Learn What Narrative Therapy Is and How This Technique Can Help You

Narrative Therapy

Narrative therapy was developed by Michael White and David Epston. Narrative therapy is a method of therapy that separates the person from the problem and encourages people to rely on their own skill sets to minimize the problems that exist in their everyday lives. Throughout life, personal experiences are transformed into personal stories that are given meaning and help shape a person’s identity, and narrative therapy utilizes the power of people’s personal stories to discover the life purpose of the narrator.

Principles of Narrative Therapy

Narrative therapy was created as a nonpathologizing, empowering, and collaborative form of therapy that recognizes that people possess natural competencies, skills, and expertise that can help guide change in their lives. People are viewed as separate from their problems, and in this way, a therapist can help externalize sensitive issues. This objectification dissipates resistance and defenses and allows a client to address this issue in a more productive manner.

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Rather than transforming the person, narrative therapy aims to transform the effects of the problem. The objective is to get some distance from the issue, and in this way, it is possible to see how a particular concern is serving a person, rather than harming him or her. For example, posttraumatic stress might help protect a person from the difficult emotions associated with a particular event, although it also contributes a host of new troubling symptoms, such as anxiety. This process of externalization can help a person develop greater self-compassion, which, in turn, can help him or her to feel more capable of change. In fact, some psychologists have identified a process termed "posttraumatic growth" to account for the positive personal change that can occur to people who have experienced a traumatic event. Narrative therapists also help clients view their problems within the context of social, political, and cultural storylines that influence the way we view ourselves and our personal stories.

Narrative therapy can be used for individuals, couples, or families. In a couple or family setting, the technique of externalizing problems sets the stage for creating positive interactions and transforming negative communication or responses into more accepting, nonjudgmental, and meaningful exchanges. Seeing a problem objectively helps couples and families to reconnect with the heart of their relationship and address the ways in which the problem has challenged that core strength.

Narrative Therapy Techniques

Practitioners of narrative therapy believe that simply telling one’s story of a problem is a form of action toward change. Narrative therapists help to objectify problems, frame them within a larger sociocultural context, and make room for other stories. Together, therapist and client identify and build upon “alternative” or “preferred” storylines that exist beyond the problem story; these provide contrast to the problem, reflect a person’s true nature, and offer opportunities to rewrite one’s story. In this way, people move from what is known (the problem story) to what is as of yet unknown.

The therapist also helps people to see what is “absent but implicit” in the presentation of a problem. By exploring the impact of the problem, it is possible to identify what is truly important and valuable to a person in a broader context, beyond the problem. This can help a person identify a common thread to connect his or her actions and choices throughout life. In other words, all the “other” experiences and values from life are “absent but implicit” as people navigate new terrain. This process can help a person better understand his or her experience of life and gain personal agency for addressing problem scenarios in the future.


  • The Dulwich Centre: Established by Michael White and David Epston, The Dulwich Centre provides information, workshops, and trainings


  1. Beels, C. C. (2009). Some historical conditions of narrative work. Family Process, 48(3), 363-78. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/218869106?accountid=1229
  2. Carey, M., B.A., Walther, S., M.A., & Russell, S. (2009). The absent but implicit: A map to support therapeutic enquiry. Family Process, 48(3), 319-31. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/218874274?accountid=1229
  3. Morgan, Alice. (n.d.). What Is Narrative Therapy? Retrieved from http://www.dulwichcentre.com.au/what-is-narrative-therapy.html


Last updated: 12-07-2015

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