’s story: The client’s primary job in narrative therapy is to simply tell his or her story. This will allow the client to begin healing and discover meaning in the problem at hand.

Externalization: This is when the therapist leads the client to view their problems and/or behaviors as external factors and away from attaching it exclusively to him or herself. The general idea is that it’s you can more easily change a behavior that you enact or engage in rather than changing a specific trait that makes you, you.

Deconstruction: The narrative therapist works to break down the client’s problems so he or she can more easily understand and confront them. This practice avoids overgeneralization, as it can lead to unresolved conflict. It also helps the individual view the problem as solvable, instead of impossible or too confusing.

Unique outcomes: This involves changing the client’s storyline. The basis of narrative therapy is for the client to construct a storyline based on their experiences and feelings. However, this storyline can be changed or swapped out for another one—the unique outcomes technique helps the client to change their perspective and consider a more positive take. This doesn’t lead the client to avoid the problem, but instead allows him or her to simply reimagine it.

Existentialism: Existentialists believe that there is no intrinsic meaning in the world; instead, they believe they can create their own meaning and become enlightened by the idea and process. Narrative therapy pushes individuals to consider these beliefs and to make their own meaning and purpose rather than rely on some preconceived notion that is supposed to be their life. This also further supports the clients in changing their storylines.