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  • Writer's pictureBryan Owens

What is Narrative Therapy?

Two prominent Marriage & Family therapists, Michael White and David Epston, saw potential in the narrative metaphor in that a story is a map that extends through time.

They viewed limitations in traditional therapy approaches developed by dominant cultural attitudes and biases, and they experienced the narrative approach to push them to think more of stories, culture, society, and social justice in their clinical work (paraphrased, Freedman & Combs, 1996, p. 15-18).

Philosophically, White and Epston were compelled by social constructionism. In this way of thinking, “there is a shift from focusing on how an individual person constructs a model of reality from his or her individual experience to focusing on how people interact with one another to construct, modify, and maintain what their society holds to be true, real, and meaningful” (Freedman & Combs, 1996, p. 27).

Narrative therapists assume a position of ‘Not-Knowing’ when in the therapeutic space with the patient. Our knowledge is of the process of therapy and the many-layered dimensions to human development, behavior, and change, but we eschew the belief that we can know more about a person’s lived experience than the person does (Freedman & Combs, 1996, p. 44-5).

A good Narrative therapist is skilled in the kind of listening required for accepting and understanding people’s stories without reifying or intensifying the powerless, painful, and pathological aspects of those stories.

This creates space to invite the patient to explore aspects of their experience that have not yet been storied and to access the healing potential within the self. The Narrative process promotes a sense of agency as a guiding principle as the patient must participate in the social construction of meaning-making and envisioning preferred realities of what it may look like to live into one’s highest potential.

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