Key Takeaways

  • Narrative therapy is a type of therapy that encourages people to separate their identity from their problems. 
  • Narrative therapy uses various techniques to empower people to rewrite their life story. The main techniques are externalization, deconstruction, re-authoring, and unique outcomes.
  • Narrative therapy is effective for managing depression, anxiety, relationship issues, and life transitions, but it may not be right for everyone.

Throughout our lives, we tell ourselves stories about who we think we are. These stories can motivate and inspire us, but they can also leave us feeling broken, powerless, and focused on our problems. Over time, that type of negative narrative can affect your self-esteem, well-being, and ability to connect with others.

What if there was a way to rewrite your story? Narrative therapy can’t erase the past, but it can help you challenge assumptions you’ve made about yourself and discover new opportunities for growth and purpose. 

What is narrative therapy?

Narrative therapy is a type of talk therapy that empowers people to rewrite their life stories. Narrative therapy encourages people to separate their identities from their problems. This allows them to create space to cope with their problems and improve their well-being.

Founded by two therapists in the 1980s, narrative therapy focuses on three leading concepts: respect, non-blaming, and seeing the client as the expert. 

  • Respect: Narrative therapy is a respectful, non-judgemental form of treatment that supports people as they identify issues they’d like to address in their lives. 
  • Non-blaming: As people review their life narratives, their provider encourages them to avoid blaming anyone or anything for past experiences and assumptions. 
  • Client as the expert: Narrative therapy focuses on client empowerment. You’ll work closely with your therapist to learn how to grow and heal, but you’re in charge of changing your narrative.

Four narrative therapy techniques

Narrative therapy uses various techniques to empower people to cope with their problems and focus on their futures. The experience may vary based on each person’s unique needs and preferences, but it will draw from the following techniques.

1. Externalization 

Narrative therapy can help you separate your identity from the issues and problems in your life. Externalization techniques can help you understand that your problems don’t define who you are. They can also help you realize that it’s easier to change your behavior than change your identity. 

For example, let’s say that you’ve always told yourself you’re an angry person. Instead, maybe you replace this story with, “I’m someone who is quick to anger.” Externalization is an opportunity to acknowledge the difference between core features of your identity and behaviors you can change. This perspective can help you address your behavior moving forward.

2. Deconstruction 

During narrative therapy, your therapist will work with you to break down any negative or problematic narratives that influence your life. By deconstructing these issues into smaller, more manageable concerns, you have an opportunity to identify the root of the problem.

Deconstruction techniques can help you better understand stressful events or patterns in your life. This includes how societal and cultural narratives can contribute to harmful thought patterns.

3. Re-authoring 

Narrative therapists help people find their voices and share their stories. Throughout the process of re-authoring or re-storying, people learn to revisit their existing narrative so they can create alternative stories that align with their strengths, values, and goals. Re-authoring doesn’t mean you should ignore your past, but it does provide an opportunity to find new meaning in past experiences. 

4. Unique outcomes

Narrative therapy will sometimes call attention to events called unique outcomes, meaning moments that go against the narrative you’ve created for yourself. The idea is that people can become so focused on a specific story that it impacts their ability to notice things that don’t align with that story.

For example, let’s say a person’s parents divorced when they were young and never remarried. Someone might claim that the experience prevented them from learning about healthy relationships and is now preventing them from maintaining a loving partnership. Upon further reflection, they might realize that, although their parents weren’t together, they always showed one another trust and respect.

What can narrative therapy help treat?

Narrative therapy can help people who have trouble managing negative emotions, feelings, or thoughts about themselves. It’s an effective treatment for many mental and behavioral health conditions, like anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It can also help you cope with grief and trauma.

Research shows that narrative therapy can help people with depression focus on positive experiences and develop kinder stories about themselves. Another study found that narrative therapy effectively reduced levels of depression and anxiety in people with substance use issues.

In addition to individual therapy, providers use narrative therapy in couples and family therapy sessions to help address relationship issues and life transitions. It can be an effective tool for increasing marital satisfaction among women. It can also help reduce family conflict between parents and their children.

The benefits and limitations of narrative therapy

As you learn more about narrative therapy, you may be wondering if this type of treatment is right for you. Understanding the leading benefits and potential challenges can help you have a more informed conversation with your therapist about the right care for you. 

Narrative therapy benefits 

Narrative therapy is a client-centered method that encourages you to find your voice and take control of your life stories. It highlights people’s strengths and skills and is flexible enough to meet each person’s needs, preferences, and cultural backgrounds. While therapy can sometimes make people feel vulnerable, narrative therapy was designed to empower people as they heal and grow.

Narrative therapy challenges 

Although narrative therapy can be effective for certain mental health conditions and life challenges, it may not be an appropriate form of care for some serious mental health conditions. This includes bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Another factor to consider is that narrative therapy can be a time-consuming process. For this reason, it may not be the best fit for someone who is looking for a more structured, solutions-based approach to care. 

Find the right therapist with Rula

If you’re experiencing negative feelings, emotions, or thoughts about yourself, know that it’s possible to rewrite your story. Narrative therapy can empower you to find your voice and create a future that aligns with your strengths and goals.

So how do you get started? Rula’s diverse network of more than 8,000 licensed professionals makes it easy to find a therapist who has experience practicing narrative therapy. Plus, we’ll make sure that the therapist is taking new clients and accepts your insurance so that you can focus on writing your story.  

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