“The person is not the problem; the problem is the problem.”
This quote was first used by Michael White and David Epston, the founders of Narrative Therapy, to describe one essential aspect of the narrative approach. It is an attempt to make the client see that he is not identical with his problems in order to recognize the ways in which those problems have dominated and impaired the way the client sees himself.
Coming out of postmodern and social constructionist critiques of human behavior, narrative therapy asserts that each person can choose to be who she wants to be through retelling the story of her life. We all have stories that we have told ourselves and others for our whole lives about who we are and how we got the way that we are. While these stories have aspects of truth, they also leave out aspects of ourselves that don’t fit into the narrative very neatly. When distressed, people tend to focus on their problems and forget to include memories, actions, and values that are positive or contradictory to the “problem narrative.” Narrative therapy attempts to draw out the positive story that has been lost in the client’s self-narrative.
The lynchpin of narrative therapy is the belief that the stories we tell ourselves about our lives have a profound effect on how we feel about ourselves. They organize our sense of ourselves and turn the messy raw material of memories, dreams, and emotions into a coherent and causal biography.
Narrative therapy is a strengths-based approach which helps a client explore his or her strengths and values in collaboration with a therapist. While some therapists believe that simply telling one’s version of a personal problem is a way to take action and make positive change, a good narrative therapist will help the client to objectify problems, frame them within the larger context of cultural expectations and social norms, and invite in other, less prominent personal stories. In this way, the therapist helps the client to write a new script for herself, one that sees the problem and the person in a new and preferred light.