Everybody Loves Narrative Therapy
Therapeutic interventions using narrative therapy tend to instill heightened resolve to confront and overcome the various obstacles blocking growth and happiness. Clients leave conversations feeling invigorated and empowered.
Everybody loves narrative therapy. One of the big reasons why is that the format prompts a role reversal where the therapist is not the center of power and knowledge, the client is. Narrative therapy takes as gospel the idea that clients are the real experts when it comes to their own lived experience. It’s the task of the narrative therapist to help clients mine this expertise by asking the right questions at the right times. So it’s not the therapist’s job to provide answers to questions, it’s the therapist’s job to provide the questions that help clients come to their own unique answers.
One of the most important ways narrative therapists help their clients mine the important details of their life stories so that they can understand their problems and how to overcome them better is through externalizing conversations. Externalizing conversations start with the philosophical belief that the person is not the problem, the problem is the problem. If the problem is the problem then we’ve got to separate that problem from the person in order to clearly delineate the two and then clearly define both. So a problem that starts as some internal character trait, something that’s taken to be part and parcel of the person experiencing it, is suddenly externalized, is suddenly treated as its own unique entity apart from the person experiencing it. This problem now exists out in space where it can be seen and understood in a whole new light.
Externalizing conversations are where good narrative therapists really shine through asking the right questions but where clients shine even brighter as they use their own knowledge and experience to provide the right answers. Again narrative therapists don’t take it for granted that they themselves know the answers to these questions but firmly believe that their clients do. It’s just a matter of facilitating this process. What you’ll notice in narrative sessions is clients working really hard, being very active. You can almost see the gears turning as they seek to flesh out the parameters of the problem, as they seek to give this problem a backstory, a personality, drives and motivations, friends and foes, likes and dislikes, shape and color.
Externalizing conversations are the fertile soil upon which new alternative life narratives are planted and begin to grow. It all feels more authentic and real to clients because they are the authorities in the emerging story rather than the passive passengers subject to the authority of the therapist or some other authority figure in the world at large.
Regardless of the psychological discipline, insights are always more powerful for clients when they work things out themselves to come to that ‘aha’ moment rather than having the ‘aha’ moment spoon fed to them by the well-intentioned therapist armed with all that psychological knowledge. Narrative therapy is the supercharged version of the ‘aha’ moment, it’s the experience of not just being an active participant but being the leader. And for people who have often felt marginalized and misunderstood in life, for people who have had their life stories dictated to them by authority figures, this experience is not just pleasant but powerful, life-affirming, and life-changing.