Goal of narrative therapy

What Are The Benefits of Narrative Therapy? BrainsWay

Table of content:

  1. A Brief History of Narrative Therapy
  2. Narrative Therapy Goals
  3. The Importance of Language
  4. The Role of the Therapist in Narrative Therapy
  5. Narrative Therapy and Depression
  6. Criticism of Narrative Therapy
  7. Narrative Therapy Settings

Narrative therapy is a form of psychotherapy, or talk therapy, centered on the concept of a life story. As a theoretical model of therapy, it assumes that each individual understands the various aspects of their life—be it their own identity, the scenarios they go through, those around them, and the world at large—through the stories they tell themselves, which help them make sense of what would otherwise be a fragmented and greatly confusing series of experiences. Through narrative therapy, the patient—who is referred to by the non-pathological term “client”—is able to rewrite their own story in a way that encourages a greater sense of agency, while offering a more compassionate and beneficial perspective on their life.

A Brief History of Narrative Therapy

Narrative therapy was originally developed in the 1980s by Australian therapist Michael White and his colleague, New Zealand therapist David Epston. Influenced by French theorist Michel Faucault, White and Epston aimed to create a therapeutic, theoretical model that challenged the social constructs under which individuals live their lives. Thus, narrative therapy was born.

At its purest form, narrative therapy is a postmodern and constructivist approach: it emphasizes social justice, questioning the dominant narrative that may be counterproductive, and at times even destructive. Instead of accepting the demands of society and those of one’s own history, narrative therapy wishes to develop an awareness of the social, cultural and political constructs acting on each individual.

As part of narrative therapy’s emphasis on growth and health, patients are referred to as “clients,” and not “patients.” This helps solidify their ability to receive the mental health support that can help them gain a sense of agency, while refraining from illness-centered terminology.

Goals of Narrative Therapy

An initial goal of narrative therapy is to better understand how a key problem, viewed by the client within an existing life story, influences or impacts their life. To do so, the therapist begins by asking them a great deal of open-ended questions, leaving room for the client to choose how to tell their story. Narrative therapy looks to explore the client’s past, present and thoughts of the future, connecting between their history, goals, and how their actions and choices may have influenced the problem at hand.

As the client begins to recount their existing narrative, problem-saturated dominant stories tend to arise. These are unhealthy, negative, misunderstood, or misrepresented perspectives that can cause them emotional pain and interfere with their ability to facilitate change.

In addition to the dominant story, unique outcomes are also identified within the client’s narrative. These are exceptions, or moments of a more independent perspective, which help loosen their adherence to the more dominant story. Unique outcomes are also called “sparkling moments” in narrative therapy.

Identifying values and themes within the client’s life narrative is another important goal within narrative therapy. Values and themes that are either easily identified or are “absent but implicit” in the client’s story tend to run through their narrative, tying it together while adding tension to conflicting goals or demands.

Once a more comprehensive knowledge of the client’s existing perspective has been attained, a new, more beneficial narrative can be considered. Such a narrative allows the client to re-author formative relationships or experiences, aspects of their own identity or how they approach their goals, within a productive framework that is both cohesive and meaningful.

Yet another goal of narrative therapy is to externalize the problem identified by the client, by separating it from the client themselves: the therapist helps the client view themselves as dealing with a problem, such as depression, instead of identifying as being depressed. As a popular adage of narrative therapy states, “The person is not the problem. The problem is the problem.”

The Importance of Language

An essential aspect of the theory and practice of narrative therapy, the language a client relies on when constructing their life story can tell just as much about their perspective and how they identify as what they are describing.

Paying close attention to the language they have used a narrative therapist will typically ask their client why they chose a particular phrase or metaphor. Together, client and therapist will backtrack to a certain point in the story, and try to understand whether the language used in it authentically represents their stated goal, or if it suggests a competing narrative the client may be struggling to acknowledge? After reviewing these issues, a narrative therapist can then encourage the client to select words and a language that reflect the story they wish to tell, further promoting their agency.

The Role of the Therapist in Narrative Therapy

A narrative therapist’s central position is a combination of an investigative reporter and co-collaborator. Rather than positioning themselves as an all-knowing expert, narrative therapists utilize their curiosity about the client’s existing narrative and perspective. They are not looking to focus on etiology (the cause of the problem), but are curious about the nature of the problem, and how it presents itself. They want to hear the client’s perception of what brought about their problem, as they work together to reconstruct the client’s life story into a more beneficial one.

A Non-Pathological Approach

A narrative therapist does not aim to provide clients with a psychopathological diagnosis. Though their mental health symptoms are explored, a narrative therapist would not attempt to neatly fit them into a specific diagnosis. Instead, narrative therapy looks to empower and promote a sense of affirmation within the client, by helping them decide how to tell their own story in a way that benefits themselves.

Narrative Therapy Tools

To provide clients with the ability to reframe an existing perspective through an alternative life story, narrative therapists rely on their own curiosity, close listening skills and a great attention to detail. Together, these attributes help them encourage their client’s belief in their ability to enact change.

Letters, emails and other forms of written communication can also play an important part in narrative therapy. By putting pen to paper (or typing it out), the client can examine their thought and emotional patterns from a more collected standpoint, as they attempt to further flesh out an alternative narrative.

Narrative therapy seeks to construct (or rather, reconstruct) an alternative story with the client. It believes that positive stories lead to preferable outcomes, or unique outcomes. A narrative therapist would then try to see that this new narrative is able to facilitate the kind of change the client is looking for. As a result, narrative therapy aspires to instill a sense of hope in the client, which can help negate the hopelessness, negative self-image and lack of energy symptomatic of depression.

Narrative Therapy and Depression

A key way in which narrative therapy can help clients battling depression through the significance it places on the client’s own agency. With depression symptoms including a deep sense of hopelessness, a belief that things will not improve, and guilt over their situation, individuals contending with depression can end up immobilized under the weight of their own sadness.

By taking a look at what in their life may have led to their depression, or contributing to it at present, clients can understand their condition better, thus encouraging them to believe in their ability to facilitate the necessary changes in their life that could lead to some alleviation. And as they are doing this within a therapeutic setting, they may also feel less lonely—another debilitating symptom of depression.

The sense of structure gained through narrative therapy is another aspect that can greatly benefit those facing depression. Often described as an engulfing sensation, clients can feel as if they have been plunged into their depression, causing them to lose touch with their sense of security or stability. With narrative therapy, they are able to begin reconstructing their life story. Though they may continue to struggle making sense of what has happened to them, with the accompaniment of their therapist, they are given a source of guidance and stability that could eventually enable them to find such attributes within themselves.

Criticism of Narrative Therapy

Though certain studies have found some benefit to narrative therapy, in cases of depression, anxiety or post-trauma, a central criticism of narrative therapy is the lack of substantive, empirical evidence that supports it as a preferable form of therapy.

A suggested reasoning for this is that while empirical studies seek to arrive at an objective truth, narrative therapy views truth as subjective, in accordance with each client’s own point of view. Therefore, narrative therapists have proposed it should be studied qualitatively, relying on in-depth interviews with individual clients. Indeed, a qualitative approach works well with the comprehensive and immersive aspects of narrative therapy.

That said, the effectiveness of narrative therapy can nevertheless be gauged by scientific measures, examining whether a client’s goals have been reached or their symptoms reduced, thereby continuing to make the case for quantitative research on this form of psychotherapy.

Narrative Therapy Settings

Narrative therapy can be used to treat individuals, couples and families, helping reconnect and replace negative communication with a more positive dialogue.

Narrative therapy could also be incorporated into other forms of psychotherapy, such as psychodynamics or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). It could also be added to a comprehensive mental health care regimen that includes other types of treatment, such as psychopharmacology or transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).

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What Is Narrative Therapy? | Psych Central

The stories you believe about yourself can shape your worldview. Narrative therapy can empower you to “re-author” your own narrative.

Most everyone has stories that they tell about themselves, either consciously or unconsciously. Life experiences don’t often happen in a vacuum — human beings tend to process these events and give them meaning through the lens of what they already believe.

Narrative therapy seeks to help you become aware of the stories you carry with you through life and how these stories can influence the way you view yourself. It can empower you to take back your narrative and see any problems as distinct from you.

This process is sometimes known as re-authoring.

Narrative therapy aims to harness a person’s natural storytelling tendencies to improve their psychological well-being. There are various approaches in narrative therapy, which are:

  • specific to the individual’s needs
  • respectful
  • non-blaming
  • non-pathologizing

First developed in the 1980s, narrative therapy is a form of psychotherapy based on the idea that a person’s identity and self-perception are made up of a huge number of connected narratives. Some of these stories may be helpful and others unhelpful — but they can all have a profound impact on your mental health and relationships.

Narrative therapy focuses on giving people the tools to re-author their narrative in a more balanced and compassionate way.

This usually starts with becoming aware of the stories you’ve absorbed and developed from:

  • personal experiences
  • social and political pressures
  • cultural or religious beliefs
  • pop culture
  • media, books, and advertising

Once you can understand and express these stories, you can start to reframe, question, and even change them.

Narrative therapy can be used in several different situations. It may benefit:

  • individuals
  • couples
  • families

Possible situations

Let’s say a person comes to therapy because they’re experiencing anxiety about their performance at work. A mental health professional can use narrative therapy to help that person identify the stories they’ve internalized about their:

  • abilities
  • prospects
  • beliefs on what success should look like

These stories could be rooted in:

  • their upbringing
  • their experiences at school
  • their cultural or religious beliefs
  • many other external factors

Or a couple may seek therapy because they can’t stop arguing. In this instance, narrative therapy could help each person to externalize the problems in the relationship and see them as distinct from their partner.

Narrative therapy can create space for more helpful communication by encouraging partners or family members to reframe a fight as an “us vs. the problem,” rather than a “me vs. you” narrative.


Depression is one example of a condition that may respond well to narrative therapy. Symptoms of depression that can sometimes be rooted in unhelpful stories include:

  • feelings of worthlessness
  • negative self-talk
  • excessive guilt

Research from 2015 indicates that narrative therapy can help people with depression emphasize positive experiences and develop kinder, more affirming stories about themselves.

There are many techniques that can be used within narrative therapy. Here are just a few of the most common.


Storytelling is a fundamental technique in narrative therapy. A therapist can help you put together your personal narrative in your own words by asking questions that encourage reflection and sharing. During this process, they can also help you reframe and explore alternative interpretations of your experiences.


Another key technique is externalization, or speaking about a story or problem as distinct from the individual. This technique allows you to observe yourself in a more objective way, which can help you see that you are capable of change.

Externalization has also been shown to be useful in family therapy, when parents are encouraged to identify specific concerns within a child’s behavior, rather than viewing the child as the problem.

Identifying alternatives

This technique involves working with a therapist to pinpoint times when a story wasn’t completely accurate or when there were exceptions to a problem.

For example, if a person has the belief that they don’t fit in or are bad at making friends, narrative therapy could encourage them to identify times when the opposite was true.

Relative influence questioning

With relative influence questioning, your therapist helps you in mapping out your relationship with a given problem.

This is usually done using two sets of questions: the first set addresses how much influence the problem has on the person, while the second set addresses how much influence the person can have on the problem.

The goal of relative influence questioning is to empower you to exert agency in your life.

Forming a collaborative relationship with your therapist and creating a safe space so you can explore your stories is one of the main goals of narrative therapy.

With narrative therapy, it’s important that your therapist encourages you to find your voice and tell your story in your own words, rather than speaking for you.

Seeing yourself as distinct from the challenges you are facing is another key factor.

Social worker Michael White and anthropologist David Epson, who pioneered narrative therapy, suggest that this internal shift is what creates the opportunity for change, according to a research review from 2000.

Narrative therapy also aims to help you question assumptions you may have about your life and instead consider alternatives you may have overlooked. These alternative storylines and interpretations are often more helpful and nonjudgmental, and they allow room for a more balanced vision of the future.

Since narrative therapy is a relatively new form of therapy — only around 40 years old — research on its usefulness is currently limited.

The research that does exist indicates that narrative therapy can be effective for many conditions and situations, including:

  • depression
  • chronic pain
  • grief
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • eating disorders
  • conduct disorders
  • parent-child conflict

However, the limits of this research make it hard to draw broad conclusions about how effective narrative therapy really is.

Another criticism of narrative therapy is that it involves complex terms and concepts, many of which are unique to this model. This could create a barrier to entry for some people, who may find it overwhelming or intimidating.

Narrative therapy is a non-pathologizing, person-first therapeutic approach that focuses on the stories people often develop and carry throughout life. This form of therapy also helps people view themselves as separate from their concerns.

In narrative therapy, a person is encouraged to become aware of the stories they’ve absorbed about their own life and externalize those narratives alongside any problems they’re experiencing.

The goal is to reframe and question assumptions about yourself and in some cases, replace existing stories with more helpful alternatives.

Narrative therapy can be useful for individuals, couples, and families. While the scope of research into its impact is limited, existing studies suggest that it is helpful for certain situations and conditions.

If you think narrative therapy may be a good fit for you, check out Psych Central’s guide to finding a therapist.

Many therapists practice narrative therapy along with other models, so you can work with your therapist to find the best approach for your individual needs.

Narrative Approaches in Psychology and Counselling, Research Methods

“A 25-year-old girl came in with high anxiety, fear of death, agoraphobia and self-doubt. At the first meeting, the client said that at the age of 17 she lost her grandfather, and some time after that she developed fears. Now she lives with her parents, graduated from the university and works in her specialty. She likes her work, but she gets very tired. By the age of 25, she has not had a long-term relationship, because of this she feels insecure. She asks herself questions: “what is wrong with me?”, “Am I capable of a serious relationship?”. She worries about the lives of her loved ones (especially when someone does not answer the phone for a long time, drives for a long time), she is afraid to use public transport and large crowds of people (discomfort, heart palpitations, thoughts that a terrorist attack might happen).

At the first meeting, the client formulated her requests: to get rid of high anxiety, fear of death, to become more self-confident and ready for relationships.

At the second meeting there was a conversation about the fear of death and the loss of a grandfather. Thanks to the re-membering technique, it became clear that the grandfather occupied a significant place in the client's life, gave her a lot of love, praised and complimented her. Next to him she felt confident, and his support helped her a lot. She gave him a lot of joy and respect. These relationships helped her become who she is, choose a specialty, understand the value of family and trust in relationships, and learn how to cope with difficulties.

After talking about her grandfather, the client reconnected with this relationship experience and felt better during the week. Anxiety has lessened a bit. In the next few meetings, we explored the impact of anxiety on the client's life and how she confronts it (externalization). It turns out that anxiety comes when the client feels happy and enjoys life. Anxiety, as it were, warns: “everything is not forever, be careful!”. In response, the client can tell her: “Yes, you are right, this is not forever, but if I do not enjoy life, then I will not be able to feel it in its entirety. The fact that you come says that my life and my loved ones are important to me, but there are too many of you. She can invite to this conversation that childish part of herself that felt good and safe, that could be in the moment. Approaching this part, the client becomes calmer.

After working through the relationship with anxiety, the client's condition improved significantly. In those moments when anxiety did come, she was able to quickly get rid of it. However, another part of the query, the relationship, remained unresolved.

It turned out that the client is influenced by many different ideas about relationships. “By 25 you should already have the experience of a long-term relationship”, “after 30 you will no longer be interesting to anyone, men like young people”, “a woman without a man is considered inferior. ” After analyzing how these ideas affect the client's life (deconstruction) and whether this influence suits her, she found that she did not share these beliefs. She doesn't like the fact that they make her feel insecure. According to her, these ideas were beneficial to the patriarchal society, they helped him maintain the way of life that had prevailed for hundreds of years. Now they are receding into the background. The client decided that now she would give her time and energy to the profession and career growth, since it is important for her to stand on her own two feet, realize herself and start a family, being a mature and independent person. Her grandfather would definitely support her in this. He always reinforced her self-confidence and the correctness of her life choices.

In 12 meetings, we managed to reduce the influence of anxiety on the client's life, she learned to enter into a dialogue with her, to use mental and behavioral techniques to work with her. The client is happier. She managed to feel more confident in the field of relationships, create an account on Tinder, start dating. She found support in a friend who was also without a partner. Together, the girls began to get out into people more, to lead an active social life. She often remembers her grandfather, imagines what he would say to her in this or that situation. At the same time, she is filled with warm feelings with a note of sadness. Sometimes she gets worried when dad doesn’t pick up the phone for a long time, but quickly understands that there are different situations, and he might just be busy.”

Ekaterina Osina, clinical psychologist, specialist in narrative therapy

What are narrative practices, or how to rewrite your story?

What are narrative practices, or how to rewrite your history?


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Stories are an important part of human life. We tell stories to make others laugh, to make them mourn with us, to convince them to give us the job, or to comfort a person.

The stories we tell can say a lot about ourselves and our attitude towards life, but they can also help us become better people. How? Narrative practices will help with this. We tell you what it is and how to rewrite yourself anew.

What are narrative practices and how did they come about?

Narrative psychology and narrative practices is a relatively new branch of psychology that has grown out of classical psychology, sociology and ethnography. Narrative psychology is based on the idea that through storytelling a person organizes his life experience, fills his decisions and actions with meaning. This direction studies how people build narratives in their lives in order to gain experience and work with it.

This direction originates in the 70s, when psychologists became seriously interested in how patients describe events in their lives. One of the first narrative approaches was described by Theodore Sarbin in his book Narrative Psychology: The Legendary Nature of Human Behavior. In it, he wrote that the narrative created by the patient is saturated with metaphors, the decoding of which can lead to a deeper understanding of the problem.

The idea of ​​a narrative approach was supported and improved by psychologists Jerome Bruner, who studied narrative knowledge and narrative metaphor, and Daniel McAdams, who believed that the analysis of the patient's narrative allows a deeper study of personality transformation.

The founders of the direction in its modern and known form are the Australian psychologist Michael White and the New Zealand psychologist David Epston, who developed the idea that the patient and his problem are not a single being. They were among the first to introduce the use of metaphorical maps, which made it possible to separate the story from the person and allowed the patient to look at his narrative from the side.

The goal of narrative therapy is to create a comfortable environment around the patient in which, by telling stories, he will feel the opportunity and ability to influence his life and his story.

“Concentration on a person's story about himself is a simplified understanding of the narrative approach. It is also important to note that we often call those with whom we cooperate not “patient/client”, but “interlocutor/ca”.
We have the term “double listening”, when in a person’s story we hear both the voice of a “problem story” (“I’m bad, I’m insecure”), we hear the voice of a preferred story (hopes, values, principles, special moments that do not fit into the problematic description of themselves and their lives). We help a person to make different alternative histories of himself more clear, richly described, thereby reducing what habitually different cultural and social things made him think about himself, life, the world.

Also in the narrative approach there is a focus on helping the person tell the story of themselves - this is not the same as active listening. In the course of the story, the therapist asks questions, shows curiosity and respect for differences. We bring to light social ideas that put pressure on and seem authoritative, we help to formulate what is important to a person, with which there is disagreement, and to notice our own answers to difficult challenges, we help restore participation and connection with what is dear, with that way of living and be that suits the person. We also help to reinforce the person's authorship, his or her agency: a sense of impact on life, a clear sense of self" , - comments psychologist, narrative practitioner Victoria Parkhaeva.

What do you need to know in order to practice the narrative method?

For a person who wants to look at his life through the prism of stories, it is important to understand that his life is polyhistorical.

“Poly” means that a person is not one story, different stories and descriptions of oneself can coexist at the same time. Without the idea of ​​a center of personality. And with the idea that the person himself is different stories, the person is both the narrator of himself and himself / a story that can be rewritten and revised, helping to live in a preferred way ", - comments Victoria Parkhaeva.

That is, there is no single coherent narrative, but there are many storylines that create an arc of the patient as a hero. And these storylines are not interrupted in the context of trauma or, for example, loss. As the storyteller's life continues, so does the story.

Is it possible to rewrite oneself anew?

Narrative practices are actively used not only during sessions with therapists, but also in social work, in adaptation projects (for example, children after moving or transferring to another school) or rehabilitation (after trauma).

There are two big ways to work with your stories that are available to everyone.

Journaling or note-taking

This method has a bit of a teen romantic comedy feel to it, but journaling can be thoughtful and conscious, rather than writing dirt on yourself. You can dedicate notes to your own emotions that you experienced during the day, pay attention to trigger events and, for example, prescribe alternative ways to resolve a conflict or difficult situation that has occurred. It is not necessary to focus on the events that made you feel hard or anxious: on the contrary, you can pay attention to more positive emotions and situations. For example, you can write down three things that bring you joy every day.

Writing fictional stories

They may not even be about you, but, for example, about fairy-tale or fantasy characters. But these stories should not be written for the table or for literary competitions, you then need to find the strength in yourself to carefully re-read your works, find the topics that bother you, and think about whether you can deal with them in the same way as your heroes.

If you are not yet sure where you want to start with narrative practices or which ones are best for you, use the guide by Daria Kutuzova.

Gradually, through analysis, narrative practices give a person the opportunity to change his view of the events in his life and, to some extent, rewrite himself anew.

“I would first ask: what does it mean for a person to “rewrite himself again”? How does it appear and why is it important?

It’s as if I hear in “rewriting ourselves again” the idea that something is wrong with us and we need to remake ourselves.

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