The stories of our lives have creative power. As authors of the narrative of our lives, we become aware of authorship and work in many ways with what we have to tell. In narrative therapy, it is believed that our narratives are a kind of preferred story, but they are not the only way in which we can represent ourselves or life. In the narrative therapy, the therapist listens attentively to what the patient has to say and asks specific questions. Together with the patient, he discovers openings within the patient’s narrative, openings through which another possible reality, another possible story, shines through.
The stories of people are always about individual relationships, success and failure, rejection and recognition, love and hate, seeing and being seen, suffering and happiness. After all, as a human, we are talking about life from our own personal perspective.
Our stories are always subjective and filtered according to certain criteria.
Our memories and current perceptions are selective and subject to our own interpretations. But ultimately, we all have our own “hero’s journey”; our way of meeting life, our way of experiencing life.
However, the inner journey that we all take, is essentially, equal to the journeys made by the most respected heroes of human history including Odysseus, Gilgamesh, Quetzalcoatl, Parzival, and Buddha.
A hero leaves his familiar surroundings, gets into trouble, suffers, mourns, encounters dragons, poses to them, matures through conflict, overcomes himself and his opponent, and returns, after being rewarded (with a trophy), home to his people. This is the pattern, the archetype of all successful narratives recalled in the Chronicle of Humanity. However, the suffering we face while on this journey is inherent in all beings.
An overview of narrative therapy, as developed by Michael D. White and David Epston:
The therapist encourages the patient to share his personal story and the problem(s) that led him to therapy. As the therapist gains insight into the storyline and narrative style of the patient, he instills confidence by showing interest, listening carefully and showing compassion. In this phase, the therapist will take the first steps in influencing the language and the expression of the patient. White’s phrase, “the person is not the problem, the problem is the problem” is an essential intervention approach implemented here.
The therapist introduces an externalizing language and encouraging attitude that allows him to locate the problem outside of one’s own person, thereby relieving the patient of any feelings of guilt or shame. The problem is established as an antagonist of alternative narrations. Instead of “I am afraid”, could be verbalizations and thus attitudes arise as “the fear met me” or “the fear penetrated into my life”.
Once a sufficient externalization of the problem has been achieved, the therapist deepens his narrative analysis. Here, the patient and therapist work out the characteristics of the problem together: What are the motives of the problem? What is the situation? When is it clear? When is it less clear? What does it want? Which basic assumptions, values does it follow? Additionally, the story of the problem is explored with questions such as, at what time did it first appear or be noticed? What shape did it have at that time? What has happened to your relationship with yourself and others? How did it undermine your life? And so on.
In the next phase, after the problem has been externalized, deepened in a narrative analysis and clarified in its contours, deconstruction of the problem begins. The problem is deprived of its dominant role. It is made clear that the problem is not karma, not God’s will, not the result of supposed past incarnations. But it did not grow out of nowhere. The problem can only exist and exist in a specific context if we allow it to. General assumptions about right and wrong, for example, form a rich breeding ground for the most varied forms of dragons and antagonists we feel subjected to.
As the patient’s main narrative continues to be observed, and it becomes increasingly clear that the “problem” is the “antagonist” with its unique motives, conditions, intentions, and effects. At this point, it is common for events to occur or shine though the main narrative, events that do not fit within the rest of the narrative. Therapists recognize these events as “singular events”.
The protagonist of a powerful narrative tends to ignore these singular events so as not to distract from the main narrative. For example, if someone feels unattractive on the exterior, they will hardly pay attention to moments in their narrative when they looked into a pair of loving eyes or were tenderly touched. The antagonist or problem will have tried in the past to sabotage such singular events, and still tries now. but as the therapy progresses, the potential of these special moments, these singular events, will serve to introduce alternative narratives.
The singular events will, at this stage, be considered more closely. How were these extraordinary moments possible? What basic assumptions of our main narrative do they question? Were there people who could have witnessed these special moments? How would these witnesses explain these singular events? Who, in the patient’s environment, would not be so surprised by these special moments? Why did the antagonist fail to prevent these moments? Can other singular events be discovered? This is where the foundation of the alternative narrative receives attention and care.
Here is where the narrative map gets bigger. New narratives are allowed to emerge, and the hidden treasures that lay beneath the surface of the old narrative come to light. New motives, new inner and outer figures are gaining life. A new narrative attitude is achieved, and strands of action are worked out with new interpretation approaches. The story of one’s own life is explored creatively and openly.
Such a narrative process makes it possible to distance oneself from the problem, to inspire one’s inner spirit, to motivate creativity for one’s own life, and to establish a new pivot for our thoughts, feelings, perspectives and consequent actions.