I learned about Narrative therapy my second year of graduate school. It was at this time that I felt reassured about my decision to become a Clinical Social Worker. For a while, I was unsure if I had chosen the right path for me and I often worried about this. Narrative ideas presented a different type of therapy which matched my values and beliefs about society and community. I toyed around with Narrative ideas in my internships and in my first job post graduate school. I began to notice the effectiveness of the interventions. Most importantly, I noticed that people trusted the process. Additionally, I noticed that people began to trust themselves more and reconnect with what was significant to them in life. I have learned that Narrative therapy allows the person and therapist to see possibilities. Narrative allows us to view the world through our own eyes; therefore, making our stories truly ours.
Michael White’s vision of the therapeutic process was based in respect. This is what I believe gave Narrative such a strong foundation. In his book, Narrative Therapy (2010), Stephen Madigan’s review of the history of Narrative Therapy provides a clear explanation about some of the reasons behind the approach. I appreciate knowing that this philosophy was highly influenced by disciplines such as anthropology, feminism, and queer studies. These are disciplines that I have always been drawn to. I have always valued the respect toward unique human experience that the aforementioned disciplines are based on.
It is always interesting to me to make comparisons between my training/education and my use of Narrative ideas in practice. For instance, Stephen Madigan (2010) talks about the person gaining more power by simply talking about the problem openly. This is something which I have noticed in my practice. Externalization is a very fun process in therapy and most people are very intrigued by the conversation. I have noticed people becoming more and more enthusiastic through the process of deconstruction of the problem. I equate this enthusiasm in clients to the feelings of power and influence over the problem that they may be experiencing for the first time. There have been times when clients themselves have actually expressed this in session.
Maps of Narrative Practice by Michael White (2007) is one of my favorite Narrative Therapy books. A lot of clinicians I have talked to tell me that this book is quite difficult to understand, which I agree with. Nonetheless, the maps presented in this book, as well as the case examples are invaluable learning tools. I have read some of the chapters of this book more than twice. Like most readers; the first time I read this book, I was overwhelmed. I appreciated the Statement of Position Map as it outlines the process of externalization impeccably. Because of the chapter in this book; I created my own visual version of the Statement of Position Map which helps me navigate therapeutic conversations more comfortably. I am happy to share my forms with other therapists. I often recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning about Narrative as I feel it covers Narrative ideas in an effective and genuine way.
Narrative Therapy takes into account important components of a person’s experience such as their social and cultural experiences. Some therapeutic modalities are more concerned with creating change and the therapist’s delivery which usually accompanies some of these models can even be authoritative. These types of therapeutic interactions tend to dismiss alternative human experiences, which is undoubtedly not convenient or beneficial to clients. As a therapist, it is our responsibility to acknowledge differences and try to empathize with others’ experiences. When you aren’t discussing cultural and social discourses, you are negating the person’s experience and telling the story inaccurately. I personally want to learn about clients’ feelings in regards to their social experiences. I also find it essential to explore how social injustices and disproportion of power may prevent clients from being successful (whatever success may be to them) and influence the problem or problems.
Madigan S. (2010). Narrative Therapy. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association
White M. (2007). Maps of Narrative Practice. London: W. W. Norton & Company, Ltd.