by Rabbi Yosef Cornfeld, M.S.W.
One of the tenets of Narrative Therapy is that the “therapist” does not assume that he is the expert on the client’s life, that he is expected to make an expert diagnosis, and to prescribe an expert cure. Rather, we take a “not-knowing” position, that we don’t really know how the client feels, thinks, and behaves in any and all situations. We’ve only just met him or her, spoken with them for a few hours maybe. They have lived their whole life in intimate contact with themselves. When these “problems” came into the client’s life, he was there. He was also there when he was able to control or overcome the problem. Our job is to mainly ask questions about how the problem influences them, and how the client has influenced the problem. What we try to do is to assist him to access his expert knowledge on how he has successfully dealt with the problem, and how to apply this knowledge to possible future situations.
This aspect of the therapist placing the client in the position of expert is dealt with in greater detail in an article on this website by Rachel Berko entitled: The Approach of the Therapist in Narrative Therapy
This idea of the client being expert in their life, and therefore they are in the best position to do something about it is illustrated in a Chassidic story related in a short video by Rabbi Avraham Arieh Trugman about the Rizshener Rebbe. Before Rosh Hashanna on of his students came to him saying, “Rebbe, I’ve done so many things wrong this year, and have done so many sins. I want to repent and make amends, but I just don’t know how. Please teach me how to repent!” The Rebbe looked at him and said: “Did someone teach you how to sin? Of course not, you figured it out for yourself. So you can also figure out how to repent.” In the video, Rabbi Trugman explains that the lesson the Rizshener Rebbe was teaching his student is that ultimately the person has to teach himself how to repent, because no one else knows one’s heart than the person himself.
So this is the position that we strive for in our work. Every person knows their own heart better than anyone else. Our job is to help the client to realize that he is the expert on his own heart and his own life, and in him resides the expert knowledge and the ability the change for the better.