Narrative Therapy



Narrative therapy allows clients to communicate events or pivotal moments in their lives by using stories. This therapeutic approach is based on the theory that often people already possess the skills, values, and abilities to resolve problems in their lives (NTC). The act of converting life events into a narrative theoretically provides a mechanism through which one may review events through the filter of a camera lens. The use of the word narrative to describe the system of therapy stems from the emphasis that therapists place on the details and the differences that emerge in the telling and retelling of life stories. The information that is used in these stories and that which is left out aid in describing and shaping people’s perspectives on life. Individuals can work through their stumbling blocks as they verbalize and put words to the pictures and events in their lives.

Goals of Narrative Therapy

Narrative therapy seeks to re-examine certain life events through the filter of storytelling. Stories in one’s life influence the individual and how that individual functions. This therapeutic approach aids in reshaping the story one tells about themselves and their relationship with others (White). Because much of reality is subjective, therapists assist the individual in examining, through the narrative filter, alternative interpretations and versions of life stories. Redefining one’s history, using the subjective nature of stories that have been cemented in one's psyche, allows one to overcome issues stemming from those events and encourage social and emotional growth.

When is Narrative Therapy Used?

Narrative therapy is an increasingly common therapeutic practice and can be embedded within or in conjunction with family therapy, community work, teachers, as well as film and documentary makers (TNC). Narrative practices are utilized for clients who are entering therapy either voluntarily, such as seeking out family or individual therapy, or involuntarily such as clients who are admitted in mental facilities or are incarcerated. The value of this practice is not limited solely to those who are eloquent or even literate. There are a multitude of ways people make themselves understood, it is the responsibility of the practitioner to engage the client and encourage expression in a manner that the client is capable of.

Children are commonly engaged in narrative therapy practices. Building loosely on play therapy practices, children are encouraged to express themselves in a playful narrative. Often, events that may be too scary, traumatic, or disturbing to children to relate about themselves can be externalized. Therapists can reduce the anxiety accompanied with revisiting these events and help guide the child through a more healthy view of the past by presenting narratives in an engaging, entertaining, and fun story for them. Effectively separating themselves from the characters in the story allows for different dimensions to be explored and new possibilities to emerge. Children can then more objectively review their past and begin healing (TNC).

How Does Narrative Therapy Work?

In narrative therapy, people’s history, lives, and identities are seen as multi-storied rather than single-storied. Therapists do not seek to ‘solve’ client’s problems, they seek to co-discover alternative explanations and possibilities within the story context and aid in e-editing an individual's past. Exploring other meaning and potentials in life shaping events allow clients new perspectives on the past and, potentially, open possibilities for resolution. It puts focus on the problem itself rather than the individual. A narrative therapists motto being “The person is not the problem, the problem is the problem”(White).

Criticisms of Narrative Therapy

There are many criticisms regarding the use of narrative therapy. Much of the criticisms that apply to narrative therapy lie in the opportunity for therapist bias. Because the therapist is a co-discoverer and aids in shaping an individual's perspective, the objectivity of the therapist must be constantly confirmed. There are no absolute truths in narrative therapy, only socially sanctioned points of view (NTC). The concern is the tendency for therapists to value the client’s perspective over cultural narratives. The values and morals of the therapists may influence the client in a potentially destructive manner or in a way that may impede healing.

This form of therapy has also been widely criticized for its lack of empirical evidence. There is little scientific evidence that supports practitioners’ claims of qualitative improvement. The emphasis that is put on the improvement of overall outlook in a client makes it difficult to obtain quantitative findings that support the efficacy of narrative therapy (NTC). The outcome goal is more positive perspectives on past experiences and approaches to the future. This goal is impossible to measure quantitatively. More in depth and scientific measurements must be employed in future research to validate claims of the efficacy of narrative therapy practices.


Narrative Therapy Center (NTC). About Narrative Therapy. Retrieved August 20, 2013.

White, M. & Epston, D. (1990). Narrative meant to therapeutic ends. New York: WW Norton.

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