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Principles and goals of narrative therapy

Discuss about the case study Narrative Therapy for Counselling and Communit.

Narrative therapy is considered as the most respectful and a non-blaming approach to counselling and community work as it centres people as the experts in their own lives (Malinen, Cooper, & Thomas, 2013). According to this approach people and their problems should be viewed as separate entities and it should be assumed that individuals possess enough competencies, skills, abilities, values and beliefs that can help them in decreasing the effects of problems on their lives. The two main principles that inform narrative ways of working are; maintaining a stance of curiosity always and asking questions always in order to find answers of which one is genuinely not aware (Guilfoyle, 2014). Conversation between a counsellor and person seeking consultation can take make possible directions and the person seeking consultation plays a vital role in determining the directions of the conversation. Thus Narrative therapies are interactive and should happen in collaboration with the person seeking consultation.

Developed by Michael White and David Epston, Narrative therapy is based on the fact that every individual had their own stories which determine the way they view themselves, the situations and the world around them (Denborough, 2014). The approach with an individual adapts to living is determined by these stores. Marion has always been a stay at home mother, she spend almost all her life looking after her children and husband. Her children are now grown up and have left the house for their jobs and studies, her husband is occupied in his own business and even works on weekends. Marion defines herself as an “empty-nester” and is feeling down owing to her loneliness and her inability to find a new focus in life. Empty nest syndrome is defined as a feeling of depression and loneliness which occurs among parents when their children grow up and leave home to live an independent life (Aronsson, 2014). This report conducts an in-depth analysis on how narrative approach can help Marion in overcoming her feelings of an empty nester.

Personal experiences of individuals throughout their lives get transformed into their personal stories that give meaning to their lives and shape their identity (Ingemark, 2013). Narrative therapy relies on the potentials of individual’s personal stories in order to identify their purpose in life. Created as a collaborative, empowering and non-pathologizing approach narrative therapy assumes that individuals possess inherent skills, competencies and expertise that help them find solutions to their own problems and bring about considerable changes in their lives. In order to externalise sensitive issues counsellors threat people and their problems as separate entities. Owing to this objectification that dissipates resistance and defences people seeking counselling are able to deal with their problems in a productive manner (Denborough, 2014). In case of narrative therapy stories can consist of events, across time, linked in sequence or according to a plot. Principles for narrative therapy expect counsellors to maintain a stance of curiosity and always ask questions. The ultimate goal of narrative therapy is to transform the effects of the problem rather than transforming the individual. This approach aims at developing a distance from the problem and analysing its impacts in order to judge how the problem can serve an individual rather than harm him (Ingemark, 2013). The process of externalisation involved in narrative approach help the individual in developing more self-compassion in a way that they feel their capability to bring about changes in their lives has increased. Narrative approach aims at objectifying the problem, frame them in a manner that fits in larger socio-cultural context and then create space for new stories. It emphasizes on identifying and building preferred or alternative storylines that is way apart from the problem story, rather is in contrast to the problem story and brings out the true nature of an individual and provide him an opportunity to rewrite his own story (Malinen, Cooper, & Thomas, 2013). Thus, both principles and aims of narrative therapy focus on helping an individual realise his true potential and rewrite his own story in order to bring considerable changes in his life.

How narrative therapy can help understanding Marion

Marion is affected with empty nest syndrome because all her children are grown up and have left the house either for their jobs or studies. As she had always been a stay at home mother she is now feeling very lonely and low and thinks she has no identity of herself. She has spent all her time looking after her children and husband and at this point of time she is really facing problem to find something that can keep her busy and is of her interest. She has also started feeling whether her decision to be a stay at home mother was right or not, she feels she had not achieved anything significant in life expect that of raising her children. She reflects at her own life and feels she has spent considerable part of it doing nothing important.

Narrative therapy can be really helpful in understand Marion. Re-authoring and re-storing conversations can help the counsellor in knowing the skills, competencies and abilities of Marion. It will help in identifying things that Marion likes doing and could not do during the years she was busy with her kids. It can help determining the exact reasons why Marion chose to be a stay at home mother rather than go out and work. The counsellor will get to know about her interests and her areas of expertise better which will be useful in guiding Marion in later counselling sessions. It will also help the counsellor in finding what are her exact feelings related to her children and her husband. During story telling sessions the counsellor could make out what kind of relation Marion has with her husband. All these facts about Marion and her life will help the counsellor in determining ways by which Marion will find enough strength to bring about desired changes in her own life.

The most important and foremost step involved in narrative therapy is listening to individual’s story (Meier, 2012). The counsellor must focus on the story and make attempts to identify gaps or contradictions in the story. O’Hanlon has summarised narrative approach into seven steps (Patterson, 1998). These seven steps of narrative approach can also be used by counsellor in order to work with Marion.

The counsellor should collaborate with Marion to come up with mutually acceptable name for the problem: The metaphors defining Marion’s relationship with her problem should be in a language comfortable to her (Frew & Spiegler, 2012). In this stage the counsellor can ask questions such as “ If I ask you to give a name to your problem, what would you name it?”. In order to determine accurate definition of Marion’s relationship with her problem the counsellor will have to ask open-ended questions.

How counsellor can work with Marion using narrative therapy

Personifying the problem by attributing oppressive intentions and tactics to it: In this step the counsellor will have to use non-blaming approach, for example the counsellor can remark “May be the love for your children made you stay at home and look after them”.

Investigating how the issue that been dominating, disruptive and discouraging Marion: This step will help the counsellor in determining how the problem is limiting Marion’s choices. The counsellor can ask questions like “Do you still feel you have responsibilities that keep you away from things you want to achieve?” The counsellor can also ask the magical question in this stage as suggested by Parry and Doan (1994), like “ what do you feel life would be if you waved a magical wand and woke up next morning to see the problem does not exist?” and “ what do you think you will be doing once the problem is over?”. This will help Marion in imagining a life where she will no more be an empty nester. Marion should be encourages to define how she will be changes as a person rather than defining how others will be changed

Encourage Marion to narrate her sparkling moments when she was not discouraged or dominated by the problem: In Marion’s case it would be better to look for moments which did not involved her family. Questions like “When was the last time you enjoyed without your family?”, “what were you doing?”, “When were you praised by others for doing jobs that did not relate to your family”, “What you liked doing when you children slept or were at school?”,” What are the things you feel you could not do when you were busy looking after your children?”

Identify historical evidence to create a new image for herself in Marion’s mind proving she has enough competencies and abilities to face her own problem: In this narrative part Marion’s story will be rewritten. Questions like “What you did when any of your children got hurt/sick and your husband was not there?” can help.

Evoke Speculations from Marion about what kind of future should be expected from the new person that has emerged within her: In this step counsellor tries to crystallize the new perception of Marion about herself and her life. Questions like “What will you be doing this time when you children go back after spending their vacations with you?”, “What places you will plan to visit with friends?”

Identify and create an audience for perceiving Marion’s new story: Counsellor can ask Marion to write letters to her children, husband and friends narrating her new story as they were the ones most affected by her old story.

Narrative therapy will be very beneficial in case of Marion as she is already suffering from loneliness and need someone with whom she can open her true feelings. It will help her in reflecting over her life story and realising that stay at home mothers not only sacrifice their present but also future for the love of her children and one needs to have great courage to do so (Guilfoyle, 2014). She will get a chance to rediscover her skills and abilities as she narrates past incidence where she showed great courage. All these factors will inspire her to bring about change in her life and look up to the process of re-authoring.

Like any other therapy narrative approach also has its own drawbacks like it may be possible Marion dislikes the idea of externalizing the problem and gets discourages further (Frew & Spiegler, 2012). In case the counsellor’s choice of questions goes wrong due to lack of much research articles supporting narrative therapy as a stand-alone therapy, Marion while narrating her story may end up increasing her negative perception about herself and her life and may feel she will always remain as an empty nester.

References

Aronsson, W. (2014). Refeathering the Empty Nest: Life After the Children Leave. New York: Rowman & Littlefield.

Denborough, D. (2014). Retelling the Stories of Our Lives: Everyday Narrative Therapy to Draw Inspiration and Transform Experience. New York: W. W. Norton.

Frew, J., & Spiegler, M. D. (2012). Contemporary Psychotherapies for a Diverse World. New Jersey: Routledge.

Guilfoyle, M. (2014). The Person in Narrative Therapy: A Post-structural, Foucauldian Account. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.

Ingemark, C. A. (2013). Therapeutic Uses of Storytelling: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Narration as Therapy. Sweden: Nordic Academic Press.

Malinen, T., Cooper, S. J., & Thomas, F. N. (2013). Masters of Narrative and Collaborative Therapies: The Voices of Andersen, Anderson, and White. New Jersey: Routledge.

Meier, S. T. (2012). Language and Narratives in Counseling and Psychotherapy. Hamburg: Springer Publishing Company.

Patterson, C. (1998). Narrative Therapy Techniques. Retrieved 2015, from Narrative Therapy Techniques: https://faculty.education.ufl.edu/Myrick/CMethods/Narratives.html

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