Narrative Therapy is another model of psychotherapy that I like to integrate into sessions with my clients. This model of therapy is particularly helpful for people who have experienced trauma or those that suffer from PTSD. Trauma, however, can come in many forms. You may have found yourself masking, hiding, or burying that traumatic experience under something like "suck it up" or "it's not that bad". This can minimize our experience and lead us to believe trauma and PTSD is only for people with intense experiences (e.g. soldiers in war, childhood sexual abuse, domestic violence etc.). This is not true. Minimizing our feelings can allow our poor coping skills, which I choose to label more compassionately as “survivor skills”, to actually make things worse. My important note is that yes, Narrative Therapy can be helpful to people struggling with intense trauma experiences and PTSD symptoms, but it can also help for those experiences in your life that were traumatic on any level.
Many of the beliefs I have about psychology and mental health stem from the central idea of the maladaptive thought. These thoughts or beliefs, as explained here, over time can manifest into something called a narrative. These lifelong beliefs are constructed as central storylines and can govern our lives and identity. Some narratives can sustain positive aspects of our lives such as, “I am a good friend”. Some narratives, however, can unfairly direct us towards arbitrary limits such as, “I am bad at math”. Are you bad at math? All math? Now and forever no matter what strategy you try?
How did you assess that?
In the mental health realm, narratives become important because they can help us understand what limits that we, our family, or our supports have placed upon us. Are you the good daughter? The bad son? The hopeless romantic? The caregiver? The person with anger issues? The strong person? All of these identities could have originated from a single or a series of profound events resolved with a maladaptive thought that was self-fulfilled through years of your life. The unique circumstances of these later events though are overlooked and boiled down to re-enact and validate the narrative. For instance:
In the example above, you can see where this individual implanted their pre-existing narrative into the interpretation of this event and it dictated their subsequent thoughts, feelings, and ultimately their behavior in a negative way. These narratives can come from childhood, adolescence, young adulthood etc. (maladaptive thoughts are often evidence of lingering child-like reasoning). Once this is identified, our next step in therapy is to externalize or separate this narrative from you. For this reason, one of my favorite questions to ask is, “who’s voice is that?” or, “who led you to believe that about yourself?”. From there we explore how that narrative was formed, how it has impacted your identity, and proceed to “restory” this narrative to reflect something more accurate that compassionately describes you as a whole person.
To explore and restory your narrative, please feel free to contact me and schedule your first session.
Reference: Morgan, Alice. What Is Narrative Therapy?: An Easy-to-read Introduction. Adelaide, S. Australia: Dulwich Centre Publications, 2000.