How Does Narrative Therapy Work?

If I ask you who you are, and what you are, and what you do, you would tell me a story. The Story of You.

Let’s start at the beginning.

We all have a story, but how did we get that story? Where did it come from? How did we develop it? And, aren’t we still creating it? If we go about answering these questions, you and I would be engaging in Narrative Therapy.

From the moment that we are born we are collecting information.
In the first years of our lives we had to find the answers to two important questions.

  • How are the people in this place?
    • Friendly?
    • Hostile?
    • Can they be trusted?
  • What is this place that I was born into?
    • A friendly place?
    • A safe place?
    • A dangerous place?

According to our experiences, where we were born, and who raised us—or didn’t raise us—we started coming up with answers to these questions, and the answers became conclusions, and the conclusions became a story. This story became our story. And our story is a very powerful one, because it is a story that guides us through life and determines how we see the world, how we think, and how we feel.

In psychological language, the story that we have created about who we are, how we are, and how we respond to people, situations, and circumstances, is called our “self-narrative.” This self-narrative serves as a filter through which we interpret everything. For example, if the significant people in your life gave you the message that you are incompetent, you would approach new situations and challenges with fear and anxiety.

You would experience fear and anxiety because you would feel that you were not competent to succeed, and would be afraid of failing. Consequently, the more anxious and afraid you would feel, the less you would try new things. Eventually, you would avoid facing the challenges that lead to living, loving, and working in a meaningful way; and this avoidance would guarantee the failure that you feared.

In order to escape this desperate vicious cycle of fear-avoidance-failure-feeling incompetent-and more fear, you may reach for many of the Band-Aid solutions that the world offers: like alcohol, drugs, gambling and other addictions. You would reach for them in an attempt to escape the anxiety, depression, and hopelessness that you feel. Or, hopefully, you may choose to seek a lasting and healthy solution, and seek therapy.

If you chose to seek therapy, and particularly Narrative Therapy, you would embark in the process of exploring your story. If you find a good therapist, he or she would have skills to build trust and create a safe space where you could disclose the details of your self-story. Together, you would analyze the details of the story that you have accepted as true and factual, and you would analyze it in the light of reality. When you discover parts of your story that cannot be proven to be true, or rational, or are incomplete, you would change the false conclusions or misguided ways in which you have interpreted events in your life, and correct them.

Let’s illustrate how this process works, by using the example that we used before: If you would have accepted that you were incompetent, and began to avoid life because of it, while in therapy, you and your therapist would look for evidence in your story that would support that you are, in fact, incompetent. You would explore questions like: Have you ever succeeded at anything? Is there something that you are good at: building something, video games, Ping-Pong…anything? The answer to these questions would provide information that can be used to verify the truth of the story of your life, and make it more complete and realistic. In other words, correcting wrong information could change the narrative of your life, and the beliefs, thoughts, and emotions that the narrative produces.

Like an author writing a novel, you would become the author of the story of your existence, and with a good therapist as editor, you could correct the story of your life, and prepare to write the next chapters with clarity and truth. In these chapters, you will find that you can cast yourself as capable to overcome adversity, conquer challenges, or experience redemption. That is how Narrative Therapy works.

Narrative Therapy is just one of the therapies used in drug rehab at Adaptive Center. For studies showing the effectiveness of this type of drug treatment therapy, see also: