Writing is one of the primary tools I use with clients to assist them in shifting unhealthy belief systems and dysfunctional behavior patterns. Therapeutic writing, journaling, poetry, letter-writing, and narrative therapy are all different types of writing that promote powerful personal change. The benefits of using writing and story in therapy include promoting self-knowledge and self-awareness, expressing and balancing emotions, improving emotional health, and accessing deep, suppressed feelings and memories. Narrative Therapy is typically the technique people are least familiar with, so I have included some basic information below on this specific intervention.
What is Narrative Therapy?
Narrative therapy is a form of counseling that focuses on creating distance between the individual and their problems, thus allowing them to separate their own identity from issues they are experiencing in their life. Narrative therapy fosters personal empowerment through making changes in thought and behavior patterns and developing new perspectives to re-write their life story in a way that feels safe, joyful, fulfilling, and purposeful.
When is Narrative Therapy Used and What is the Value of Story?
Narrative Therapy can be used with individuals, couples, and families, essentially anyone who defines themselves by their problems through language such as, “I am an anxious person”, “I am a depressed person”, “I am an angry person”, “I am bad, dirty, worthless, a failure, etc.” Narrative Therapy helps a person learn to see their problems as something they have versus who they are. By separating the individual from the problematic and destructive behavior it allows a person to externalize their issues rather than internalize them.
Story is used to inform others, connect over shared experiences, organize our beliefs, help find meaning and purpose, establish identity, and make sense of difficult thoughts and feelings in what can often feel like a confusing and lonely world. There is great importance in realizing stories we tell ourselves and the language we use when talking about our lives.
How Does Narrative Therapy Work?
Events that occur over time in a person’s life are viewed as stories. Most of these stories usually stem from negative events that significantly shape one’s identity and can dramatically impact future relationships and interactions. People unknowingly end up re-enacting these “stories” in dysfunctional ways, which leads to chronic, maladaptive patterns of thinking and behaving. Healing occurs through rewriting these stories and helping the individual uncover the values, strengths, skills, and dreams they want to weave into the future story of their lives. The ultimate goal is to uncover opportunities for growth and development, find meaning, and understand ourselves better.