Michael White-co-founder of Narrative Therapy

What is Narrative Therapy?

Narrative Therapy is a powerful approach to counselling developed by family therapists Michael White and David Epston.

Central to Narrative Therapy is the idea that throughout life people create stories (or “narratives”) to interpret the events that happen to them. These stories have profound effects on how we live our lives. Some examples of common stories include:

  • I’m a bad person
  • I will not succeed in life
  • People do not like me
  • I’m not worthy of having a happy, loving relationship
David Epston-co-founder of Narrative Therapy

David Epston-co-founder of Narrative Therapy

All of the above stories are likely to have negative effects on a persons life. If strong enough they may lead to  feelings of hopelessness, depression, loneliness or low self-esteem.  These feelings can then become a problem for a person-over time we not only live these stories but they “live us”, in that we interpret future events in line with these stories. This can then become a very vicious cycle!

When a client comes to counselling, he or she is likely to be living a story with negative effects. The job of a narrative therapist is to help the client reduce or eliminate the influence of this problematic story. Often this is done by looking for the exceptions to the problematic story, especially exceptions that stand for who the client would prefer to be. These exceptions can then be joined together to form a new story-one with different and far more positive effects on the clients life. The client can then break free of the problematic story and life a live that the client wants to live!

How is Narrative Therapy different from other therapies?

Narrative Therapy is different from other therapies in many ways. Firstly, Narrative therapists do not assume that current problems are related to a clients childhood, parenting or attachments before the age of five! Instead clients relationships with problems are investigated and clients are encouraged to negotiate new relationships with problems-often locating the problem well outside the client’s life! This means that Narrative Therapy is a quicker, more exciting and more energising approach to therapy!

Michael White-co-founder of Narrative Therapy

Michael White-co-founder of Narrative Therapy

Narrative therapy is also an extremely optimistic therapy. People are commonly seen in Narrative Therapy as active agents (and sometimes even “heros”) in their own lives. Narrative therapists are profoudly interested a person’s skills, knowledges, talents and expertise. Narrative therapists also have many conversations with clients about their hopes, dreams, plans and wishes for their future, and what these hopes, dreams, plans and wishes say about the client now. In this way narrative therapy conversations can be incredibly exciting-not only are problems commonly eliminated, but many options for a client to live in new and powerful ways are created!

Narrative therapy is  a perfect therapy modality for individuals, couples and families.

Stories at Work

Narrative Therapy-The One (and a half) Page Introduction

Stories at WorkThese are notes from a presentation to North Harbour Living Without Violence (4 July 2014), an organisation based in Auckland, New Zealand working to end domestic violence.

  • NT is about the re-storying of people lives
  • People are “interpretive beings”-we actively make sense of our lives in terms of “stories” (or narratives) through which we understand both ourselves and the world.
  • These stories are “constitutive” of life-they are not separate to us, but are ways in which we organise our experience of life.
  • Stories are influenced by the social and cultural discourses that surround us. We do not invent most of the stories that influence us.
  • We are all “multi-storied”, in that we may understand events in many ways. Stories compete for dominance in a person’s life. This competition is heavily influenced by societal and cultural discourses (eg. Western culture has many discourses around what constitutes beauty in women, work of value for both men and women, the role of men in households etc).
  • Michel Foucault

    French Philosopher-Michel Foucault

    Knowledge and power (Foucault) are intertwined in constructing societal discourse. This includes judgements on what it is to be normal/abnormal, good/bad, sane/insane, gay/straight, etc.

  • Since the late 1700’s dramatic shifts have occurred in Western society as greater urbanisation and industrialisation occurred in Western Europe. This includes a shift from what has been called operations of “traditional power” (acting to repress, suppress people etc) to operations of “modern power” (engaging people in the understandings of their lives through systems of evaluation, normalising judgement etc)-ie an “internalisation” of power. Professional psychology since the late 1800’s has heavily complicit in this project.
  • The aim of this project (according to Foucault) is to produce “docile and useful bodies” (i.e. people who actively participate in the “policing” of their own and others’ lives, according to certain normative standards).
  • NT is about:

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The Third Wave: My Introduction to Narrative Therapy


19971997. The Spice Girls and Hanson were top of the charts. Bill Clinton has just been sworn in for his second term as President of the United States.  Titanic had just been released at the box office (for the first time). Me-I was a hard-working post-graduate student in my first (and only!) psychodynamic psychotherapy training programme.

What is psychodynamic psychotherapy? One can find more about it here, but in short psychodynamic psychotherapy is based on the idea that our unconscious minds harbour difficult and painful feelings arising from past traumatic events. Continue reading