Narrative Therapy

Narrative therapy is premised on the idea that a person's life and relationships are shaped by:

  • the knowledges and stories that communities of persons negotiate and engage in to give meaning to their experiences; and
  • certain practices of self and of relationship that make up ways of life associated with these knowledges and stories.

A narrative therapy assists persons to resolve problems by:

  • enabling them to separate their lives and relationships from those knowledges and stories that they judge to be impoverishing;
  • assisting them to challenge the ways of life that they find subjugating; and
  • encouraging persons to re-author their own lives according to alternative and preferred stories of identity, and according to preferred ways of life.

Narrative therapy has particular links with Family Therapy and those therapies which have a common ethos of respect for the client, and an acknowledgement of the importance of context, interaction, and the social construction of meaning.

This view of Michael White's, who is one of the founders of this therapeutic approach, draws on a range of theoretical views as to the nature of language, conversation, and the way people come to make sense of their 'being-in-the-world.' Narrative Therapy is built on the notion that people are not the problem, but that the relation a person has to a set of resources for making sense of their situation can position people 'in' problems. But further, many of the ways that have previously been elaborated to 'help' people come to successful terms with these problems actually conspire to perpetuate those problems, and re-in-force the strength of the problem over the person. This happens because the language we have inherited in our (particularly Western) cultures provides resources for making ourselves and our relation to our world 'mean' who we are in certain ways. At this point in time they tend to provide us with the meanings that interpret our problems as there 'being something wrong with ourselves.'

Many therapeutic practices, and western medical ones that 'medicalise' certain of our relations with our problems as being a state of our selves, base themselves in this unarticulated presupposition that the self or individual are the sites to which problems should be attributed. And so they help to position people as 'having something wrong with them'.

Narrative therapy is about:

Options for the telling and re-telling of, for the performance and re-performance of, the preferred stories of people's lives.

Rendering the unique, the contradictory, the contingent, and, at times, the aberrant events of people's lives significant as alternative presents.

A re-engagement and a reproduction of history through the alternative presents of people's lives, a re-engagement and reproduction that brings these alternative presents together with past relevant experiences that are linked by common themes, a re-engagement and re-production that invokes the 'wisdom of hindsight'. 

An exploration of the alternative knowledges and skills that inform these expressions, and the identification of the cultural history and location of these skills and knowledges - these are often the subordinate knowledges and skills of culture.

An exploration of the proposals for living that are associated with the particularities of action that are informed by these alternative knowledges and skills of life.

Thick description in that it evokes people's consciousness in explanations of why they do what they do - about the invocation of notions of desire, whim, mood, goal, hope, intention, purpose, motive, aspiration, passion, concern, value, belief, fantasy, commitment, and disposition.

Rich description in that alternative stories of people's presents are linked with the alternative stories of people's pasts, a linking of stories across time through lives.

Rich description in that it provides for the linking of the alternative stories of people's pasts and presents with the stories of the lives of others - a linking of stories between lives according to shared themes that speak to purposes, values, and commitments in common.

Rich description in that it structures contexts for telling and retellings, and for the retelling of retellings - activities in the production of meta-texts, and texts that are meta to meta-texts. Processes that establish these thick or rich descriptions as the foundations for the expressions, for the performances, for the tellings that follow.

Source: Michael White Dulwich Centre South Australia