Narrative psychotherapy is commonly used to aid people with difficult life transitions, trauma and other psychological issues. A recent study, conducted by Jonathan M. Adler of the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering, examined how mental health and agency, a term used to describe the ability to act and think independently, are affected by narrative identity through psychotherapy. As individuals experience change, their narratives shift and subsequently, their sense of agency and coherence to the world around them develop and influence their mental health. “Of special interest to researchers focused on the relationship between variability in personal stories and psychological well-being are the particular ways in which people narrate experiences of change,” said Adler. “Indeed, change experiences offer researchers an opportunity to examine the ways in which people make sense of their own development.”
Adler enlisted 47 clients to participate in the narrative identity therapy. The participants were enrolled in 12 sessions of psychotherapy and were instructed to write in depth narratives describing the changes that had affected their personalities. They were evaluated for levels of mental health and the narratives were designed to encourage reference to agency and unity. Adler discovered that although the participants exhibited increasing levels of agency in their narratives throughout the treatment, they did not feel more unified to the world around them. But the increase in agency was directly linked with improvements to the mental health of the participants. Additionally, the participants wrote experienced heightened senses of agency even before their mental health showed any improvement, thus suggesting that the feeling of agency predicted better mental well-being. Adler added, “This finding provides a key tool for understanding the development of narrative identity over a significant change experience and for highlighting clients’ perspectives on their treatment.” Adler believes that these results can have many positive implications across the fields of psychology, psychiatry, sociology and philosophy.
Adler, J. M. (2011, September 12). Living Into the Story: Agency and Coherence in a Longitudinal Study of Narrative Identity Development and Mental Health Over the Course of Psychotherapy. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0025289
© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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