By Samantha Congdon, LMFT
Once upon a time, there was a boy named Tom. Tom would get very nervous whenever he had a test coming up at school. Tom would bite his nails, struggled to fall asleep, and felt panicked inside. Tom’s parents said, “You have anxiety. You just need to stop worrying.” Tom couldn’t stop worrying and he felt he was disappointing his parents. Tom became withdrawn at school, which resulted in his classmates calling him a loser. Tom started to believe he really was a loser. Tom began viewing his life in a negative way. But, what if Tom had the power to rewrite his story.
Narrative therapy is a form of therapy that views people as separate from their problems. An example of how Narrative Therapy would help Tom rewrite is story is by first separating The Anxiety from Tom. Instead of Tom saying, “I have anxiety, I am a loser,” he would say, “The Anxiety tricks me to think I am a loser.” Why does Narrative Therapy do this? When one externalizes the problem from themselves an opportunity arises where the problem can be seen as its own separate identity. It is much easier to confront a problem when it is not a part of us. Therefore, Narrative Therapy deconstructs the problem and encourages children to utilize their own strengths and skills to help minimize the problems that exist in their lives.
Narrative Therapy roots were pulled from post-structural theories established by Michael White and co-founder David Epston. From the beginning, Narrative Therapy focused on the idea that people are multistoried and give meaning to certain experiences in their lives. As seen in the case study above, other people began to write Tom’s story in a negative light; “You have anxiety, you are a loser.” In therapy, the client and the therapist work together to “map out the problem” and explore all aspects of the problem, such as when does the problem arrive, what does it do to your body, etc. Children connect with this style of therapy because it utilizes art, writing, and storytelling. Children become the hero in their story and learn how to beat their problem, as well as discover their strengths that once went unnoticed.
The benefits of Narrative therapy are it encourages the child to look at life moments in which the problem was not around, exploring celebrations, achievements, and awards; an opportunity for the child to begin rewriting their story without the problem. When the story focused on Tom’s anxiety, we missed the true story of Tom, which is he is smart, hard-working, a great helper, a loving brother, and a skilled soccer player. When we separate the problem from the child and add in their strengths, it builds their confidence, increases self-esteem and their understanding of themselves. The beautiful aspect of Narrative Therapy is there is no right or wrong answer. Each life moment, whether it is negative or positive, sends us into another chapter of self-discovery. As a result, the ability to rewrite your story is possible utilizing Narrative Therapy. Wouldn’t you like to discover new stories about yourself; ones filled with your strengths, hopes, and dreams? You can with Narrative Therapy.
Resources for Narrative Therapy:
“What is narrative therapy? An easy to read introduction,” By Alice Morgan
“Narrative Therapies with Children and Adolescents,” Edited by Craig Smith and David Nylund
“Narrative Therapy,”-Stephen Madigan
Samantha Congdon, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapy has received Level II Narrative Therapy Training and can provide Individual therapy to ages 8+.