We make meaning of life through stories
Narrative therapy centres on the idea that we make meaning in life through stories - the ones people tell us, the ones we tell others and the ones we tell ourselves. These shape everything from our identity, to our values, to the choices we make. Our experiences influence which stories we believe in.
When certain events happen to us over and over again, we connect them in a storyline and draw conclusions. These may be: "I'm a failure", "I'm unlovable", "I'm not good enough". These are not facts; these are stories, and we can change them.
Social expectations: stories that tell us who we "should" be
Stories that have the effect of making us feel inadequate, powerless, unloved, undeserving and so on are called "dominant narratives". They're socially and culturally constructed and they represent dominant ideas around how we "should" live our lives, generally according to things such as gender, age, race, socio-economic status, education and abilities.
Dominant narratives can also be seen as social expectations. They tell us how to be the "best" kind of person - the best mother, man, entrepreneur, artist, activist, influencer, and so on.
Bringing our preferred narratives to life
In narrative conversations people are supported to tell their stories in ways that honour their skills, values, knowledges and actions. For many marginalised communities, these insider knowledges are often devalued and dismissed. Bombarded with dominant narratives daily from social media, our family, surrounding communities, workplace, mass media and more, we can lose touch with the wisdoms we've had all along.
Narrative therapy is a respectful, non-blaming approach to conversations that centres people as experts in their own lives. In narrative therapy we unearth forgotten wisdoms and expand on them.
We make meaning in life through stories. We thread together events into storylines, drawing out themes and creating conclusions, sometimes unhelpful ones:
"I've failed so many times, I must be a failure"
"I've been single for so long, there must be something wrong with me"
"I've received so many job rejections, I mustn't be good at anything"
Stories are shaped by life experience, but we also inherit them from our parents, the media, communities, workplaces, social movements, prevailing politics and so on.
Only through acknowledging the existence of these dominant stories and the effects they have on us can we begin to diminish they power they have over our lives and then, together, bring our preferred story to life.
As a narrative practitioner, I steer away from positive psychology and ideas like the law of attraction. Sometimes these approaches lead to self-blame - centring the problem in our thinking or behaviour. Instead, I work with the narrative therapy ethos:
"The person is not the problem; the problem is the problem"
Problems are socially constructed - what one person perceives as a problem may be considered a "strength" for another. This is a key belief that leads to diversity-friendly practices.
Being a diversity-friendly therapist means that I welcome people with diverse sexualities, gender identities, mental health experiences, appearances, socio-economic statuses, employment choices, relationship models, ethnicities, belief systems, family structures and sexual practices.
Although I'm a qualified narrative therapist, I'm not a purist in my practice. I believe that reflecting on our lives from varied perspectives can lead us to find better solutions.
Having worked in communications and media, I understand the intricate effects that advertising and social media have on our lives, behaviour and relationships. As a previous journalist I also have extensive experience in strategic interviewing.
I sometimes draw upon my own lived experience and stories to inform my work - such as being part of the LGBTQI+ community; competing in body building with a mild deformity; living through chronic illness; and facing many mental health obstacles.