Narrative Therapy – 4 Keys to Become Much Better Story Tellers and Why we Should Care

Roadside

By Sarah Kopinsky – There is evidence that most 3-4-year-old children understand different perspectives and can hold false beliefs (Rubio-Fernandez & Geurts, 2013; Scott, 2017). Wellman & Liu (2004) brilliantly explain how this works in 3 steps:

  1. A child is shown a Band-Aid box and then asked what is in it (without seeing the inside). The child then likely responds with:” Band-Aids!”
  2. While being encouraged to look, the box is opened and … there is a pig inside! The box is then closed.
  3. Now, a toy called “Peter” -who was out of view- is introduced and we tell the boy that Peter has never looked inside the box and ask what to tell him is in there? 

What is the boy going to answer? Band-Aids or a pig?

Opening THAT box

Think of what exactly you believe about yourself, someone or a situation and the stories you told yourself about it. When we consistently tell ourselves: “bad things will always happen to us. “We have no choice in x (x= all life stuff, really) “This is the only person who can love us”. And a popular Google searched (saddening) classic “Why can’t I be you?  We again, become that little child holding a box, so convinced to know the answers we learned will likely apply here and guess what…

It is not strange that we find ourselves in the same situations again and again. So how do we change our own narratives? How can we use our beliefs to change what we “certainly know” about our problems, our worth, our skills and freaking finally reclaim our agency?

Narrative Therapy

Narrative therapy aims to help investigate personal values and skills and empowers people with coping skills that make them masters of their own life and wellbeing. It has been found to improve psychological wellbeing, deepen meaningful interconnections and reduce distress, anxiety and depressive symptoms (Vromans & Schweitzer, 2011; Khodayarifard & Sohrabpour, 2018).

Long story short; Narrative Therapy enables us to rethink, re-author, see the tools that were left out of view, tell the Peters of our lives what should have been in the box, and manage life challenges -a whole lot- better (Hutto & Gallagher, 2017).

But HOW >>>?

Creating a new and much better (autobiographical) Story usually contains 4 KEY things (White, 2007):

  1. Tell your story and try to look at it from a different perspective. Investigate the problem narratives and myths (What role do you play in your own movie?  leading character? What false truths do you hold? Are you absolutely sure any of it is true?)
  2. Deconstruct the controlling story
  3. Develop, construct and re-edit an alternative good -badass- preferred NEW story
  4. Live your preferred story and witness the changes in your life

Not to be forgotten: a good (online) therapist (or start with someone you trust) that you have an equal relationship with and is honest.

For a bit more on the how-part, these videos could offer some practical and inspiring examples:

Now back to the why

Telling ourselves deficiency centred stories about why bad things happen, why people hurt, left or betrayed us and what this says about us, makes us victims and disempowers us. It limits intuitive actions, perceived options, restricts vision and makes problems seem essential to who we are (White, 2004; Hutto & Gallagher, 2017). We somehow manage to completely identify with negative narratives, get trapped looking into their abyss, and simply accept them as facts with incredible heaviness and meaning. Going back into that box, means correcting an error in time by re-connecting with what you know to be true, so you finally get to feel and know that You Have Always Been Enough!

Most limiting self-stories have been written for us by others. We bought into them and repeated them and must reclaim the “story-telling rights of our identity” (Denborough, 2014). Subsequently, we can start seeing who we really are; evolving human beings who are here to learn, have much to give and can -because of that- manifest more conscious behaviour.

Reclaiming our story-rights (re)introduces ownership, a sense of Inner stillness, freedom and that safe trusting place within us that we can always return to. Becoming more careful about the stories we tell about ourselves and dissolving them, frees us from living with an envious, angry and betrayed identity. Disidentification stops them from belonging to us, from directing and influencing the way we see ourselves, others, and how we perceive all that we love and surrounds us. It can encourage developmental sprints, saying “no”! a lot more, make us more compassionate humans and better caretakers, friends and partners. Using a new perspective to deal with problems or put them aside, depending on your choice of response or action, matters. Once acquired, narrative skills can be used independently and autonomously and generate more and more unique results and wonderful moments (Hutto & Gallanger, 2017).

And, once again- I obviously really like making this a very pragmatic and visual thing-:) – a video about why it makes a deep difference by Eckhart Tolle (starting at min. 4:20:)

Our Bodies hold onto Stories

I learned from my Reformer Pilates trainer that sour bodies tell stories as they become more rigid and problematic after experiences. Take on (Reformer) Pilates or Yoga (and it’s breathing techniques). Don’t settle until you find a teacher who excels in understanding it and makes you better as a result. Both Yoga and Pilates, help reduce anxiety, improve attention, motivation, cognitive function and performance (Memmedova, 2015; BUSOM, 2019). Training teaches your body to use each body part to function as it was designed to do and exercising helps keep much of the bad health stuff out. Most moves will force you to release tension, keep your balance, control your core, be in the moment and breath, so you don’t fall… It will gift you with strength and the ability to solve physical and emotional tasks better (My Pilates Teachers).

Change your story, have courage, be kind to yourself, love.

Online Narrative Therapy with Licensed Psychologists

Enjoy discreet, confidential and private counseling sessions from the comfort of your own home. Talk online face-to-face with a professional online psychologist wherever you are. Complete the form below to schedule a free consultation and/or get your questions answered. You can also send an email to info@personalonlinetherapy.com

References

Baumeister, R. F., Vohs, K.D., DeWall, C.N., & Zhang, L. (2007). How emotion shapes behavior: feedback, anticipation, and reflection, rather than direct causation. Personality and social psychology review, 11(2), 167–203.

Boston University School of Medicine. (2019, November 13). Just what the doctor ordered: Take a yoga class and depression, anxiety improve. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 25, 2020 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/11/191113105729.htm

Change The Story, Play a Different Character Ep. 6 Official Clip | The Affair | Season 4. (2018, 15 juli). Retrieved 25 januari 2020, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rwvAgmfUNe8

Denborough, D. (2014). Retelling the stories of our lives: Everyday narrative therapy to draw inspiration and transform experience. W W Norton & Co.

Hutto, D. D., & Gallagher, S. (2017). Re-Authoring narrative therapy: Improving our selfmanagement tools. Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology, 24(2), 157-167.

Rubio-Fernández, P., & Geurts, B. (2013). How to pass the false-belief task before your fourth birthday. Psychological science, 24(1), 27–33. doi:10.1177/0956797612447819

Khodayarifard, M & Sohrabpour, G. (2018). Effectiveness of Narrative Therapy in Groups on Psychological Well-being and Distress of Iranian Women with Addicted Husbands. doi:10.22122/ahj.v10i1.190.

Memmedova, K. (2015). Impact of Pilates on anxiety attention, motivation, cognitive function and achievement of students: structural modeling. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 186, 544-548.

Scott, R. M. (2017). The developmental origins of false-belief understanding. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 26(1), 68-74.

Sharp, J. (2018, January 3). Change Your Story, Transform Your Life | John Sharp | TEDxBeaconStreet. Retrieved January 25, 2020, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MN_zmzKT2Wk

Tolle, E. (2014, August 7). The Power of Stories with Eckhart Tolle & Karen May (Google). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=95a_Zs9lGcA

Vromans, L. P., & Schweitzer, R. D. (2011). Narrative therapy for adults with major depressive disorder: Improved symptom and interpersonal outcomes. Psychotherapy research, 21(1), 4-15.

Wellman, H. M., & Liu, D. (2004). Scaling of theory‐of‐mind tasks. Child development, 75(2), 523-541.

White, M. (2004). Working with people who are suffering the consequences of multiple trauma: A narrative perspective. International Journal of Narrative Therapy & Community Work, 2004(1), 45.

White, M. K. (2007). Maps of narrative practice. WW Norton & Company.