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What Is Narrative Therapy and How Can It Help Me?

Jessica Pontis, LCSW

What’s your story?  Do you consider the way in which you connect with your history impacts your present?  How many times have you been asked that in your life?  For those seeking to better understand themselves and their values these questions are important to ponder.  There’s a therapeutic approach to help answer these questions, narrative therapy.  Narrative therapy helps us discover opportunities for growth, empowerment, and the discovery of meaning on our past.  

While narrative therapy is not as commonly used as a practice like cognitive behavioral therapy or dialectical behavioral therapy, it can be just as powerful a tool to help us separate who we are from the concerns that we have.  When we use narrative therapy, we can better externalize our issues rather than internalize them, helping us see things from a more empowered and goal-oriented point of view.  

When Michael White and David Epston developed narrative therapy in the 1980s, they grounded this model in three main concepts.  

  • Narrative therapy is respectful which support the belief that every person has agency and dignity.  Each person is to be treated as someone who is not defective or deficient in any way.
  • Narrative therapy is non-blaming.  In this model no person should ever be blamed for their problems or concerns and are encouraged to not blame others as well.  While narrative therapy acknowledges that problems arise due many factors, it does not make a point to lay blame on any single thing or person.  
  • Narrative therapy believes the person is the expert and that the therapist is not held to a higher social or academic space.  With this in mind both parties can move forward with the intention of creating a narrative that paints the person as the hero and not the victim of their own life (Narrative Therapy Centre, 2021).  

Narrative therapy can be helpful for those living with anxiety, depression, attachment issues,

grief, trauma and PTSD, among many other things.  Jodi Clarke (2021) provides an excellent explanation to how narrative therapy can be helpful, “Narrative therapy challenges dominant problematic stories that prevent people from living their best lives. Through narrative therapy, people can identify alternative stories, widen people’s views of self, challenge old and unhealthy beliefs, and open their minds to new ways of living that reflect a more accurate and healthy story.” 

This approach is sensitive in the fact that it does not aim to change the person fundamentally but works to help an individual feel empowered to create change as they see fit by separating themselves from their negative aspects of their lives.  This therapeutic method can greatly reduce the impact of guilt and shame which are often significant hinderances to growth.  When there is no blame for problems, there is no shame, only a path to move forward.  

Since the tenants of narrative therapy are based in gentleness and separating the person from the issue, it’s a useful approach to challenging unhealthy patterns of thoughts and behaviors.  Deconstructing the unhealthy story and working to build a more favorable conversation based in empowerment is a critical part of any narrative based approach.  

If you struggle with feelings of shame about the issues that you feel most impact your life, or if you feel powerless to create change due to internalized negative thoughts, perhaps narrative therapy could be a useful intervention for you.  If you feel that you would like to connect with someone to walk with you on this journey reach out to one of the licensed therapists with Symmetry Counseling.  You can reach out to us online at, or by calling us at (312) 578-9990 to set up an appointment.    

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