THEORISTS: MICHAEL WHITE & DAVID EPSTON, Gene Combs, Jill Freedman
Narrative Therapy catchphrase: “The person isn’t the problem; the problem is the problem.”
Michael White was influenced by French philosopher Michel Foucault, who believed that the dominant discourses in society have become “internalized truths for the people within society and are the criterion by which people judge themselves and one another.” According to White, people make sense of life experiences by “storying” their experiences over time. These stories provide meaning, allowing people to make sense of their experiences. White later collaborated with David Epston, whose primary focus was on people’s self-constructed narratives.
- Deconstruct the client’s problem saturated stories
- Help the client to co-author new, more helpful stories
- Problems are viewed as relational, contextual, and based upon cultural/societal norms
- The narrative therapist views problems as something external, exerting an influence on the client
- Therapist and client find ways of re-authoring and ultimately supporting the new story
- Dominant Discourse
- Societal norms of how life “should” happen
- The problem is viewed as a separate entity; the person isn’t the problem, the problem is the problem.
- Deconstruction Questions
- The therapist questions the client’s assumptions about his/her problem-saturated story with the intention of externalizing the problem.
- The collaborative effort of the therapist and client to create alternative stories that better reflect the client’s preferred self.
- Problem Saturated Story
- The story that an individual has learned to believe over time and continues to tell him/herself. The problem plays the leading role and the client plays the secondary role, usually that of the victim.
- Unique Outcomes/ Sparkling Moments
- Instances in which the problem was not a problem. A way of punctuating times when the problem did not exist and the client was able to rely on previously hidden resources and strengths; contradicts problem saturated story.
- Mapping the Influence of the Problem
- A therapeutic technique used to elicit from the client a detailed description of the effects and influence of the problem in the client’s life; this is not a diagram, rather it occurs throughout conversation.
- Mapping the Influence of Persons
- A therapeutic technique used to facilitate discovery of “unique outcomes” that contradict the problem-saturated story.
- Letter Writing
- A technique created by Epston in which the therapist documents the client’s strengths throughout therapy and thereby reinforces the new/preferred story as it is being reauthored
- Concept created by Epston to group people working on similar problems to provide support in the construction and maintenance of their new stories.
- Therapeutic Certificates
- A technique in which the therapist provides a certificate to the client and/or family, announcing the client’s triumph over the problem.
- Dominant Story
- The story that the client is convinced has shaped his/her identity or behavior; this dominant story can become problem saturated, often obscuring a unique outcome or hidden narrative.
- Subjugated Story
- Stories about the client that are obscured or hidden by the dominant story, and which the therapist and client discover together.
- Landscape of Action Questions
- Questions that highlight the times when the client was able to resist the effects of the problem.
- Landscape of Meaning Questions
- Questions that help clients consider a new, more heroic view of themselves.
- The idea that the view of self is fluid and continuously changed through interactions and life experiences. The therapist and client work collaboratively to create a new view of self that supports the client’s preferred outcome.
- Reflecting Teams
- A technique developed by Tom Andersen where a group of about 4-7 therapists observe the therapy session (typically from behind a one-way mirror) and then have a conversation in front of the clients about what they noticed during the session.
- Therapists suggest that clients invite significant people in their lives to join them in a therapeutic session and witness their new narrative(s).
ASSESSMENT AND TREATMENT
- Therapist must understand that there are multiple ways to “story” one’s life
- Therapist listens to the client’s story and identifies the problem saturated stories
- Therapist deconstructs the problem and looks for underlying multiple meanings
- Therapist maps the influence/impact of the problem on the client and the client on the problem
- Therapist externalizes the problem from the person and identify any unique outcomes or sparkling moments
- Together with the client, the therapist reauthors and reconstructs alternate stories and reinforces the new/preferred story
STANCE OF THE THERAPIST
- Co-Author/ Co-Editor/ Investigative Reporter
- Neither direct nor indirect
- The therapist uses language that does not communicate blame
- Therapist and client collaborate to generate a more useful (and preferred) narrative