‘We tell ourselves stories in order in live.’ The writer Joan Didion summed up the crucial importance of stories to enable us to make sense of our lives and to shape our futures. Stories also enable us to join with others to form couples, families, communities and social groups and movements.
When our experience becomes problematic, the story of that problem can often become so compelling that it begins to overshadow other, more hopeful stories of ourselves or the groups in which we find ourselves. It becomes much harder to separate the story of the person from the story of the problem.
This dilemma became one of the starting points of Narrative Therapy. In the 1980’s, two family therapists, Michael White in Australia and David Epston in New Zealand concluded that theperson is not the problem, but the problem is the problem. They appreciated that life is multi-storied; that is, that many stories can be told of any person’s life, though at times some stories can dominate or oppress while others are obscured from view. They began to create ‘re-authoring’ practices to open space between ourselves and problems and to uncover neglected stories and skills within ourselves and our communities. Over the last 40 years, Narrative Therapy has inspired a growing number of practitioners worldwide and also a developing literature which provides the evidence base for the approach.#
Narrative Therapy opens up conversations within the therapy room and outside it which help us to move away from the dominance of problem stories. Such conversations are collaborative and respectful. We can discover or recover the values and commitments which give us a different sense of ourselves and our relationships. While the narrative therapist has expertise in enabling conversations, we are the experts on our own lives and choose our own way forward.
‘In the face of serious and sometimes potentially deadly problems, the idea of hearing or telling stories may seem like a trivial pursuit. It is hard to believe that conversations can shape new realities and meanings of our lives.
But they do.
The bridges of plot and meaning we build with others help healing developments flourish..and..shape narratives of hope, change and restoration..’
I highly recommend this clear and popular book to anyone wanting to get an idea of what Narrative therapy is like in practice or interested in applying narrative ideas to their lives or work contexts. I want to thank Alice Morgan and her publishers, Dulwich Centre Publications for kindly giving permission to include the introduction and first 2 chapters below: