Each person has a variety of experiences and events in their life, both in the past and the future. Meetings, partings, interactions, things we do, and things we learn – they all become a part of the whole that each person represents. In large part, people are shaped by the things they have lived through, regardless of whether a particular occurrence has had a positive or negative effect on them. Humans are similar in their ability to derive meaning from events but different in the precise way they do that, as well as the particular things that have happened to them. This knowledge can be used in a therapeutic context, as a way to understand others. Remembering the importance past plays in each person’s life can be utilized in a variety of ways, many of which become accessible to a skilled professional. Many psychological therapy methods find ways of contextualizing, transforming, or mending past experiences of a person to help them lead a more happy, fulfilling, life. Among those, there is an approach called narrative therapy, which is specifically designed for the purpose of helping people deal with their emotional baggage. The use of narrative therapy is rather wide, and specialists can find application for it in treating a variety of mental problems. This discussion will focus on reviewing narrative therapy as a method for engaging with patients, its effectiveness, as well as potential uses. My personal views and impressions about the technique will also be covered, and I will be providing a critical look at this method of engagement.
What is Narrative Therapy?
Narrative therapy is one of the possible therapy methods employed by professional mental health workers and other individuals proficient in the field. This approach centers on contextualizing and changing a person’s view on their experiences (Frank, 2018). The main goal of narrative therapy is to promote personal agency, empowerment, and reflection from clients, all of which become possible through framing the past as a part of people’s “personal story”. Throughout their life, each person acts as a protagonist for their own tale. This means that a lot of events that occur in their lives shape their future outlook on life, choices, and behaviors. The narrative therapy works on reviewing such cases of impactful life events, and deriving positive meaning from them. While not all of a person’s personal history can be expected to be positive or beneficial to them, narrative therapy can help professionals to make the impact of negative moments less harsh, or formulate additional meaning from them altogether. This approach to introspection allows clients to take charge of their own narratives. In action, such a sentiment means that they can effectively feel in charge of their life, less hindered by the bounds of their past and oriented towards happy living. The method is especially efficient in dealing with an individual’s trauma, or any other type of event that has had a profound effect on them (Frank, 2018). This can mean that a person can drastically change their view on life, behavior, and the possibilities for the future. Additionally, narrative theory can offer people an explanation of the reasons behind the things that happened to them, in the larger social framework. The continued introspection, reflection, and analysis works as a way to deal with the past.
Benefits of Narrative Therapy
Narrative therapy primarily acts as a way to lessen the burden put on people by their problems. Instead of simply moving away from a particular problem, an individual can learn to derive alternative conclusions from an experience. This can means that the impact of a traumatic event is lessened, or replaced with a positive benefit instead. The main goal of the process is to put a certain amount of distance between a person and their issue, introducing room for personal reflection, growth, and change. Another example of the positive effects for narrative therapy is its application in alleviating harmful side effects and coping mechanisms of trauma. In cases of such issues as post-traumatic stress, an individual can experience a variety of negative feelings due to their past with a painful event, which can lead to anxiety, panic, or other negative effects. With the use of narrative therapy, however, an individual can gain an ability to separate themselves from such emotions, dull them significantly or even snuff them out entirely. By understanding the events that occurred in a person’s life, they can gain an ability to be more objective and reasonable with themselves, see it from a more detached point of view. Aside from providing valuable analysis, this makes discussing issues with a qualified professional much more effective. The other benefit of narrative therapy is the ability to contextualize a person’s issue through a variety of contexts. While it is undeniable that each individual experiences the world differently, specific cause-effect patterns and trends can be identified. These trends can be connected with a person’s location, race, nationality, identity, gender or other general factors. They can also depend on the socio-economic climate of the world, and the general culture they live in. The work of a professional employing narrative therapy can highlight such correlations and explain the underlying factors behind a person’s problems.
Uses for Narrative Therapy
As discussed previously, narrative therapy’s main use is helping people with trauma. This can include cases of harmful events, such as sexual violence, abuse, psychological trauma or PTSD. The reflection and investigation of the event associated with all of the above assists people in taking control of their lives, finding peace with themselves and their personal stories. A number of studies have been conducted to investigate the role of narrative therapy in combatting depression and enhancing the quality of life for individuals. The work, “Effectiveness of Group Narrative Therapy on Depression, Quality of Life, and Anxiety in People with Amphetamine Addiction: A Randomized Clinical Trial”, as an example, take the experiences of 26 patients, measuring the effectiveness of narrative therapy as an intervention method (Shakeri et al., 2020). While any changes in the quality of life for individuals were not registered, it is notable that a statistically significant reduction of both depression and anxiety scores has been determined. This analysis examined the viability of group narrative therapy, showing that this method can be effective both as a mass intervention and a measure for a singular person. Another study, named “Using Narrative Therapy in the Treatment of Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse in the Context of Couple Therapy”, as per its title, examined the effects of narrative therapy in a couple setting (Johnson et al., 2019). The results of the study reflect on the effectiveness of this approach at helping sexual abuse survivors, showing that this type of therapy can aid the healing process significantly. The use of multiple individuals at the time has helped create a safe and welcoming environment for the participants, allowing for a more open and deep discussion (Johnson et al., 2019). The collective healing process is accomplished by working on the problems of two people simultaneously. From this review, one can see that narrative therapy is a good way to solve complicated therapeutic issues, and aid vulnerable individuals in the process of recovery. In support of this, a study on a similar range of problems, in particular the issues of sex trafficking survivors (Countryman-Roswurm & DiLollo, 2016). There, narrative therapy is used in conjunction with other survivor-focused approaches, as a way to promote long-term prosperity, recovery, and resilience (Countryman-Roswurm & DiLollo, 2016). Overall, it can be said that the use of narrative therapy is diverse, and can be applied to a variety of different scenarios. It is an effective way to counteract harmful events and trauma.
Personally, I have found the use and the concept of narrative therapy to be extremely interesting. The view of a person’s past as a part of their life story, a small aspect of themselves that is not representative of the whole is very inspiring and interesting. I think that many people can benefit from a similar view on the past, or at least a way to retrospectively analyze their trauma. From my personal experience, many people get severely hung up on the past, or a particular part of their lives that has had a profound impact on them. This in turn means that they are unable to change, let go, or lead a more healthy life. This can manifest in a variety of ways, including an inability to make decisions, anxieties and physical side effects of trauma, social isolation, or difficulty to form meaningful relationships. Such situations are exactly where the use of narrative therapy is necessary, as a way to help people to move forward in a sense, find new meaning in the old. Furthermore, by researching a number of articles on the topic, I have also found that this approach has had a very positive track history, helping people better manage the effects of severe trauma. On another note, I think that the general idea of looking at one’s life as if it were a story they write is a very individual-centric perspective, one which is rather refreshing to hear. Sometimes, the boost of confidence or control is just something a person might need, which I think this type of therapy can provide. A therapist and medical professional’s main job is to encourage people to lead better, more prosperous, and meaningful lives, which they can do by engaging in narrative therapy. It seems to me that narrative therapy can help people take back control over their lives, gain a newfound sense of agency and will.
Critique of Narrative Therapy
From my current research, I was unable to identify any significant or research-proven downsides to narrative therapy, nor have I had any success in finding its critiques. The lack of a substantial body for arguments seems to be in and of itself an argument for the practice’s effectiveness. However, there are some potential issues that I would like to personally highlight with this approach. In particular, it concerns the focus of this practice on deriving alternative meaning from people’s struggles. While it may be effective to help people look at their issues more objectively, or consider them from a different angle, I feel that this practice can also lead to people ignoring their problems in the future instead of dissecting them. To elaborate, an induvial receiving support has the capacity to fundamentally misunderstand the main message of this approach, and treat it as a justification for not taking their issues more seriously. The process of reflection and the shifting of focus has the potential to become more similar to avoidance, or denial. I think that such considerations have to be taken into question and accounted for.
All in all, the use of narrative therapy in a healing setting is significantly widespread and recognized. Developed and used as a way to help vulnerable individuals, this approach can work to recontextualize and change the perception a person has on their trauma, helping them gain a more critical outlook on life. This process means that clients have the capacity to act with compassion, understanding, and care towards themselves, as well as obtain agency over their own future. The approach has been widely used, and its effectiveness is supported by contemporary research. Many of the recent studies have examined its effect on survivors of sexual violence and found the therapy to be effective in promoting better healing. Furthermore, it has been consistently shown to reduce the effects of depression and anxiety. The benefits of the technique are varied, and most current sources do not highlight any particular problem with narrative therapy. Personally, I think that this way of combatting trauma is inspiring and works in the essence of a therapist’s job. By working with the client and helping them make sense of their past, a professional can offer people the control and help they need in their day-to-day life.
Countryman-Roswurm, K., & DiLollo, A. (2016). Survivor: A narrative therapy approach for use with sex trafficked women and girls. Women & Therapy, 40(1-2), 55–72. Web.
Frank, A. W. (2018). What is narrative therapy and how can it help health humanities? Journal of Medical Humanities, 39(4), 553–563. Web.
Johnson, D. J., Holyoak, D., & Cravens Pickens, J. (2019). Using narrative therapy in the treatment of adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse in the context of couple therapy. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 47(4), 216–231. Web.
Shakeri, J., Ahmadi, S. M., Maleki, F., Hesami, M. R., Parsa Moghadam, A., Ahmadzade, A., Shirzadi, M., & Elahi, A. (2020). Effectiveness of Group Narrative Therapy on Depression, Quality of Life, and Anxiety in People with Amphetamine Addiction: A Randomized Clinical Trial. Iranian journal of medical sciences, 45(2), 91–99. Web.