How Does Narrative Therapy Work?

If I ask you who you are, and what you are, and what you do, you would tell me a story. The Story of You.

Let’s start at the beginning.

We all have a story, but how did we get that story? Where did it come from? How did we develop it? And, aren’t we still creating it? If we go about answering these questions, you and I would be engaging in Narrative Therapy.

From the moment that we are born we are collecting information.
In the first years of our lives we had to find the answers to two important questions.

  • How are the people in this place?
    • Friendly?
    • Hostile?
    • Can they be trusted?
  • What is this place that I was born into?
    • A friendly place?
    • A safe place?
    • A dangerous place?

According to our experiences, where we were born, and who raised us—or didn’t raise us—we started coming up with answers to these questions, and the answers became conclusions, and the conclusions became a story. This story became our story. And our story is a very powerful one, because it is a story that guides us through life and determines how we see the world, how we think, and how we feel.

In psychological language, the story that we have created about who we are, how we are, and how we respond to people, situations, and circumstances, is called our “self-narrative.” This self-narrative serves as a filter through which we interpret everything. For example, if the significant people in your life gave you the message that you are incompetent, you would approach new situations and challenges with fear and anxiety.

You would experience fear and anxiety because you would feel that you were not competent to succeed, and would be afraid of failing. Consequently, the more anxious and afraid you would feel, the less you would try new things. Eventually, you would avoid facing the challenges that lead to living, loving, and working in a meaningful way; and this avoidance would guarantee the failure that you feared.

In order to escape this desperate vicious cycle of fear-avoidance-failure-feeling incompetent-and more fear, you may reach for many of the Band-Aid solutions that the world offers: like alcohol, drugs, gambling and other addictions. You would reach for them in an attempt to escape the anxiety, depression, and hopelessness that you feel. Or, hopefully, you may choose to seek a lasting and healthy solution, and seek therapy.

If you chose to seek therapy, and particularly Narrative Therapy, you would embark in the process of exploring your story. If you find a good therapist, he or she would have skills to build trust and create a safe space where you could disclose the details of your self-story. Together, you would analyze the details of the story that you have accepted as true and factual, and you would analyze it in the light of reality. When you discover parts of your story that cannot be proven to be true, or rational, or are incomplete, you would change the false conclusions or misguided ways in which you have interpreted events in your life, and correct them.

Let’s illustrate how this process works, by using the example that we used before: If you would have accepted that you were incompetent, and began to avoid life because of it, while in therapy, you and your therapist would look for evidence in your story that would support that you are, in fact, incompetent. You would explore questions like: Have you ever succeeded at anything? Is there something that you are good at: building something, video games, Ping-Pong…anything? The answer to these questions would provide information that can be used to verify the truth of the story of your life, and make it more complete and realistic. In other words, correcting wrong information could change the narrative of your life, and the beliefs, thoughts, and emotions that the narrative produces.

Like an author writing a novel, you would become the author of the story of your existence, and with a good therapist as editor, you could correct the story of your life, and prepare to write the next chapters with clarity and truth. In these chapters, you will find that you can cast yourself as capable to overcome adversity, conquer challenges, or experience redemption. That is how Narrative Therapy works.

Narrative Therapy is just one of the therapies used in drug rehab at Adaptive Center. For studies showing the effectiveness of this type of drug treatment therapy, see also:

Engaging Clients in Treatment

People come to substance abuse treatment centers for many reasons: to satisfy court orders, save their jobs, or pacify family members—as well as overcome the negative effects of addiction. The ones that come with the intention of resolving a problem—other than their addiction—usually abandon treatment after having resolved their legal issues, meeting the requirement of their job, or having convinced their family to take them back. It is not hard to motivate them to come to treatment—they were already motivated by their own agenda. It is much harder to motivate them to engage in treatment.

Motivating people to engage in treatment demands a high level of skill from therapists and a holistic rehab approach that goes beyond just preaching to them about the benefits of not drinking and drugging. This holistic approach can only be practiced in a holistic drug rehab center environment. So, what are the distinctive features of a holistic rehab approach, and a holistic rehab center environment?

First, a holistic drug rehab approach faces addiction as a disease that has developed in response to a person’s inability to meet their core needs: to have the ability to provide food, shelter, and safety by their own resources and not be dependent on someone else; to be emotionally mature and able to manage their emotions; to attract romantic partners; to have status and be respected; to reach their human potential and become the best human being that they are capable of being.

When people are deficient in their abilities to meet their needs, they suffer from a sense of failure that leads to anxiety, depression and many other dysfunctions. In order to overcome the emotional pain that comes with these dysfunctions, these individuals turn to outside ineffective coping mechanisms, like dependency on others to soothe them and addictions. This is why only removing the ineffective coping mechanism, like addiction, leaves the person facing the original dysfunction—with its original pain—only now without the temporary relief that they found in the dependency, addiction, etc.

An optimal holistic rehab center would present to people the proposition that treatment is not only concerned with the use of drugs and alcohol, but with the whole person (therefore the term holistic). The person in treatment is then invited to explore the whole of their lives: to explore the problems for which the dependency and addiction were the perceived solution; to understand in how many ways this apparent solution backfired on them; and to explore new permanent solutions to truly meet their human core needs.

This approach can truly engage clients in treatment. Then, regardless of the reasons of why they came, they see an opportunity to discover themselves, heal their pain, and become the optimal person that they can become.

What is Cognitive Therapy

Cognitive Therapy is founded on 3 scientifically proven propositions

The “Access Hypothesis”

The belief that with enough dedication, effort, and help we can become aware of the content of our thinking.

The “Meditation Hypothesis”

The belief that the way we see, think about, and interpret the events around us influences the way we feel and the way we act.

The “Change Hypothesis”

The belief that we can become more effective, functional, and better equipped to adapt to the challenges of life by changing the ways in which we think and interpret reality.

(The Beck, Aaron T.; Dozois, David J.A. (2012-12-13). Cognitive Therapy: Current Status and Future Directions (Annual Review of Medicine).

Hypothesis 1

Hypothesis 1 proves that we don’t have to be a victim of the false and negative beliefs that we picked up during our lives. These toxic beliefs like: “I’m weak” “I’m unlovable”, or “I won’t amount to anything” produce negative feelings.

Hypothesis 2

Hypothesis 2 confirms that our interpretation of events—not the events themselves—influence the way that we think, feel, and act. This is important: it is not saying that any of us are immune to the challenges, problems, and suffering of life. It is, however, saying that our reaction to these trying and painful events will depend on our interpretation of them. For example, when we face the death of a loved one—which we will all face—how will we respond? We can either grieve them with gratefulness that we had them, or we can grieve with anger, desperation, and depression over losing them. In both instances we will all grieve, but how we grieve will be determined by how we interpret the event of death.

But what if we were programmed to respond to life’s challenges in a negative way? What if we internalized these beliefs and ways of responding to events when we were so young that we don’t even remember? Hypothesis 3 gives us hope.

Hypothesis 3

Hypothesis 3 verifies that we can make permanent changes to our understanding of the ways in which we view the world, people, and events. It confirms that reality-based and rational ways of interpreting reality lead to mental and emotional skills like adaptability, confidence, and resiliency. These things make us equipped to face the challenges of life without being overcome by them—to instead overcome our obstacles—and succeed.

The Process of Cognitive Therapy

The benefits of Cognitive Therapy are gained through the collaboration between a skilled therapist and the person seeking change and health. They first explore the beliefs that are at the surface of our consciousness, and then the beliefs that we picked up when we were younger and trying to learn what the world was like. In order to discover these deeper beliefs, we have to look at our automatic thoughts, emotions, and patterns of behaviors, such as when we find ourselves doing things over and over again, without understanding why.

The real progress is made when we discover the beliefs that trigger our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and put them to the test of reality and rationality. For example, If you were given the message—and have come to believe— that you are unlovable, how do you explain that some people seek your company sometimes? Like a team of scientist-philosopher-detectives, therapist and client uncover, test, and question irrational beliefs like these.

During Cognitive Therapy, irrational beliefs are discovered, challenged, and invalidated, and they are substituted by rational beliefs that can be tested in reality and proven by evidence. When the new beliefs substitute the old ones, everything changes; because real and rational beliefs produce real and rational thoughts, emotions, and actions. And the result of rational thoughts, emotions and actions is a balanced and realistic view of life and people that leads to hope in the middle of loss, new effort in response to failure, and perseverance as a response to discouragement. These capacities to respond to life’s challenges are proven to lead to contentment, joy, and success, regardless of hardship. So we no longer live as victims of circumstances, afraid of what life may bring. This is how Cognitive Therapy works.