Reference Work Entry

Encyclopedia of Child Behavior and Development

pp 1081-1082

Personal Narratives

  • Bernadette Hassan SolórzanoAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Our Lady of the Lake University Community Counseling Service Email author 


Diaries; Histories; Journals; Narrative conversations; Outsider witnesses; Stories; Tales; Testimonials


Polkinghorne [3] stated that “narrative can refer to the process of making a story, to the cognitive scheme of the story, or the result of the process.” (p. 13) “Narrative” is a term that has become increasingly used in mainstream culture to describe such things as cultural narratives, gender narratives, political narratives, survivor narratives, illness narratives, etc [2, 5]. Narratives are used therapeutically in psychology. Postmodern therapy approaches consider narratives as a powerful component of therapy since postmodernist therapists believe that reality is constituted in language and narratives can be used to change understandings of a situation. If clients can create a more empowered narrative, it is the first step to creating an improved future. Personal narratives can be utilized in written or oral form. Michael White and David Epston implemented writing letters to their clients between sessions to continue the therapeutic narratives between sessions.


Polkinghorne [3] wrote that psychology has used narratives throughout their history in the form of biographies, life stories and case studies. Polkinghorne in Knowing and the Human Sciences (1988) tracks the history of the development of using personal narratives in psychology. As individual psychology developed, the narrative became the tool of psychologists in helping establish personal identity. Karl Scheibe [4] wrote about identity and narrative.

Human identities are considered to be evolving constructions; they emerge out of continual social interactions in the course of life. Self-narratives are developed stories that must be told in specific historical terms, using a particular language, reference to a particular stock of working historical conventions and a particular pattern of dominant beliefs and values. The most fundamental narrative forms are universal, but the way these forms are styled and filled with content will depend upon particular historical conventions of form and place (p. 131).

Time is important in personal narratives as well. The narrative must also include the development of a future narrative. So the temporal ordering of the events becomes important and must include many events. This provides the opportunities of including overlooked events which can be incorporated to identify strengths, alternative ways of understanding events and imbue a sense of hopefulness for the future.

Relevance to Childhood Development

The power of storytelling has been with us since the beginning of time. Originally, stories of valor and morality were handed down from generation to generation orally until they began to be written down. Jerome Bruner wrote extensively in Acts of Meaning [1] about the fact that children learn early on the necessity of balancing their own desires with those of the family. “Telling the right story, putting her actions and goal in a legitimizing light, is just as important. Getting what you want very often meant getting the right story…  . A “right” story is one that connects your version through mitigation with the canonical version” (p. 86). Jerome Bruner described narratives as an innate way that children understand even before they have words. You can see children create a sequencing of events in their play. Narratives are the product of how we talk to ourselves in order to sort through our thoughts and develop a coherent understanding of our experiences.

Children initially use narratives to sequence and describe what occurred. The next step children create narratives which describe the ordinary sequencing of events and create explanations for when a divergence occurs. Finally perspective and evaluation is introduced to the narrative. The final step is introduced when the narrative includes solving problems.

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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011
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