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The narrative approach to psychotherapy involves deconstructing and picking apart maladaptive and punitive constructions about self, constructions that aren’t historically accurate in an objective sense, and re-conceptualizing them in ways that present that self in the best possible light. This, by default, involves distancing an individual from their subjective sense of incapacitation, weakness, and powerlessness, and concurrently awakening his or her own agency and sense of purpose; it’s about shifting the perceptual axis from an unhelpful and inflexible position of disempowerment, hopelessness, and helplessness to a more flexible one of empowerment, self-determination, fulfillment, and contentment. By awakening one’s meaning-making capacities and effectively restoring world-shattering traumatic events in a manner which honors and dignifies one’s internalized values an individual may acquire deeper and more profound respect and compassion towards self and others, reconnect with sequestered positive affect, and tap into the wellspring of desirousness for life again.
Generally speaking, a narrative approach really penetrates and explores the social construction of meaning, deconstructs narratives and uses cultural metaphors, and identifies alternative, more benign narratives that aren’t self-critical and as a consequence, therapeutic. These goals are achieved by unpacking four core areas of a traumatic experience which disconnected the individual from their intrinsic values, and augmented overidentification with their role as a compliant, passive, and helpless observer and with a contextualized self [a snapshot of what that individual thought, how they felt, and how they behaved in that unique situation at that unique point in time]. They include “Actions Taken and Storied,” “Actions Taken and Not storied,” “Actions not Taken and Storied,” and “Actions Not taken and Not storied.” The first revolves around rendering invisible things that were helpful in a situation as salient and meaningful; the second around giving voice and recognizing actions that weren’t assimilated into the narrative; the third involves deconstructing or picking apart assumptions about one “should,” “could,” or “might” have done differently; and the fourth pertains to what one didn’t do that was actually helpful but didn’t make it into the narrative.
Narrative therapy can aid in the creation of a positive self narrative, a perception of a self which cleaves an indelible path in the ambient background of cosmic fields and has the esemplastic and formative power to create an equanimous world through the vigorous and empowering pursuit of new activities and relationships. Through this work metacogitive insight is nurtured so that an individual can examine and alter aspects of a life story that are stress-inducing, interpersonally malignant, and self-sabotaging. Narrative therapy is all about externalizing conversations, re-authoring conversations, and remembering conversations; it’s about cultivation, discovery, or re-discovery of strengths and assets; and about the awakening and sharpening of one’s own will, the enforcement of which inevitably leads to a more self-fulfilling, exuberant, and vivacious life.
If you’re interested in the subject of narrative therapy and/or doing narrative work, a great place to start would be Lewis Mehl-Madrona’s wonderful book entitled “Healing the Mind Through the Power of Story: The Promise of Narrative Psychiatry” (2010).