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 diminish what we believe is possible, and lead to feelings of stuckness, feelings of ‘not measuring up’ (to standards or measuring sticks that may or may not even be of interest to us), and at times convince us that something is inherently wrong with us. 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. 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 alternative 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 and commitments that we have relied on to overcome or curtail the influence of problems in our lives (and perhaps what our refusal to go along with what the problem has in store for us says about what we stand for in life), 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.