Narrative Therapy was developed in the 1980s by Michael White and David Epston. Clinicians who utilize Narrative Therapy believe that with exploration, deconstruction, and revision of problematic stories, clients can shift their perceptions to create new scripts which can improve their quality of life (Seligman, Reichenberg, 2010). Keep reading to learn 10 Narrative therapy Exercises and Activities to do with your clients.
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With Narrative Therapy, clients are viewed as the experts of their own stories, and clinicians as experts of Narrative Therapy. Clinicians work to keep their client’s strengths and resources involved in their work while providing encouragement to their clients (Seligman, & Reichenberg, 2010).
A difference between Narrative Therapy and other therapeutic approaches is that clinicians engage in “interactive mirroring” while acting as participating witnesses (Seligman, & Reichenberg, 2010).
Denborough and C. White identified the following as key concepts associated with Narrative Therapy:
- Enabling people to tell their stories in a way that can make them stronger
- Enable those who are experiencing hardship to make a contribution to others who are also experiencing hardships
- Experiencing the act of making a contribution generates and sustains hope
- With stories that have trouble, hardship, loss, and despair, there is always more than one story
- People are always responding to the difficulties they are facing
- As counselors, it is best to start small. Our role is to “play our part” in sustaining and building on the local initiatives of individuals, families, groups, and communities.
- When whole communities are affected, we seek collective ways forward, which involves finding ways to share skills within various members of our community.
Narrative Therapy can be combined with other therapeutic approaches including humanistic and experiential approaches.
Mental Health Concerns That Can Benefit from Narrative Therapy
A benefit of Narrative Therapy is that it does not focus on any specific concerns. Because of this, Narrative Therapy can be applied to clients with a range of presenting concerns and mental health concerns.
Narrative Therapy has been found to successfully treat children who are struggling with delinquency, bullying, and other conduct concerns (Seligman, & Reichenberg, 2010). Additionally, Narrative Therapy can be effective for adults who are struggling with eating disorders, marital and relationship challenges, are childhood abuse survivors, individuals struggling with grief, individuals who are living with schizophrenia, violent sex offenders, and trauma survivors (Seligman, & Reichenberg, 2010).
As with all therapeutic approaches, there are limitations associated with Narrative Therapy. Narrative Therapy would not be appropriate for clients who have poor contact with reality, individuals who are looking for quick results, individuals who are in a crisis, and those who have little hope for their therapeutic outcomes.
Narrative Therapy Activities
Narrative Therapy exercises can be used to reinforce and practice material discussed during sessions. Narrative Therapy activities can provide clients with an opportunity to practice skills they learned in session in a safe and encouraging environment. Additionally, this can provide counselors with the chance to provide feedback regarding helpful modifications that clients can make to the skills they are learning. Here is an example list of Narrative Therapy exercises that can be used during Narrative Therapy Sessions:
- Work with your client as they work to write their life story. This can include important experiences in their past, their current life experiences, and what they are working towards for their future. This exercise can help clients gain new insight regarding their experiences, and help widen their view of themselves. TherapyByPro has a My Life Story worksheet that can guide you and your client through this exercise. Allow time to explore if this activity was able to bring something new into their perspective.
- Using the externalizing technique can allow the client to separate their challenges from themselves. This can improve their self-esteem and confidence. An example of this would be someone who identifies themselves with a mental illness. This can look like someone saying, “ I am bipolar” and “I am anxious”. Rather, clients can change their narrative to something similar to “I am living with anxiety”, or “I am struggling with bipolar symptoms”. Similarly, this is something that Counselors can model to clients by being mindful of how we associate their challenges with them as human beings.
- Spend time exploring and identifying your client’s core values. Core value worksheets can help facilitate this activity by offering common values for your client to consider. Once your client has completed the exercise, you can talk about how their values are tied to their current challenges and future goals. Is there anything that they are working towards or struggling with that does not align with their values?
- Deconstructing is an approach that Counselors can take to help clients identify the root of their concerns, and what it means for them. By asking clients to be specific during this exercise, you can work to understand themes that your client is experiencing that are contributing to their narrative. Once there is a better understanding of the theme or pattern that they are experiencing, they can then work to correct the situation.
- Ask your client to spend 10 minutes a day writing about a challenging experience they have had. Your client will write about the same experience for 5 consecutive days. At the end of the 5 days, have your client bring their written narrative into session. Spend time exploring any changes that occurred to the story over the 5 days and how these changes impacted the story they associate with the experience. Provide your client with a worksheet, similar to the one available at TherapyByPro to facilitate this exercise at home.
- A follow up exercise to the previous Narrative Therapy activity would be to revisit the challenging experience they wrote about, and this time, try to reconstruct it. This will include exploring why the event happened, why they felt the way they did, and why they acted in the manner that they did. Allow for time to process this exercise and explore any shifts in their narrative that they experienced.
- Talk to your client about different ways that they can express themselves. This can include meditation, journaling, drawing, moving, or visualizing. Encourage your client to use different forms of expressing themselves to find one, or more, ways that they can effectively get out what they are feeling. Allow for time to talk about any barriers or hesitations that your client has regarding some of the methods of expressing themselves, as they may have a narrative associated with the activity which differs from what you would like them to try.
- Using a tree of life exercise during your Narrative Therapy session will allow your client to explore where they came from, their normative activities, their skills and values, their dreams and wishes, what is important to them, any legacies they are carrying, and what they hope to leave with others. This exercise can help clients work towards living in a way that reflects their true selves in a healthy manner by letting go of unhealthy beliefs.
- Another writing Narrative Therapy activity would be to have your client write their own eulogy. With a vague direction, you can allow the client to write as they believe their eulogy would be written at this moment, or how they would like it to be written. This can be done in session, or you can ask your client to complete this Narrative therapy exercise as homework. Allow time to process this activity and explore changes that this activity made them consider and behaviors that support their values and goals that they wish to continue engaging in.
- Ask your client to write two letters; one to themselves as a child, and one to their teenage self. Encourage them to think about what wisdom or encouragement would have helped them during this time, and what they feel is important to share. Topics that can be included would be how to cope with difficult emotions and situations, and how to find happiness and joy at those times. Encourage your client to show themselves kindness and compassion in those letters that they wish they had received during those times. Allow time for the client to share the letter if they feel comfortable doing so, and process this experience for them.
Final Thoughts On Choosing Activities for Narrative Therapy
Thank you for reading this resource on 10 Narrative therapy Exercises and Activities you can do with your clients. The ability to use Narrative Therapy with clients who have a range of mental health and interpersonal concerns makes it an attractive therapeutic approach option. Narrative Therapy activities can help improve a client’s self-esteem and beliefs of themselves. By exploring their values and core beliefs, clients are able to see if their current behaviors align with what matters to them.
If you are interested in learning more about using Narrative Therapy in sessions or utilizing Narrative Therapy exercises, take time to look into continuing education opportunities and other training experiences. Developing a solid understanding of Narrative Therapy’s skills, beliefs, and interventions will allow you to develop your competency to practice Narrative Therapy within your counseling relationships.
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- Denborough, D., & White, C. (2007, November). Collective narrative practices. Narrative Therapy Centre. Retrieved March 9, 2023, from https://narrativetherapycentre.com/collective-narrative-practices/
- Seligman, L., & Reichenberg, L. W. (2010). Narrative Therapy. In Theories of Counseling and Psychotherapy: Systems, Strategies, and Skills (3rd ed., pp. 220–225). essay, Pearson Education, Inc.