Narrative Therapy – Objectives, Elements, Techniques and How it Works

The Narrative therapy seeks to be a respectful and without guilt approach to counseling and community work, which centers people as experts in their own lives, consider the problems as separate from people and assumes people have many skills, competencies , beliefs, values, commitments and skills that will help them reduce the influence of problems in their lives.

The answer to this question can take a million different forms, and the story you provide will be different depending on who is asking, your mood at the time, and whether you feel like you are still at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of your life. most outstanding story. We constantly use stories to inform, connect with others, share our feelings and experiences, and even resolve our own thoughts and feelings. Stories are used to organize our thoughts, find meaning and purpose, and establish our sense of identity in this confusing and sometimes lonely world.

Narrative therapy capitalizes on our narrative tendencies to provide us with opportunities for growth and development, ways to find meaning, and a path to a better understanding of ourselves. If you’ve never heard of narrative therapy before, don’t worry, you’re not alone!

This therapy is a more specific and less common method of guiding clients toward healing and personal development, and it is about the stories we tell.

What is narrative therapy?

It is a form of psychotherapy that seeks to help people identify their values, skills and knowledge they have to live these values, so that they can effectively face any problem, the therapist seeks to help the person to be the co-author of a new narrative about themselves by investigating the history of those qualities. Narrative therapy is intended to be a social justice approach to therapeutic conversations, seeking to challenge dominant discourses that they claim destructively shape people’s lives.

The approach was developed during the 1970s and 1980s, largely by Australian social worker Michael White and David Epston from New Zealand. While narrative work generally falls within the field of family therapy , many authors and practitioners report using these ideas and practices in community work, schools, and higher education.

Goals and benefits of narrative therapy

Narrative therapy does not seek to transform the person, instead, it seeks to transform the effects of a problem. Its objective is to make space between a person and their problem, this allows to see how a certain concern is serving a person, instead of harming them.

For example, post-traumatic stress disorder can be a defense mechanism, it can help protect someone from difficult emotions associated with an event, but it also brings new symptoms, such as anxiety . Narrative therapy helps people externalize a problem, this process can help develop greater self-compassion, which can help people feel more capable of change. Some psychologists have identified a process called post-traumatic growth, this term explains the positive change that can occur after going through a traumatic event.

Narrative therapists also help people to see their problems in different contexts, these contexts can be social, political and cultural and can influence how we see ourselves and our personal stories.

Common elements

The common elements in narrative therapy are:

  • The assumption that narratives or stories shape a person’s identity, such as when a person evaluates a problem in their life for its effects and influences as a “dominant story.”
  • An appreciation for creating and using documents, such as when a person and a counselor are co-authors.
  • An outsourcing emphasis, such as naming a problem so that a person can assess its effects on their life, get to know how it works, relate their earlier history, evaluate it to take a definite position in their presence, and ultimately choose their relationship with it .
  • A focus on unique outcomes or exceptions to the problem that would not be predicted by the narrative or story of the problem itself.
  • A strong awareness of the impact of power relations on therapeutic conversations, with a commitment to verify with the client the effects of therapeutic styles to mitigate the possible negative effect of the therapist’s invisible assumptions or beliefs.
  • Responding to conversations of personal failure.

Narrative therapy techniques

Some of the applicable problem solving skills through narrative therapy are skills that we all already possess, while others require more effort to learn and apply. The five techniques below are among the most common techniques used in narrative therapy.

Telling the story of oneself (putting together a narrative)

As a therapist or other mental health professional, your job in narrative therapy is to help your client find their voice and tell their story in their own words, faith according to the philosophy behind narrative therapy, storytelling is the way we make sense and find purpose in our own experience.

Helping your client develop their story gives them the opportunity to discover meaning, find healing, and establish or reestablish an identity – all integral to success in therapy.

This technique is also known as “re-authoring”, as clients explore their own experiences to find alterations in their story or create a new one, the same events can tell hundreds of different stories, because we all interpret experiences differently and we find different senses of meaning.

Outsourcing technique

It involves guiding your client toward viewing their problems or behaviors as external, rather than a part of him or her. This is a technique that is much easier to describe than to fully adopt, but it can have a great positive impact on self-identity and confidence.

The general idea of ​​this technique is that it is much easier to change a behavior that you participate in than to change a characteristic that is part of you. For example, if you get angry quickly and consider yourself an angry person, you must fundamentally change something about yourself to address the problem; And if you are a person who acts aggressively and gets angry easily, you simply need to modify behaviors to address the problem.

It may seem like an insignificant distinction, but there is a profound difference between the mindset of someone who labels themselves a “problem” person and someone who acknowledges that they sometimes engage in problem behavior.

As a therapist, this technique is easy to describe, but it can be challenging for the client to fully buy into this strange idea. Encourage your client not to put too much weight on their diagnosis or self-assigned labels, let them know how empowering it can be to detach from their problems, allowing them a greater degree of control.

Deconstruction technique

This “deconstruction” refers to breaking down the customer’s problem (s), making it easier to understand and address. Our problems can often seem overwhelming, confusing, or unsolvable, but they are never truly insoluble.

Deconstructing the topic makes it more specific and avoids over-generalization, as well as clarifying what the core issues or problems really are. As an example of the deconstruction technique, imagine two people in a long-term relationship who are having problems, one of them is frustrated with a partner who never shares his feelings, even though they hold hands with narrative therapists or ideas with him. .

Based on this brief description, there is no clear idea of ​​what the problem is, let alone what the solution might be, if you, as a therapist, were to deconstruct the problem with this client, you might ask him to be more specific about what he was dealing with. upset.

This could lead to a better idea of ​​what the man is concerned about, such as feeling lonely and losing a sense of intimacy with his partner. From here, you may discover that intimacy is very important to this man in love relationships, and when his partner does not share with him, he feels isolated and as if his partner does not really trust him.

Deconstructing the problem helps to know exactly what the problem is (he feels lonely and isolated) and what this means to him (it makes him feel that his partner does not trust him, or perhaps is not willing to commit to the relationship as he is ). This technique is a great way to help the client dig deeper into the problem, understand what is important to him and how this problem threatens him.

Unique Results Technique

This technique is a bit complex and complicated, but be aware of the narrative aspect of the therapy. The unique results technique involves changing the story itself, in narrative therapy, the client aims to build a story for their experiences that gives them meaning and gives them a positive and functional identity. However, we are not limited to a single plot, there are many potential stories that we can subscribe to, some more negative and some more positive.

Instead of continuing to view your life from the same perspective as always, the unique results technique can help the client change their perspective and perceive more positive and life-giving narratives. Like a book that changes points of view from one character to another, our life has multiple narrative threads running through it with different perspectives, different areas of focus, and different points of interest, putting the technique to use is simply choosing to focus. in a different story or stories than the one that has been the source of your problems.

Using this technique may sound like avoiding the problem, but it’s really just a matter of reimagining the problem, what appears to be a problem from one perspective may not be more than an unassuming or insignificant detail in another. As a therapist, you can introduce this technique by encouraging your client (s) to seek alternative or new arguments.


You may have a particular association with the term “existentialism” that makes your presence here seem strange, but there is likely more existentialism than you realize, as it is not a bleak and hopeless view in a meaningless world.

It is true that, in general, existentialists believe that the world has no inherent meaning, but that they do not take this belief as a license to fall into a deep well of depression and meaninglessness; rather, they believe that we can create our own meaning. In this way, existentialism and narrative therapy go hand in hand, because it encourages people to make their own meaning and find their own purpose rather than looking for some pre-existing absolute truth.

Borrowing some techniques or interventions from existentialism can provide excellent support for the client working through narrative therapy.

How does narrative therapy work?

Events that occur over time in a person’s life are considered stories, some of which stand out as more significant or more fatal than others. These important stories, usually stemming from negative events, can ultimately shape one’s identity, beyond this identity the narrative therapist sees a client’s life as multi-dimensional and full of possibilities that are only waiting to be discovered.

The therapist does not act as an expert, but helps clients see what the experts are like in their own life and as such can discover the dreams, values, goals and abilities that define who they really are, separate from their problems. These are the buried stories that can be rewritten and woven into the current and future story of their lives.

Georgia Tarrant
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Hello, how are you? My name is Georgia Tarrant, and I am a clinical psychologist. In everyday life, professional obligations seem to predominate over our personal life. It's as if work takes up more and more of the time we'd love to devote to our love life, our family, or even a moment of leisure.