Independent Thinking and Its Effect on Mental Health through Narratives

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 Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • antonio


    September 21st, 2011 at 10:47 PM

    if we just accept and follow anything put forward then we are no better than machines.our thinking is what makes us human.its what gives us the right to be the best species on this planet.without free thinking there is nothing much that we can innovate or do.

  • Cam


    September 22nd, 2011 at 4:22 AM

    Writing and journaling is good for the soul

  • Andrea


    September 22nd, 2011 at 12:26 PM

    Well writing is a great way to let your emotions and feelings out in a way that feels safe and comforting to most of us. There is nothing threatening about this kind of environment, amybe even easier to be honest when writing everything down. way easier than talking to someone about the issues face to face. And it can also help you to develop some talking points, you know, for when you are ready to make that step to talk, then you will remember the things that have been bothering you. This also gives you the chance to try to work it all out.

  • LUKE


    September 23rd, 2011 at 2:17 AM

    Well,a person’s thinking generally has no boundaries but can still undergo expansion due to exposure that (s)he has. So if (s)he is in a perfect state of mental health,there is a lot more that the person can grasp and learn about new things.This will in turn benefit the person’s independent thinking and where there is independent thinking mental health gets a boost too.

    Its all interconnected. We need to have an open mind and try to learn at each step in life.

  • Tina


    September 23rd, 2011 at 1:20 PM

    Just a thought- if writing is so helpful to many, then how is it that so many writers have a history of hurting and killing themselves?

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