image002Narrative Therapy is a “brand” of psychological counseling developed in the last decade.  There are descriptive metaphors for therapies that give a visual shortcut of the main characteristics; CBT (Cognitive-Behavior Therapy) is likened to “fixing the broken machine,” and psychodynamic therapy is like “peeling the onion.” Narrative Therapy’s metaphor is “Telling Your Story.”

So what is therapeutic about telling your story? Don’t you already know what has happened to you? Of course you do, and you may feel totally stuck in your story. You may feel you have no control over your life in your story, no real power, and a sense of inevitability about what happens in your life.

The therapist using narrative techniques does a particular kind of listening as the client relates their story—a listening that shows a deliberate ignorance with true curiosity, to deepen and bring out how the client sees their story, and sees themselves in it. This kind of listening, aided by careful questioning, reveals how the client’s original story was constructed, what meaning the client gave to it, and thus what power the story has for the client.

image004A person will seek out therapy when they are stuck, or have reached a point where their life has no meaning. The Narrative Therapy term for what is missing here is agency. The client has lost agency, or the ability to make meaningful decisions and changes, or to feel that they have power to effect any change.  As important as actually having the power to change is whether a person believes they have any power in the situation; the first is their perception of the problem, the second is their perception of themselves. That is, the client may believe they do not matter.

As conversations deepen between client and therapist, significant moments of loss of agency and self-definition are identified, and the main problems of the client’s life are named. As these emerge, the therapist will help their client “move” the problem to outside them, primarily by giving the problem a name (personalization) and “externalizing” it. If a main issue in a teen’s life is fear of rejection, the counselor will encourage the teen to give rejection a nasty name, and treat it as a personality outside the teen, not the essence or a main part of the teen’s person or life. Fear may become The Growl.  For another client who has alcohol addiction, the addiction may be externalized and become Al, an enticing liar who promised much and delivered a mess. The counselor will then be placing themselves and the client as a team facing the problem that has taken over the client’s life.

Perspective on a problem has amazing power in a person’s life.  A client receiving this kind of therapy will be able to start distancing their real true self from the problem, and to also be able to take a longer perspective on their life.   A goal is to help them begin to construct an alternative story or next chapter to the story they have lived so far.

Contrasts between one’s present and automatic life responses (the client’s Old Story) and a deliberate intentional course of action (one’s New Story) become clear, and the client comes to points of choice, and gradually reclaiming agency in their life.

image006Much of Narrative Therapy dovetails beautifully with Christian counseling, and rings true and familiar to the Christian mind. Our lives and our world are lived  within a greater story, God’s Grand Story.  We are in a fight for our lives against the Destroyer. History, authored by God, is the Grand Story; he has won the battle, and we are divinely empowered to re-write our stories in a non-deterministic way. We humans can get into messes by having the wrong perspective; internalizing the problems (like assuming we are a complete mistake, and no good at all); and giving away our agency. The externalizing and personalization that the narrative therapist uses are congruent with our stories: we were tricked and seduced by a great evil. The questions we could ask about our problem are “what did the Evil One promise you, and give away as free samples?”

The Christian has the spiritual power and is given awareness and agency to co-author with the original author a different direction and conclusion to their New Story.  The second part of this look at Narrative Therapy will cover more ways that this kind of therapy is effective in the context of Christian counseling.


Open book done by Konstndin Romanov; who what when by thingglass; writing hand by Ivan_slobin


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