Stories matter to us: telling stories about ourselves, our relationships and our hopes for the future shapes our sense of who we are. Such stories are intimately informed by the stories told to us within our families and schools, wider social groups and cultures.
The stories we tell ourselves and others help us to make sense of our experience. When that experience is problematic, the story of the problem can become so compelling that it can overshadow other stories of ourselves. Our language reflects this: for example, when we talk about ‘being depressed’ it can be as if this account of ourselves comes to define who we are. If our experience attracts medical, psychiatric or psychological diagnosis, then those diagnoses too tend to be self-defining. It becomes 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 the person 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 burden 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, skills and resources within ourselves and our communities to address the problems and predicaments that we face . 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, both within the therapy room and outside it, which enable us to move away from problem stories and discover alternative, preferred stories of self, relationship and future possibilities. Such conversations are characteristically collaborative and respectful. While the narrative therapist has expertise in enabling conversations, it is we who are the experts on our own lives and who choose the commitments which guide our steps.
‘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..’
What is Narrative Therapy?
by Alice Morgan
We 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. We want to thank Alice Morgan and her publishers, Dulwich Centre Publications for kindly giving us permission to include the introduction and first 2 chapters below:
You can purchase the book here – please scroll down the page to find the book