Do you have some favorite stories about your life that you like to tell? Maybe you like to relive a moment of athletic triumph from high school. Perhaps you like to recount the time you met a celebrity in an elevator and got to talk to her for 12 floors. Or maybe you love to swap stories about the cute things your children do.
These stories that we tell our friends or coworkers are not the only narratives we use. Each of us has a set of stories we tell ourselves about our lives—positive and negative narratives that, over time, come to shape the way we think of ourselves. If enough of those stories are negative, we may struggle with depression or even turn to drugs or alcohol as a means of escaping the narratives that undermine our confidence and happiness.
How can we reshape the tales we tell ourselves? Narrative therapy can help.
What’s the Story: Defining Narrative Therapy
In her influential book What is Narrative Therapy? An Easy to Read Introduction, Alice Morgan writes:
“Narrative therapy seeks to be a respectful, non-blaming approach to counselling and community work, which centers people as the experts in their own lives. It views problems as separate from people and assumes people have many skills, competencies, beliefs, values, commitments, and abilities that will assist them to reduce the influence of problems in their lives.”
That notion of problems being separate from people is important. The idea is that we are not defined by the struggles we face. It is so easy to fall into a way of thinking that puts our problems and perceived failings at the center of our lives—to believe that we are, in fact, our problems.
But what if we told ourselves a different story entirely?
Rewriting the Tale: How Narrative Therapy Works
Let’s say you believe you are a terrible cook. When you think about cooking—and even when you talk with your friends about cooking—you are likely to focus on the failures. You burned a roast. You tried to serve a date a romantic meal, but it tasted awful. You used the wrong ingredients in a favorite recipe and the result was unappetizing.
If you have convinced yourself you are always unsuccessful in the kitchen, odds are you minimize any stories of success in your own mind. You don’t tell people about the time you made a perfect roast, a successful meal for a date, or a new favorite from a happy accident.
After all, those stories don’t reinforce your primary narrative: you are a bad cook.
But what if you were able to focus on the successes instead of the failures? The stories of failure would then become outliers rather than the heart of your story. Turns out, you’re a good cook who makes mistakes sometimes but has plenty of experience and skill to recover from any and all mishaps.
Narrative therapy is all about changing the stories that have primacy in your mind—rewriting your understanding of the plot of your life, as it were. This rewritten story is a platform for action leading to change in your life.
GoodTherapy.org puts it this way:
“The therapist and person in therapy identify and build upon ‘alternative’ or ‘preferred’ storylines. These storylines exist beyond the problem story. They provide contrast to the problem, reflect a person’s true nature, and allow someone to rewrite their story. People can then move from what is known (the problem story) to what is unknown.”
Skipping to the End: What Are the Results of Narrative Therapy?
Unlike some other approaches to therapy, narrative therapy is not about personal transformation. Instead, it is about reframing problems and our responses to them. This reframing can require a willingness to practice self-compassion rather than constantly criticizing yourself. Or it may mean looking for the growth that can come from a traumatic experience rather than letting that experience control how you think of yourself and your life.
It is also possible that narrative therapy can help you see your life—and the challenges you experience in it—as part of a larger context. Having the ability to see our personal stories as part of larger set of stories can give us needed perspective and help us move forward on our journey.
We Want to be Part of Your Story of Recovery
If you are ready to rewrite the current chapter in your life, Bel Aire Recovery Center is ready to help you change the direction of your story toward lasting sobriety. We have the knowledge and the resources—including expertise in narrative therapy—to help you or a loved one overcome a substance abuse disorder. And that is an important first step toward a happy ending for your personal story.