Humans are inherently storytellers. Cultures across the world have used stories throughout generations to share their histories, cautionary tales, and lessons for children. Stories are the most basic way to connect with other humans. Plus, they help us make sense of the things that can be the hardest to accept or understand.
Stories also stick with people. Narrative form makes it easier for people to remember and connect with the ‘why’ of each story they hear. In therapy, storytelling is a powerful tool to connect with clients on a deeper level, and to make sure they leave their session with a better understanding of your conversations.
What is Narrative Therapy?
As the name suggests, narrative therapy encourages clients to be their own narrators. The goal is to empower them to feel in control of their own lives by giving them control of the stories they tell. Narrative therapy separates the client from their problems and allows them to look beyond their own ego and pride. That’s when the healing can begin.
How you actually carry out storytelling in your practice will vary depending on your comfort level, your client’s comfort level, and the issues you’re addressing together. The key to effective narrative therapy is to remain nonjudgmental and allow the client to equally participate in the process.
What Are the Benefits of Narrative Therapy?
Narrative therapy recognizes and allows for the possibility of multiple stories co-existing in one person. It can be a relief for people to recognize that their life doesn’t have to be dominated by one story or idea, and that many realities can be true at the same time.
What you do with that story later will vary with each client. But from the start, they’re the storyteller. They’re in charge. For clients who may be feeling a lack of control in their circumstances, narrative therapy can be a good way to ground them and give back some of that control.
The use of a story as an entry point into a client’s past experiences can also encourage resistant clients to be open up about those experiences. For clients with trauma—and particularly for children dealing with trauma—storytelling can be a more gentle approach to examining certain events.
Storytelling therapy also has the benefit of being easy to adjust to each individual client. You can adjust your story prompts, activities, and plots to be appropriate for the age, cultural background, and situation of the client you’re working with.
Will Narrative Therapy Work for Your Clients?
Despite the adaptability of storytelling in therapy, it won’t be right for every client. You’ll have to trust your knowledge of the client you’re working with, and consider other methods of treatment that have worked for them in the past before jumping into this one.
If you try narrative therapy and your client finds it distracting or gets self-conscious about their storytelling abilities, don’t push it. Not everyone will be interested in reading or creating a story. So if you encounter too much resistance, it may be time to try another method that resonates better. Clients who are more talkative by nature—or who have already shown interest in telling you stories during your sessions—are likely a better fit for narrative therapy.
How to Start Telling Stories
Most people probably wouldn’t describe themselves as storytellers, but it’s something everyone does whether it’s intentional or not. To make narrative therapy work, you’ll have to tap back into that instinct.
One option is to have a story already written that you and your client simply read together and discuss. Gauge their reaction to the story, and use those reactions as your points of discussion. This lets them lead the way with you still there to offer guidance.
If you think your client would respond well to it, you can create a new story together in your sessions. Have them find images that resonate with them as a starting point, or have them narrate out loud as you transcribe what they say.
As you consider whether narrative therapy is right for your practice, keep in mind that storytelling should be a collaborative effort between you and your client. There’s no one way that’ll work for everyone, so be nimble and adjust your approach as you go.
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