Narrative Therapy holds that the stories that we and others tell about us, shape how we see ourselves 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 (and produce) the lives we want, but other stories 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. Through a collaborative, anti-individualist and de-pathologizing approach, Narrative Therapy seeks to deconstruct these stories, to find out how and when they got started, why they persist, 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 alternative stories that co-exist, but that often get overshadowed by our ‘problem stories’. These, often subordinated stories, can 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. When we are invited to consider the skills, knowledge, values, commitments, and purposes that are reflected in our response to difficulties, and that we have relied on to overcome or curtail the influence of problems in our lives, it can create a sense of agency; that we can intervene on our own behalves to reduce the impact of problems/injustices/difficulties that we face.
Chimamanda Adichie, in her TEDTalk The Danger of a Single Story encapsulates some of the main philosophies/politics that inform Narrative Therapy. I think it is important to acknowledge that alongside the potent message of her TedTalk, Chimamanda Adichie has been criticized for transphobic remarks of the ilk: “trans women aren’t real women”. Both are true: the potency/importance of what she says (and how she says it) in this TedTalk, and that she has made harmful comments about the trans community.