Narrative therapy: the form of psychotherapy based on stories about the patient’s life

You’ve probably noticed that depending on how a story is told to us, we somehow value the characters involved and judge the nature of the problem posed in those stories differently.

Fiction works like Rant: The Life of a Murderer or the movie Memento they explore the possibilities by which the narrative form can affect the content of what is told, The way to portray the moral background of the characters or even the kind of antagonisms that exist in these stories.

However, it is easy to explain some facts in various ways when the author can withhold information about key moments from us. But what happens when the narrator is us? Are we able to generate and at the same time experience the different ways in which we can relate our lives?

There is a type of psychotherapy that not only answers this last question in the affirmative, but also transfers this potential to the heart of its therapeutic proposal. is called Narrative therapy.

What is narrative therapy?

Narrative therapy is a type of therapy in which it is assumed that the client (generally referred to as a “co-author” or “co-author”), and not the therapist, is the expert in their life story..

It is also known to be a form of therapy in which the use of letters, invitations and written personal stories is offered, both in the life of the client and in things that refer during therapy. , no longer as a means of providing information to the therapist, but as part of handling customer issues.

Michael White and David Epston, the pioneers of this psychotherapy class

This form of therapy was originally developed by therapists Michael white I David epston, Who have made their proposals known internationally through the publication of the book Narrative Means to Therapeutic Ends, although this is not his first work on the subject. together, lay the theoretical foundation that other people would continue to develop decades later.

Today, there are several proposals for approaching therapy that may fall within the limits of narrative therapy. However, if we want to understand what narrative therapy is, we can hardly do so from a description of its techniques. It is also necessary to speak of the vision of the world from which it starts, of its philosophical bases.

Narrative therapy as the fruit of postmodernity

the postmodern philosophy it crystallized into different ways of thinking, many of which influence the way people in Western countries think about reality today. All these styles of thought inherited from postmodernity have in common, on the one hand, the presumption that there is different ways of explaining the same thing, and on the other hand, the of the lack of a single valid explanation. It is assumed that our bodies are not made to perceive and internalize reality as it occurs in nature, and that in order to interact with the environment, we have to build up stories about how the world works.

This is what thinker Alfred Korzybsky called the relationship between the map and the territory. It is impossible for any of us to imagine planet Earth in detail, and that is why we must relate to this terrain by creating mental abstractions that can be assumed by our mind: maps. Of course, there are many possible maps that can represent the same area, and while using them can be convenient, that does not mean that we know the territory itself.

Narrative therapy starts from these philosophical assumptions and places the client or the co-author of the therapies at the center of the subject of the sessions. It is not a subject that is limited to providing information to the therapist to generate a diagnosis and a treatment program, but both work to weave a useful and adaptive way of presenting the client’s life story.

Understanding narrative therapy

Human beings, as story-creating agents, we live life through various stories that contradict each other at many points of friction. At one time may be more important 1:00 am, and in other respects may be predominantly others.

The important thing is that, in the philosophical context of narrative therapy, there is no narrative that has the power to completely suppress others, although there are some stories that we pay more attention to than there are. ‘others in certain contexts and under certain conditions. that’s why we can always generate alternative stories to tell, both to others and to ourselves, what is happening to us.

From what has been said above, narrative therapy offers a therapeutic approach in which the client’s experiences are questioned and reformulated through the narration of events, So that they are posed in such a way that the problem does not continue to define the person and limit their ways of perceiving reality.

This type of therapy does not seek a way to access “reality” (something inaccessible if we assume the postulates of postmodernity), but the possibility of opening the story in which the person tells his experiments by generating alternate stories in which the problem does not “soak” everything. If there is an issue that disrupts the way the client lives their life, narrative therapy is suggested create the possibility that the dominant narrative in which the current conception of the problem is installed loses its prominence in favor of other alternative narratives.

Outsourcing the problem

Narrative therapy promotes ways of relating the problem as if it were something that, in and of itself, does not define the identity of the person. This is done so that the problem does not become the “filter” through which all of these things that we perceive pass (which would only fuel the discomfort and perpetuate it over time). This way, by externalizing the problem, it is introduced into the narrative of the person’s life as if it were one more element, somewhat separate from the person himself.

This goal can be achieved through the use of an outsourcing language. By linguistically separating the problem from the person’s conception of himself, the latter has the power to express stories in which the experience of the problem is experienced differently.

Narrative thinking

Stories are the placement of a series of events told in a time frame so that they make sense and take us from the introduction of a story to its resolution.

Each story has elements that define it as such: a specific place, a period in which the events take place, actors, an issue, goals and actions that move the story forward. According to some psychologists like Jerome Bruner, storytelling is one of the most present forms of discourse in our approach to reality.

Narrative therapy arose, among other things, from the distinction between logical-scientific thought and narrative thought. While the former serves to bring truth to things from a series of arguments, narrative thinking brings realism to events, placing them in a time frame and creating a story with them. In other words, while logical-scientific thought studies the abstract laws of the functioning of the environment, the narratives deal with the peculiarities of concrete experience, shifting points of view, and the submission of facts to space and to a time.

Narrative therapy is attributed to narrative thinking so that the therapist and the client can face related experiences and negotiate with each other the development of these specific stories. and plausible.

The role of the therapist in narrative therapy

The client is the ultimate expert in their experiences, and this importance is reflected in the approach used during narrative therapy. It is understood that alone the person participating in the consultation can implement an alternative narrative to the one you are already living, because it is the one who has direct access to your experiences and more.

The therapist who implements narrative therapy, for his part, it is guided by two main precepts:

1. Stay in a state of curiosity.

2. Ask questions whose answer is not really known.

Thus, the role of the co-author is to generate the story of his life, while the therapist acts as a facilitator by asking the right questions and raising certain issues. In this way, the problem dissolves into an alternate narrative.

Other guidelines followed by therapists working in narrative therapy are:

  • Facilitate the establishment of a therapeutic relationship in which his own point of view is not imposed on the client.

  • Actively work to recognize the narrative style that the client unrolls his story.

  • Make sure your contributions are designed to be collected and reformulated by the client, Not to be accepted without more by this one.

  • Accept customer complaints about sessions and don’t take it as a sign of ignorance or misunderstanding.

  • Recognize these alternative narratives in which the problem is losing weight.

Customer non-blame

In narrative therapy the possibility of recounting an experience in different ways is assumed (Necessarily generating multiple experiences where previously only one seemed to exist), giving the client the maximum power to generate his narrative about what is happening to him and not blaming him for the difficulties that arise.

From this approach closed or exclusive narratives about what is happening are rejected and the need to create stories open to change is emphasized., Flexibility that will allow the person to make changes, to give importance to certain facts and to delete others. It is understood that where there is a sense of guilt arising from therapy, there is a perception of not knowing how to adapt to a narrative thread that is given from the outside, which means that the client does not. was not involved in their generation.

to summarize

In short, narrative therapy is a framework of relationships between therapist and client (co-author) in which the second he has the power to generate alternative accounts of what is happening to him, so as not to be limited by his perception of the problems. The theory related to this therapeutic approach is prolific in methods and strategies to facilitate the emergence of these alternative narratives, and of course their explanation far exceeds the claims made in this article.

I invite you, if you find this topic interesting, to do some research on your own and start, for example, by reading some of the works which appear in the bibliography section.

Bibliographical references:

  • Bruner, L. (1987). Life as a story. Social research, 54 (1), pages 11-32.
  • White and Epston (1993). Narrative means for therapeutic purposes. Barcelona: Paidós.
  • White, M. (2002). The narrative approach to the experience of therapists. Barcelona: Gedisa.

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