The narrative approach to psychology focuses on the stories that we tell about ourselves: who we are, where we come from, where we’re heading. How we make meaning of our lives and of the events unfolding in our lives defines how we experience the quality of that life.
A narrative approach to counseling or coaching moves away from confronting the person and his or her labels of psychopathology towards understanding as best one can how specific problems affect an individual, through the eyes of that person. By externalising the problem and by making clear distinctions between the person and his or her (psychological) problems the self-perceptions of affected individuals become much healthier. Just the simple realisation that you are not the problem, but that the problem itself is the problem is a hugely liberating insight. This insight allows us to re-evaluate our relationship to the issues we face, and gives tremendous energy to find constructive and empowering solutions.
Narrative psychology was developed by two Australians: Michael White and David Epston. With a background in social work and anthropology, White and Epston realised the need to address psychological afflictions not only by working with the individual, but by including the entire environment into a better understanding of a person’s life. What are the effects of discrimination, poverty, exclusion on an individual’s life? How have the stories of the dominant culture shaped and distorted self-perceptions of individuals from other backgrounds, with other cultural narratives? How can they regain trust and respect in their own, preferred narratives?
And what of solidarity? I am thinking of a solidarity that is constructed by therapists who refuse to draw a sharp distinction between their lives and the lives of others, who refuse to marginalise those persons who seek help, by therapists who are constantly confronting the fact that if faced with the circumstances such that provide the context of troubles of others, they just might not be doing nearly as well themselves.