by Rabbi Yosef Cornfeld, M.S.W.
Narrative Therapy is an approach that builds on the idea that people give meaning to their lives according to stories they tell to themselves. These stories guide the person on how to act, think, feel, and make sense of new experience. Often, by the time a person has come to therapy, the stories they have told and retold themselves have become completely dominated by problems that work to oppress them. These are what are known as “problem saturated stories”. These kinds of stories can exert a powerful negative influence in the way people see their lives and capabilities.
In narrative therapy, the therapist engages the client in a conversation in order to collaborate in stepping away from problem saturated and oppressive stories, and to discover the preferred story which includes the person’s strengths, hopes, commitments, values, desires and dreams. The therapist does not act as an ‘expert’ to solve the client’s problems. Rather the therapist merely assists the client in discovering the solution through his own resources, skills, and values. This empowers the client to become the expert in his own life and to solve his problems by ‘re-authoring’ the stories of his life.
Putting the client in the center as the expert in their own lives assumes that each person has many skills, abilities, values, and commitments and that will assist them to overcome the influence of problems in their life. In this it is respectful of the client and refrains from blaming him for his problems. By putting the client in the position of expert, then the counselor moves himself away from the center. Rather than guiding the therapy through “interventions”, the Narrative counselor asks questions that he genuinely doesn’t know the answer to, and doesn’t have a specific agenda in the therapy. The ideal is for the counselor to maintain a stance of curiosity and with this to collaborate with the client to author and live his “preferred story”.