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How Narrative Therapy Principles Inform Practice for Therapists and Helping Professionals: Illustrated with Vignettes

  • John R. StillmanEmail author
Chapter
Part of the AFTA SpringerBriefs in Family Therapy book series (BRIEFSFAT)

Abstract

This chapter is intended for readers who do not yet practice narrative therapy or identify as narrative therapists. It organizes narrative therapy as a set of principles and focuses on helping practitioners move narrative principles into practice. This exploration of principles as a framework for narrative therapy is illustrated by the use of vignettes, which show the benefit of organizing narrative as principles for practitioners with various levels of experience and different practice areas as well as for a recently developed online training program. Principles discussed include narrative metaphor, positioning (de-centered, but influential; externalization), personal agency, subordinate story development (repositioning; absent but implicit), intentionality, identity proclamation, and deconstruction (societal and cultural; personal, day-to-day).

Keywords

Narrative principles Narrative therapy Narrative therapy practice 

Notes

Glossary

Deconstruction (Personal, Day-to-Day)

People’s day-to-day activities can support problems and impact their ability to live their preferred lives. Routines can have an impact at a physical level. The practitioner can ask questions that help the person identify the effects of day-to-day routines, so the person is in a position to take action.

Deconstruction (Societal and Cultural)

People’s identities and experiences are shaped by society and culture. Often taken for granted as assumptions, society and culture’s meanings and norms influence people in ways that they are aware of and in ways they are not. These meanings and norms can both support problems or help a person stand up to problems. The clinician can ask questions that identify and expose these meanings and norms so that the person can take an active position regarding them. This awareness influences actions that help the person develop his or her preferred ways of living.

Identity Proclamation

People do not live in vacuums; their identities are influenced by their relationships to others. Relationships can both support the problem and/or support people to claim what they desire. Practitioners can ask questions that expose these relationships, allowing people to either decrease the influence of those voices that support problems or magnify voices that support what they prefer.

Intentionality

People’s identities are made of events and meanings that are acquired through experience and relationships and within a cultural context. Exceptions to problems can be supported and strengthened by asking questions that connect them to the person’s identity. The resulting effect is the diminishing influence of the problem stories.

Narrative Metaphor

People make meaning of events in their lives through story. The stories they tell impact how they view their past, present, and future. These stories can be reauthored to become preferred stories, using the components that comprise a story, such as action, time, sequence, plot, context, relationships, and cultural and societal influence.

Personal Agency

The practitioner respects the person’s ability to make life decisions, determining what is a problem and what is desired. The practitioner actively seeks and tracks these determinations and presents them back to the person, while the person discusses their past, present, and future.

Positioning (De-centered, but Influential)

The person is the expert, not the practitioner. Curiosity defines the person–practitioner relationship as the practitioner actively inquires about how the person makes meaning of his or her life. The interviewer is active, not passive, about attending to what the person defines as preferred and asks questions that help identify how problems interfere with the person’s life.

Positioning (Externalization)

People are not seen as the problem; the problem is seen as the problem. The separation of the problem from the person allows for a relational shift from the practitioner working on the person to the practitioner working with the person to address the effects of the problem. Externalization is not limited to problems but can include discussing desires in the same way. It also allows the practitioner to bring ideas into the conversation without ownership. This results in a more equitable power relationship between the clinician and the person, letting the person choose the ideas or not.

Subordinate Story Development (Absent but Implicit)

Every problem has its implied opposite. Another way to express this is that a problem is defined as a problem because there is knowledge of something that the person would rather have in its place. A person can be asked about what the problem is interfering with and speak to what they prefer and desire instead.

Subordinate Story Development (Repositioning)

All stories have exceptions. As a person recounts a problem story, there are typically instances when the problem did not occur or when the degree of the problem was reduced. The influential clinician listens to and asks for these alternative stories as they often lead to a description of what the person desires and experiences when possible.

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Copyright information

© American Family Therapy Academy 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Caspersen Therapy and Training CenterSt. Louis ParkUSA

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