What is Narrative Therapy?

We make meaning of our lives through stories.

This idea provides the foundation for Narrative Therapy. We string together the events of our lives and give them meaning to help us understand ourselves and the world around us.

Our lives are multi-storied.

The moments we choose to string together matter. Meaning making does not happen in isolation. We live out stories and make meaning as we interact with each other. The people we are in relation to influence which stories we choose to tell.

The stories we tell are shaped by culture.

Society will offer us ready made stories that promote themes about who we should be and what we are suppose to do. These stories, that are carried to us in all areas of our life, become taken for granted as "reality". They influence and limit the stories we have available to tell about ourselves and the world we live in. Narratives promoting these themes can be found everywhere from the stories our families tell, our national politics, facebook posts, websites, movies, novels, TV shows, and fairy tales. Through our exposure to these narratives we are provided standards by which to measure ourselves and others.

People come to therapy when stories don't feel right.

When we are living stories that don't quite fit it opens up space for Problems or Issues to take up residence in our lives. A poor fitting story can be the product of trying to measure up to some cultural standard or it could be a story that limits a person's possibilities. When Problems or Issues take over they often take liberties in promoting unhelpful themes and attempt to rob us of authorship of our stories.

The work often starts with mapping Problem stories.

Getting to know Problems helps us understand what a person is caring about, what they value. Poor fitting stories usually have something to do with a person's values being in conflict with a person's behavior or their other values. In these conversations we piece together the moments of a person's life that Problems have conscripted to give power to the unhelpful themes they are trying to promote.

In Narrative conversations we tell and retell stories.

Each time we tell a story, it is an opportunity to examine the themes and a person's history with these themes. We thoroughly explore the effects they have on a persons ways of living. We think about the way ready made cultural stories are influencing our understanding of our experiences and how we string them together. Most importantly, we evaluate what is and isn't working for us.

Each time we tell a story, we are looking for hints that may lead us to moments that show us alternative story lines that already exist in people's lives. Giving voice to these forgotten or overshadowed stories can lead to empowering, satisfying, and hopeful themes that are more in line with a person's values and the way they want to live.

Over the course of many conversations we collect mountains of stories. Together we'll forge many trails on our mountains making new connections and meaning.

Our hope is to bring to light people's knowledge, skills, and abilities of living.

As we trek the mountain we will examine moments up close and from a distance. We will use the "Mountain View" to discover new perspective and string together different moments that support a person's preferred future. We will map out the journey to the life a person wants to be living.

The ideas presented here are the foundation of what we would call the "Narrative Worldview". The use of the narrative metaphor as a therapeutic framework started with Michael White in Adelaide, Australia in the 80s and 90s. Since then ideas about Narrative Worldview and how it can be used to open up possibilities for people facing problems have been expanded by practitioners all over the world. If you are interested in learning more about Narrative ideas check out our Narrative Reading list.