What Is Narrative Psychotherapy?

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  • Written By: Megan Shoop
  • Edited By: Michelle Arevalo
  • Last Modified Date: 22 February 2020
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Narrative psychotherapy is the practice of using an individual’s personal life journey to help him or her break negative patterns. This kind of therapy is based on the theory that everyone has a personal story, or narrative, which contains the details of why they are depressed, socially awkward, consistently angry, or unhappy. Many narrative psychotherapists council children or families, encouraging them to flesh out sparse stories. Using this method often helps small children and those with little self-awareness to see their lives as a connected time-line, rather than a series of random events.

One of the keys to narrative psychotherapy is a lack of opinion on the part of the therapist. The therapist does not typically comment on the validity or meaning of a patient’s narrative. Instead, the counselor questions the patient, encouraging him or her to stock their narrative with more and more detail. This usually involves helping the patient remember past events and connecting those events to emotions. Those experiences are then connected to other events, usually forming a pattern that the patient may begin to perceive over time.


Most narrative psychotherapy sessions involve encouraging the patient to develop a thicker story. For instance, if a patient says that he thinks ice cream tastes good, the therapist may question why the ice cream tastes good. Specific inquiries may include prompting the patient to describe the texture, sweetness, and temperature of the ice cream. The therapist may even try to pinpoint the patient’s favorite kind of ice cream, and then ask him why he thinks that flavor is the best. All of this is done without judgment or opinion on the part of the therapist.

In general, narrative psychotherapy focuses on questioning why the patient sought therapy in the first place. The answer may be that the patient is always tired and depressed. At this point, the therapist may prompt the patient to tell the narrative of his or her life, starting from the present and working backward. Narrative psychotherapy often hinges on finding the sparkling moment in a patient’s story. This refers to a memory in which the current problem doesn’t exist. In this case, the memory would involve the patient being happy and content, rather than depressed.

Once the sparkling moment is realized, the therapist can begin to determine what caused the patient to develop his or her current problems. Ideally, this event occurs right before the problem becomes dominant in the person’s life. From here, the therapist can try to help the patient remember that the current problems were not always present. The reason for the current problems may also become apparent to the patient at this time. After this realization, the patient and therapist may work together to help the patient’s future narrative take a more pleasant course.


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