Narrative Therapy holds that the stories that we tell about ourselves, and that others tell about us impact how we see ourselves (our identities), and what we believe is possible in life. These stories are co-constructed throughout our lifetime, through the relationships we have with the people in our lives, through the culture in which we live, and through our social location within that culture. Some of these stories fit with the lives we want for ourselves, but others may limit what we believe is possible, and lead to feelings of stuckness, feelings of failure, feelings of ‘not measuring up’ (to standards or measuring sticks that may or may not even be of interest to us), and at times recruit us into believing that we not worthy or capable of different ways of being in relationship. Through a radically non-judgmental approach, Narrative Therapy seeks to deconstruct these stories, to find out how and when they got started, why they persist, and to understand the effects they have on our lives – how, or in what ways, these stories are serving us (if, at all) and/or how these stories may be interfering with the lives we want. Narrative Therapy considers that there is no single story that can capture all of who a person is, and we are always listening for the stories that often get overshadowed by our ‘problem stories’. These often subordinated stories reflect our hopes, dreams, values, commitments and purposes in life. In this way, therapy becomes less about fixing ourselves, and more about living out our preferred lives and identities.
Narrative Therapy views problems as separate from people, as things that affect our lives (‘the person is not the problem, the problem is the problem’). It sees people as the experts of their own lives, and believes that when we are invited to consider the skills, knowledge, values, commitments and purposes that we have relied on to overcome or curtail the influence of problems in our lives, it can create a sense of agency or control; that we can intervene on our own behalves to reduce the impact of problems/injustices/difficulties that we face.
Chimamanda Adichie describes the danger of a single story, in her TEDTalk The Danger of a Single Story which encapsulates some of the main philosophies/politics that inform Narrative Therapy.