Narrative Therapy

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  • Topic: Narrative therapy, Family therapy, Michael White
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  • Published : April 9, 2013
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Beyond the Mechanistic Approach
Paul Michael White
Brandman University

A clever and compassionate Aussie, by the name Michael White, dared to further break through the traditional prescriptive, mechanistic view of mental health therapy by exploring the complexity inherent within the human condition. White was influenced toward a career working directly with people, while he was a mechanical draftsman. Realizing this, he found work with an inpatient unit. It was there that he understood the extent of traditional approaches to therapy and completely disavowed the systems thinking and cybernetic theory of old (Nichols, 2013, p. 204). White was especially intrigued by the writings of Michel Foucault and Erving Goffman on criticizing the dehumanization of institutions. Gregory Bateson inspired White about his ideas regarding the way people construe their individual worlds. White went on to develop a new approach which externalized the issue as a tangible thing acting on an individual versus the individual committing an act. This approach served to objectify the issue, therefore, view the issue from another perspective. He called this approach narrative therapy (Nichols, 2013, p. 204). Sadly, White passed away in 2008, but not before a newcomer by the name David Epston, took up the reins of the narrative therapy approach and tweaked them. Epston assimilated his background knowledge of anthropology, emphasizing the importance of supportive communities to healing through the narrative approach (Nichols, 2013, p. 205). Taking the anthropological theme further, a stance of “not-knowing” was adopted by Harlene Anderson and Harry Goolishian; they allowed the “evidence”/client speak for themselves, as expert of their own lives (Nichols, 2013, p. 205).

Utilizing narrative therapy, offers a family the chance to develop a new life story for all family members to reframe their past in a positive light (Miller, Forrest, 2009). Therefore, a true narrative therapist takes a wholly intimate and compassionate stance on assisting each client through their individual healing process. They invest proper interest in their clients’ stories; help clients identify more successful times in life; ask questions to respectfully accept any new story put forth; refrain from labeling and treat each as an honorable person with complex histories; and move away from the cultural norms prevalent in society, so as to open a space for a unique life story (Nichols, 2013, p. 206). The goal of this basic outlined approach was to assist people in shedding dominant cultural narratives. And to understand that there is no one right way in experiencing life. Rejecting the idea of categorizing people is one of the main tenets of narrative therapy. In his memoir, C.G. Jung spoke of steadfastly working to take each client as they were in their lives and help them develop a healing atmosphere addressing each issue as it presented itself (Jung, 1970). Speaking against the idea of normal versus abnormal, narrative therapists loosely identify a few descriptors; people have good intentions; are heavily influenced by the conversations surrounding them; are not the sum of their problems; and can create their own powerful stories away from the cultural norms and myths they have adhered to in life (Nichols, 2013, p. 207).

People frequently develop a hyper-focus on the issues they face and they allow themselves to be defined solely by a perceived shortcoming. Narrative therapists refer to these situations as problem-saturated stories. This is especially true when conflict arises interpersonally within families. One family member complain about a lazy child while the child criticizes the other about being too absent. A narrative therapist focuses not on the potential source of a given issue, but to address any toxic cultural narratives the individual(s) has allowed control in their life. Thereby, externalizing the problem and freeing the client from unchecked cultural...
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